A new study confirms what we all already knew: Americans are lousy savers. According to a study released today by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and Wachovia, 52% of Americans say they can't afford to save or are saving inadequately. Not only aren't people saving as much money as they should, the majority of people believe that their fellow Americans don't save enough, either.

It all adds up to a culture on non-saving born of a combination of inadequate income, spendthrift habits and other reasons.

"This survey is far and away the most extensive we've undertaken and provides new insights into not only how Americans save but why they do or don't," noted CFA Executive Director Stephen Brobeck. "Among other findings, it reveals the importance of socio-psychological barriers to saving and easy access to attractive accounts."

Of the 52% of people who don't save enough, 17% say they can't afford to save at all and 35% say they are saving but not enough to meet short- and long-term financial needs. 

Higher percentages say they have adequate savings to pay for unexpected expenses like car repairs or emergency dental treatment (68%) or to pay for regular household expenses for several months if there's a job loss (58%). 

Economic factors such as large regular expenses, unexpected expenses, low or unreliable incomes, and large consumer debts were the most-commonly cited factors behind low savings rates.

But social and psychological factors were also cited as reasons, with 37% of those surveyed citing "impulse spending" as a big impediment to saving. Credit cards were blamed by 42% of respondents, and other reasons named included "spending to feel good," "social pressure from friends or family," "trips to the mall," and "playing the lottery or gambling."

Higher income groups reported more problems with impulse spending as a barrier to saving. Of the highest-income group, 46% percent said impulse spending made it difficult for them to save versus 32% for those with incomes below $35,000.

"Not surprisingly, economic factors were cited most frequently as barriers to saving, yet social and psychological factors were also noted," said Brobeck. "Any successful savings initiative should acknowledge and try to minimize the latter," he added.

When asked whether they think Americans are saving adequately, nearly four-fifths (79%) said they are not, with nearly half (47%) saying Americans are saving "very inadequately." Among demographic groups, the college-educated are most likely (86%) to think Americans are saving inadequately.

"Americans are pessimistic about how other Americans are saving and how they will save in the future," noted Brobeck. "In part, this pessimism probably reflects widespread press coverage about the country's zero or near-zero personal savings rate," he added. 

Predictably, the highest income group (at least $75,000) is about twice as likely as the lowest income group (under $25,000) to say they have saved adequately for each of the above purposes. More one-third (34%) of low-income Americans say they cannot afford to save at present.

The high-income group is also most likely to believe they can accumulate $1 million during their lifetime. In fact, when asked about the chances of accumulating this amount, the typical response among the high-income group was 75 percent. For those with incomes under $35,000, it was only 1%, and for those with incomes between $35,000 and $50,000, it was only 2%. For all respondents, the typical response was 10%.

The survey was based on 50-plus question interviews of more than 2000 representative adult Americans conducted by Opinion Research Corporation in November.