Almost half of Americans, 49 percent, don't have enough emergency savings to cover three months' expenses, according to a recent survey by Bankrate.com.
One of the reasons Americans don't have big emergency funds is due to stagnant income and rising household costs, said Greg McBride, a senior financial analyst at Bankrate.com.
"That's not only squeezing people's ability to spend, which is why the economy can't get out of first gear, but it also impacts their ability to save," McBride said.
In 2011, 46 percent of Americans didn't have an emergency fund to cover three months' expenses, according to the survey. In addition to that, 28 percent reported having no emergency savings at all, up from 24 percent in 2011, and just 25 percent said they have an emergency fund to cover six months' expenses.
McBride said many people have been forced to spend their emergency funds as a result of the bad economy.
"You have people that have been out of work for a very long period of time," he said. "They may have had an adequate savings cushion at one time, but they no longer do because they've had to rely on that during unemployment."
The "Great Recession" has helped reinforce the idea in Americans' minds that they need to have emergency savings, McBride said.
But Americans haven't been good at saving money for a long time, McBride said. In 2006, the first year Bankrate.com conducted such a survey, 61 percent of Americans surveyed said they didn't have a three-month emergency fund, according to the survey. When the economy was good, people thought the buoyant stock market and increasing home values were doing their saving for them, McBride said.
"We have not been a nation of good savers for the better part of the last 30 years," McBride said. "For too many Americans, saving has taken a backseat to spending for too long."
McBride said this is something Americans need to fix and that the best way to do it is to "pay yourself first through direct deposit." People should have money taken directly from their paycheck and put into a savings account specifically for an emergency fund, he said. This puts the money away for an emergency fund before consumers can spend it on something else and it forces people to live on less than they make.
"That's one of the fundamentals," McBride said. "That has been a time-tested successful strategy for people that are good savers."