We're saving less than 5% of our income so far this year

Piggy bank in a vise clamp

The personal savings rate remained at 4.4% for the second straight month this July, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

That's just not going to cut it.

All I can say is that I hope you're stashing away more of your gross income than that. Something like two or three times more, in fact.

The savings rate is one of the best ways to measure how well we're preparing for retirement in an era when pensions are going away and most of us will have only two sources of income — Social Security and our savings.

Going back to the late '50s, the average savings rate has been 8.4%.

But after peaking around 12% during the early '70s, the savings rate steadily fell, reaching a low of less than 3% between 2005 and 2007.

These were the decades that responsibility for retirement was being shifted from employers to employees, the years that traditional pensions were being eliminated and replaced by 401(k) plans and Individual Retirement Accounts.

At a time we should have been saving more, we were consistently saving less.

We've seen a slight uptick in savings since the financial crisis and recession, but we're still not saving nearly as much as we should.

The savings rate has averaged right at 5% over the past 12 months and hasn't exceeded 4.6% in any month so far this year.

So, how much should we be putting aside?

Adam Koos, the president of Libertas Wealth Management Group in Columbus, Ohio, says it ought to be something like 15% of our income.

He attributes our failure to achieve that to both economic factors and attitude.

It's true that it costs more to live nowadays. Adjusted for inflation, incomes have remained relatively stagnant over the past two decades.

Meanwhile, the cost of everything from food and gas to tuition and health care has skyrocketed.

Dollar for dollar, saving today is harder than it was in 1960.

Although we can't do anything about economic factors and inflation, we can control some of our discretionary spending.

We have to face the fact that we spend far more on nonessentials than our grandparents did.

They lived in smaller homes and drove their vehicles longer. They didn't need the latest gadgets. Few spent a year's salary to remodel their kitchen.

People lived more simply and valued the concept of saving.

"Our grandparents saved their butts off for everything they had," Koos says, "and if they didn't have the money for it," they didn't buy it.

Saving money requires a commitment that we just aren't making.

And here's the really scary thing.

The average balance in our 401(k) accounts reached a record high $80,900 earlier this year.

That isn't enough and it doesn't reflect all of those families who don't even have a retirement account.

A recent report from the National Institute on Retirement Security found that in all households, not just households with retirement accounts, the median savings is a mere $3,000.

"We have 38 million working-age households who do not have any retirement assets," says NIRS executive director Diane Oakley.

Those are 38 million households headed for an impoverished retirement.

Of course, it's never too late — or too early — to begin building financial security for your and your family.

Here's our best advice on how to start saving in your 30s, in your 40s and in your 50s.

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