Twenty million homes can't afford to save and 80 per cent of people have been spending beyond their means, according to new research.
Figures from insurer AXA show that only those households bringing in over £70,000 are finding the provision to save.
The very worst-off are families who rely on benefits to support their income.
Steve Folkard of AXA said: "Many of us still feel helpless even though we're worried about our money and understand that the cost of living is increasing.
"The reality of the economic downturn is being felt in homes all over Britain. It may be a global financial crisis but the effects are rippling down to a very local level."
AXA is running a campaign to encourage people to devote one hour a month or 15 minutes a week to planning their finances.
Meanwhile, 62 per cent of parents are worried their children will get into debt, according to a survey released this week.
The research from Nationwide also showed that only two in ten parents and teachers frequently talk to their children or pupils about money and 21 per cent of children aged between four and seven do not have a savings account.
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