Around half a million Kiwis have no savings and are just living off what they earn from one pay day to the next, according to research from Consumer New Zealand.
Gemma Rasmussen, Consumer NZ head of communications and campaigns, said stagnant wage growth and the rising cost of living meant many were struggling to get ahead.
"Many people are struggling to put money away, with only one in four satisfied with their level of savings.
"Many are doing it tough - over the past three months, half of New Zealanders had saved 5 per cent or less of their income."
Rasmussen said its sentiment tracker research found the cost of living was the second most concerning issue after the nation's housing situation.
The latest inflation data is due out today and is expected to show prices have been rising at the fastest rate in over a decade.
Economists expect Consumer Price Index data will show inflation landed between 1.5 and 1.8 per cent for the September quarter.
That's an annual inflation rate of between 4.2 per cent and 4.5 per cent, the largest annual rise since the John Key Government's GST hike in 2011.
Rasmussen said its research showed one in 10 respondents spent more than they saved putting them into the red.
And older people were struggling to save the most - a situation weighing heavily on them giving their approaching retirement.
The survey found one in five of those aged 50-59 had no savings at all - more than any other age group.
Three out of five noted retirement as being one of their saving priorities (along with 71 per cent of those aged 60-69 years old).
The standard of living for those in their 50's and 60's isn't getting much better either.
For both groups, only one in 10 felt their standard of living had improved over the past year.
Earlier this year, the sentiment tracker found rising costs had rippled into the housing market with three out of five property owners saying they would be unable to afford to buy the homes in which they currently live.