The number of people putting spare cash aside has fallen to its lowest level since July 2005 and travel and home improvement savings have suffered the most, a survey by AMP has found.

Of the 505 people questioned in in the February Superwatch research, 64 per cent said they were saving for something.

But that has fallen from a peak of 71 per cent reached in February 2007.

Of those who are saving, retirement or superannuation remains a priority with 58 per cent putting money away for their golden years.

That is down on the 65 per cent who were doing so in February last year but is up from the low point in February 2006 when it was 47 per cent.

Saving for an emergency or rainy day has gained in importance in the past few months with 47 per cent putting aside money compared with 42 per cent in August last year. But the number of people saving for travel and home improvement has dropped.

Only 41 per cent were saving for travel versus 51 per cent in February 2007, while those saving for home improvement have dropped from 28 per cent to 22 per cent.

The only area which has seen a significant boost is education.

Those saving for the education of either themselves, a child or a grandchild was up from a low of 19 per cent in February 2007 to a high of 27 per cent in February 2009.

AMP New Zealand Financial Services NZ managing director Jack Regan said the results showed the difficult economic times were having a strong influence on saving behaviour.

"Some people have obviously made the decision that they are just not in a position to save as much as they used to."

Regan said the change in economic climate also directly related to the increase in rainy day savings and the drop in more discretionary spending.

"I think it is climatic whatever people view their financial circumstances in life and general prospects for financial well-being you can expect that to be the case."

For the first time more people saw KiwiSaver as a way to save for retirement rather than paying off their mortgage or bank deposits.

Regan said it showed a shift in the attitudes of New Zealanders who had previously focused on having savings in the bank or investing in property.

Of those surveyed, 37 per cent had joined KiwiSaver. Of those who had not joined, 26 per cent said they were either very likely or somewhat likely to before the end of the year, but 61 per cent said they were unlikely to join the scheme.

Regan said the numbers of people who had joined KiwiSaver had stayed at a consistent level for the past six months, which showed growth was slowing.

Regan expected direct enrolments with providers to level off but enrolment through changing jobs would continue to boost numbers.

"Around 20 to 25 per cent of the workforce change jobs on an annual basis. We are probably at the low end of that now because of the recession but turnover will continue."

The new KiwiSaver changes introduced on April 1 also seem to have made only a small difference to people.

Of those who had joined KiwiSaver, two-thirds planned to keep contributing at 4 per cent, while 23 per cent said they would drop down to the new minimum of 2 per cent.

Regan doubted whether even 23 per cent would change because of inertia.

Of those who had not joined KiwiSaver only 26 per cent said the new level would convince them to.

The National Government dropped the level to 2 per cent because they said research showed the 4 per cent contribution rate was the biggest barrier to people joining.

That finding did not surprise Regan, who said people had already had a choice to sign up at 2 per cent before the changes if their employer contributed 2 per cent.

Piggy bank
AMP survey found:
* Fewer people saving.
* Travel and home improvement saving down.
* Education saving up.
* Retirement saving a priority for more than half.