Although the U.S. doesn't have the reputation for being a nation of savers, there does seem to be some hope. A new survey shows that 28% of employed Americans say they are putting away more money for retirement this year than they did last year. And that makes it four years in a row there's been an increase in that figure.

That's the highest rate since the annual survey began in 2011, according to Bankrate.com, which conducted the survey. And it's an improvement from the 15% who said that they increased their retirement savings rate from the previous year back in 2011.

"If you're not saving at least 10% of your income for retirement, raise your contributions to that level without delay," said Bankrate chief financial analyst Greg McBride in a press release. "And once you're at 10%, aim to increase that to 15%, which is the target most working Americans should aim for."

(The majority of Americans apparently don't agree with him on that last point. They believe that it's adequate to save less than 15% of their annual income toward retirement, according to Capital One's 2018 Financial Freedom survey.) 

A person drops a coin in a piggy bank.

Saving for retirement should be viewed as an unavoidable expense. Image source: Getty Images.

Better, but not good enough

You can probably credit the improved economy for the increase in retirement savings. Wages are rising in some professions, and that likely makes workers more confident about their job security or their ability to find another position if needed.

That confidence makes it easier for people to feel secure about putting money into retirement accounts that they cannot access until at least age 59 1/2. The Bankrate survey has shown a steady rise in this regard over the previous three years -- the number of respondents saying that they increased their retirement savings from the previous year was 19% in 2015, 21% in 2016, and 23% in 2017.

In addition, only 13% of working Americans reported saving less than they did last year. That's the lowest amount since the report began.

What's holding people back?

The reasons people gave for not increasing their retirement savings varied greatly. The top reason was "income that hasn't changed or has decreased," cited by 26%. That was followed at 21% by those who "are comfortable with their retirement savings or contributions," and the 16% who are "focusing on another financial priority." Another 12% blamed "rising household expenses," while 11% said they "have not gotten around to it." And 10% chose not to answer, while 5% said that they have had an unexpected financial emergency. (The percentages were rounded off, which brings the total to 101%)

"Stagnant income and rising household expenses mean there is little financial wiggle room for many Americans," McBride said. 

What can you do?

It's easy to put off retirement savings in favor of spending on more-immediate needs (or wants). That's a mistake, because retirement savings grow over time.

And while it's hard to predict how investments will perform over the short term, the major stock market indexes have shown annualized total returns of 9% to 10%, according to a recent article by The Motley Fool's Matthew Frankel.

Basically, if you have 20 years until retirement, each dollar you invest grows by roughly 10% for each year you have it stashed away. That means the $600 new television you bought instead of saving that money for retirement actually cost Future You thousands of dollars.

One way to increase retirement savings is to automate the process. Have the money deducted from your paycheck, because that removes any temptation to spend it before transferring it to a retirement account.

That 15% savings rate McBride recommends is not a hard and fast rule, but it is a reasonable guideline for most people. View your retirement savings as a deduction, like taxes or Social Security. It might force you to adjust your lifestyle or find a way to make more money. Neither of those is an enjoyable prospect, but it's better than having to go to work in your 70s and beyond because you've run out of money, or not being able to live the retirement you envisioned.

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.