Saving money takes discipline.

Unless you are fabulously wealthy (and most of us aren't), saving means taking cash we could be spending now on something we want and putting it away for a time in the future where we expect to need it. That's a tough transaction for most people. It's a lot easier to see the "value" of a steak dinner or family vacation now than to picture what retirement looks like 20, 30, or even 40 years into the future.

That may be why, while 80% of Americans said they are saving money in a new Bank of America survey, 51% said that it was not enough to reach their financial goals.

A family puts money into a piggy bank.

Saving money is something that families should talk about. Image source: Getty Images.

Saving money is a learned behavior

According to the survey, many Americans (55%) said they struggle to save because they were not taught how to and have had to figure it out on their own.

Saving money can be a bit like brushing your teeth. If you don't brush often enough, the major impact of that inaction may not be felt for years. Sure, your breath may not be great, and your smile may be a bit gruesome, but the real impact -- the cavities, root canals, and gum problems -- tend to be felt only after years of neglect.

When it comes to saving, the same applies. You may hit some near-term bumps from not saving enough -- like having to put an unexpected bill on a credit card -- but the real damage comes when you want to buy a home, pay for your child's education, or retire. If you have not saved, it's very hard to do the first two and nearly impossible to do the third.

You can learn

It's not hard to learn how to save money or to figure out how much you need to save. The first step is to set up an account where you can put money aside -- somewhere that's not where your living expenses go.

This might be a savings account (though returns on money left there will likely be quite small) or it could mean a brokerage account for investing in individual stocks or index funds. In many cases, your company will offer a 401(k) (sometimes with a match) that makes saving money very easy.

The key is to make sure the money comes out of your check before it hits your checking account. You can figure out how much to save later. The first step is starting to save by putting the right systems in place.

Once you have set yourself up to save, you need to consider your short- and long-term goals. If you're saving up for a vacation or to put a downpayment on a home, that should be done along with planning for longer-term goals including college costs and retirement.

It's important to know what your goals are since it's harder to reach an unknown destination than one that you have identified. There's no one single formula that works for everyone but the important thing is to understand then need to save and to start doing it.