LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) -

Americans are still feeling the financial sting of the recession several years later.

A consumer survey by the Federal Reserve finds the majority of American households are comfortable with their current financial situation, but a large number say things are much worse for them since the recession.

Almost 40 percent of households reported that their families are "just getting by" or even struggling to get by financially.

The survey also finds a typical American household is struggling to save money or prepare for retirement.

Thirty-four percent of American households say they feel they are worse off financially now than they were in 2008 in the middle of the recession.

"If people are saying, 'Well gee I feel like I'm worse off then I was before,' then they may retrench a little bit and say, 'I should be saving some more and cut back on my spending,'" University of Wisconsin-La Crosse economics professor Mike Haupert said.

Haupert said if consumers aren't comfortable with the economy, they'll stop purchasing things like new cars and homes. And if those purchases aren't made, a ripple effect goes through the economy again.

"The less confident consumers feel, the less likely they are to spend, the less likely you and I are to have jobs tomorrow if we rely on that type of spending," Haupert said.

The federal survey also talks about the impact the recession has had on Americans saving their money. It says fewer than 40 percent of households have a rainy-day fund.

"The average household doesn't have a big savings account for short-term emergencies," Haupert said.

Financial investor Tom Brewer says even on a fixed income, there are ways people can be saving their money.

"The first step is to track your expenses, see where your money is going, and then you can restructure things to see if you can find money on a month-to-month basis," Brewer said.

Brewer said every household needs to have reserve funds for immediate emergencies.

"Whether that is $5,000, $10,000, that changes for every household," Brewer said.

To have financial security, people need to be investing in themselves, Brewer says.

"If you can restructure your debt or restructure your tax withholdings, take that money, put it into your savings, gain a little net worth, that's what helps build confidence in both your personal finances and the general economy as well," Brewer said.

The survey also found that 31 percent of households have no retirement savings or pension plan. Brewer said that should be a high priority on everyone's list.

The survey was conducted in September 2013, but just released last week.