The overall discipline that Americans bring to their finances remains low, a Northwestern Mutual study has found.
A little less than one in five (18 percent) consider themselves a highly disciplined financial planner, meaning they know their exact goals, have developed specific plans to meet them, and rarely deviate from those plans.
More than one-third (36 percent) consider themselves disciplined, meaning they know their exact goals and have developed specific plans to meet them, but those plans can deviate at times, according to The Planning and Progress 2014 Study.
And nearly half of adults (46 percent) are either informal planners or don't do any planning at all.
In addition, 60 percent of all respondents believe their financial planning could use improvement, and the number one barrier, cited by more than one in four (72 percent) is lack of time.
On the other hand, the more discipline a person has in his or financial planning, the more financially secure he or she will feel and the greater likelihood they will be happy in the future, the study revealed.
Fully 70 percent of highly disciplined planners feel "very financially secure" compared to 51 percent of disciplined planners, 34 percent of Informal planners and 17 percent of non-planners.
The study showed that highly disciplined planners who are retired are much more likely than non-planners to say that they are "happy in retirement" (91 percent vs. 63 percent).
"Happiness can't be bought, of course, but it can be planned for," Greg Oberland, Northwestern Mutual executive vice president, said.
"The links between discipline, financial security and happiness are quite distinct. There's some powerful evidence to suggest that the small steps you take today can make a real difference tomorrow."
Younger adults (18-39) and more senior adults (60+) represent the most disciplined financial planners, while adults who are between the ages 40 and 59 are the most financially unprepared and most likely to identify themselves as informal or non-planners.
The study also found that 59 percent of younger adults and 54 percent of more senior adults identify themselves as disciplined financial planners, while less than half of adults aged 40-50 believe they are disciplined.
More than half (51 percent) of adults aged 40-59 identify themselves as informal or non-planners, while that number drops to 41 percent in younger adults and 46 percent in senior adults.
"It's interesting to see the differences in discipline among age groups, and whether they signal a pronounced shift in attitudes toward financial security in America," said Oberland.
"It's worth noting that both young adults and seniors have experienced tough economic cycles during formative periods of their financial lives. Regardless of the explanation, we see the return to realistic expectations, prudent decision making and disciplined patience as a very positive trend."
The study was conducted on behalf of Northwestern Mutual by Harris Poll and included 2,092 American adults aged 18 or older who participated in an online survey from Jan.21-Feb.5.