American seniors are more stressed than any other group when it comes to the economy, studies show — and with millions living in poverty, they've got good reason to be.

Numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau show that 3.6 million seniors were under the poverty line in 2007 — nearly 10 percent of them. Since that time, the economy has worsened, forcing seniors to cut back even more.

"We're on a tight budget," said retiree Petrella Robinson. She is trying to stick to her financial plan and not dip into her savings or investments, but many other seniors say they have no choice as they adjust to a new reality.

"Over a quarter of folks are taking money out of their retirement nest eggs, and about 20 percent are no longer able to put money in," said Tom Nelson, Chief Operating Officer of AARP.

Nelson says those decisions can have devastating effects — "not just for the next six months to a year," he said. "It's really going to affect the quality of life of retirement years down the road."

Seniors are struggling to keep up with daily living expenses. A recent AARP survey shows nearly 60 percent of those 65 or older are having a tough time paying for food, gas and medicine.

Financial adviser Patricia Davis has been leading free financial seminars for seniors, and says even those who planned properly are hurting.

"Fear is paralyzing, but that's not going to help you get through," she told FOX News. Davis says many are turning to family but, "unfortunately, family members themselves are being stretched."

For a generation that's played by the rules, saved and invested, it's been difficult watching their American dream slipping away, Nelson said. "It's very hard emotionally, as well as financially," he said.

Many seniors are finding help with simple steps, like asking their physicians for drug samples or to specifically prescribe generic drugs. Some are also negotiating with cell-phone and cable companies for better rates, or dropping their service altogether if it's not manageable.

Seniors are looking to social services for help more and more, and 11 percent turned to charity or family for assistance in the last year. Nelson says exploring every option is key before turning to current assets seniors are banking on for the long-term.

"Going to that retirement nest egg should be the absolute last resort," he said.