In the last column, I promised that I would talk about a survey that asked for people’s biggest financial regrets — but, first, the results of, and some thoughts on, another survey that eventually led me to the “regrets” survey.

That survey indicated that 31 percent of people said they had saved enough for six or more months of expenses. As you know from previous columns, most financial planners and advisors say that you should have six to eight months of your net salary saved in case you lose your job, and six months of expenses is an adequate emergency savings account for most life situations.

That being said, for me, it was actually encouraging that 31 percent of those surveyed had hit that emergency saving account target, but I tend to be optimistic by nature. I wasn’t even discouraged by the 24 percent in the survey who said that they had no emergency savings. In part, it is because personal finances are just that, they are “personal.”

I was reminded of that this week when I was speaking with a number of the financial counselors at the Veterans Outreach Center — great volunteers who help our veterans with their finances. What I said to them was that, as the founder of and a presenter in the CARE Financial Literacy Program, and as a columnist, I put forth lessons, tactics and techniques, which some would say are “aspirational.” I don’t disagree with that characterization, but in my roles, I don’t see how I could do anything but that.

On the other hand, as counselors to our veterans, they, and other financial counselors, deal with actual people, and their real finances, financial IQ’s, personalities and personal and emotional challenges. That is a far different challenge than mine.

I do understand, from my many years in and around the bankruptcy courts, that sometimes people are doing everything that they can, and they just can’t save for emergencies, anticipated expenses or retirement. They just don’t make enough and can’t make more. However, it can be frustrating for counselors, or others trying to help them with their finances, when poor spending models as they were growing up, or personality issues — like a lack of personal discipline, an extreme need for instant gratification — or an addiction issue like alcohol, tobacco, or shopping, prevents them from following sound, helpful, and otherwise achievable financial advice.

Perhaps you, as readers, have been similarly frustrated when you were trying to help friends or family members with their finances. I know that I have been at times. My advice, when you have done what you can, is not to give up on them, but to send them to a professional, if they really do want to change. As I have said in the past, Consumer Credit Counseling of Rochester is a great start. Step one will always be to prepare a realistic budget, because that is the road map out of financial problems for many people.

Interestingly, when it comes to budgets, which I think everyone should have, I suspect that many people who have the money to pay all of their bills, service their debts, have some savings and investments, and buy pretty much what they want to, don’t have a budget, even though it could help them make even smarter financial choices.

By the way, when it comes to tobacco and other, for some, “budget busters," I was at Kwik Fill this week, and a pack of cigarettes is still in the $8 to $10 range, so a pack-a-day habit, at the high end, costs $3,620 a year. I told the clerk that when I went to college in Washington, D.C, in the 1960’s, a pack of cigarettes was 25 cents. He just shook his head.

So let’s finally turn to that financial regrets survey, the results of which probably won’t surprise you, because the top four are the things that we hear and read about all of the time, including in columns like this one, and the age group differences, when provided, also are not surprising.

Number One: not saving enough for retirement — 18 percent. Broken down by age: 18-29 (4 percent), 30-49 (17 percent), 50-64 (24 percent) and 65-plus (27 percent).

Number Two: not saving enough for emergencies – 13 percent. Broken down by age: 18-29 (21 percent), 30-49 (10 percent), 50-64 (13 percent) and 65-plus (7 percent).

Number Three: taking on too much student loan debt — 9 percent.

Number Four: taking on too much credit card debt — 9 percent.

Next time, a few things about filing bankruptcy, something else we discussed at the Veterans Outreach Center, but first, one more quick non-financial reflection on our trip to Italy.

I use a low-calories sugar in my coffee, but when I ask for it in a restaurant, or on a plane or train, I ask for “diet sugar” instead of “low calorie sugar, Equal, Sweet ’n Low, Splenda, etc.” It makes a lot of servers smile or laugh, because, apparently, no one else says that. Interestingly, the common low-calorie sugar throughout Italy is “Dietor.” I am not sure if I call it “diet sugar” because I picked it up from prior trips to Italy, or whether I actually came up with it. Either way, I will still call it that.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at or at