In my CARE presentations I tell the students that they should actually make money matter, by getting the best value that they can when they are spending it — and if they can save some money here or there, they will have more money to meet their financial goals and to enjoy life. I often use the example of how there are any number of items, including certain kinds of Smuckers jelly which I like, that I can purchase at a discount grocery store for 50 cents or so less than at a premium grocery store, which is two blocks away. Not another jelly, the same premium brand.

Students all understand that it doesn’t make sense to drive 10 extra miles just to save a few cents per gallon on gasoline. What students don’t understand is why people won’t go two blocks to save 50 cents on several items, especially when they often have to drive right past that other store anyway. Then, of course, they buy those same items over and over again throughout the year. Honestly, I don’t understand it either, but I see it play out every day. It’s apparently about “convenience.”

As I was preparing for my first CARE presentation for this school year, my wife gave me a new example that I can use. You can’t make these stories up! I have been buying Arnold’s sandwich thins, in several flavors, at a buying club. We both enjoy them, so, not knowing what I pay for them, she purchased a package at a premium grocery store when she was there. The chain has a store essentially two blocks away from my buying club. You guessed it — she paid exactly 50 cents more. With so many of our retailers bunched up on roads like Jefferson Road, Ridge Road West and Ridge Road East, is it really so inconvenient to make a few stops to save some money? It can really add up.

On another subject, one of the principal lessons that I include in a CARE presentation is that you need a good credit history, and hopefully a good credit score, which uses an algorithm based upon your credit history. However, as most of us know by now from experience, you can have a number of credit scores, because different entities use different credit score suppliers that can use different algorithms. You can have one credit score for purposes of obtaining a new credit card, and a different one for purposes of obtaining a mortgage. I tell them that your credit history is a lot like your personal reputation. You want and need to have a good one, otherwise there can be consequences. When it comes to finances, it can mean that you could lose out on a car loan, a mortgage, an apartment, a student loan, or even a job — all things that especially young people may need.

When I say that, teachers always chime in to remind the students that when it comes to college admissions and future employment, they also need to be careful about what they put out on social media.

After closely following the recent confirmation hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, it seems clear to me that many other issues, for example, like bullying others when you were young, may impact on people’s financial futures. I have always told young people that life is about opportunities, and you need to position yourself to be able to take advantage of as many opportunities as you may want or need to in your future. Also, you can’t burn any bridges behind you. It seems that today, there are an increasing number of bridges that can impact on your future that you can’t burn. I hope that parents, grandparents, and schools are reinforcing this message for young people.

Money Diaries is a series from Refinery29. It claims to offer readers a revealing and often surprising look at the personal finances of others: what they spend, how they save, and even the purchases they hide from their partners and friends. There is even a book by Lindsay Stanberry — “Refinery29 Money Diaries: Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About Your Finances ... And Everyone Else’s.” I will probably pick it up so that I can better understand these two promotional statements: First, budgets are bulls--t. Second, the first step to getting your financial life in order is tracking what you spend.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you know that I believe that a budget is the foundation of any sound financial plan. That is because I believe that, in the first instance, it will force you to do two key things. First, it will force you to track your spending, so that you can analyze your spending in terms of needs vs. wants, wishes, luxuries and conveniences, and perhaps make some better financial choices. Second, it will force you to save, at least for emergencies, anticipated expenses and retirement. Then, you may get in the swing of it, and have general saving.

In an NPR interview, a principal of Money Diaries expressed the apparent concern of many Americans without a budget. It is that if you just try to do a full blown budget, it might be too much, because you may be setting yourself up for failure, just like giving up smoking or going on a diet to lose weight for the first time. If that is the reason for the bulls--t comment, it’s OK from my standpoint. Start slow and track your spending without the pressure of a full blown budget, but do the saving component at the same time, and have a goal of doing that full-blown budget down the line. You may be surprised at what you are spending your money on. That was the experience of many of those whose money diaries are online. Check some of them out at!

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