As I submit this column, the results of the midterm elections are not in yet. There has been so much talk about even more gridlock if different parties end up holding the House and Senate. For me, no matter who wins or loses, I wonder if anything will ever change when it comes to how many of our taxpayer dollars are arguably wasted. Think about these examples in a recent advertisement in the Wall Street Journal — $537,250 for video games to fight obesity and diabetes; $1million to determine where it hurts the most to be stung by a bee; and $4.5 million for a professional golfers career college. Then there are these examples — $114,375 for a cigar taste test; $21 million for SBA loans to Rolex Jewelers; and $50 million for use it or lose it spending by federal agencies.

There are many, what some may characterize as even more outrageous, examples on the website. I guarantee you will be shaking your head if you read them.

On a different subject, I was travelling to and from San Antonio at the end of October to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges for my work in financial literacy. Our trip home was on Halloween, when I saw a lot more people than I was comfortable with walking around the airports with costumes that included masks. Speaking of Halloween costumes, 31.3 million Americans were planning on dressing up their pets in a costume this year, at the estimated cost of $350 million. Millennials between 25 and 34 were the most likely demographic to dress up a pet. Having a lot of nieces and nephews in that age group, I can’t say that surprised me. Another “Halloween highlight,” which was a first for me, came
when, in passing, I saw a piece on a newscast which showed a dog with dyed fur. Of course I had to do a little research to make sure I really did see that. It turns out that you can use a commercial dye, but you can also use sugarless Kool-Aid to dye you pet’s fur. After all, it comes in many “Kool” colors, is inexpensive (that’s the frugal way), and it really can’t hurt the pet. I even read an article by a veterinarian on with detailed instructions. Of course the good news is that now you can dye your pet for all kinds of other occasions, like the Fourth of July, or when your favorite team wins a championship.

On yet another subject, we have been taking about “the next recession” in this column. At the San Antonio conference we received an “update” from a prominent economist. The prediction, with the usual disclaimer that economists are very, very often wrong, and which is pretty much what I have been hearing and reading, is sometime in the middle of 2020 to the beginning of 2021. What are the three top contributing factors? First, tax cuts, regulatory cutbacks, and the recent spending budget, which has resulted in increased spending and higher deficits, have pumped a lot of money into the economy, but that money is going to run out, and likely won’t be replaced. Second, there is that whole narrowing of the government bonds yield curve, which we have discussed, that could very well invert in 2019, and historically, recessions follow within a year to a year and one-half. Third, we have more job openings in the United States than ever before, even on a per capita basis, and historically, when we have a period of full employment, a recession follows in about three years. As time goes on, we will no doubt continue to hear more predictions of a recession, as well as reasons why it is not going to happen this time. And then there will be discussions of, if there is a recession, how bad will it be. I just remember what we were taught as I was growing up: “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst, because bad things happen to good people all the time.”

On a final subject, representatives of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Rochester (585-546-3440) were recently on a local broadcast. One thing of note is that, because of a grant, through March of 2019, they are offering free student loan debt counseling, something they normally charge a fee for. So if you know someone who is struggling with student loan debt, you might want to tell them about this free service. They also had some good financial advice, which should sound familiar to you if you are a regular reader. Here are two of them. First, if you want to pay down your credit card debt, start with the card that has the highest interest rate, but if all your cards are at about the same rate, you might want to pay down the one with the lowest balance first, so that you can get some earlier reinforcement. In any case, when it comes to credit cards always pay more than the minimum payment. I always say, if you want to be motivated to pay more than the minimum payment, every month, be sure to read that portion of the credit card statement that tells you how much you will pay and how long it will take you to pay off your debt. Second, when it comes to holiday shopping, use cash as much as possible, have a budget and stick to it, and, in January, open a savings account for next year’s holiday expenses.

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