NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Being strapped in for an hour's worth of sharp instruments poking at your teeth and gums isn't exactly the best way to spend an afternoon, but as dreaded as some visits to the dentist can be, 17% of Americans say they'd opt for the dentist drill over a trip to a financial adviser to learn better money-management skills.

That's according to a study by Evansville, N.C.-based Springleaf Financial.

A big part of the reluctance is that so many Americans are in denial over their finances and don't want to face the fact they're struggling from paycheck to paycheck. According to Springleaf, about half of the population (43%) said they couldn't go more than one month without a paycheck. Another 19% say they could not miss a single paycheck without having to borrow money or sell assets. And 24% say they have less than $250 on their bank account come payday.

Even consumers who are highly educated have a hard time saving money. Twenty-seven percent of Americans with graduate degrees "couldn't miss a single month of paychecks without having to borrow money or sell assets," Springleaf says.

That somewhat alarmed executives at Springleaf, who call the lack of savings and accompanying reluctance to learn better money habits a pervasive problem.

"We know full well that with rising costs and unexpected expenses, consumers may have a tough time making ends meet," said Dave Hogan, vice president of marketing and analytics at Springleaf. "However, we were surprised to see that nearly 20% of adults don't have enough of a cushion to last two weeks without a paycheck. What was especially surprising is that this is true across all education and salary levels."

The lessons that Americans do learn about money often come after some tough, bitter experiences, with 20% of respondents saying they gave their answers after learning "the hard way," Springleaf says. 

"We are concerned that so many Americans aren't willing to take the time to learn the skills they need to make better financial decisions," Hogan says. "As money management remains a challenge among consumers, the study serves as an eye-opener to just how critical financial education is among today's adults — and how far we still have to go."

"Our survey shows that people find money management to be quite intimidating," he says. "They don't know where to start, are worried they're already behind or don't feel they have the tools to learn. But this subject is too important to avoid."

— By Brian O'Connell for MainStreet