As inflation has ravaged savings, stocks, bonds, life insurance values and the real estate market, many consumers have had to face the reality that it is harder to provide for financial needs and retirement than it was a decade ago.

Many consumers--even those earning $30,000 a year or less -- have begun to feel the need for professional help in planning their finances. With the plethora of investment choices available and the new-found uncertainties that plague all consumers, many small and medium-sized investors have discovered that the standard advisers of yore -- the life insurance salesman, the stock broker and the branch banker -- are now inadequate.

If your bank is managing a $1 million trust account for you, bank officials more than likely would be willing to usher you into their offices and provide comprehensive help in planning all of your financial affairs.

But for others, the financial planning industry is trying to fill the niche that in less turbulent times was filled adequately by brokers, neighborhood bankers and a little pencil work on the part of the investor.

Traditional investment houses and life insurance companies are offering financial planning services, often at little or no cost to the customer.

"They're loss leaders, in effect," said a major banker. "At financial firms financial planners often are like milk at the supermarket. The firm assumes that the customer will do enough business with you that the fees and commissions generated will more than cover the cost of the financial planner."

Increasingly, however, financial planners are providing their services independently. Depending upon the the complexity of an individual's problems and the type of fee the financial planner charges, an individual can pay from $1,500 to $20,000 for a complete look at his goals and advice on how to meet them, according to David Dondero, head of the financial planning firm Dondero & Associates.

The most expensive planners provide their services only for a fee. These are the traditional planners, many of whom will not involve themselves in the implementation of plans they develop.

Others, Dondero said, base their charges on a combination of fees and commissions if the individual uses the planner to make the recommended investments. The consumer can choose to use someone other than the planner to make those investments, Dondero said, but most do not because there is little chance to save much money.

Financial planners admit that their charges are not, on their face at least, inexpensive.

One banker whose institution stopped offering financial planning services to its customers because it could not do so competently at a reasonable price, said, "It's a very time consuming business. You've got to sit down with clients, learn their needs, their resources, their fears and their willingness to take risks."

George Barbee, executive director of the Consumer Financial Institute, said his firm offers computerized financial planning advice for much less than most planners. The firm has two computer services, one aimed at individuals earning from about $20,000 to $50,000 and another for those earning up to $150,000.

For the most part, Barbee contracts with companies such as American Can Co. that offer services to their employes. But Barbee said several banks, anxious to find new sources of income, offer his services to their customers as part of a financial planning service. He said he is negotiating with other banks, including several in this area.

But most bankers say they are skeptical about offering financial planning to a wide range of their customers. They agree that banks would be a logical place for many middle-income individuals to turn for help in planning their financial futures.

Nevertheless, bankers say it is not only difficult to offer the service profitably, but it is also difficult to keep good planners.

"Either they are ambitious bankers and after five years want a promotion, or they realize they can make more money on their own. People want advisers to stick with them for years, even generations. They get very uncomfortable if they've got a new adviser every few years," said an official at a major New York bank.

Richard J. Jurgovan, vice president of Continental Illinois National Bank, said the Chicago institution offers planning services to corporate executives and small business owners, but mainly to help keep their loan business, not to make money on the service.

"Unless we can find new products to sell consumers, we're going to find many of our branches are a big drain on earnings," said an official of a big New York bank. "But I doubt financial planning will be one of them. We can give advice about what to do with an All Savers certificate that is maturing or what kind of an IRA individual retirement account fits their needs. But there's no way we could keep good advisers at all our branches.