Are You Considering Homeownership?

Are You Considering Homeownership?

Tired of renting and thinking about buying a house? Not sure where to start? Let’s talk about some of the first steps in the path to homeownership.

Many people don’t realize that making the decision to buy a home and the process to buy one isn’t a one-size-fits-all step. There are many emotions and considerations that go into it. Here are some of the first questions to consider.

Do you have a budget or spending plan that you can live on?

Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

Having a spending plan or budget that you can live on means that you’ve reviewed your income and expenses and either have a balanced budget or one with money left over. You may adjust that budget each month as expenses and/or income change but you don’t end the month in the negative. If you’re just getting started, try checking out our Money Management Calendar. It will take you through the six steps of building a spending plan and serve as a tool to help track your money each month. Knowing your financial situation before you begin the process to buy a home is important, as there are out-of-pocket costs that you’ll encounter when buying a home such as appraisal fees and closing costs, in addition to costs associated with homeownership, like maintenance, repairs, and insurance.

How does your credit report and credit score look?

Lenders use your credit score to help determine whether or not to approve you for a mortgage loan and, if approved, at what interest rate. The higher your credit score, typically, the lower your interest rate and the less you’ll pay for your home. Different loan programs may also have a minimum credit score requirement you’ll have to meet. Start by checking your credit report at the three different credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Look for any errors or mistakes that could negatively impact your score. The three national credit reporting agencies permanently extended a program allowing individuals to check their credit report for FREE once a week at each agency. Visit AnnualCreditReport.com access the free copies of your credit reports. Improving your credit score can take time so starting early is helpful.

How much debt do you have?

Photo Credit: UF/IFAS Photo by Thomas Wright

Debt is another factor that lenders consider when you apply for a mortgage loan. Having too much debt can cause you to be turned down for a mortgage loan. The amount of debt you have can also significantly impact how much a lender is willing to lend you toward a home purchase. You can calculate your debt-to-income (DTI) ratio by dividing your total monthly debt payments by your total gross monthly income and multiplying it by 100 to convert it to a percentage. For total monthly debt payments, you should include any loans, credit card payments, child support, alimony, medical payments, and similar items. Do not include things like groceries, utilities, etc.

Each lender and loan program will have a different maximum limit, but many are in the range of 35-41% of your income going for debt repayment.

These are just a few of the initial questions to consider if you’re thinking about buying a home (and can be ones to think about even if you’re not!). Saving money, paying down debt, and repairing or raising your credit score all take time. Starting today can help you to be in a better position when you are ready to take the next step. If you want to learn more, UF/IFAS Extension offers classes for first-time homebuyers (returning buyers are welcome, too!) that go more in-depth for each of these questions and much more. Contact your local Extension office to find out about class schedules.

Resources:

My Florida Home Book: A Guide for First-Time Homebuyers in Florida, University of Florida/IFAS Extension

Consumer Alert: You now have permanent access to free weekly credit reports, Federal Trade Commission

What’s on Your Plate?

What’s on Your Plate?

No matter your age, good nutrition is key. When we choose to eat healthy, we are making a conscious effort to continually improve our well-being. When we teach young children about the importance of eating healthy, we are helping them to grow, develop, and maintain a healthy lifestyle they will carry on through adulthood. Making these smart food choices, along with regular physical activity, can significantly reduce the risk of developing serious health problems. For individuals who deal with chronic health problems, proper nutrition can aid in the management of their conditions. There are many other benefits that come with eating a healthy diet such as improved mood and mental health, a strengthened immune system, and more sustained energy.

In addition to the benefits of good nutrition, incorporating practical tools such as MyPlate can provide valuable guidance. MyPlate serves as a visual reminder of the types of foods we should be enjoying daily. It simplifies the process of making healthy choices by categorizing foods into five essential groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. By incorporating a variety of choices from each group into our daily meals, we make every bite count. Start by making simple adjustments to your daily meals. Whether you are cooking for yourself or your family, take time to plan out meals that include a variety of choices from each food group. If you are preparing for your family, make mealtimes a priority and connect with each other while preparing and enjoying meals together. Turn off the television, put away electronics, and enjoy time together as a family. Have conversations about the colors, texture, and flavor of the food being served.

Children often are more willing to try a food they have grown or prepared.
Photo credit: UF/IFAS photo taken by Camila Guillen.

Growing a garden at home is another fun way to get everyone adding more variety onto their plate. Start with fruits or vegetables that are familiar or even an herb garden that can grow in a kitchen window. Children of all ages will enjoy watching and tending to the garden. This may also inspire children and youth to assist with cooking and food preparation in the kitchen.

Remember, eating healthy is a choice you get to make every day. The importance of good nutrition cannot be overstated, regardless of age. Choosing to eat healthy is a conscious effort that has far-reaching implications for our well-being. By instilling the values of healthy eating in young children, we lay the foundation for a lifetime of positive habits, fostering growth, development, and the maintenance of a healthy lifestyle into adulthood.

Mindful Stress Relief

Mindful Stress Relief

In today’s fast-paced and demanding world, stress has become an all-too-familiar companion for many individuals. The pressure to perform, meet deadlines, and juggle personal responsibilities can leave us feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Mindfulness, the practice of being fully present and aware of the current moment, offers a powerful antidote to stress. By cultivating mindfulness, we can gain greater control over our thoughts and emotions, leading to reduced stress levels and improved overall well-being. In this article, we will explore four mindfulness tips that can help us effectively manage stress. 

Embrace the present moment. One of the core principles of mindfulness is to embrace the present moment without judgment. Stress often arises from dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. By redirecting our focus to the here and now, we can break free from the cycle of stress. A simple yet effective way to achieve this is through mindful breathing. 

Start by finding a quiet space and sit or lie down comfortably. Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Feel the sensation of the breath entering and leaving your body. If your mind starts to wander, gently redirect your focus back to your breath. Engaging in this practice for just a few minutes each day can help rewire your brain to stay anchored in the present moment, reducing stress and increasing mental clarity. 

Cultivate gratitude. Gratitude is a potent mindfulness tool for combating stress. When we practice gratitude, we shift our attention away from what is lacking in our lives to what we already have. This shift in perspective fosters feelings of contentment and happiness, effectively reducing stress and anxiety. 

Each day, take a few moments to reflect on the things you are grateful for. They can be as simple as a warm cup of tea, a kind gesture from a friend, or a beautiful sunset. Keeping a gratitude journal can also be beneficial, as it allows you to document and revisit these positive aspects of your life regularly. As you consistently practice gratitude, you will notice a gradual decline in stress and a greater sense of overall well-being. 

One effective way to be more mindful and reduce stress is to take a break from screens and other devices and spend some peaceful time in nature. (Photo credit: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS)

Practice mindful movement. Physical activity is an excellent way to manage stress, and when combined with mindfulness, its benefits are even more profound. Engaging in mindful movement practices, such as yoga or tai chi, not only enhances flexibility and strength but also helps calm the mind. 

During these activities, concentrate on the sensations in your body, the rhythm of your breath, and the flow of movement. By keeping your attention on the present moment while you exercise, you create a mental space that allows stress and worries to dissipate. Moreover, mindful movement encourages a mind-body connection, promoting relaxation and a sense of inner peace. 

Take a tech time-out. In today’s digital age, it is easy to become glued to our devices, which can lead to information overload and heightened stress levels. Mindfulness involves being fully present in the real world, not just in the virtual one. To reduce stress, it is essential to set boundaries with technology and limit screen time. 

Allocate specific periods during the day to disconnect from your phone, computer, and other electronic devices. Use this time to engage in mindful activities, such as taking a walk in nature, reading a book, or spending quality time with loved ones. By reducing our exposure to the constant stream of information, we can create mental space and experience greater calm and balance. 

Incorporating mindfulness into our daily lives is a powerful strategy for reducing stress and nurturing overall well-being. Remember, mindfulness is a skill that improves with practice, so be patient with yourself as you embark on this journey toward a stress-free existence. 

UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution.

Reducing Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

Reducing Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, conversations about mental health have gained momentum, and the importance of addressing mental illnesses is finally being recognized. However, despite this progress, the stigma surrounding mental illness remains a formidable barrier to seeking help and support. In this article, we will explore the significance of reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues and how our collective efforts can pave the way for a more compassionate and understanding society. 

Stigma, in the context of mental illness, refers to the negative attitudes, stereotypes, and discrimination that individuals with mental health conditions often face. This pervasive stigma affects people from all walks of life, preventing them from seeking treatment, sharing their experiences, and living fulfilling lives. The fear of judgment and misconceptions about mental illness have perpetuated this stigma for far too long. 

The consequences of mental health stigma are far-reaching and detrimental. People who experience mental health challenges may avoid seeking help due to the fear of being labeled as “weak” or “crazy.” This hesitation to seek professional support can worsen their conditions, leading to prolonged suffering and potential crises. 

Student sitting alone on grass
People experiencing mental health challenges can feel very isolated. Being open to conversation about mental health can help reduce the stigma and create a more welcoming space. (Photo credit: Marisol Amador, UF/IFAS)

Moreover, stigma affects relationships, communities, and workplaces. Individuals struggling with mental health issues may face isolation, discrimination, and reduced opportunities for personal and professional growth. This not only affects their well-being but also hinders the productivity and inclusivity of our society. 

One of the most effective ways to combat mental health stigma is through education and awareness. Misinformation breeds fear, and fear perpetuates stigma. By providing accurate information about mental health conditions, their prevalence, and available treatments, we can dispel myths and promote empathy and understanding. 

Schools and workplaces can play a pivotal role in fostering awareness by integrating mental health education into their curricula and employee wellness programs. Initiatives like mental health seminars, campaigns, and awareness events can encourage open discussions and create safe spaces for sharing experiences. 

Personal narratives have the power to challenge misconceptions and humanize mental health issues. When public figures, celebrities, or even everyday individuals share their stories of coping with mental illnesses, it sends a powerful message of hope and resilience. These stories prove that mental health challenges are not insurmountable and that seeking help is a sign of strength. 

Media outlets can also contribute significantly by responsibly portraying mental health in films, TV shows, books, and online. By avoiding sensationalism and accurately depicting mental health experiences, the media can break down stereotypes and contribute to a more compassionate portrayal of those affected. 

Communities must come together to create a supportive environment for individuals living with mental health conditions. This involves fostering empathy, compassion, and active listening. Support groups and helplines can provide vital assistance and reduce the isolation felt by those struggling with their mental health. 

Furthermore, workplaces should adopt mental health-friendly policies that prioritize employee well-being. Encouraging open conversations about mental health at work and offering accessible resources like counseling services can make a significant difference. 

The government and healthcare institutions also bear the responsibility of reducing stigma and improving mental health services. Adequate funding for mental health programs, increasing the availability of mental health professionals, and integrating mental health into primary care are crucial steps toward addressing the issue. 

An Equal Opportunity Institution. 

What’s Brewing – Tea – National Tea Day

What’s Brewing – Tea – National Tea Day

Tea dates back thousands of years and spans numerous continents and civilizations. Tea contains antioxidants known as catechins and flavonoids. Antioxidants work to neutralize free radicals, which are formed when cells burn oxygen for energy.

Photo by Adobe Stock

Researchers from the USDA reported laboratory tests found tea produces greater antioxidants than numerous commonly consumed vegetables. Results of several studies suggest that tea has potential protective effects against certain types of cancers. Several studies also have suggested that tea drinking may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

There are many reasons for making tea, the second most consumed beverage worldwide, surpassed only by water, and part of a healthful lifestyle. Just as consuming fruits and vegetables daily provides vitamins, minerals, and fiber, drinking tea may help boost antioxidant intake.

Also, tea contributes to daily fluid intake, vital for the maintenance of fluid balance. Much of tea’s popularity can be attributed to its distinctive taste, aroma, and versatility. The health benefits of consuming tea suggest that it is a nutritionally healthy beverage choice. Whether you prefer tea hot or iced, it can be an important part of a healthy diet.

So, go ahead and brew up that cup of hot tea or a glass of iced tea and join the celebration of National Tea Day, April 21, 2024.

Tea Tidbits

On average, an 8-ounce cup of tea contains fifty milligrams of caffeine, about half the amount in coffee. The longer the brewing time, the more caffeine is in the tea.

Over 3.9 billion gallons of hot, iced, spiced, and flavored tea are consumed by Americans every year.

In the United States, Americans drink 80 percent of their tea over ice.

Lifestyle and Brain Health

Lifestyle and Brain Health

(Photo source: Canva)

Forgetfulness at times occurs to everyone, but many adults attribute this to aging. Regardless of your age, lifestyle practices are a factor in one’s health, and that includes brain health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges that there are some factors we cannot change such as genetics and age. The CDC also endorses reducing risk factors to possibly prevent or delay cognitive decline. A Lancet Commission study reported that prevention, intervention, and care could prevent or delay up to 40% of dementia cases.

The secret recipe for brain health is much the same as for our overall general health: maintain an active lifestyle. This includes both regular exercise – at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days per week – and social engagement to maintain connectedness to our family, friends, and community. Consuming a nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting plenty of sleep are other good health habits. Those positive habits nurture a healthy weight and can aid with lower blood pressure, blood sugar management, cholesterol management, and overall positive physical and mental health.

Work to limit the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages and other empty calorie foods to avoid negative health effects. Avoid smoking and other tobacco or tobacco substitute (vaping) products and limit alcohol consumption. Making small changes over time eases the anxiety of dropping a bad habit and helps with the adoption of good habits that can improve one’s health.

While we cannot change our age, our genetics, or our family history, we can adopt healthy lifestyle practices to not only address our brain health, but also our overall health.