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 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.


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

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.

It’s Okay to Talk About It

It’s Okay to Talk About It

WARNING: This article describes the signs, symptoms, and statistics of mental health challenges, particularly suicide, which may be triggering or unsuitable for some readers. Reader discretion advised. 

The United States is currently experiencing a mental health crisis. The isolation and confusion of the recent pandemic brought to light an astounding number of people living with depression, anxiety, and other mental health and substance use challenges. While many of these people have been dealing with these challenges since before the pandemic, the sheer scope of the crisis has been brought into sharper focus since the onset of COVID-19. 

One of the most difficult mental health issues to talk about is suicide. For many people who struggle with suicidal thoughts or for the families of those who die by suicide, it can be very painful and stigmatizing to discuss. Even for those outside those two groups, suicide is often a taboo subject. 

teamwork handshake

Supporting someone during a mental health challenge is just as important as supporting them during a physical challenge. By working together, we can help reduce the stigma of mental illness. (Photo source: UF/IFAS File Photo)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the overall suicide rate in the U.S. decreased 3% during the pandemic despite the fact that calls to suicide hotlines went up nearly 800%. For me, what this shows is that when people suffering from suicidal ideation reach out to the resources available to them, they improve their chances for a better outcome. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) shares these statistics on their website: 79% of all people who die by suicide are male; suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 and the 12th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.; 18.8% of high school students and 11.3% of young adults aged 18-25 experience suicidal ideation each year.  

When a person dies by or attempts suicide, those left behind often claim they did not see it coming, that they had no idea their loved one was having suicidal thoughts. In many cases, the person experiencing suicidal ideation conceals their thoughts and feelings from those around them. However, there are certain warning signs that may be observed in people experiencing suicidal thoughts. 

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) lists the following warning signs: talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself; looking for a way to kill oneself; talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose; talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain; talking about being a burden to others; increasing the use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious, agitated, or reckless; sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or feeling isolated; showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; and displaying extreme mood swings. 

(Please note this is not an exhaustive list, but these signs may be indicators that a person may be in acute danger and may urgently need help.) 

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. While suicide prevention is important every day of the year, I encourage everyone to take some time this month to learn more about mental illness and suicide. Taking the time to increase your awareness will help reduce the stigma of mental illness and suicide and may allow you to support someone experiencing a mental health challenge. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please call or text 988 or text TALK to 741741. 

UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution. 

Healthier Ways to Cope with Stress

Healthier Ways to Cope with Stress

“Stressed is just desserts spelled backwards.” When I was younger, I took this saying to heart. If I was stressed, I reached for the sweets. That instant rush of sugar to my brain provided a feeling of happiness and contentment. But it was only temporary. Once the sugar high wore off, I went back to feeling overwhelmed with stress, which just made me reach for more sweets. 

It took me much too long to realize this was an endless and unhealthy cycle. Stress eating, especially stress-eating junk food, was such an ingrained habit for me, I did not even think about it having negative consequences such as weight gain and high blood sugar, both of which can be exacerbated by stress itself. 

More recently, I have taken an interest in healthier coping strategies. Stress is an inevitable and integral part of our lives. We cannot avoid it. But we can seek ways to deal with it that do not add even more stress (or calories) to our body. One of the most helpful strategies I have adopted to cope with stress is to strive to live more mindfully. 

empty pier at Lake Wauburg

Spending time in nature has been shown to decrease feelings of stress, lower blood pressure, and increase feelings of calm. (Photo source: UF/IFAS File Photo)

Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword over the last few years, but do not let that trick you into thinking it is just a fad. Mindfulness and everything it entails has been around for decades (even longer!). Practices such as mindful breathing, tai chi, and meditation are all part of mindfulness, which is simply an umbrella term used to describe strategies for dealing with difficult emotions, managing stress, and staying present in everyday life. 

One of the things I have found most valuable in my foray into mindfulness is the ability to better recognize the signs of stress in my body. Early recognition of stress signals allows me to put one of my new mindfulness skills into practice to combat their effects. This may include simply pausing for a few moments and consciously breathing or taking a short walk in the sunshine while allowing the sounds around me, and not my stressful thoughts, to become the focus of my attention. 

Another good practice for stress reduction in general is to immerse yourself in nature whenever possible. Whether that is hiking one of the many local nature trails, kayaking in the springs, or relaxing at the beach while listening to the waves, spending time in nature has been shown to alleviate stress. Even watching a brief nature video online has been shown to lower blood pressure and elicit feelings of calm. 

April is Stress Awareness Month. I challenge everyone to take some time this month to really think about what stress looks like for you and how it shows up in your mind and body. How do you usually cope with it? If the answer involves over-indulgence in a substance such as food or alcohol, I urge you to try a new, healthier way to cope. Go for a walk. Focus on your breath. Even try meditation with the help of a mindfulness mobile app. It may feel weird at first, but if you keep at it, it will soon become a new healthy habit that you will reach for instead of that bag of chips. 

UF/IFAS is an Equal Opportunity Institution. 

New Year! New Me?

New Year! New Me?

Being more active is one of the top New Year’s Resolutions.
Photo credit: UF/IFAS Photo: Sally Lanigan.

Well, it’s that time of year again. January 1st has finally rolled around and I still have not completed last year’s New Year’s Resolution. If you’re like me, your resolution is to lose weight in 2022. Maybe you have chosen to quit smoking, exercise more, or try to be more positive. Maybe these resolutions sound familiar to you because they were last year’s resolutions, too!

You don’t have a New Year’s Resolution yet? Below is a list of some of the most common New Year’s Resolutions that could help you spark an idea!



  • Exercising with others can help you stay on track to reach your wellness goals.
    Photo credit: UF/IFAS Photo: Josh Wickham.

    Exercise more

  • Lose weight
  • Get organized
  • Learn a new skill or hobby
  • Save more money
  • Quit the use of tobacco
  • Quit the use of alcohol
  • Spend more time with family and friends
  • Travel more
  • Read more

So, how do you ensure that you are going to stick to your resolution? Below are a few New Year’s Resolution tips to help us create long-lasting change:

  1. Dream big! The bigger, the better. Do you want to learn to run a marathon? Do you want to fit back into those jeans you wore in high school? Being ambitious will help inspire others around you to cheer you on toward those goals.
  2. Break that big dream down into smaller pieces. Running 26 miles seems daunting, but when you start with just walking 1 mile, you will soon gain the confidence to push for more. Choosing to reach for healthier snacks, such as carrots or celery instead of potato chips, is a small change that can affect your diet. You do not have to deprive yourself of foods you enjoy to lose weight. You just have to focus on portion control. Small steps will move you forward to your ultimate goal.
  3. Commit yourself to your goals! Write them down, post your goals on social media, or verbally promise to others that you are going to do it. Hold yourself accountable to what you are trying to do. Sometimes, making a public announcement will encourage others to join you on your journey. They can push you to be the best version of yourself, while also holding you accountable.
  4. Give yourself a pat on the back! “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Well, neither will you accomplish your end goal in one day. Typically, our new year’s resolutions take time, sometimes a very long time. Encourage yourself to keep going by acknowledging what you do accomplish!
  5. Learn from your past. I am not perfect, you are not perfect, no one is perfect! We all stumble at times, but it is how we recover that will set us up for success or failure. If you “fall off the healthy-eating train” one evening, don’t beat yourself up or give up. Tomorrow is a new day, and you can resolve to recover from your mistakes to get back on track.
  6. Support! I have mentioned inspiring others already, but you need support, too. Accept help from those who care about you to help you achieve your goals. Consider joining a support group, such as a workout class at the gym or a group of co-workers to quit smoking. These individuals share your struggles and want to see you succeed, which makes the challenge less intimidating!
  7. The 3 R’s: Reflect, Replace, and Reinforce. The 3 R’s can help you make a long-term change. Reflect on your current situation, i.e. eating habits. Replace those unhealthy habits with healthier ones. Reinforce these changes in your daily life.


Use the Nutrition Facts label to make healthy food choices.
Photo credit: UF/IFAS.

According to the American Psychological Association, “By making your resolutions realistic, there is a greater chance that you will keep them throughout the year, incorporating healthy behavior into your every day life.” The dreaded New Year’s Resolution does not have to seem unattainable. If you plan to make a New Year’s Resolution this year, limit the number of resolutions you choose so that you can focus on them. By creating new habits and making small changes, you can do anything you put your mind to!






SMART Couples Celebration Statewide Virtual Event – February 19

SMART Couples Celebration Statewide Virtual Event – February 19

The Art of Effective Communication


SMART Couples Florida Celebration
Statewide Virtual Event

February 19, 2022
6:00 – 9:15 p.m. EST

Photo source: Victor Harris

It’s time to talk about love! Join us online for a night of real talk about building stronger relationships from marriage and family professionals across the nation. Learn how to improve your communication and keep the romance alive. Tickets available now!

Learn more here: