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UF financial expert: Be ‘SMART’ about your New Year’s resolutions

By Samantha Grenrock

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — If you dread looking at your bank account balance, you might consider adding fiscal responsibility to your list of New Year’s resolutions.

And when it comes to setting goals, especially financial ones, it’s important to be specific, according to a University of Florida expert.

“If you want to make a change, it helps to have a SMART goal. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound,” said Jorge Ruiz-Menjivar, assistant professor of family, youth and community sciences in the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“So instead of saying, I want to start saving money this year, make your objective more concrete. A better resolution would be something like, I will set up an automatic transfer of $25 into my savings account each month so that I have $300 saved by the end of the year,” he explained.

Ruiz-Menjivar has these tips for making better financial resolutions in the New Year.

  1. Identify your unhealthy money habits.

Do you go shopping without a shopping list? Do you hate budgets? Do you use a credit card for any and all purchases? If so, you may have some unhealthy money habits. Targeting a specific habit you want to change is the first step toward changing your behavior for the better, Ruiz-Menjivar said.

  1. Think about positive habits that you can start now to help you toward long-term goals.

“Something you can change in the short term is how you save money and for what purpose. For example, it’s a good idea to have a rainy day fund equal to three to six months of your regular income. You can start doing small things now to reach that goal, such as setting up automatic payments into a savings account—the Florida Saves program is a great way to set these small, short-term goals,” Ruiz-Menjivar said.

Go to FloridaSaves.org to make a pledge to start saving.

  1. Know your weak spots.

“There are a few common barriers people encounter when they are trying to change their financial habits,” Ruiz-Menjivar said. “Being disorganized with your recordkeeping is a common one. Keeping your information—especially about your income and spending—in order will help you stay on track for reaching many financial goals.”

Often times, people don’t think “big” enough when it comes to their money, Ruiz-Menjivar explained. “If you are only planning month-to-month, you won’t get to where you want to be in 10 years,” he said. “Time perspective does matter; consumers with a longer time horizon tend to think and plan potential purchases in the near and far future.”

  1. Create an environment that enforces healthier habits.

There are several things you can do to create the conditions for financial success.

  • Track income and expenses with a tool that works for you. Some people like to write everything in a calendar, others save receipts, some prefer a spreadsheet. There are a lot of apps out there that let you keep tabs on everything from your phone.
  • Become a “convenience user” of credit cards: you use the card to enjoy the perks, such as miles or cash back, but you don’t carry a balance over months.
  • Set up your bank account to transfer money automatically to a savings or retirement account.
  • Get help from an expert. Visit your local UF/IFAS Extension office to start working with an agent who specializes in personal finance.
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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.

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