BUSH: Resolve to improve financial fitness

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Next to getting fit or dropping a bad habit - doing a better job of handling money is a common and worthwhile New Year's resolution. Experts with University of Tennessee Extension offer some tips to help you meet that goal in 2013. And no surprise , a good start is to stop spending so much.

"Unless you have unlimited income, then curbing spending is necessary and discipline is necessary, including a little bit of self-denial. Living large is really out. It's all about cutting back, simplifying your life," says Dr. Dena Wise, a financial management specialist with UT Extension.

Wise says we should prepare for expensive things to happen. Her first recommendation is set aside money in an emergency fund, at least a few hundred dollars for car or home repairs or other unexpected expenses. If you pay cash for emergencies, you avoid additional debt on credit cards.

"For somebody who is really struggling to save, this might be just $500, but it makes the difference in being in control financially, being proactive about your finances or being reactive to whatever emergency comes up," Wise says.

Here are a few troubling statistics. Two-thirds of Tennesseans have no emergency savings, and 20 percent of our population spent more than they earned last year. In some areas, the numbers are improving for Tennessee, but we still rank in the bottom five states nationally for personal bankruptcies.

So if you're sick of being broke, take action. That brings us to the second of Dr. Wise's recommendations:  eliminate high interest debt such as credit card interest. "Eliminating debt is always a good goal, particularly if it's debt that you carry on a credit card from month to month," she says.

The third recommendation from UT Extension is to track and curb your spending. "We would suggest you do a budget," says Chris Sneed, UT Extension agent in Blount County.  Sneed says to start by estimating how much you're spending, and then for a week or even a month, track every expenditure. "It could be as easy as carrying around a little spiral notebook and just jotting down whenever you spend money," he said. "You will be amazed. It's a very humbling experience."

Sneed says we need to set realistic goals for getting rid of debt and saving in 2013. The key to any resolution is to change your behavior and establish some good habits. It takes simple math and discipline, but it's doable with our money.

Dr. Wise has published a free fact sheet called Tools for Money Management: Savings-Spending Plan Instructions," which is available online at https://utextension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/SP613-A.pdf.  More information from UT Extension on financial management is also available online at https://utextension.tennessee.edu/publications. Simply search for the term "financial management" or a specific topic of interest. Most publications are free of charge to download. Additional information may also be available at the national extension website: http://www.extension.org.

You may also access publications and information through your local county UT Extension office. Addresses and phone numbers are available in your local telephone book, usually in the local government section.

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issue at the local, state and national levels.

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Carla Bush
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