How to Budget the Right Amount for Expenses

If you are wondering how to determine appropriate amounts to budget for food, gas, bills, and savings, use the following steps to guide you.

Track all your expenditures for one month. 

  1. Keep a record of all the money you spend, whether you spend with cash, credit/debit card, or checks (they still exist). As you track your expenses, you will notice two types of expenses: fixed and variable.  Examples of fixed expenses include mortgage/rent, car payment, and insurance payment.   Examples of variable expenses include groceries, eating out, and fuel.
  2. Create a list or visual. Using the information gained by tracking your income and expenditures, create a computer spread-sheet or notebook/notepaper with the following categories across the top: Description (this is to list what each income or expense is), Type (fixed or variable), IncomeExpense, and Balance.  The lines down the page or spreadsheet will be where you will individually list your incoming and outgoing funds (income and expenses).

Build your budget.

  1. Now that you know how much you spend each month it is easier to determine how much to budget for each item, such as food, gas, vacation, etc. If you find that your expenses are greater than your income, don’t despair. Tracking your expenses and building a budget will help you identify where you can cut back.

Knowing what you spend and how you spend will not only help you determine the appropriate amount you should budget for each expense but also help you save for long-term goals, such as buying a car or house.

By: Catherine Hansen, USU Extension Assistant Professor

June 7th, 2022

Questions to Ask When Dating Someone

It might sound strange, but have you ever considered how much dating is like doing a research project? I say this because at the beginning, when you are first getting to know each other, both of you are collecting data. You are learning about them and they are learning about you through the questions you ask each other. This is very similar to how scientists collect data to answer their research question, except in this case, the research question is: Are we a good match with the potential to have a successful long-term relationship?

This article isn’t going to give you a one-size-fits-all list of questions to ask everyone that you go out with, or a detailed schedule of when to ask certain questions. Instead, it will provide guidance on how to start by asking yourself some key questions designed to help you learn about yourself and what is most important to you. Once you get clearer about what you need and want in a partner, the information you should collect about them will also become clear. 

Before we dive into some self-exploration questions, we are going to briefly cover which characteristics tend to be most important for couples to have in common. Research has shown that sharing characteristics such as attitudes, values, and background (e.g., social class and religion) tend to predict satisfaction, companionship, intimacy, and love in long-term relationships better than sharing personality traits (Gordon, 2020). In addition, researchers have found that when there was more overlap in the ideal preferences someone said they wanted in a romantic partner and their partner’s perceived traits, they were less likely to get divorced (Eastwick & Neff, 2012). 

Before you try to make a list of questions designed to assess how much you have in common with someone, take some time to reflect on your own values, beliefs, and priorities. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are your religious and/or spiritual beliefs?
  • What are your plans for marriage and having children?
  • What is your philosophy when it comes to money and finances?
  • What are your career aspirations or plans for the future?
  • Where do you want to live? Do you plan to stay in the same place, or would you like to move around?
  • What are your political views and views on key social issues? Are they likely to change?
  • How much time do you like spending alone, with friends, and with each other?
  • What makes you laugh? How would you describe your sense of humor?
  • What role does your family play in your life? 
  • Are you open to new ways of looking at things or do you tend to hold your ground when it comes to your beliefs?
  • How do you feel about the use of alcohol and other substances?
  • What are your values in terms of things like honesty, reliability, trustworthiness, etc.?
  • What are your favorite things to do?

Next, rank or rate each one of these items in terms of how important it is that your partner shares your response and circle the ones that are “deal-breakers” for you. These are things that, at least at this point in time, a potential partner must have in common with you for your relationship to be viable. Remember to be true to yourself as you answer these questions. It doesn’t do much good for your long-term relationship potential if you aren’t open and honest about yourself, your values, your vision for your future, and what you are looking for in a potential partner. Also know that it is perfectly okay to decide that someone is simply not compatible with your current or future lifestyle plans. That doesn’t make them a bad person, it just means that there is a better match for you out there.

Working through this process should have helped you learn more about yourself, while helping you identify the most important questions to ask your dates. Now you just need to figure out how and when to ask these key questions during your next dinner conversation. 


Eastwick, P. W., & Neff, L. A. (2012). Do Ideal Partner Preferences Predict Divorce? A Tale of Two Metrics. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(6), 667–674. 

Gordon, A. M. (2020, September 25). Does similarity matter in a relationship? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-you-and-me/202009/does-similarity-matter-in-relationships

By Lisa Schainker, Extension Assistant Professor

The Physical Benefits of Camping

A recent survey reported that more North Americans are discovering the benefits of camping and spending time outdoors. According to the 2020 North American Camping Report, there are more than 94.5 million camper households throughout North America. In the United States, 48.2 million households reported that they camped at least once during 2020, including 10.1 million households who said they went camping for the first time (Cairn, 2020). With the increased number of campers, one might wonder, what’s the draw to the outdoors? 

Camping provides a host of benefits. Simply put, camping is good for you, both in body and mind.  Benefits include relationship building, opportunities to learn and develop new skills, unplugging and getting away from screens, connecting with nature, stress reduction, and increasing physical fitness.  The fitness benefits of camping are well documented. Research suggests that physical activity in the outdoors and feelings of connection to nature enhance psychological health and well-being. Activities such as walking in forests and participating in outdoor activities have been shown to enhance mood and focus, and increase attention and cognitive capacity. Additionally, significant improvements in self-esteem occur with physical activity in the great outdoors (Lawton et al., 2017). The physical demands of backpacking, setting up tents and making camp, hiking, fishing, and exploring nature certainly count as exercise which contributes to our overall health and well-being. Outdoor physical activity has been linked to a decrease in depressive thoughts and sleeping under the stars can help promote our natural circadian rhythm, which is a foundation for high quality sleep and health (National Park Service, 2019).

With all of these health benefits, why wouldn’t you want to go camping? Perhaps you are new to camping and feel a bit intimidated. Start small and work your way up. To ease into it, consider a camping trip close to home. Pitch a tent in your backyard or someplace close to where you live. Another idea would be to plan a backpacking trip close to home. These are great for overnighters where you can pack light and carry what you need with you. Campouts close to home take less planning and allow for scheduling flexibility. As you explore areas and find hiking trails close to where you live, you may discover a location you didn’t realize would become your new favorite place to camp. As you become more comfortable with camping, you can branch out and discover the beauty of state and national parks or one of many campgrounds across the country. 

When you consider all of the amazing benefits to your health and life in general, whether you go camping in your back yard or in a campground, time spent camping is time well spent! 

Additional Resources:


By: Christina Pay, Extension Assistant Professor

June Gardening Checklist

June is here, the sun is shining, and gardening is in full swing! Consider these tips from the Utah State University Extension Gardener’s Almanac to help make your yard and garden the best they can be. Also included are links for tips and additional information.

  • Consider drip irrigation in the garden to conserve water.
  • During a drought, it’s especially important to remember that turfgrass only needs 1-1 ½ inches of irrigation per week. Click here for irrigation needs in your area.
  • Discontinue harvesting asparagus spears in early June to allow the fronds to form for the rest of the growing season.
  • Prune tomatoes to open the canopy of the plant.
  • Consider planting sweet corn in the garden every other week (until early July) to extend the harvest.
  • Prune spring flowering shrubs (those that bloom before June) after they have bloomed to encourage new flower buds for next season.
  • Deadhead (cut off) spent blossoms of perennial and annual flowers.
  • Thin the fruit of apples, peaches and apricots to approximately one fruit every 5-6 inches.
  • Apply a second application of pre-emergent herbicides in late May to early June to control annual weeds in the lawn, such as crabgrass and spurge.

Yard and Garden Pests

  • Monitor vegetables and herbs for earwig damage.
  • Protect ash trees with a registered chemical to prevent lilac/ash borer damage.
  • Control codling moth in apples and pears to reduce wormy fruit.  
  • Treat apples for powdery mildew when leaves are emerging (at 1/2 inch green) until early June.
  • Watch for insect pests in raspberries from mid-May through early June. For specific timing, visit Utah Pests Advisories.
  • Control the Western cherry fruit fly when fruit changes from straw color to pink to avoid maggots in cherries.
  • Control the peach twig borer in peaches, nectarines and apricot trees. For specific timing, see our Utah Pests Advisories.
  • Monitor for damaging turfgrass insects. In areas previously damaged, consider a preventative (systemic) insecticide.
  • Click here to subscribe to the Utah Pests IPM Advisories for timely tips on controlling pests in your yard and garden.
  • Consider taking an online gardening course. Courses cover everything from container vegetable gardening and creating the perfect soil, to planting trees and controlling pests. Courses are geared to both beginning and professional gardeners. Use the code “GARDEN5” at checkout to get $5 off.
  • Explore more gardening tips on Extension’s newly designed yard and garden website. For drought information and tips, click here.

Youth Sports Engagement: What’s Right for My Child?

Sports participation and viewing have long been traditions in most cultures, bringing people of all backgrounds together. Participation in sports can build character in youth and benefit them in multiple ways, but parents who want to provide enriching opportunities for their children may have questions about the pros and cons of sports. What if a child does not care for the competition that comes with organized sports? What if they get hurt? Is there a way to keep youth physically active outside of sports? Consider this list of pros and cons.

Pros of participating in sports: Participating can help prevent obesity through regular physical activity. Approximately 75% of U.S. youth play a sport. Exposure to many sports is physically and mentally beneficial for young children. It’s a good way for youth to have fun. It reduces screen time, eating out of boredom, and mental health concerns. Athletes are more likely to do well in school, avoid drugs, and make healthier food choices. Females are less likely to experience teen pregnancies when they participate in sports. Coaching does not require special training, certification, or skill for most adults who wish to fill the role. Sports build character, the ability to work well with others, and mutual respect among peers.

Cons of participating in sports: The risk of injuries is high. By age 15, 80% of youth stop playing sports. Too much emphasis can be placed on winning and being highly skilled. Busy schedules lead to eating more processed and less healthy meals. Adolescent sports participation disparities exist between races. The cost can be a burden on families. Lack of adult training can lead to sports injuries and youth attrition. Negative experiences can occur with coaches. The development of character, teamwork, and respect cannot happen unless coaches and parents teach these values to young athletes. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022) recommends that youth ages 6-17 engage in 60 minutes of physical activity that increases the heart rate at least five times a week. If your child is not interested in sports, there are other ways to encourage regular physical activity. Keep in mind that youth will be more likely to engage in physical activity when it appeals to them and is fun. 

As you search for ways to help your child engage in physical activity, talk to them to determine their interests. What does your child enjoy doing? What would they like to try? Alternatives to sports that can help keep your child physically active and healthy include: hiking, biking, dancing, night games in the neighborhood, jumping rope, boxing or martial arts, fossil digging and exploration, swimming, scavenger hunts in the neighborhood, gardening, jumping/exercising on the trampoline, and hula hoop contests.

For other ideas on ways to get the family moving together, check out the USU Extension Hidden Gems Adventure Guides.

Click here to see references and resources. 

By: Eva Timothy, Utah State University Extension Assistant Professor, Eva.Timothy@usu.edu

New “Hidden Gems” Guides Released

Utah State University Extension recently launched new “Hidden Gems” Family Fun Adventure Guides. The guides were created to help strengthen family connections, support positive youth development, and help families have fun together.

According to Naomi Brower, project lead for the adventure guides, playing together as a family is not just fun but it is also an investment, both in your child’s development and in strengthening your family’s relationship.

“Research shows that children who spend time with their family have fewer behavioral problems, fewer substance abuse and delinquency issues, and better academic outcomes,” she said. “Families that spend time together also report feeling happier and more fulfilled.”

Brower said the hidden gems team has worked to include activities that will appeal to a variety of ages and also that will work for different family dynamics, including grandparents playing with their grandchildren. 

“We have two kinds of family adventure guides – Family Fun at Home, and Family Fun Out and About,” she said. “We would love people to use these guides indoors or outdoors this summer. It is a great way to bring families closer together after experiencing such a stressful couple of years.”

An additional guide available to download is the Date Your Mate Adventure guide, which provides date night ideas and ways to help strengthen relationships.

All three guides are free and can be found at hiddengems.usu.edu. Families that download a guide, connect and play together, then provide feedback by July 31 will be entered in a prize drawing.

How To Relax After a Stressful Day

We can all agree that stress is a part of human existence. Dealing with short stints of stress is not bad for us. This type of stress can propel us into action or increase our energy levels and memory to help us complete a task or goal (Jaret, n.d.). Conversely, when people experience high levels of stress for long periods, it can lead to major health concerns. The American Psychological Association (2018) tells us that these health concerns range from heart disease to exacerbated reproductive difficulties. Prolonged stress can also lead to what is known as burnout- a state of mental, physical, and emotional fatigue that reduces productivity. So, whether you are experiencing good or bad stress, that is either occasional or prolonged, practicing self-care through the use of calming can benefit you.  Here are some calming practices you can try at the end of a stressful day to calm your mind and body. This will reduce the negative impacts stress can have on your health and relationships. 

1. Do something you enjoy. Whether it be indulging in a hobby or soaking in a bubble bath, do it. When we engage in activities we find enjoyable it allows our mind to take a break from what is causing our stress. We can lose ourselves in something that fuels our sense of passion for life, thereby, reinvigorating our ability to healthily cope with the next stressor. 

2. Find a quiet place where you can practice deep breathing and focus on the here and now. When we get stressed, we get stuck in the brainstem, the fight, flight, or freeze part of the brain meant for survival. Deep breathing calms the brainstem and allows us to move to higher levels of thinking. Once we are in those higher levels of rationale, we can focus on how we feel physically and our current thoughts.

3. If you require a quick way to relieve stress without acquiring a quiet space, practice those deep breaths. Just breathing deeply for a few minutes can help reduce stress levels. 

4. The American Psychological Association (2018) recommends utilizing our circle of friends and family to help us manage our stress levels.

5. If you find that your muscles are tense from the day’s stress, try some progressive muscle relaxation. For this form of stress relief, you will tense and release various muscles in the body. Work from one end of the body to the other, tensing for 5 seconds and resting for 30 seconds before going to the next area. This technique also helps to refocus the mind and make us aware of what is occurring in our bodies (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2022).   

For more ideas on what you can do to reduce the effects of a stressful day, visit https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/relaxation-technique/art-20045368


American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress effects on the body. American Psychological Association. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body

Jaret, Peter. (n.d.). The surprising benefits of stress. Greater Good. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_surprising_benefits_of_stress

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2022, April 28). Relaxation techniques: Try these steps to reduce stress. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved May 2, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/relaxation-technique/art-20045368

By Eva Timothy, Professional Practice Extension Assistant Professor

Don’t Try to Outfox the Fox

Red foxes, although not native to Utah, are becoming more common in cities and suburban settings. In an effort to impress social media followers, some wildlife enthusiasts are attempting human/fox selfies and are getting too close, even offering them food. This is not without risk to both humans and foxes.

When spotted in a neighborhood, residents may wonder if foxes pose a danger to people or pets, or if they could have rabies since they are out in the daytime. Red foxes may be active day or night, though most are active at dawn and dusk, so a fox being out and about during the day doesn’t indicate rabies.

A fox’s breeding season is from mid-January to early February. Red foxes usually have a single annual litter of four to five kits. Fox kits, or pups, are born from March to May in dens dug in the ground or under rocks or structures. Kits begin to hunt with adult foxes at 8 to 12 weeks old and will stay with their parents through spring and summer, then disperse to find their own territories by the fall.

If foxes are sighted near residential homes, it is likely because they are finding shelter under decks, sheds, or landscape rocks, or finding access to food including rodents or forage.

In general, foxes hunt their natural prey, but individual foxes may learn to target unprotected poultry and pets. Foxes are known carriers of rabies and can transmit the disease to humans and other animals, but this is rare.

Foxes have a natural fear of people. They can be dangerous to humans if they are captured and handled, but even then, their natural tendency is to flee rather than fight. If you see a fox outside during the day, it’s no cause for alarm. It will likely run away if it sees you. If it doesn’t, it has probably learned to associate people with food, likely because someone has fed it, and it may exhibit a boldness or even approach you.

You should never feed, approach, or chase foxes. The best way to avoid conflict is to prevent issues from developing in the first place. Consider these tips:

·         * Red foxes will occasionally scavenge in garbage cans. Secure trash in a locked can and put it out the morning of pickup rather than the night before.

·         * Remove attractants from your property, including pet food, water sources, bird feeders, and fallen fruit.

·         * Trim vegetation around your yard to reduce hiding places.

·         * Install outdoor and motion-sensitive lights around your property to make approaching foxes visible.

·         * If a fox is on your property, make it feel unwelcome. Bang pots and pans, yell, spray it with a hose, or turn on sprinklers.

·         * Supervise pets when they are outside, especially at dawn and dusk, and never leave them outside after dark.

·         * Keep dogs leashed, especially when on trails and in open areas.

·         * Never let your dog chase or “play” with foxes.

·         * Keep cats indoors.

·         * Use electric fencing to help keep foxes away from pets and livestock.

For more information, visit Wild Aware Utah.

By: Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specialist, Terry.Messmer@usu.edu

How Do You Tell People Who are Interested in You That You aren’t Interested in Being in a Relationship?

Telling someone you are not interested in dating them is uncomfortable and can be a painful experience. In order to answer the question of how to tell someone you are not interested in dating them, it is important to point out that it really depends on the situation. However, there are a few principles that can be applied to a variety of circumstances. 

  1. Be Kind and Honest- It is important to remember that you can be nice and kind in addition to being honest. Being kind means being honest and treating someone the way you see them. If you see them as a friend, treat them as a friend, but do not treat them as a romantic interest or potential boyfriend/girlfriend. Although it is unpleasant for a moment, being honest and telling someone you are not interested is the kindest thing to do. 
    2.Be consistent- Similar to the last point, make sure to be consistent in your words and your actions. There’s a principle of communication called a double bind, which means you are expressing something different with your words than you are expressing with your actions. A double bind is an unhelpful communication pattern, so you want to avoid it. If you don’t want to date someone you can say, “Thank you so much but I’m not interested in dating.” Then make sure your actions support this statement. This may mean not texting or calling someone you just turned down, or it could mean something else. 
    If you are long-term friends with the person or if you just met them, your follow-up actions will probably look a little different. However, the principle is the same. Make sure your words and actions match. If you want to go back to being long-term friends, express that. If you just met and do not want to build a friendship or relationship with the person, then show them you’d like space. People generally will respect that and know how to act in response when your verbal and nonverbal communication matches.   
    3. Keep communicating the same message as long as you need to. Occasionally there may be individuals who you turn down, who will not get the message. Even if you are very good about communicating that message verbally and nonverbally, they may not respect this, or they may be unsure about how to give you the appropriate space to move on socially or romantically. If you have communicated to a person you are not interested in, and they keep texting, calling, or showing up and it makes you feel uncomfortable, you could clearly say to them “Don’t be offended if I am slow to reply or respond. I want to make sure I am not sending the wrong message.” Once you have explained your reason for not responding, you don’t need to feel guilty for not responding to any texts or not answering any phone calls.   

Managing relationships, especially with others whom you do not want a romantic relationship, can be tricky. The key is compassion and kindness balanced with straight forward communication and clear expectations.

By Luara Woodland, Intern, and Dr. Dave Schramm

Spending Time in Nature Boosts Mental Health

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, adults and adolescents in the United States spend over 90% of their time indoors, and the article, “Screen Time Statistics” in Comparitech says the average American spends more than seven hours a day looking at screens. These numbers are not encouraging for getting people outside to enjoy the benefits of nature.

            Research shows that too much screen time and not enough time in nature can contribute to depression and anxiety. On the other hand, research has also found that time spent in nature has positive mental health benefits, including reduced stress, better sleep, and greater happiness.

            It can be difficult to find time to spend in nature because of busy, day-to-day schedules, and it may seem especially hard to access nature sites in urban areas. Fortunately, there are several easy things you can do to get out in nature, no matter where you live. Consider these ideas.

            * Bring nature inside. Decorating indoor spaces with live plants is a simple way to bring nature to you. You can also let natural light in through windows to brighten your home and provide views of the outdoors.

            * Take breaks outside. Even if you only have a few minutes, take a walk or eat a meal outside. Bring your attention to the view of the trees and flowers, the sound of birds, or the feel of the wind to help increase mindfulness and decrease stress. Click here to try a mindful walking exercise.

            * Try gardening. Gardening can be a fun way to increase your physical activity and increase your contact with nature. There are many ways to do urban and planter box gardening if you live in an apartment or area that lacks gardening space. Click here for gardening information and tips.

            * Visit nearby nature sites. Even most urban areas have parks, streams, or public gardens nearby. Consider exploring nature near you to have picnics, family games, or other activities. Visiting nearby nature sites is a free or low-cost way to enjoy nature. 

            * Plan a nature trip. If you want to spend longer periods of time with nature, plan your next trip to a national park, lake, or beach to camp, rock climb, fish, hike, star-gaze, bike, canoe, or a number of other activities.

            Whether large or small, any activity that helps you spend more time connecting with nature is beneficial. It can offer enjoyable alternatives to screen time, help increase your appreciation of the earth, and provide both physical and mental health benefits.

            To see information links and citations, click here.