CRESTVIEW — County residents who want to learn more about saving money have a local resource.

Okaloosa Saves supports building wealth and reducing debt by delivering financial education, programs and resources to area youths and adults, Jill Breslawski said.

Breslawski is a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences employee. She became the Okaloosa Saves coordinator when she joined the extension office staff as a Family and Consumer Science agent.

"That means I am the link between Okaloosa Saves and America Saves, their parent organization, and can bring all of the research and materials offered by the University to our savers," she said.

The Okaloosa Saves program opened in 2003 to encourage residents to build wealth. The nonprofit organization also launched a Military Saves component in 2005.

Breslawski said one of the biggest obstacles savers face is living on their income.

"No matter what people make they tend to spend that money in order to 'keep up with the Joneses,' they end up living above their means, not below."

One of the first steps to stop doing that, according to Breslawski, is tracking how the money is spent.

"Every time you go to the store and buy a bottle of water or fill up on gas, write it down and then divide your spending into wants or needs. Did you have to spend that money or did you want to?"

She says that people should then identify their weekly, monthly or yearly expenses and pay those right away.

"Also figure into those expenses an amount you can save. You have to pay yourself first," Breslawski said.

How does a person differentiate between their wants and their needs?

Needs are something a person has to have to survive, where as wants are items based on personal preference.

For an example, Breslawski said, you may need a house. "A want is a house on the beach with eight bedrooms and six baths. If you can afford it, that’s fine, but I don’t want to lose out on a comfy retirement because I had to have something fancy."

When asked whether saving was ever an issue for her, Breslawski said, "Sure, saving money has been an issue. There are so many temptations and nowadays with the click of a button, you can order instantly. Oh and if you can’t afford it, 'they' will give you easy payments or offer you a credit card.

"The way that I overcame my struggle to save is by adjusting my direct deposit to send a portion of my pay into my checking account and a portion into my savings account. Automatic savings! I don't even have to think about it," she said.

Breslawski has been able to see first hand the impact Okaloosa Saves has had on area residents. She recently presented a check for $1,000 to a Niceville member.

"We were very happy to have a local winner for the national #imsavingfor contest," the UF/IFAS agent said.

They also finished the Teach A Child to Save annual campaign in July, wherein 177 Okaloosa children saved a total of $9,792.61 to compete in the contest, which awarded $50 to six winners who'd saved the most over the campaign time period.

"Since 2004, we have had 3,146 youths save $311,125.51 in Okaloosa County," Breslawski said.

How to join Okaloosa Saves

People may text or visit the organization's website to become a member.

Text "OKSaves" to 95577, then answer up to six questions about their individual saving history or get tips to do so.

They may also go to okaloosasaves.org and click the "Take the Okaloosa Saves Pledge."

"You will be asked a few simple questions about your savings goal, enter your e-mail and zip code and you are a Saver," Breslawski said.

"The reason we ask for an email is so that we can send you savings tips. Don't worry we don't spam, and if you don't want e-mails you can always opt out," she said

The group's Facebook page provides tips on savings, free webinars, and information on upcoming events. Future activities include speaking events and a real life simulator for youths and young adults called Living On My Own. The simulator will enable them in decision making such as where to live and types of insurance they may need.

Contact Breslawski, jbreslawski@ufl.edu or 689-5850, for more Okaloosa Saves information.