Syndicated Publications

Increasing Your Income to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Republished from Latino Lubbock Magazine, April 2018 Issue

Making your budget last month, you probably realized it might take longer to achieve your goal. Continue cutting expenses, but this month, focus on increasing your income to achieve your financial goal faster too.

The first thing to do is take your tax refund and put it toward your goal. If you got a refund, you withheld too much money from your paycheck last year. You gave the IRS a free loan. Adjust your W4 so that you don’t owe the IRS money and the IRS doesn’t owe you money either. Then, allocate the extra money in your paychecks toward your goal.

Next, have a garage sale. It’s springtime, which means time for spring-cleaning! Go through your closets, garage, and attic—everywhere you use as storage. If you haven’t touched something in the last 6 months, it’s unlikely you’ll ever touch it again. Put it up for sale on eBay, Facebook Marketplace, and Garage Sale Finder.

Lastly, take an inventory of your skills. Tactfully ask your boss for a raise. Update your resume and either start applying for a new full-time job or take on a side hustle. Try temping for one-time events. You only temp when you’re free and you feel like it. Any small increase in income helps you achieve your goal, as a small amount of money adds up to a huge amount over time.

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The Real Cost of Work

How great would it be if we could all make money in our sleep? Assuming Bill Gates slept 7 hours last night, he made $9.66 million in his sleep. Bill Gates makes so much money that if he were to drop a $100.00 bill on the ground, it wouldn’t be worth his time to pick it up.

Unfortunately, not all of us earns passive income. Most of us toil away at our jobs for a paycheck that’s just enough to last until the next one. Have you ever calculated how much money your time is worth? It’s not as simple as dividing your salary by the amount of hours you worked, since work comes with hidden costs. Individuals at the same company with the same job making the same salary could have different real hourly wages. That’s because real hourly wage is affected by commute, child care, and other expenses.

Say you got a job offer from another company that pays $10,000 more than your current one. It’s salaried though, meaning you work more hours for a set pay. The commute is longer too. By calculating the real hourly wage, you learn that the real hourly wage of the new job is half of your current one. Of course, if you want the extra $10,000, take the job, but understand that the value of your productive time is lower.

A Personal Example

Here’s a real-life example. My first job, I made $8.00/hour as a part-time cashier at a nearby supermarket, around $640.00/month. Later I worked full-time at my (ex) boyfriend’s uncle’s massage parlor. He paid me a monthly salary of $480.00 and after tips, I actually made around $1,000/month.

Yes, I made $360.00/month more at this job. But I also worked & commuted 78 hours per week and paid $112.00 for an unlimited monthly MetroCard. This made my real hourly wage $2.84.

I was paid peanuts!

On top of that, I had no social life. And with little time to exercise, I gained weight. I bought sugary chocolate bars for $3.50 every day for the fleeting moments of happiness. I ate so much sugar that my doctor told me I was almost pre-diabetic.

Needless to say, I quit soon after and got a job at the grocery store down the block, making $8.25/hour. I was much happier, earned the same amount of money, worked fewer hours. With free time, I pursued hobbies and side projects, like pole dancing.

I have no regrets working at the massage parlor. I experienced the effects of real hourly wage first-hand. It was at this job I began saving 50 percent of my income, accumulating a whopping $13,000 in two years. Everyone wonders how I did it. In Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, money is something we trade our time (our life) for. This is time we can never get back. Thus, every time I was about to spend money, I thought, I make $2.84/hour, so how many hours did I have to work to pay for this good or service? This was the beginning of my frugality; today, this is my pride.

Real Hourly Wage Calculator

To calculate your real hourly wage, you can use the calculator I created here. Use annual numbers because everyone has a different pay period. Annual numbers are also more accurate, as you might travel for work some months but not others.

If you take a look at my calculator, you will discover easy ways to increase your real hourly wage. Quit buying work lunches and new work clothes. Decrease commute time by asking your boss if you could do four 10-hour days instead. Bike to work to cut down gas costs. Take public transit when possible, so you can do other things during your commute. If you pay for childcare, it might even be cheaper for one parent to stay at home or work part-time instead.

If you really want to go the extra mile, work toward creating residual income. Could you rent out a spare room in your house? Could you invest in stocks that pay dividends? Could you invent or innovate a product that continues to sell in your sleep? It could be something as simple as intermittent windshield wipers for your car, something that’s so standard today, but a man named Robert Kearns had to innovate that first!

I’ve got an idea for you… You know how manufacturers sell printers at cost and then charge an outrageous amount of money for ink cartridges? Invent a high quality printer that can be refilled with ink directly. It already exists on the market—the Epson EcoTank, but it’s a shitty printer in terms of function. If you could create something like that, you’d be an overnight multi-millionaire. I’ll write more about how to buy cheaper ink in the future. 😉

Wish you the best in increasing the value of your time.

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When Does The Commute Ever End? Hopefully, Before You Retire.

Location. Location. Location.

Where you live can make or break your bank. When deciding where to live, I argue that these factors should top the list:

  1. Location relative to your work.
  2. Location relative to your grocery outlet.
  3. Cost.

Commutes are time, money, and soul sucking. I worked a job once where the commute was an hour each way. I lasted six months.

Never again.

Since then, I’ve worked jobs close to home. Today, I work four jobs, all from 2 to 10 minutes away.

We’re moving to Boston in a few months. Honestly, I felt anxious about the fact that Boston’s average apartment rent is the 3rd highest in the USA. I told my SO I refused to pay more than $1,000 for rent, even if that meant living further away from the city. With a list of the cheapest surrounding suburbs in hand, I looked for apartments 40 minutes away! We tend to think that living further away and commuting is cheaper. It’s not always true. In this case, one option was living in our own studio across from Boston University. Another option was living in Medford, 40 minutes away, with a roommate. This is how the numbers played out:

 Expenses Boston University (300 ft2 studio) Medford, MA (915 ft2 2br apt)
Rent $1,500.00 $1,000.00
Basic Utilities $0.00 $117.00
Internet $0.00 $38.00
Commute (SO) $0.00 $75.00
Commute (Me) $0.00 $84.50
Auto Ins. (State Min.)* $74.00 $76.00
Parking $50.00 $0.00
Total $1,624.00 $1,390.50

*Auto insurance included, as insurers factor in the zip code. In this case, it didn’t matter.

As you can see, yes living further away is cheaper. Living on campus costs $233.50 more per month. But the question is… is $233.50 worth the time saved from not commuting 40 minutes each way? Our answer was an absolute YES.

What does not having to commute mean? It means…

Time For Other Things

The potential commute was 40 minutes x 2 times per day x 5 days per week. That adds up to 6.7 hours per week or 26.7 hours per month. That’s almost a whole workday every week. What could you do with that time? Develop personal hobbies, network, join an organization, volunteer for a nonprofit, take a class, add a side hustle, and other things. By spending your time this way, you can increase your social and cultural capital which may even potentially increase your economic capital, aka make more $$$.

More Sleep, Free Transportation and Exercise

You can wake up later! And living 1 – 2 miles from your workplace, you could either walk or ride a kick scooter. Live 3 miles away? Ride a bike. By making exercise a lifestyle, gym memberships may be optional. And with the blood pumping through your body and your brain, you feel alert by the time you start work. Meanwhile, your coworkers slug through the day with $4 Starbucks coffees.

Less Convenience, More Intention

Let’s face it. When you have little free time, busy running around with your head chopped off, you pay for it in other ways. You pay for it by eating out more because you don’t cook. Do you still want to cook? Then you pay for meal-kit subscriptions boxes or frozen meals filled with preservatives. You pay for wash-and-fold laundry service. You take a cab because it’s faster than the subway.
To drive my message home, let’s look at the real price of having a large pepperoni pizza delivered from Domino’s Pizza.

Carryout Delivery Charge
Pizza (Carryout Special): $7.99
Sales Tax: $0.66
Pizza (Regular Price): $10.99
Delivery Charge: $2.99
Sales Tax: $1.15
Tips: $2.00
Total: $8.65 Total: $17.13

Customers pay twice as much for delivery, and they don’t give it much thought. And they don’t order one pizza; they order three! They pay a premium for convenience without even realizing it.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps your commute isn’t as bad as 40 minutes. I had a client who commuted 32 miles (42 minutes) round-trip every day, so around half of my earlier example. She spent more gas in a week than I did in an entire month. Although we made the same hourly wage, her real hourly wage was less due to her commute. I’ll write more about real hourly wage in my next newsletter.

I want you to carefully reflect on your current commute in relation to your other relevant circumstances. If commuting time is a loss, is it a justifiable one in comparison to the gains? Depending on your circumstances, you might be better off in the long run by making the needed changes.

Syndicated Publications

Creating Your Financial Plan

Republished from Latino Lubbock Magazine, March 2018 Issue.

“Most people don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan.” [Quote by John L. Beckley] Your financial life is no different. You must have a spending plan or else you will fail. Tell every dollar you receive what to do. The first time takes only 30 minutes. After overcoming the learning curve, it should take only 10 minutes.

First, write this month’s household income on a piece of paper. Before you do anything with your money, you must pay yourself first. Consider your financial future as a bill. So write down 10% of your income; that will be your emergency savings. Underneath, write the amount to save for your New Year’s goal every month.

Second, budget your tithes, mortgage/rent, bills, and groceries. Then budget all lifestyle expenses: anything that’s nice to have but you could do without. In this step, refer to your spending diary and bill payment tracker.

Third, total your savings and expenses. Does the total equal your household income exactly? If yes, you’re good. If not, adjust your expenses until it does. Consider canceling your cable and gym membership. Try switching cell phone providers and auto insurance companies.

You will do this every month for the rest of your life. Your future is in your hands.

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It’s Official! We’re Moving To Boston.

Hi everyone,

Handrio got accepted into a Ph.D. program at Boston University. We will be moving to Boston in late August. I’m excited because the sky’s the limit for my future income! Lubbock’s low and stagnant wages means I work four jobs right now.

While I’m excited to finally move to a large city, I’m also anxious about how we will afford this. To put the cost in perspective, right now we pay $420.00 for rent in Lubbock. We researched rents in Boston the past two days. Every place is at least $1,500. The only difference is the amount of space that price will get you, which varies by neighborhood. For $1,500, we get a 297 ft2 studio across the street from BU.

We can bring the rent down to $1,000 by sharing a 2BR with a roommate. The problem is that most ads for single room occupancies state “No couples or families.” That’s made the apartment hunt very difficult for us.

On top of the outrageous rents, moving is expensive. The average interstate move costs around $4,300. The average intrastate move costs around $2,300. These numbers looked high until I crunched the numbers.

Here’s the budget for the Boston move:

Description Price
First Month Rent, Utilities Included

$1,500.00

Security Deposit

$1,500.00

Renters Insurance (1 Year)

$216.00

Mattress and Bed Frame

$260.00

Furniture Replacements

$200.00

Vehicle Registration Fee (2 Years)

$60.00

Vehicle Title Fee

$75.00

Vehicle Inspection Fee

$35.00

Driver License Fee – Handrio (5 Years)

$115.00

Driver License Fee – Annie (5 Years)

$115.00

Moving and Shipping Supplies

$60.00*

Shipping, via Amtrak or Greyhound

$160.00*

Meals (4 Days x 3 Meals x 2 People)

$240.00

Gas and Tolls (2,036 Miles)

$160.00*

Hotels (4 Nights)

$280.00*

Total

$4,983.00

You can see we must save close to $5,000 by September 1, not including emergency funds. We’ve been preparing for this since October and already have $1,495 saved. We still have a long way to go.

We cannot cut the prices down any lower. This is already low, considering the following:

We are minimalists, yet we will be downsizing our possessions even more. I’ve scanned and shredded all my paperwork. That’s one less box to pack. Gradually, we will sell and donate our stuff. We refuse to hire a moving company or rent a moving truck. To haul our possessions across 2,036 miles, a moving truck rental would be at least $800. We are going to fit as much as possible into our sedan and ship the rest.

We are going to ship our remaining possessions via Amtrak or Greyhound. There is no Amtrak station in Lubbock, so I’ll have to ask my friend to drive to Dallas to drop our stuff off there for us. The hassle is worth it, considering the weight of our packages. Last week, I shipped a 5 lbs. package via FedEx Ground for $46, which was outrageous. I can ship a 100 lbs. package via Amtrak for only $49. The insurance is dirt-cheap too. The only downside is I have to pick it up from Amtrak’s Boston station.

We will be claiming the moving expense tax deduction for 2018. Everything listed with an asterisk (*) is tax deductible because we meet the distance and time test. The most important thing is to keep receipts.

It is very difficult to land a job through a long distance search. To make the transition smooth, I already have a job lined up at Domino’s Pizza! My current supervisor knows the franchise owner in Boston and said, “You’re hired!” Granted, I’ll be making $11.00/hour, but it’s still something, which is better than nothing. We could eat and pay the bills with that. I’m going to network and continue job searching while working at Domino’s in Boston. I have a good feeling I’ll land something that pays at least $20.00/hour within three months.

Some of my fellow readers plan to move within the next two years. You must make a moving budget once you know when and where you are going.

I’ve included this excel template for you to use as a moving budget guide. Click here to download the file. It has every possible expense so you that don’t overlook anything. It also has links to resources to help you make an accurate budget.

Once you know how much money you need, start saving. Keep in mind, you need that much money, plus an emergency fund of at least two months worth of expenses. I know people who didn’t do that and they went into credit card debt after moving.

Stay tuned for the next post, which will be on apartment hunting.

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Death and Taxes: You Can’t Control Death, But You Can Control Your Tax Liability.

“In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin was right, but he never said you must hire a third party to do your taxes. According to the IRS, the majority of Americans do not do their own taxes. Instead, they use professional accountants or software programs.

I used to be that American. I handed my W2s to my parents, which they passed to their accountant. I never understood taxes because the professionals took care that. I never met their accountant either so I couldn’t ask questions. I didn’t know the difference between a W2, 1099, and 1040. What’s a deduction? Is that the same as a deductible for car insurance? Taxes were like a confusing, jumbled knot I didn’t want to untie. It’s embarrassing, as it’s an area of personal finance I knew I should learn about but avoid anyway.

My mindset changed last year. In the 2016 fiscal year, my parents no longer claimed me as a dependent. Because of that, they used their accountant to do my taxes and then handed me an $85.00 bill. That’s the first time they made me pay. I didn’t like it. If I had known, I would have tried doing it myself first before opening my wallet.

The 2017 fiscal year return is different. I’m putting my big girl pants on!

I looked into different software programs. Because I had a few jobs but was also self-employed, my only TurboTax option was the Self-Employed for $119.99. The reviewers wrote about how it made reporting their income and expenses super easy.

I considered buying it but reasoned I’ve only been doing financial coaching for a year. My income/expenses were not complicated. Plus, I’ve done professional bookkeeping, so my own business records were very organized.

I ended up researching which forms I needed to complete (1040, Schedule C, Schedule SE). I downloaded the PDFs from the IRS website and looked at them. At first, I had a case of FOMO—serious! I had a terrible FEAR that I would make a mistake or miss out on a deduction because of my lack of knowledge. But it turns out they were very easy to fill out. I literally plugged in numbers from my Excel sheet onto the form and then added and subtracted. After a day and a half, the tax return was finished, double-checked, signed, and mailed.

Lessons Learned:

  1. You have the most at stake when it comes to your finances, not anyone else. Do not throw numbers into a black box and trust what comes out on the other side. Accountants aren’t on the lookout for every credit/deduction you could claim. In 2016, my SO and I was eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. My parents’ accountant completely overlooked it and I only noticed it last week. According to the IRS, 25% of taxpayers who are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit fail to claim it. I now have to file an amended 2016 return to get the $510.00 refund.
  2. You don’t know what you don’t know, and that can screw you over. The issue with not doing your own taxes is you don’t know all the credits/deductions out there. If you don’t know, how will you make good financial decisions and limit your tax liability too?

In 2016, I paid for my undergraduate tuition using the 529 plan my parents opened for me. I did the right thing: I withdrew the exact amount needed to pay for qualifying expenses. I made sure to avoid paying the 10% penalty.

But I could have made a better decision! I could have paid the first $2,500 from my savings and then the rest from the 529 plan. Doing this would have allowed me to claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit, which is free money. I lost out on the opportunity to get $1,000 more in refunds from the IRS and it’s too late for me to do anything about it now. It’s unfortunate I only found out about this after I graduated college already.

Whenever you make a major life decision and have to pay for it, research the tax laws first.

Tips To Make This Easier:

  • Save and organize your receipts throughout the year.
  • Use last year’s tax return as a template.
  • Read the IRS instructional guide for forms you don’t understand.
  • Realize that if you make a mistake, it’s okay. You have three years to submit an amended return. If the IRS says you made an error, learn from it!

Try doing your own taxes this year. Of course, there is nothing wrong with using an accountant, so long as you check it line by line afterward. I actually encourage it if your financial situation is complicated and if you make more money with the time that you save.

What do you think? How have you done your taxes in the past?

Syndicated Publications

Clarity From Clutter

Republished from Latino Lubbock Magazine, February 2018 Issue.

Last month’s issue was on goal setting. Now that you have a goal, take small steps toward achieving it. Here are some ideas to keep you on track.

The first baby step is to organize your financial paperwork. Invest in a simple filing cabinet and folders. Organize utility bills, pay stubs, bank and credit card statements less than two years old. Also keep important documents such as active deeds, insurance policies, receipts for big-ticket items, marriage licenses, wills, birth certificates, tax returns, and year-end investment statements. Shred papers you don’t need.

The next baby step is to track your bills. Don’t get caught off guard! Write the due dates for all bills for the rest of the year. In addition to monthly expenses such as mortgage/rent, utilities, and loan payments, include periodic expenses such as insurance, vehicle registration, car repairs, tuition, school supplies, birthday gifts, property taxes, etc. These expenses occur infrequently, making them easy to forget about.

Lastly, simplify your bill paying process. Set up automatic bill pay. If you do it manually, pay your bills either on payday or weekly or bimonthly. And of course, check your bank account balance first, or else you’ll overdraft.

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My Obsession With Saving Money

Orgasmic. That’s the greatest word to describe my non-sexual, unhealthy obsession with saving money. For years, I saved 50 cents out of every dollar I earned. Now that I’m married and need my husband’s approval on finances, I’ve compromised down to 25 cents.

I am the type of person who picks up every penny I find on the ground. I cut my own hair for free. I use canvas bags at the grocery store to save 5 cents. When my phone company surprised me by lowering my bill to $19.00, I screamed like a little girl at the top of my lungs.

My best money saving idea was in 2013. I worked at a massage parlor making $3.00/hour. The MTA (which stands for Might Take Awhile) increased the monthly MetroCard fare again. I couldn’t afford to ride the subway to work, so I bought a foldable adult kick scooter. Every day, I kicked myself to work and back. I hit the jackpot with this one. Not only did I save money, I never dealt with morning train delays again.

Last April, soon after the David Dao fiasco, United Airlines lowered their prices. Being money-savvy, I bought a round-trip ticket from Lubbock to NYC for $396.60 from United. Later, I wanted to change the departure date, but United wanted to charge $200.00, plus the difference for a new ticket.

I said no.

I bought a one-way ticket for much less, planning to still use my original return flight. I thought I was genius—until the day before my return flight. Since I didn’t take my original flight, United canceled the itinerary. I wasted $400.00 on another new ticket. Meanwhile, United sold my original seat to someone else, making double the profit!

Something in me snapped.

I felt like starting a national movement to boycott United Airlines. That’s how angry I was.

It wasn’t just about the money. It was about how little control I had over the situation due to their ridiculous policies. It was exactly how controlling my parents were while growing up and how helpless I felt. The whole reason I saved every dollar was to break free from their control.

A significant moment in my life was when I fell in love with Matthew. He was my Aladdin; he showed me the world and how to order food from McDonald’s since my parents never allowed me to do that. I realized how much freedom I lacked.

My parents attempted to separate us by confiscating my cell phone. That didn’t work. I started paying my own phone bill and got a second-hand phone. This gave me a taste of freedom that even my parents couldn’t take away from me.

From then on, saving money meant total freedom from my parents. Now that I’ve moved out, my obsession with saving money is about achieving total freedom in life.

Travel

Lubbock or Leave It? Getting out of Town Without Breaking the Bank.

In 2014, Movoto ranked Lubbock as the absolute most boring city in America. Although Lubbock is a small city, it doesn’t have the hustle and bustle energy. There’s not much to do besides eating, drinking, and going to church. Everything closes at 9:00 p.m. and during the summer and winter when college students are away, it’s a ghost town.

Things are getting better. Last month, an ice skating rink opened. Later this year, Adventure Park and Lubbock Aquarium are opening. But what is there to do right now? Locals say there’s a lot to do in Lubbock and then proceed to tell me about the Palo Duro Canyon that’s two hours away. When it’s that far, it’s not even Lubbock anymore.

I’ve lived here for 8 months and decided to explore surrounding areas in Texas and New Mexico. Working 7 days a week caused me to lose my creativity, inspiration, and connection to God. I needed stimulation.

The problem was Handrio and I are saving $3,000.00 to move to Boston. The last time we went on a road trip to Dallas, we got over excited, overspent and got an overdraft. A fun trip turned out anxiety provoking since we couldn’t afford it. I felt scared that would happen again.

It didn’t happen this time though because I planned every possible expense. The destination was White Sands National Monument and Roswell, NM. I budgeted for 3 people at $95.00 per person and I was off by only a few cents. How did we do it?

Limit The Number of Days

Get out of town for 2 days—3 days max. The longer you leave, the more money you spend. Two days is enough to rejuvenate your body, mind, and soul without missing a day of work.

Go When Demand Is Low

The largest expense for road trips is lodging. Hotels in Roswell cost over $100.00/night on Christmas week, but on New Years Day, they were $60.00. On New Years Day, most people are back home experiencing a holiday hangover.

Invite Your Friends

If you can get four people, that’s fantastic. It cuts down on hotel and gas costs per person. To divide all expenses evenly, in the beginning, ask everyone to put the same amount of cash into a joint envelope and use that. Remaining cash gets split evenly. For the digital savvy, charge all joint expenses onto one card. Keep receipts and pay the cardholder your share at the end.

Calculate the Gas Money

http://GasBuddy.com is accurate. Find out the round-trip cost for gas. Then add $20.00 for gas to explore the destination itself.

Stay At A Hotel With Complimentary Breakfast

That’s one less meal you have to worry about. Lunch/dinner is around $12.00 per person per meal for small towns. Make it $16.00 for big cities.

Plan Your Attractions

Attractions are your biggest budget buster. You have to get this right!

  1. Go to TripAdvisor and see the “Top Things to Do” at your destination.
  2. On an Excel sheet, make a list of 10 possible attractions.
  3. Next to each one, write the total price for the number of people going.
  4. Now, write the addresses. This makes your trip more energy efficient. Visit attractions in the same zip code before driving across town.

If you are a spontaneous traveler who hates plans, don’t worry. You won’t end up going to every attraction; 10 are too many. Think of this list as options, not a set itinerary. The point is to make a budget.

Wishing You A Great Getaway

Take a look at the spreadsheet I made for our White Sands and Roswell, NM road trip. It should inspire you to create your own.

Is there a destination you have in mind already? Leave a comment and we could start planning together.

Syndicated Publications

New Year’s Resolutions

Republished from Latino Lubbock Magazine, January 2018 Issue.

It’s the New Year and you know what that means: New Year’s resolutions! Everyone sets them. Almost everyone, including me, fails to keep them by the second week. I’ll let you in on a secret I learned recently that worked for me. The secret is to set goals, not resolutions.

To better your money management, set only one goal to either save money or reduce debt. Your goal must be reasonable enough that it is challenging but not impossible to meet. It also needs to be specific with a dollar amount and a deadline. Do not say, “I want to be debt free.” Say, “I want to pay off my $1,800 credit card debt by December 31.” Working backwards from there that would be $150/month or $4.93/day, which is doable.

Now determine your motivation. In my example, it could be to reduce your stress or to free your future income for other things like retirement. Remind yourself of your goals with sticky notes around the house. I like to put my sticky notes on my bathroom mirror so that it is the first thing I see in the morning. Everyday I must make one small step toward that goal. If I don’t by the end of the day, then I remind myself of the consequences I face if I keep doing that.

One tiny step you can take everyday starting today is tracking your expenses. Buy a pocket-sized notebook and write your financial goal on the first page. As you shop throughout the day, keep all receipts. At night, write the date, the item description, and the amount. This is a game changer. When you do this, there is no doubt you will find extra money spent here and there that could have gone toward your meeting your goal.