Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Learning for Life

I was watching the news last night and saw a rather alarming report that only %5 of high school seniors in America had passed a financial literacy test. That means that %95 of high school students about to graduate are going into the work force or even into University with absolutely no idea of how to manage their money and what is happening in their financial world. It is no wonder that so many people get into such financial trouble in their 20's and then spend years digging out from the devastation.

The good news is that, no matter what your age, you are here today, learning to better manage your money. You may be in the aftermath of financial ignorance right now, but learning to budget is a wonderful step forward. It will keep you from digging the hole that you are in any deeper, and it is also your tool for climbing your way out.

The next step on your journey to establishing a budget is to determine what you are averaging in spending in each of the categories that we established yesterday. We are also going to determine each bill's due date, as that is critical to knowing which paycheck each bill must come out of and it's placement in the budget. So get out your list and let's start with your Mortgage/Rent. It will be easy to determine because it is a fixed amount each month. Write down the amount and the date that it is due by. I want you to do this for every bill that is fixed (does not fluctuate from month to month).

If you do not have paper statements, you can check online for your bills. Most companies now allow you to access your account online and will let you see your bills for the last few months. If you do not have online access to your bill, you can also check your bank statement (or check book register) to track your spending in a category. If all this fails, you can always call the company and they will definitely be able to give you your bill totals for the last few months.

As for fluctuating bills, you are just going to have to come back tomorrow. And just in case you are feeling tempted not to come back, I am adding the link to the financial literacy test that I mentioned at the beginning...

One of the things that I love about life is that there is always more to learn. We will only know everything when we are dead and have met the source of all knowledge face to face. In the mean time we can rejoice because there is never a situation that is too hopeless for God, and we are never too old, or too young, to learn.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Finding the Holes

Have you ever felt like trying to get ahead in your finances is kind of like trying to blow up a balloon with a giant hole? The more energy, time, and air you pour into that balloon, the more frustrated you become because it just won't get any bigger. And even worse, the second you take a break, it completely deflates and you have nothing to show for your efforts. It all just feels like a mystery because you never know where the air is going. And all of this frustration is simply because you have never taken the time to identify the holes.

Today we begin the adventure of finding out exactly where your money is going. To me, budgeting is all about being purposeful with your money so that you don't just contine to throw all of your energy and money to the wind.

Your "hole finding" mission for today is to identify all of your bills. I want you to make a list of every place that your money is obligated to go. If you have already made your binder, or organized your filing, then this step is going to be easy for you. Your bills are going to be specific to your life, but here is a list of some general categories:

  • Mortgage/Rent
  • Savings
  • Giving
  • Insurance
  • Electricity
  • Gas
  • Water/Sewage
  • Telephone
  • Internet
  • Cable TV
  • Car payment
  • Car Insurance
  • Credit Card Payment
  • School loans

There are also other categories which have more flexibility, but actually tend to steal more air and I want you to make a list for these categories as well. Categories like:

  • Groceries
  • Gasoline
  • Entertainment
  • Baby Expenses (if you have one)
  • Clothing
  • Gifts

Try to be realistic and specific about what you spend your money on. If you go get your hair done every month then you need a hair category, etc... Try to be as specific as you can. This is where your money is going and it is imperative to identify every area. Don't worry about all of the "holes" in your balloon right now. A lot of that is just life and what it costs to live, but as we go along in this budgeting process, you will realise that by not being purposeful with your money, you have allowed some of those holes to sabotage your dreams. This is just the beginning, so hang in there with me, because I am confident that this plan is going to finally get your balloon off of the ground.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Soar With Your Strengths

One of the great things, and difficult things about being married is that you both come to the marriage with such different strengths and weaknesses. I sometimes wish that my husband were more like me, but most of the time I am really glad that he is not.

My dear friend Amy and her husband have found such a great solution to their differing strengths when it comes to finances. I want to share it with you today in the hope that it might also give you some ideas to finding creative solutions to coming together in your own finances. Amy is fantastic at organization, but the responsibility of paying the bills can be overwhelming to her. So she and her husband came up with a plan. They have a Finance binder and every month all during the month Amy opens the mail, sorts it and files it in the binder. In addition to the dividers for the different types of bills and statements, she has two other sections… bills due at the beginning of the month and bills due in the middle of the month. Twice a month, Nathan sits down with the binder and goes through the appropriate section and pays the bills. That way Nathan is fully aware of what is happening in their finances and carrying that responsibility and at the same time, Amy’s strength at organization is being completely utilized so that they are supporting each other. They are both aware of what is happening in their finances and have an open dialog about where their money is going.

This is a wonderful example of how to utilize a Finance Binder and of how to combine your strengths to soar. This obviously is not the answer to every situation, but if you are married, it is really important that both of you are aware of what is happening in your finances. You both spend money, and therefore in order to make a budget work, you have to both understand the purpose behind it. Even if you don’t think your spouse has any strength when it comes to finances, if you are in debt, or feel trapped by lack, or maybe just never seem to make any forward progress, may I just suggest that there may be more strength in your partner than you realize. And if you are both weak in this area, I have good news for you too. God loves to give strength to the weak and nothing welcomes His presence like being in agreement.

Using a Finance Binder and Budget can strengthen your financial life and help you to come into agreement together. And in that place of agreement you will discover, that only with the strength of both wings will you be able to soar.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Far and Away

This weekend I have the wonderful priveledge of speaking with my Mom at a Women's conference on the East Coast. I will only be getting back in late Sunday night, so I promise to have a fresh and creative budgeting idea for you on Monday. Have a wonderful Sunday.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

All things considered...

A dear friend of my parents left a comment yesterday that he was going to be taking the weekend to tackle his piles of filing. I have been thinking and praying for grace for him this morning and it occurred to me that many of you might have been waiting for the weekend for the time to face the mountain. If that is you and that is what lies before you today, then it is just in my heart to encourage you today that there is grace for today. There isn't grace for tomorrow yet. Just take each moment as a gift and thank God for His grace to do exactly what He has put in your heart today.

As you sort through your paperwork today, or maybe just as you enjoy this wonderful day, I have a thought for you. It comes from Matthew 6:25-33 and starts out saying, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, what you will wear (finances)” and it goes on to say to consider the birds of the air and how your heavenly Father feeds them. “Are you not of more value than them?” and then it says, “consider the lilies of the field… Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is gone, will He not much more clothe you?”

The thing about worry is it makes no place for God. Your heavenly Father knows what you need, and if you look to Him instead of your own wisdom and strength, you will find abundant provision for today. There is grace to climb your mountain today. Maybe that mountain isn’t your filing pile. Maybe it’s your marriage, or your job, or just your dishes… but there is grace for today. So receive God’s grace for your mountain right now, don’t worry about tomorrow, and if worry starts to creep in, can I just gently urge you to “consider the lilies…”

Friday, April 25, 2008

Finishing Things

My sister-in-law passed this e-mail along to me yesterday, and I just have to share it with you:

"I am passing this on to you because it definitely works, and we could all use a little more calmness in our lives. By following the simple advice heard on the Dr. Phil show, you too can find inner peace. Dr. Phil proclaims that, 'The way to achieve inner peace is to finish all the things you have started and have never finished. So, I looked around my house to see all the things I've started and hadn't finished, and before the morning was over I finished off a bottle of White Zinfandel, a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream, a package of Oreos, the remainder of my old Prozac prescription, the rest of the cheesecake, some Doritos, and a box of chocolates. You have no idea how freaking good I feel right now."

So, finishing your binder definitely won't make you feel this "good", but at least you won't have the hangover :) There truly is wonderful sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in finishing something, but it is definitely not the answer to inner peace.

I really struggled when I started writing this blog as to how to incorporate the presence of God in my life with the practical information that I am going to be giving. I would love this information to reach more than just those who already have a relationship with God, and yet I truly do believe that there is not an answer to fear apart from God. For many people, fear and finances are so inextricably interwoven, that only the love of God and faith in Him are going to be able to bring them out of the horribly convoluted maze that they and their fear have created. The only answer to inner peace in our lives comes from our Creator and that is why God is such a central part of this blog on budgeting. We all need the "peace that passes understanding" when it comes to finances, and there is only one place to get that.

So, it won't bring you "inner peace", but can I just encourage you to finish sorting your pile of bills anyway. It isn't the complete answer to your financial situation, but it will give you such a great foundation for budgeting. Hopefully, you are well on your way in organizing your paperwork, but today I just want to say, "Keep going!" There is something wonderfully sweet and fulfilling about the finish line. Dare I say, maybe even sweeter than a package of Oreos?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Place for Everything

My Dad has the most beautifully organized garage of anyone I have ever known (but, no this is not a picture of my Dad's garage). It has always been tidy, my entire life, but honestly I had never really thought much about it until the other day. A good friend and I had had a play date with our kiddos at my parent's house. As we were walking through the garage on our way out, she stopped and looked around and said, "This is beautiful!" I honestly didn't know what she was talking about, but she said it again, "Your Dad's garage is beautiful!" As I looked around, I really saw his garage through the eyes of an adult for the first time. Every hammer has a place to hang. Every tool is hung neatly from a peg board, much like this picture. He has glass jars full of neatly organized nails and screws of all sizes. Everything in his garage has it's place, and it really is beautiful.

The fun thing about his garage is that in doing a project at my Dad's house, you always know that he has the equipment to do it and exactly where to find it. As a child who loved to do projects, I used to constantly "borrow" hammers, scissors, tape, or whatever from my Dad and never returned it. As a parent of three small children who also never put anything back, I have so much empathy for my Dad in his struggle to keep his well stocked, well organized garage safe from being pillaged and the bounty disappearing into the abyss of my room. I laugh now, because I am sure I have well earned all the missing jewelry, chap stick, shoes, keys, and tape that seems to disappear in the hands of my own children. But the bottom line is, having a place for everything truly does make projects so much easier and even more fun, and not having tape when you are in the middle of wrapping a present and the tape has disappeared is no fun at all.

In putting together this notebook (or filing cabinet/bin) I truly believe that your finances can begin to feel like my Dad's garage. Not everyone will be able to recognize it, but your finances will be a thing of beauty. Your taxes will be easy. Your bills will be easy to find, track, and to manage. This step is so crucial because it will be very difficult for you to budget, if you don't know what you are currently spending each month. In getting your bills and statements in order, you are setting yourself up for success in everything that we are going to be dealing with in the coming months. You are setting yourself up for success for the rest of your life.

So the next step is to take the first group of bills from the top of your stack. There are going to be two types of bills: a bill that fluctuates (like your water bill) and a bill that is fixed (like your mortgage). Let's take your water bill as an instance of a fluctuating bill. If a bill fluctuates, you are going to need the last year's worth of statements in order to get an accurate average for your budget. If you don't have the statements because you have thrown them away, or because you get email statements instead or for whatever reason, don't worry about it. We will be dealing with those contingencies later as we get into the detail of setting up your budget. Right now we are putting a plan in place for the paperwork that you do have, and hopefully most of the information will be easy to find when it is time to budget. So look at the dates on your statements and keep the last twelve months of statements and then archive (file in a box with cheap manila folders) the rest.

Even if you are using a filing system instead of the binder, you will only want to keep the last years worth of statements in the cabinet, because otherwise your filing cabinet/tub will become too cluttered and unmaneagable. Take this opportunity to de-clutter your filing cabinet and archive all of the rest because in doing so you are really de-cluttering your financial life. Also, it is miserable to try to stuff a file into a too full filing cabinet. So now back to the binder. Take the twelve most current statements, hole punch them, and put them behind the appropriate tab in your notebook.

If the bill is fixed (like your mortgage), you are only going to keep the statements from this year (2008) in your folder, so you will only need the statements dated from the beginning of the year. Take a manila folder and archive the rest of the statements. You will want to keep these archived statements until their tax liability has expired (which I think is either 3 or 7 years - I will check on this somewhere in the next 3 years and write a blog on it to let you know :) ). And that is the plan for today... lots of hole punching, but with a three-ring hole punch it will go very quickly.

Not every part of the journey to budgeting is fun, and you may not love this step, but I guarantee that you will love looking at that notebook once it is finished as compared to a frightful mound of disorganized bills, and you will love the freedom that is going to come into your financial life. So hang in there and see this step through. This is the end of the monster in the closet and is helping to guarantee that there will never be another monster in the closet. There will be a place for everything, you will be out from the cloud of fear and dread, and managing your finances is going to be so much easier and consequently a lot more fun... and that is a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Plan for Freedom

"For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

I have always loved this verse of scripture. To me it has always been such a comforting thought that the God who made me has a plan for my life. However, not just a plan, but a plan for good, a plan filled with hope and purpose.

When these words were originally written, they were written to a group of people in absolute poverty, hopelessness, and actual captivity. They had been forcibly taken into slavery to a place called Babylon. I can barely imagine the pain and anguish of being separated from everyone I love, living in poverty with nothing, and completely hopeless of any kind of restoration. Truly they were destitute and yet God was promising them hope.

Do you feel like this? Do you feel like you are living in a land of slavery when it comes to your finances? Do you feel like lack of resources and debt is constantly separating you from the people you love, or even what you would love to do? Are you hopeless of ever getting out of the bondage of debt?

Just as God had a plan of deliverance for the slaves in Babylon, God has a plan for your life. He is so much bigger than the mountain of finances, in fact, to Him it is just a pebble. His heart is for you to be free, and I truly believe that He is singing a song of deliverance over you. For today, the steps towards that freedom just may be as simple as the binder or filing tub that is now hopefully sitting in your home. It is not a mistake that you are reading this blog today. God is truly working everything for your good. His heart is for you, and there is a path to freedom. Now lets take the next step...

OK, open your package of dividers, and get out the labels. If you are setting up to file, the steps are the same, it will just look a little different. Now I want you to make labels for every kind of bill that you have. This is going to serve two purposes. First, you will easily be able to find any bill, which will be extremely helpful when we start talking about how to get estimates of your bills. Secondly, it is also going to help to identify some of the categories when we set about making your actual budget. So here are a few categories to consider. Obviously you will need to adjust the categories to fit your particular situation:

Mortgage/Rent, Utilities, Phone/Cable/Internet, Banking, Savings, Insurance, Credit cards (have a separate divider for each), School Loans, Automobile, Business Costs (if you have a home business with extensive paperwork, you may need a filing cabinet - ours doesn't, so this works for us), Kids activities, Taxes, Medical, and whatever other categories that are specific to your family.

If you bought enough dividers/filing folders then definitely separate out the different utilities, phone/cable/Internet, and anything else that is combined. The more specific the label, the easier it will be to find. However, if you don't have enough and want to combine into categories, just make sure to divide the bills within those categories. For instance, keep all of your water bills together even if there is not a divider separating it from your gas bill and it is all under utilities.

So that is the step in the plan today. It is not a difficult one, but each step is so important to getting anywhere in the journey. And just remember today, that as you move towards freedom in your finances, you are not alone in the journey. God is right there with you. He has been all along, and He truly does have a wonderful plan for you... a plan for your good, a plan full of hope, a plan for your freedom.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Binders, Files and the Battle of the Sexes

I am passionate about finances. It is one of the reason's I am so excited about writing this blog. I love helping people and problem solving in their finances. I have core beliefs that anchor me, and it is such a joyful thing to see hope spark in someone who has had none. There is always hope. That being said, I have been married to my amazing husband for almost nine years and have managed our finances that whole time. Now, with finances being one of my passions and not necessarily Matt's, it would be very easy for me to just control everything and leave him out. However, I am also passionate about communication and agreement, so we talk about everything. I mean, everything. Matt knows everything that is going on in our finances and we always come into agreement before changing our budget, or major purchases. It has made finances a very peaceful issue in our marriage. We definitely still have challenges, but we tend to face them together, and they are not often between us.

I have also been in charge of filing our bills, and statements, and important documents for the last eight years, and let me tell you, I really don't like filing. Matt and I have both had jobs filing for a living, and the feeling is definitely mutual. Our filing cabinet used to be in our closet and it was so miserable to sit in that closet for hours filing. The pile just got higher and higher. I finally knew that something had to change, so we bought portable plastic filing tubs ($12 at Walmart). I could now file in the living room. My life was changed, but somehow I quickly regressed back into the piles. It was easier, portable, but still not fun. But then one of my dear friends introduced me to the Finance Binder ($4 at Office Depot or Walmart for a 3") and all of a sudden my filing pile completely disappeared. I still have the filing tubs in which I effortlessly archive the stuff from my binder when it gets too full. I then empty my files after I file my taxes into filing boxes which I store in the attic. It would also be just as easy to label the binder with the months and years, buy a new binder and then file the entire old binder... however, I get attached to my binders.

So here is the funny part. I was telling my husband last night that I am going to recommend binders as the answer to all your filing ails and he says, "Real men don't do binders, they'll want a filing cabinet." So for the next step, men, feel free to stick with a manly filing cabinet if its working for you, but if its not, may I suggest a binder. I bought cheap dividers and labeled them with all of my bills. I also bought divider folders for receipts that I need to keep like for my husband's business, and then I decorated the outside. It made bills seem fun. I just slid in sheets of scrap booking paper and the binder was transformed. So men, feel free to buy some camo paper, or just get a large solid black binder. I would also suggest a three-ring hole punch to make your life even easier. All in all, under a $20 investment for an amazing plan to change your life. So that's it for today. Go buy a finance binder or maybe a plastic filing tub if you just feel too emasculated by a binder. Or if you already have an amazing filing system or just love to file, then that is fantastic. But for the rest of us...

OK, so you are now sitting with a pile of organized bills, and are facing going and buying a binder or filing tub and are seriously feeling the urge to crawl back into ignorance, and find some way to escape. It's not fear that's controlling you right now, but you just feel overwhelmed. This is why getting a system of organization is so important. Once you get a system of organization going that works for you, you will never have to return to this place again. So push through, go buy a binder, some dividers, and a three-ring hole punch... and let me warn you, don't let perfectionism take over here. You do not need to type out the labels, just hand write them. You can type them out later if the handwriting drives you crazy, but you don't want to minor on the little things, you just have to get it started. Trust me, you will never wonder where a bill is again, taxes will be so much easier, and your whole financial life is going to come into order. That is, if you are man enough to handle a binder.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Surprises in the Mail

So you stand at the door, your hand on the handle, your heart is pounding. Gently you crack the door and immediately feel something pushing against you. "There really is a monster!", your fear screams. It takes a second, but your rational mind finally kicks in,. "There is NO monster," you repeat over and over to yourself like a mantra and with courageous effort you swing the closet door open and get pummelled..... by mail.

This is where we begin. You can't know where you are financially unless you open your mail. It may sound overly simplistic to some of you, but for many people just the paperwork of finances is an overwhelming monster to face. I want to tell you the story of a dear friend who I'll call Jana. Jana is an extremely intelligent, highly successful, lovely person who was terrified of her mail. She had piles of mail all over her house. Bills, letters, credit cards, all unopened because she just dreaded what they would say. Fear of the unknown had paralyzed her and even though she made a fantastic salary she was barely making it financially and had no idea why.

Thankfully, God started to crack the shell of fear around Jana's heart, and the day came when she knew that she could no longer neglect the truth. She had to open her mail and break the power of that fear. So Jana recruited a close friend, they put on some fun music and had a mail opening party. And in the midst of the bills, statements, and junk mail, Jana also discovered... money - checks from people, rebate checks, even cash. Along with the serious, there had been alot of the miraculous, and she had missed it all while living in denial and fear.

Does this sound at all familiar to you? Do you dread the mail? Does it sit around your house because you fear the next bill? If this is you, then the good news is, budgeting is your answer. With a budget you will never again have to fear what is in the mail, because you will already know. But, the very first step right now is to open your mail. Yes, you might find pink slips, debt, bills, statements, but you will also find the truth.

As you finally face your fears and begin to see where you really are, you may need to repent. You may need to get honest with yourself about your finances. You may even need an all out miracle. But the good news is, God is still in the miracle working business. He loves honesty, and as you open the door that your fear has held closed, you not only open your heart and finances to the truth, you open the door to Him. As you welcome God into all of that mess of fear, confusion, and denial, you will discover that all along the journey He has been planning surprises for you. God knows your needs, and He has been working for your good all along, but as long as you have seen everything through the dark glasses of fear, you could never see His hand

Throughout this next week, I am going to be giving you a plan for organizing the paperwork of your finances. But the first step today is just to open your mail. Put on some music or a fun movie. Recruit a close friend or your husband or wife to help if you need to. Get a trash can and then just spread out everywhere and make piles of your bills. For some of you, your mail issue may not be opening it, but what to do after you open it. It may just be sitting in an enormous pile on top of your filing cabinet, or desk. This step is for you, too. Get that huge stack and begin to divide it into organized piles. Spread out all over the living room if you need to. At the end, you can stack all your organized piles into one pile. You are ready for the next step... tomorrow.
As we tackle the job of organizing your paperwork this week, expect to find bills, maybe even late notices, expect to find statements, but far more than all of that... expect to be surprised.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Monster in the Closet

Have you ever thought about the difference between fear and faith? I was chatting with my neighbor the other day as our kids played together in the yard. She has been having some serious health problems and began to tell me how terrified she was to find out what was going on. As much as she dreaded knowing, however, she had forced herself to go through with the procedure because of her uncle. She then went on to tell me how he had had a sore throat for years, but didn't have insurance so he just kept "believing" it would go away. It had now developed into a huge lump and yet he still refused to go to see a doctor because he was terrified of what they might say. Fear of the unknown had absolutely stolen his life, and she was determined that she would rather know what she was actually fighting, rather than just fighting fear.

So my question is, "Is it possible to have faith when you are paralyzed by a fear of the unknown?" I don't think it is. I think what many people call "faith" is actually just denial and fear of the unknown cloaked in "...but I'm believing God." Can you actually trust God with your circumstances when you see your circumstances as bigger than Him? The only way to bring those circumstances into proper perspective is to quit seeing them through the magnifying glass of fear. You have to face them for what they are, and then see God for who He is, and then your heart can get into the right place. It's not just a pretty saying that, "the truth will set you free". When it comes to finances, it is absolutely foundational.

So, are you ready to really face what has been hiding in the neglected closet of your finances? It is time to get free, and I am so excited to help you on that journey. I guarantee you, that whatever lies behind that door, the relief of being free from the fear of the unknown will make it worth the journey. Whatever your income (fixed, commission, hourly...), a budget is going to help you to face the unknown "monsters" and to get a plan for your future that is going to bring hope and purpose to your finances.

And how is my neighbor? She had the surgical procedure, and it turned out it was something easily reparable with surgery and not cancer. She is so incredibly relieved that she faced her fears. The surgery was still difficult, but so much better than a lifetime of fear of the unknown and painful consequences for neglecting something that was never that big to begin with.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Starting Point

I recently had the privledge of helping a friend with her budget. As I sat with her, sorting through her bills, she kept saying "Oh, I just don't even want to know." Her face was pale, her hands sweaty... kind of the feeling you get when your oldest son urgently yells, "Mommy, come see what Luke did! (my one-year-old)." Your heart starts racing, dread overwhelms you, but not going into that room doesn't change what's in there.

Fear had absolutely controlled her approach to money for years. She was constantly afraid that there wouldn't be enough, so she felt like she would just rather not know and live however she wanted to. However, as a result, debt had crept in, and she never did the things she really wanted to because of the fear. The weight of finances had overwhelmed her to the point that she felt powerless and hopeless. As we sat and worked out her budget, for the first time she was able to face what it cost for her to live as compared to what she earned. At the end, she sat there so relieved and at peace. It didn't change her situation automatically, but she could finally begin to be purposeful with her money and working towards her dreams.

There is nothing quite as debilitating as fear... fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of poverty. When it comes to your finances, fear will continually work against your dreams, undermine your confidence and sabotage your good intentions. It is not a light thing to reckon with, but it has to be addressed from the very beginning or you will never know where to start or where you stand. I have heard so many people say that they don't want to budget because it is just too restrictive, and yet it seems that debt is their continual friend. Ironically, debt is actually more restrictive and oppressive than simply knowing exactly where you stand and spending purposefully. If you don't know exactly what you need to live each month, what your bills average, where your money is actually going, can I just suggest that you might be living in denial? The amazing thing about budgeting is that it actually can set you free from that continual denial and from fear. In knowing exactly what you are earning, what your current debt is, and where your money is going, you are able to face the reality of where you are... and that is the only point to start.