Your Money Can Work Harder than You Can

I’ve been adding up the number of hours I worked last year, just out of curiosity. The biggest burst of it took place in November and December, when I was renovating the new rental house.

Man, I sure felt like I was working hard at the time. Five days a week, for all of my available time. Designing, prying, cutting, smashing, carrying, building, tiling, climbing, crawling, bleeding, swearing, laughing, gluing, nailing, and on and on. I ate my lunches while walking around and continuing to work, and I barely had time on the weekends to catch up on real life, groceries, and cooking.

But when you add it all up, it was really only a little over 200 hours of work. At a typical solid working wage of $35 per hour (almost five times the US minimum wage), this adds up to about $7,000. It’s a good chunk of money, enough to buy a fairly new car or for a single person to live frugally for a year. So I was proud of myself doing this much work even during retirement (even though I won’t technically get paid for it until sometime this year).

But while I was doing all this real work, my old forgotten money collection was also working. My old stalwart rental house silently delivered two rent checks, yielding about $4,000 after accounting for expenses. The main house provided me with mortgage-free living, saving about $3,000 in interest payments compared to someone who had bought an equivalent house to me with no money down. Well over $1000 in dividends reinvested themselves into more shares in index funds, whose share prices also tend to appreciate over time as well. A lack of student loans, car loans, and credit card loans on the various material goods we bought over the years (and still use today) saved us another $1000 in interest expenses*. Investments made in home energy efficiency saved hundreds more.

All in all, the ‘Stash, which is simply money earned in the distant past that I invested instead of spending, earned at least $9,000 during the two months, while I earned only $7,000 working my ass off. I found this quite amazing, since this is a collection of assets (the money, not the buttocks, that is) that most people consider to be “not enough to retire on”.

What I realized is that it is very easy to end up with an army of dollar bills, tireless employees, that end up working much harder than you do. Mine have already almost overtaken me – to maintain my current lifestyle without any savings, I’d have to work extremely hard just to stay afloat. Even a short-term job loss would lead to disaster.

But this inequality will grow even further over time. Since we’re not spending everything the ‘Stash provides and are even adding to it occasionally, its earning power will tend to increase. Within 10-15 years, it will be doubling its current production, meaning I’d have to go back into Software Engineering to even keep up with it. As it grows, its output will dwarf our spending further and further, meaning the reinvestment rate will get closer and closer to 100%. By the time I’m at the standard retirement age, this Money Mustache will be producing so much income that I couldn’t match it even if I took two engineering jobs and worked them simultaneously.

If I had been crazy enough to keep working to my current age and saving at the usual rate, the ‘Stash would be several million dollars by now, giving off passive income of over $150k. If I continued working until age 65 and saving and reinvesting, it would be in the tens of millions, and the passive income would be over $100,000 per MONTH, inflation-adjusted. I could fund an empire of children and grandchildren who never have the pleasure of having to work for their own money, and keep them busy with private jet flights between family compounds in various countries. Which is of course the unwise path chosen by many of the world’s rich people today.

What I’m talking about is pretty old news. It’s the foundation of capitalism itself. But the sheer speed at which a snowball like this can form astounds even me. To me, it feels like I just finished school a few years ago. I look roughly the same I did as a 20-year-old with no savings, (save for a tiny bit of salt-n-pepa in the facial hair).  I still have to show ID occasionally at the liquor store. I got the same jobs as my peers, led roughly the same lifestyle. But doot dee doo, I just skipped a few new car purchases and Apple-brand laptops and shopping mall sprees and self-imposed commutes.. nothing major, just some of the fluff – and WHOOSH – here is this sticky ball of cash now rolling along behind me, just about to run me over. How the hell did that happen so quickly?

So remember that when you’re making seemingly small money decisions as a young person. You can put that $100 bill into your pipe and smoke it, or you can roll it up and stick it to the cashball that you’ve started pushing along. Don’t be discouraged by the deceptively small size of the ball right now. The time from the first dollar bill until the time it starts out-working you is tiny, compared to your lifespan. You can roll it up now and then have it push you along nicely for your whole life, or you can take baby steps of saving for your whole life, and then have the helpful cashball appear just in time for your old age – if you are lucky.

Have a great Monday!


*Several people have written in to hassle me on this accounting method. If you think it’s wrong, you just aren’t thinking about it carefully enough.

Let’s use a house as an example:

If you choose to own a house, it becomes part of your lifestyle. It’s an expense, and if you like having a house, it’s also a benefit to you.

Now, let’s say you move into a $200,000 house and you choose to borrow 100% of this house’s purchase price, so you must pay interest on it. Your housing cost is now $10,000 per year. You could choose to pay off the loan with some of your savings, in which case those savings are now providing $10,000 per year of annual “return” to you. Or you could invest the savings elsewhere, but that is irrelevant – all that matters in this case is that if you use the money to pay off the house, it is providing $10,000 of value to you.

Perhaps you could invest it somewhere and make $15,000 per year. Fine. Now your cash is earning $15,000 per year, and mine is earning $10,000. That doesn’t make any difference to the fact that mine is still earning $10,000, as described in this article.

Now, you can repeat this process for everything you choose to have in your life. If you add a car to your life, it is an expense. Will you borrow it, and pay $1000 per year in interest, or will you use cash, and accept the interest savings as an acceptable return on your investment?

Every material thing in your lifstyle comes with a cost. You can borrow the money to buy it, or you can pay for it outright.

Every bit of money you own carries the potential to generate an annual return. Whether you use this money for investments, or paying for the material parts of your lifestyle, or a mixture of the two, is irrelevant. The money is still working for you.

Of course, if you have so many material things that they tie up ALL of your money, you have a highly material lifestyle and no cash left over for groceries. I could live in a million-dollar house with no mortgage. The money would still be “working” for me by saving me $50,000 in mortgage payments per year. But I’d still get into trouble, because I’d be living a lifestyle with $50,000 per year housing costs, while my assets only did $50,000 of work for me per year.

This is not funny accounting – it’s the CORRECT way to think about money and lifestyle expenditures. If you don’t understand it, you need to keep thinking about it until you do. Only at that point will you be able to rationally make the tradeoff between owning stuff, owning investments, and deciding how to use debt.



  • rjack January 30, 2012, 6:32 am

    I’ve had the same feeling lately as well – once the Stash Snowball achieves a certain mass it starts rolling faster and faster!

    Related to this, “The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life” is a great read that dramatically demonstrates Stash Snowball:


  • Jimbo January 30, 2012, 6:41 am

    Inspiring stuff!

    However, as it is payday here, I sometimes wish I had your (working days) income and taxation level…

  • TOM January 30, 2012, 7:13 am

    Hey, I think what you’ve accomplished is fantastic, MMM. And I get the point that increasing your investments by destroying your expenses is a great way to achieve financial independence. But I think to say you “earned” $9000 in two months is a bit disingenuous.

    I don’t have a yacht, so I don’t pay $1000s per year docking, maintaining and fueling said imaginary yacht. That doesn’t mean I earned that money in the last couple of months.

    Not trying to be a nag, I just disagree with that phrasing. On the subject, Robert Brokamp has an article a while back on GRS, titled Living Below Your Means Is Like Saving for Retirement Twice, and it had essentially the same thesis as this article, but with more silly youtube links. It’s one of my favorite pieces of online personal finance writing.

  • jlcollinsnh January 30, 2012, 7:25 am

    Mr. MM….

    this is simply brilliant and your best so far. In fact, your stuff just seems to get better and better. I didn’t bother to comment on your last case study because, well, after reading your analysis there was simply nothing further to be said.

    I’ve enjoyed the same snowball effect you describe so well, in spite of my making some major and expensive blunders along the way. This is a force so powerful it overcame even my stupidity and that’s saying something. :)

    I would quibble, and this is a small quibble as my quibbles go, on your claim of $3000 saved interest on your fully paid house. You really need to include the opportunity cost of the idle capital you have tied up in the place.



    • Marcia @Frugal Healthy SImple January 30, 2012, 11:22 am

      I guess it depends on your perspective. “Opportunity costs” are an estimate -a guess of what you “might” be able to make somewhere else. But there is risk involved.

      having a paid-off mortgage and guaranteeing that you aren’t paying interest is guaranteed.

      For example, I know that it’s “probably” better for me to put more money into investing into the stock market, if I can probably get 6-8% or more on my investment. But in my 20 years of investing, some years I got 12-15%, some years I took losses.

      However, paying off my mortgage early is a guaranteed saving of the 4.75% interest. So I prefer that. But then, I’m risk averse.

      • Raakesh March 29, 2015, 12:40 pm


        I always factor in Opportunity Cost. But the way I look at its by working on the “riskless” return that sovereign bonds or sovereign backed securities could give if held got the same period. I then also consider the actual returns available after factoring in inflation.

        That way I can compare other options to the investment under consideration. So, for example in my city, with high capital costs, low rental values & high mortgage rates; I’m better off putting my down payment in avenues other than real estate.

        Paying off any debt is the first line of action. Coming to Equity investments, the probably of one’s average return beating inflation, with low probability of losing your capital, starts evening out at 7 years of holding & consistent systematic investments. And with 10 years holding proud of longer, ones stats getting a healthy return.

  • Heidi January 30, 2012, 7:44 am

    This year marks 10 years since I graduated college. Last year, I noticed myriad complaints from classmates about interest on student loans and realized they were still paying off that debt. What!! I paid that debt off in 2 years with a lower wage and no family support. That’s 8 years I haven’t had that debt on my back and they’ve continued making deferments and the standard payments. It was totally worth the limits in the lifestyle.

    • James January 30, 2012, 8:15 am

      I agree, I got out of school in 2004 and by luck hit the lowest rate ever for student loans. I was locked in at a bit over 2% on my $60,000, and was told by “everybody” that I would be a fool to pay that off. It’s like “free money”, they would say…

      Well, here I am 8 years later, with $35,000 in student loan still sitting out there. I bought a house, and then sold it and bought another one in that time. I bought 4 vehicles in that time, one brand new. I’ve made over a million dollars in salary in that time.

      Stupid, Stupid, Stupid.

      But I’m hoping to have it paid off over the six months or so, so I won’t be whining about it at ten years anyway… :)

      • Heidi January 30, 2012, 8:25 am

        Paying it down in 6 months will feel pretty good. In my case, the stupid mistake was continuing at low wages after paying that debt. So, I wasted time earning very little when I should have been applying for jobs left and right and socking more money away.

    • Dancedancekj January 30, 2012, 11:42 pm

      I’ve noticed this pattern too. People feel the need to start “living life” – which can be done in a Mustachian fashion (and very well as evidenced by the MMM’s), but most often is not. One year out of school, and most of my classmates have gone into debt for new cars, houses, trips to Cancun and cruises, liposuction, and all of them are either still on deferment or have extended their loan payments.

  • ermine January 30, 2012, 8:07 am

    > A lack of student loans, car loans, and credit card loans saved us another $1000 in interest expenses

    Now those are cheating – bit like the guy above’s yacht expenses he’d never do, but all the others are all real. Never really thought of it as your money working harder than you do, but I guess it’s the definition of the first levels of financial independence.

    • MMM January 30, 2012, 9:11 am

      Ermine and Collins – I’m not so sure I am cheating when talk about the interest avoided, and here is why:

      I really DID use earnings to pay for my education, my cars, and my house and all the nice contents therein. By paying off those things rather than taking or keeping loans on them like most people did, I INVESTED my money at a guaranteed return equal to the interest rate that I would have paid on the loan.

      Now I have a place to live, an education, and a car to drive, and furniture and appliances just like everyone else – these are part of my lifestyle. But I don’t have to pay for them, because my earlier payments paid for them.

      It would be different if I described an additional $10,000 per month in “income” from the yacht I never bought, or the fleet of BMW 7-series’ I avoided. But in this article, I’m talking about things I really DO own, and thus the investments I made in paying them off are indeed funding my current lifestyle.

      • jlcollinsnh January 30, 2012, 9:19 am

        not sure I was one of the two you intended to address here….

        • MMM January 30, 2012, 9:41 am

          Yes Mr. Collins, I was indirectly trying to address your quibble as well. You said that I should perhaps not include the $3000 in mortgage interest I avoided, because I should factor in opportunity cost. But I’d disagree, even though paying off one’s house isn’t the highest-yielding investment around.

          It is because I took some money, and used it to pay off the loan. This saves me money in interest every month. Just as with any other investment, I could have put the money somewhere else, and possibly earned a higher rate of return – but that doesn’t matter – what matters is that I AM getting at least some return on that investment, which I added into the informal total in this article. Opportunity cost is real, but you don’t need to mentally subtract it out of the actual monthly performance of your ‘Stash snowball. What you’re earning really is what you’re earning..

          unless I’m missing something blatantly obvious here?

          • tjt January 30, 2012, 9:52 am

            MMM – It seems you are using “a penny saved is a penny earned” literally, where as some others are not.

            To me, the key is that you’re highlighting the overall delta between “having savings + no debt” compared to “no savings + having debt.”

          • Geek January 30, 2012, 10:09 am

            Agree completely – with a stock investment, your money is tied up in stocks earning a return (dividends). With a house investment, your money is tied up in stocks earning a return (no interest payments).
            It doesn’t feel as “natural” though, since with stocks, you can redeem the dollar value at any time, and you “have” something… whereas with you house, you don’t “have” something (debt).

          • jlcollinsnh January 30, 2012, 10:21 am

            not blatantly obvious, just more fiscally precise.

            let’s say I buy a new car for 20k in cash. while I’ve avoided interest charges I’ve also locked up my money that could be doing something productive. to precisely evaluate my decision I need to account for this lost productivity, i.e. opportunity cost. In fact I keep a spreadsheet of ever car I own and this, along with depreciation, are by far the biggest expenses in the early years.

            I seem to recall reading your house is worth 400k, so let’s use that number for a quick analysis. If the 400k were in VGSLX (Vanguard’s REIT index and what I use for evaluating my own mortgage free house) it would be earning 3.5% or $14,000 per year. That, along with your taxes, insurance, maintenance and the like are what it costs you to live in your house.

            I use VGSLX so I am comparing like to like (RE to RE) and can assume that capital gains will be roughly equivalent with both. Actually, of course, the house is the more aggressive investment as it is far more focused: one property in one neighborhood, in on city, in one state.

            Or you could look at what your house would generate in rent as the OC proxy.

            This is one of the key reasons a personal home is a terrible investment, but the same house as a rental can be gold.

            But none of this is as important as the overriding concept of your post. Your saved and invested dollars become your slaves, each slave working tirelessly to provide you income and, importantly, still more slaves.

            This in stark contrast to those in debt and addicted to spending who are slaves themselves.

            • No Name Guy January 30, 2012, 11:59 am

              The only quibble with your above is you’re forgetting the value that the owner receives – in this case, the fair market rental value (the impugned income) of the house. One would need to add that to the + side of the ledger, offsetting the costs you note.

              So in the particulars of your numbers, if, in MMM’s case, the rent on his place is / would be greater than 14k + taxes, insurance, etc, then he’s doing better by owning than if he invested the cash value of the house for income and then used it to rent the very same house.

              But….that’s all accounting gimmicks.

              One upside to owning – the income stream that would support the invest + rent model can be disrupted by forces beyond the individuals ability to hedge against (the counter party risk is far lower in owning physical assets versus a paper stream of income). Owning….well, there’s far more ways to hedge against loss (fire insurance, etc) and the cash expense is far lower (property taxes) so easier to meet.

            • jlcollinsnh January 30, 2012, 12:53 pm

              not forgetting it at all. rather, focusing on it and calculating the value.

              you are correct, once that is done you can take further measurements as to assessing one option v. another.

              Tools, not gimmicks.

            • BC | FrugalWheels September 21, 2020, 10:26 am

              I say this with all due respect to your work, but evaluating a personal home as an investment is flawed logic. If it’s the home you live in, it’s not an investment choice similar to a car or some other item you need. The alternative to buying a house is renting, which is an investment with 100% loss. Unless you’re advocating one choose between buying a house and being homeless? So the opportunity cost argument isn’t really legit, since it assumes you can take the entire cost of the house and invest it. You could, but now you have the cost of rent payments eating up those returns and then some.

          • Deb January 31, 2012, 6:49 am

            I agree with the guys above about this one. You are forgetting that repaying debt (or buying a car without finance) from the stash comes at a cost. It has cost you the lost dividends/interest your money would have earned.

            So – for instance, my stash currently earns me about $5k per annum. I don’t own, but rent a house. I could buy a house from the stash, but I would lose most of the $5k per annum. The important point is whether doing so would mean I save $6k in rental costs per annum or $4k…..

            • IAmNotABartender February 1, 2015, 10:57 am

              Exactly – and then your real, actual return would be that 6k or 4k. Your money would be giving you that return. Even if it’s 4k and thus less than your previous return, your money is not suddenly *losing* you 1k; it is locked into *producing* 4k forever. That is a return.

          • Geraldine March 22, 2015, 2:43 am

            I know it’s an old post, nevertheless, I see what you mean but from an economist’ point of view that’s rubbish, sorry. By this calculation everybody would be a billionaire, look at all the expences other people have that I don’t, so much money saved. See the point?
            The money you put into the house has risen the value of your assets, period. That capital bound in the house does generate opportunity costs, namely the forlorn interest rates you could have earned by leaving it in the bank or investing it in stocks, that would be the opportunity costs of the capital that is bound in house/car/education/etc.. If your house value increases beyond inflation rates, than that’s your return to investment of the the capital invested. But you can’t factor in hypothetical interest rates that you have avoided by paying off your mortgage. The only thing that you can state is that you spend less money than the average american on your house, car, and education, which also means that eventually your net-return to investment will be bigger.

      • ermine January 31, 2012, 2:33 am

        There’s a cultural difference, here, I think. I was raised that if you need to borrow money to buy a car, you can’t run a car :) As a young worker in London, I didn’t need a car to get to work. So perhaps you can claim the interest not paid on a car loan as a win, because it seems to be the cultural norm in the US (why? the US is a richer country that the UK)

      • TOM January 31, 2012, 12:48 pm

        This reply actually paints a better picture of what you mean to me. Thanks for the response. (and the yacht was kind of a stretch, but you already covered student loans, car loans, and mortgages.)

      • Raakesh March 29, 2015, 12:53 pm

        I would definitely agree with you on this.

        By prepaying my auto loan in its entirety, I save 9,000 in interest costs over the next 2 years. This works out to an effective return of 12.85% on the prepaid principal amount. Compare this to the annualised (XIRR) return of approx 12% (9.6% if you take out taxes & 1.6% if you also factor in inflation), which this money was otherwise generating.

        So I’m still coming out way ahead here. While doing the calculations for this comment, I just realised by how much actually & I’m glad. Btw, the loan will be paid off on Friday.

        Thanks to technology, everything has been done online. Now all I do us sit back & wait for things to happen electronically from Monday to Friday.

  • Nancy January 30, 2012, 8:49 am

    I agree with you mostly, but it’s important to remember that the financial era you lay your stash away in does matter. In the past decade, there have been huge gains in housing (I’m in Canada) and pretty good gains in stocks. In a different decade, that would be different though, and the stash might not have grown at all, or might even have depreciated.

    I worry actually that we are heading into a decade where things might remain somewhat flat, and people might not make the gains they are expecting. That said, eliminating debt and saving is still the way to go… but those dollars saved might not succeed as well in multiplying.

    Or maybe they will… we can’t see the future, but that’s important to remember… decade to decade, the stash might take off or the stash might not do so well, and it’s not really the success or the fault of the stash holder, so much of it is outside our control.

    • MMM January 30, 2012, 9:03 am

      I’d have to disagree with this perspective. You seem to be focusing on the asset prices themselves – stocks, housing, etc. When setting yourself up for early retirement, I recommend focusing on earning power, rather than depending on capital gains.
      For example, for more on dividends:

      A rental house will always pay you rent, and a nice diverse group of stable dividend-paying stocks or percentage-yielding bonds will always pay you dividend checks. Also, paying off your mortgage and other debts will always deliver a monthly return to you, in the form of payments you don’t have to make.

      These days I don’t care at all what my primary house, my stocks, or any rental houses are worth – I don’t even check their prices unless I am about to make additional investments (in which case I want them to be LOW when measured on a historical P/E basis), or sell them (which I’d prefer to do during a price bubble if I’m lucky enough to do so). Their underlying prices do not affect their earning power.

      • Nancy February 1, 2012, 8:25 am

        This is true only if you buy low. I had a rental house too, and I too didn’t look at the prices as the rent kept coming in. However, I am very glad I sold it last summer (bubble in Canada really must be due to pop) as for what that house was now valued at, it was seriously underperforming rent-wise, rents barely went up at all in that time.

        The lady who bought it is renting it out, and I’ve done the math, for what she is paying for this house it’s a negative investment for her, it is costing her more every month than she takes in in rent. She’s banking on the appreciation trajectory staying on track, and it’s very unlikely that it will.

        Dividend stocks are great, but again, a lot greater if you buy low and the rise in value. If you buy high and they drop, sure, you still get a dividend (probably… no guarantees!) but compared to the investment it might not be enough.

        • Nancy February 1, 2012, 8:30 am

          I should also add that I have been semi-retired (frugal and living well on very few hours of work, with lots of assets put aside from those few hours of work) for 20+ years, so I’m not being skeptical as an outsider who thinks “I can’t do that”, I’m being skeptical as someone who HAS been making it work for her, but recognizes that financial independence almost certainly won’t be as easy for those coming up behind us to replicate.

          • jlcollinsnh February 1, 2012, 8:56 am

            Hi Nancy….

            Very interesting comments. Like you, I’ve been FI for a couple of decades now. My guess would be that, like me, when you began your journey you walked alone. No support or kindred spirits from which to learn.

            Hopefully, you avoided the many mistakes I made along the way.
            If only someone had pointed out the minefields, the trip would have been faster and more profitable.

            Now, when I read blogs like this one, and the comments from people on their way, I am inspired. and a little jealous.

            Seems to me, with all this support and info, their path will be easier than ours.

      • Monevator February 3, 2012, 2:55 pm

        @MMM — Totally agree that people looking to retire early are better thinking in terms of income.

        Not sure what your links-in-comments policy is, so please do delete this if it is not in the spirit of things, but I think it could be useful for some:


        People who are moaning about foregone stash really do need to remember you’re getting imputed rent from your investment you’re living in.

        There’s a reason why landlords are landlords guys! And why usually you’re your own best tenant. ;)

        • MMM February 3, 2012, 3:12 pm

          Links from the Monevator and other Friends of the Mustache are very welcome, of course!

    • Marcia @Frugal Healthy SImple January 30, 2012, 11:28 am

      It depends on where you put your money. As MMM pointed out, rental houses will continue to pay rent. I don’t have a rental house.

      We keep our money in stocks (we’re lazy and have a financial planner). In our case, that is completely true.

      My hubby started investing in 1990, and I started in 1992 (basically, when we graduated from college). 1991 was a banner stock market year (40%?), so it took 15 years for me to even “catch up” to him, simply because of that one year.

      I’d love to have a rental home. Maybe someday. Truth is, bad timing means our house is worth what we owe on it, so we cannot afford a rental house right now. However, 10 years down the road, or maybe a continued drop in the housing market, and we might be able to swing it.

  • tjt January 30, 2012, 9:56 am

    Great article, MMM. I believe you should begin touring college institutions and spekaing to seniors. You could give a 2 hour lecture followed by Q&A and it should be a requirement for graduation.

  • October MacBain January 30, 2012, 10:31 am

    Finally caught up with back-posts! I’ve now added MMM to my Google Reader so you’ll pop up in my reading list whenever there’s a new post.

  • Jon January 30, 2012, 11:33 am

    Yo MMM, new reader/subscriber here. Love your blog man. I’ve got a question. How did you determine the “typical solid working wage of $35 per hour”? Is that the median income of U.S. workers?

    And totally agree with you. It’s much nicer to have money work for us, than have to work for the money. I’m fortunate, very fortunate, to have a career I enjoy, but that doesn’t mean I want to work forever. :)

    • MMM January 30, 2012, 1:01 pm

      Hey Jon, welcome!

      I just used $35/hour since it’s a typical rate a carpenter or other self-employed laborer might charge in my area. I usually earn a bit more than that amount ($45-50) but on this project I only billed my labor at $35 because the work was so damned fun :-)

  • DollarDisciple January 30, 2012, 12:11 pm

    Another fantastic write-up, Triple-M.

    Sometimes it is hard to keep perspective when it seems as if the finish lines is miles (or years) away. I try to focus on the journey instead of the goal. It will get here when it gets here but I can take steps today to make it happen sooner! Thanks again.

    • Dancedancekj January 30, 2012, 11:45 pm

      I agree that sometimes the finish line seems impossibly far away. I get a bit preoccupied with other things, and this was a good time to refocus. This post was very timely to give me the encouragement to keep growing my Stash! It just seems so far away at times, but it’s articles like this that keep me going :)

  • OneMillionEmployees January 30, 2012, 12:54 pm

    I found your blog a few weeks ago and I’m almost caught up. Add me to your growing list of subscribers! Keep up the great “work”!

    Would you mind sharing which index funds you have that are throwing off $1000 per month in dividends?

    • MMM January 30, 2012, 1:08 pm

      Sure, nothing fancy – just some VFINX, VGTSX, VISVX, a bit of the risky high-yield SNH REIT, and a couple of private investments including the one on the latest rental house. The private ones and SNH contribute a disproportionate amount of the dividends/interest, since they all pay over 6%.

      • jlcollinsnh January 30, 2012, 1:37 pm

        your 1st two are a couple of my favorites.

        VISVX is an interesting choice in this context, but 2% is a great yield on a small cap fund.

      • OneMillionEmployees January 30, 2012, 3:36 pm

        Thanks, MMM. I love dividend generating stocks and funds, and have postions in two of the three Vanguard funds you mentioned, so that makes me feel extra mustachian today.

        Do you think it makes sense to hold such investments during one’s wealth accumulation years. (With a bit of luck and lots of saving we are probably 10 years away from FI.) Or, would we be better suited putting our stash into non-dividend paying investments now and ease into the dividend generating investments during our retirement years? What did you do while you were accumulating your stash?

    • Thompson January 30, 2012, 1:29 pm

      Lots of index funds will throw off $1000 per month annualized, if you have a big enough stash.

      Example: 366k of VYM @ 3.28% -> 12k -> 1,000 per month

  • Dividend Mantra January 30, 2012, 4:59 pm

    Good stuff MMM! I have to agree 100% with what you’re saying here.

    For me, my dividend growth portfolio is like my own little passive income machine, with each share I purchase every single month being one additional gear in that machine. One day I’ll be able to quit going to work everyday while that machine continues to work harder and harder over time…spitting out more and more money. And like you mention above, one day the money it spits out will be far more than my expenses or even the amount of money I could go out and make working at full-time job.

    It comes down to old ideas, but ideas that are worth repeating over and over again because they remain as true and powerful as ever. Live below your means, spend less than you earn and be wise about that excess capital (pay down mortgage, invest, buy appreciating assets) and you’ll have a snowball of cash trying to run you over before you know it.

    I know, for me personally, this couldn’t be more true. I started off in early 2010 with a personal net worth of NEGATIVE $13,000. When I looked at that figure and realized I was worth more money as a baby still drinking out of a bottle I realized things needed to change. I started living frugally, investing and..boom..I now have a net worth of almost $45,000 with a dividend stock portfolio worth almost $60k. I went from 0 investments to $60k in 2 years with a middle class income. As they say….If I can do it, anyone can do it.

    Best wishes!

  • AlexK January 30, 2012, 9:35 pm

    The real take-home point of this is it does not take much effort to be financially set for life in our western society if you don’t fall into the hyper-consumer trap. MMM has done it, and I have done it as well. Passive income from rentals and other investments is more than my expenses. I started in 2008 with no savings and now I’m FI. What to do now? Whatever I want! Yes it’s as great as it sounds!

  • Lanjha January 31, 2012, 8:05 am


    Why do you have to either directly or indirectly let your readers know how much money you make or how rich you are?

    Good for you that you make so much money or have so much but do you have to keep bringing it up in every other article?

    • MMM January 31, 2012, 9:47 am

      Uhhh.. news flash: this is a PERSONAL FINANCE blog about EARLY RETIREMENT. Although there is some psychology and lifestyle design involved in this concept, the ideas of “money” and “income” also have to come up occasionally, as filthy as those topics are.

      The blog is not about me being rich or having a high income. In fact, I’m using myself as an example because I never had a gigantic income and didn’t save up a huge amount of cash before retiring. According to the US government’s statistics, we’re spending a very low amount and we could even slip into “poverty” if we cut out the luxury spending.

      Look around the web a little bit – you’ll see personal finance blogs that detail income and spending and graphs of the author’s net worth right on the front page. I think that is great, and it serves as an inspiration to others.

      The topic of money should not be a secret, or a source of shame. Just like sharing pictures of the crops you grew or the rocking horse you built for your toddler, earning and investing money is just another human activity that some people like to study and practice, and yes, talk about in our personal blogs.

      If you look around on the Internet a bit, I bet you might even find some other blogs that are NOT about money, and if you read them you could be spared from the pain of having to read about it.

      • DollarDisciple January 31, 2012, 11:17 am

        What is it about our culture that makes money such a sensitive subject?

        Also, the best example to follow is someone who is already in the position you want to be in.

      • Mr. Frugal Toque January 31, 2012, 11:23 am

        That’s the first of that kind of Complainypants.
        The Classic Complainypants is the kind that states that you must be lying because it’s impossible to retire so early on your own merits. You must have a trust fund, be a leech on society or be a lottery winner.
        This is a new phenomenon in which a person has thoroughly read the blog, sees how you did it, and is offended by the wealth of information provided.
        But really, it IS just money. It’s not as if you’re engaging in tawdry discussions about bowel movements and attractive women incinerating stool samples.

        • Chris January 31, 2012, 3:42 pm

          ^^^ BWHAHAHAHA!!! Awesome! :-)

        • Ann March 24, 2018, 2:17 am

          Ha Ha Ha Rofl Rofl! Thanks for that image!

      • jlcollinsnh January 31, 2012, 4:41 pm

        Why can’t you either directly or indirectly let your readers know exactly how much money you make or how rich you are?

        Good for you that you make so much money or have so much but why do you only bring it up in every other article? :)

        • IAmNotABartender February 1, 2015, 10:42 pm

          Sometimes I wish I could Like comments on this blog.

      • lanjha January 31, 2012, 6:59 pm

        My personal opinion is one can greatly inspire others without mentioning the dollar amounts one has either saved or make.

        Example blogs: Getrichslowly.org; thesimpledollar.com and the greatest of them all earlyretirementextreme.com

        I have never seen dollar amounts mentioned in the above blogs, yet they consistently rank in the top 5 or top 10 of personal finance blogosphere.

        • Mr. Frugal Toque January 31, 2012, 7:13 pm

          I can see how you might think that this is an unnecessarily boastful method of communication. That could be irksome, especially if you’re coming from a different financial starting point in life and feel that this life is unachievably distant.
          What you’re missing is the very large number of people who make the exact opposite complaint, saying things like:
          “You’re not really retired.”
          “This is impossible because health care is only affordable if you have a job.”
          “No one can really live on $24 000 per year.”
          MMM gets those complaints from Complainypantses even now, with all of that excessive detail right there where they could read it if they had an actual goal other than complaining.
          What is there to do with these people but hammer them over the head with the Mallet of Truth until the Light of Financial Discipline shines upon them?

          • Mr Mark February 3, 2012, 3:48 pm

            It seems a lot of the complainypants just want to justify their own failure to save and control expenditure, and they are still so far in the hole they don’t have the vision to see any way out.

            Sad people.

        • C40 February 1, 2012, 8:04 pm

          I particularly enjoy the sharing of specific dollar amounts.

        • J February 6, 2012, 12:24 am

          lanjha, Jacob DOES / DID discuss numbers, or at least made it possible to extrapolate.

          MMM is doing us a favor by being specific.

    • Dancedancekj January 31, 2012, 7:16 pm

      I am a science person. I like numbers. Numbers make things real. They take a theory, some abstract idea, and really bring it home.Words can be twisted this way and that. People change, people lie.
      In other words, numbers are a surefire way for me to know that Mr. Money Mustache actually is saving money, and how well he is doing it. Otherwise he could just be full of shit and laughing at the rest of us following some obscure philosophy (the ultimate trollololing if you will). It also allows us to check his math as well :)

      If tl;dr: By presenting the numbers, MMM is able to show exactly how much he is saving/making. Without it, it’s just all talk to me.

      If you’re offended by the amounts, don’t be jelly! Start saving, learning, and investing.

      • MMM January 31, 2012, 8:21 pm

        I’m with Dancy here. As an engineer, I always wanted do know exactly which numbers to plug into the equation, and exactly which button to press to do the calculation.

        I don’t care for those blogs that tell you “It all depends on your personal situation. Figure out how much you are spending, it’s different for everyone. Make a budget for your shoes and lattes”.

        So I made one that says things like, “You can have SIX alcoholic drinks per week, and you can NOT have a car that gets less than 35MPG.”. It’s the EXACT ANSWERS. It’s the formula you follow to get rich.

        It’s the rules – follow them, or try typing a different URL into your browser instead of trying to fight a LOSING BATTLE RIGHT HERE IN THIS MOSH PIT OF MUSTACHIANS!!!!


        • Plastic Kiwi September 29, 2015, 11:20 pm

          Hi MMM, I definitely appreciate/*need* the specifics too, I don’t enjoy wishy-washy – INTJ scientist here! I’m working through all posts since the beginning of time (after some hopping about) and thoroughly enjoying having my eyes opened! This one is a corker and will definitely get forwarded to non-believing husband! Thank you!

    • Gypsy Geek January 31, 2012, 8:57 pm

      One of the reasons I read this blog is BECAUSE MMM posts real figures, not theoretical abstractions. Please don’t discourage him from doing so. It’s an inspiration to many.

      • Greg January 12, 2016, 5:48 am

        I am in total agreement. As a matter of fact I find it to be irritating and frustrating to read a blog like this, or one from a person who is a digital nomad type and they don’t share a single detail. They will be all vague “I have some projects, a few investments, carefully manage my money…”
        Not at all helpful. I like the nitty gritty of the “real”. Gives me hope that we can pull this off.

        • Greg January 12, 2016, 5:49 am

          Oh bother, I meant “blog like THAT”. THIS blog I like! 😄

    • mike December 23, 2012, 1:08 pm

      Is this person kidding? I’m a little late in reading this post but why would someone come on here and complain about what MMM is saying? The guy is giving some sound advice perhaps and he is using his personal experience to assist others. Perhaps a different blog would be suitable for this individual.

  • VN January 31, 2012, 11:47 am

    Fantastic post, MMM. I find myself able to defend your logic easily here and intend to follow your lead to an early retirement!

  • Oskar February 2, 2012, 4:36 am

    Hi MMM,

    Funny about the complainypants they come in all sorts, some think you do not have the money to retire, some think you have to much and other think you are not allowed to talk about them or share them with us. The think is that we want to see the figures to believe you SHOW ME THE MONEY!:-)

    I often forget to include how much the things I own with no debt adds to my life so I loved to see this entry. We have both house and cars with no debt that is worth a lot of money every month.

    Your attitude to your self and others challenge us to be better, I am probably the most mustachian person I know and me and my wife save 30-60% of our income for early (partial) retirement but you always manage to surprise me with your level of resolve to always be frugal and at the same time live well!!

    Another great post…I will be back for more!

  • Skinnyneo February 2, 2012, 6:43 am

    Just curious, exactly what is that a picture of at the start of this blog post? It looks a bit like the start of the river of slime from Ghost Busters 2.

    • Skinnyneo February 2, 2012, 6:44 am

      Ahhh, never mind. I clicked on it and discovered for myself.

  • Kevin Meyers February 2, 2012, 9:45 am

    This is a really great post. Very inspiring. Thanks.

  • jungle February 3, 2012, 12:16 am

    Last month, our investments made more money than my wifes and my monthly income combined!

    Cheers to this post.

  • Jane February 3, 2012, 12:53 pm

    I need this to keep me encouraged. My husband and I have always been relatively frugal (i.e. no credit card debt or car payments, have had IRAs since our 20s) though of course we always have more work to do in reducing our spending and so on.
    I feel like we are great savers, but it’s very frustrating to see little-no return. Some of that is my fault, our “high-yield” savings acct (started at 4% about 4 years and steadily fell to .08%) is probably not the money-maker that’s going to lead me to early retirement. But I also have a money market, invested IRA, and small 401K account, all of which lost money during the crash (expected, I’m over it) and are now earning approximately zilch.
    I am in love with the idea of compound interest, but feel thwarted in my savings attempts when I don’t see it building up at all. I have little investment knowledge and know I need to research the subject more, but it seems like I should be off to a good start, no?

    • Renee April 6, 2020, 12:53 pm

      You are right.

      You will never make retirement income through just saving. You have to invest too.

      Just start!!

  • Mr Mark February 3, 2012, 3:39 pm


    Another great post. And I too appreciate your sharing the numbers so transparently.

    I’d just add that numbers and NPV cashflow calculations are essential, but are not comprehensive. In our own lives a more ‘Bhutan-like’ appoach is probably what’s required. IMHO it’s about happiness and living a great life, not about amassing a stash for its own sake.

    Owning your own home with no debt has a value beyond opportunity cost calcs and delta % returns vs renting. As an owner, you have stability, because you can’t get kicked out of your home when a lease expires. You can paint it, modify it, do what you want with it, no problem. And it’s always going to provide your housing needs, no matter what havoc occurs in the markets, in return for some occasional TLC and a pro-active maintenance schedule.

    I’m also a great believer in spreading the stash around and never, ever falling into the trap of thinking it’s good to put all your eggs into 1 basket. That includes a property.

    Owning a good property and renting to a great tenant (in this case, yourself – about the best tenant you’ll ever get).is a good place for some of the stash. But this should be balanced with stock funds (index, some big, some mid, some small, some dividend, some growth, some overseas…, )bond funds (some short term, some corps, some medium term, some munis, some junk), maybe REITs, and some pure cash too.

    I even own a few acres of a professionally managed forest, the value of which which grows every day as the trees mature, regardless of events in Greece or Japan. The eventual value will depend on the worth of the timber when we cut them down and re-plant in about 12 years time (I’ve owned the forest since planting some 13 years ago.)

    A solid diversified portfolio that throws off more yield than you spend = never-ending financial independence. MMM highlighted for me that the real key to this is actually more in the expenses side of the equation. I also love the way not having to work as a wage slave creates a virtuous circle, where you can then spend time doing fun projects that save you money, because you have the time. Thanks for that!

  • Clint February 3, 2012, 9:15 pm

    Great Blog.

    All I can say is, if you can manage to save up enough dough to retire, or fund a child’s education or what ever floats your boat, you’re required to have some laser like focus and Samurai like discipline. Two wonderful attributes.

    But, God forbid, if you want to write and share about how these things can be achieved you’d better have some thick skin. Seems there are plenty of people willing to bitch and moan about another’s success – sadly, without offering up another viable, proven alternative.

    Again, great blog.
    As I twirl my moustache in appreciation.

  • Oelsen February 6, 2012, 5:58 pm

    If you forgo the reward of getting old altogether and just spend the time you have without having to work whatsoever, enjoy life as you encounter it and make everything of a day with the means you already have – then you even have no expenses at all. Just now I sit here, read your blog and listen to wonderful music. How in the world does a sane person want to join the army of soulless cubicle-workers when there is this option? We already lost the game. If you aren’t the most savvy tech person, the best biologist or a politician with a heired network, then you lost. Either do it like MMM or do just what you like now. The rat race is over, everybody lost. Ok, that is my radical standpoint, nothing for the money saving sane populace here :D

    The funny thing is, even the health premium that I save to pay yearly instead of every month saves me about 1% of the premium. Almost everyone I know says they couldn’t pay several grand at one time for their whole family. I bite my tongue, for that I don’t explain how stupid that objection sounds to me.

  • Ben February 10, 2012, 2:51 am

    Hi MM

    Great article

    I live in the UK and returns on assets are pretty meagre over here right now.

    I was thinking about the no.s quoted in your article

    I reckon if I was being realistic I could make a return of maybe ~5% on average across my assets (say house rental, cash, securities, bonds etc.)

    Now, if I had a passive income of $54,000 per annum (like you) that would mean I would have to hold $1.1 million in assets.

    (54000/0.05) = ~1.1 million

    I reckon I can save about $10,000 a year if I’m really careful, turning that into $1.1 million is going to take at least as long as average retirement age (say 65).

    So I wonder how you’ve managed it? Is it

    (a) you’re getting a return on your assets which is very good, e.g. far greater than 5%. I could see this could be true for an asset such as a buy-to-let house bought decades ago.

    (b) you earned a large amount of money at some point in the past

    I can’t really see how else you could have got there due to the very rough back of the envelope calculations I outlined above. Any pointers very gratefully received…

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 11, 2012, 12:38 pm

      Hey Ben!

      You might check out the ‘brief history of the stash’ and ‘shockingly simple math’ articles. It’s all about learning to live on less than 50% of your take-home pay. In your example, you’re planning on a 54k retirement spend amount, yet saving only 10k per year? That will obviously take many years of savings. My wife and I saved over 100k per year at the peak, and now spend under 30k. If we had earned and saved less, and still wanted to retire at the same age, we would have spent less to allow for the same savings percentage. There are other UK readers here who achieve similar results, who will be happy to offer you some punches of inspiration :-)

      • Mr Mark February 11, 2012, 10:12 pm


        If you’re only earning low/minimum wage, with kids, financial independence [I dislike the phrase ER, as I’ll never stop doing fun income generating things, and somehow the word retirement involks images of old people eating prunes and watching daytime TV….] is almost impossible until standard retirement ages (55+).

        But for most middle income types, it’s an easy goal – IF you start soon enough to catch the benefit of compounding interest and get your mustashian muscles going. Even if FI doesn’t happen until your 40s, that’s still a lot better than 60s!

        And welcome back from skiing!

  • Ben February 13, 2012, 1:39 pm

    hey MMM,

    read those links and all has become clear

    you had a stella bull-run on the career there for a time

    I think its fair to say you fall firmly in the (b) category

    I’m not going to have a spare $100k per year so will have to plough a different furrow. I think my Ox is up to the job though so all should be well…

    good luck with it all and keep up with the excellent writing!

    – Ben

  • SJ September 8, 2012, 2:40 am

    Your money is not working for you, money does not do any work. It is people without enough capital that are doing the work for you, by paying interest etc.

    People with less than 500k or so are the losers in the capitalist system and work for those with more working assets than that.

    • Ray August 21, 2014, 7:10 am

      Same what I thought – in a capitalist system those without capital must sell their labor at least partly for the benefit of those owning capital. This should not be forgotten or dressed up. However, I find it’s fair enough if only it is true that those without capital are allowed to obtain it for themselves with reasonable effort. This is pretty much is the case in the U.S. and Western countries, MMM being a prime example.

      Unfortunately, that happy picture becomes a lot murkier if you consider both history and current foreign affairs of the U.S. or Western countries that “outsource” lots of their labor to not-so-free countries (as they all do). I wonder if MMM will make a post some time about who is truly earning the spending that U.S. consumers are affording for themselves (and, by proxy, also his own frugal spending).

      I’m in a very similar situation as MMM (living off capital = other people’s labor), so it’s not a “complaint”, just an honest remark about how the world works. MMM tends to be very optimistic in his worldview, but it also means that he ignores many of the less fortunate and beautiful corners of the world that seem to be quite essential for his strategy to work well (not that he’s to blame for the doings in such places personally, of course).

  • Jeff August 21, 2014, 1:44 pm

    The capitalist system works better than any communist system.
    Compare East v West Germany or North v South Korea.
    People always want to escape to the capitalist system, as it offers more opportunity.

    One of the reasons why is because capital flows to those who are best at allocating it., so it is more efficiently allocated.
    Some squander their money on fast depreciating purchases, others buy their financial freedom. This seems completely fair.

  • mchrist152 February 6, 2015, 9:33 pm

    Basically, what you are saying MMM, is that money begets more money, to some extent. When you combine that fact with inheritance you find a somewhat unstable system. Just imagine if you inherited 10 million dollars and had them all exerting the maximum effort for you. No doubt your kids would inherit much more than that. I recommend reading “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas Picketty. This is a guy who has really researched this stuff and has a lot of data to back him up and while I don’t agree with everything he says it’s a book well worth reading.

  • RebeccaLynn July 11, 2015, 4:40 pm

    I understand your accounting and how you are getting the “return” from paying off the debt.

    My question is this: I have a 401K through an old employer, do I cash out these funds to help pay off debt?

    It would not be enough to cover the whole debt (student loans at $50,050) but it would take the higher interest rates away. I am freelance writing from home (haven’t made money yet but just started in June) because with three kids I wasn’t making enough to pay for daycare…

    Thanks for your advice; this website has been monumental in adapting the way I think. I was frugal before I got married and fell into the trap but I back :)

    • Josh Gulrud July 11, 2015, 8:38 pm

      You have to add in the 10% tax penalty, plus income tax (federal and State) on taking the 401k money out. Your highest tax bracket is probably 25%, so you’d be losing 35% by doing this. This is because the 0-50k you’d take out of the 401k count as “income”. It’s a better idea to take it out when unemployed, ie for early/normal retirement, so you’d only get taxed about 25k or so per year, at a lower tax bracket, which typically ends up being around 8% or less. Generally then, I’d say no. It does depend what interest you are paying on the loans–6.8% unsubsidized is a bigger deal than the 4.29% subsidized rate. 401ks do grow with no tax, too. The math is a big complicated as you can see, and the details would help us work it out, but no, generally I’d pay off the debt first. The only ‘good’ debt is a low-interest mortgage, which of course you will pay off quickly once the other loans are taken care off….

      • RebeccaLynn July 12, 2015, 11:30 am

        Thank you Josh!

        The two highest loans are 6.8% and one is subsidized and the other is unsubsidized. I would have to wait until 2016 since I did work some this year (not enough to move us up in the tax bracket.

        The 401K would only cover the two loans mentioned above and I would still have about $25,000 debt.

        Our current situation has only my husband working and over half of his income going toward a mortgage payment (he bought before we were together and we would take about a $60,000 hit to sell)

  • Chris July 23, 2016, 9:41 am

    Great article MMM!
    I’m positive this blog has changed my life. Like others, I thought I was frugal and on track saving an “above average” 10% in our 401k’s. Now my eyes are opened to the mountain of cash I was shoveling into the fire. I’ve since relocated to a lower cost state while accepting a higher paying job 4 miles from home, cancelled cable TV for antenna and Netflix and I regularly hit the library. 60-70% savings rate just like that!

    I’m actually looking for even more details about the stash numbers. I was wondering what charities you support or approve of as efficient enough to be worthy of the MMM seal. I saw in an article once that the MMM blog generates around $400k/yr, but your lifestyle has not inflated (under 30k spending). At some point the stash will reach critical mass (further funding no longer makes sense) and I was wondering what is the next step in the plan to remain efficient?

  • Chris August 17, 2016, 2:11 pm

    Hi MMM, Fellow-Mustachians

    I have rid myself of all debt (credit card, loans, etc) but my wife has one $40k student loan left @5.5% to pay off. I’m looking into all debt forgiveness, as well as things like so-fi to lower rates, but putting that aside for a moment, if we continue to pay the min monthly payment will never be free.
    My question is do we immediately stop paying into the 401k, Roth, etc. (basically stop all saving) and I think in doing so we could pay this loan off in about 1.5 years?

    Or do we continue to pay the minimum on her student loan and just invest wisely? If our investment returns beat 5.5% then we’re better off, plus we’ll have the magic of compounding returns working for us.

    Advice is much appreciated.
    Thanks all.

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 31, 2016, 2:10 pm

      Hi Chris,

      I’d probably at least keep funding that 401(k), because you get a tax break for every dollar you put in. Just make sure it’s going into a low-fee (under 0.2% annually) index fund that tracks the whole US or world market, not one of the high-cost funds that pretends it can outsmart the market in exchange for a higher fee.

  • Erica November 22, 2016, 1:22 am

    I don’t know why I waited so long to do the math…

    But I realized that even if our income doesn’t increase at all that we would be 100% financially awesome when my Partner hits age 30 (with conservative growth).

    I also recently started looking at condos and townhomes, which I had previously ignored. There are so many near where we live now for so cheap and many have small yards and parks! We’d have it paid off in just over 5 years, and then we could rent it and go buy a house where we want to live and retire.

    This whole time I’ve been thinking we’d just keep renting for a few years, but a little condo in our glitzy part of town would really be a wise investment. More businesses are opening office buildings nearby and the local Uni guarantees a steady stream of young professionals.

  • Jose February 19, 2017, 4:38 am

    “d. I could fund an empire of children and grandchildren who never have the pleasure of having to work for their own money, and keep them busy with private jet flights between family compounds in various countries. Which is of course the unwise path chosen by many of the world’s rich people today.”

    I’d love to see a post about this in the future. I figured there isn’t one because there is no link to it.

  • EarningAndLearning April 29, 2017, 11:57 pm

    Very inspired by this: “the sheer speed at which a snowball like this can form astounds even me” and that image of the sticky ball of cash rolling behind u, about to run u over, love it!

    And I love that rental income from a paid-off investment property is part of your stash, that’s one of my goals as well. I have to start investing soon, right now I’m making extra mortgage payments & watching that loan amount dwindle down…. but I’ll keep that rolling ball of cash in mind…


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