Reader Case Study: Pulling a Mustachian 180

ecuatruckThe highest form of payment you get for writing a blog like this is happy stories from readers. Although all this Sensible Living stuff becomes obvious after a while, there are still new people showing up every day with all sorts of monetary problems.  The full-on crazy life with the double-financed-SUV-ultracommuting, insurmountable debt, and deteriorating health due to stress.

Occasionally, someone will receive a few of the face punches here and then flip things around in an instant: immediately shed the whole consumer fur coat, slam on the brakes and crank the wheel and smoke the tires to begin a fishtailing joyride in the opposite direction. A friend of mine coined the term for this: Pulling a Mustachian 180.

Although it comes from the opposite end of the financial spectrum, my favorite recent M180 story from the inbox is this one:

Comments: Hey MMM!
My mom mentioned that she likes calling people “complainy pants” around June 10th or so, and when I laughed and asked where she got the phrase, she e-mailed me a link to your blog. Since then, I devoured every last word on every last page. Yes, that includes the comments, even the hilariously out of place whiny ones.

At the risk of sounding like a hyperbolist, this blog has helped me get a grip on my life before it was too late. At 22 I had piled over $15,000 of debt including a defaulted government loan, an eviction, and about $3,000 of collections and consumer debt. I never had anything to show for it, and still don’t. Nothing insurmountable in the long run, but I was building a habit of being careless and untrustworthy.

I teeter on the brink of homelessness, even today, because I was too stupid to have back up plans and savings. I blew $500 in a day on eating out and pleasure driving, and gave a big hearty Fuck You to my future self.

That’s changed. When it was time to get a car (I know, but my hubby is a disabled vet and really is not capable of biking or walking), I bought a manual hatchback and learned to drive it on the way home. I have begun to track my spending, a concept that was completely foreign to me. I have taken stock of whom I owe what, and am working to pay everything off, highest interest rate first, until it’s all gone. I’m even looking into learning skills at Treehouse so that I can earn additional money while still being at home for my partner. I am finding cheaper, healthier, tastier foods at the grocery store and working my middle finger out like crazy. We’re sleeping on the floor in our cheap apartment until we can find free furniture on Craigslist, and we are ridiculously excited at the idea of being free.

Thank you for giving into the urge to type shit into the computer. Count me and my husband as two Americans saved. We ought to be caught up with the rest of the Mustachians in just a few short years!


So I wrote back with my thanks and surprised congratulations, and asked if our friend could share more, so I could present the story to you. Here are the juicy details.


First, some additional background. As previously mentioned, my husband is a retired veteran. He was awarded a temporary disability rating upon exiting the Army, and is now on a permanent, lower disability rating. This change happened in July and resulted in a $901 drop in pay. Also, around August, my husband’s condition had reached a point that unreliable transportation was no longer acceptable, meaning our options were to risk becoming wheelchair-bound or buy a car at stupid high interest rates to avoid walking, as unmustachian a doctor’s order as possible. Luckily, I had a head start on these disasters; I was already carefully nursing my stubble.

Between January and May 2013, this is my best guess at what our spending looked like. We never kept receipts and often didn’t even look at price tags.

Total Income: $3,130
Rent: $900
Utilities, phone, and internet: $600
Transportation: $100 (bus fare, borrowing cars, paying for late night taxis)
Food: $800
Cigarettes: $200
Impulse Spending: $400
Pets: $150
Household $100 (Cleaning, toiletries, maintenance, cheap fixes)
Banking Fees $100 (ATM, Overdraft)
Total Spending: $3,350

Fast forward through June, July, and August, which were spent reading all of mrmoneymustache.com, writing up sample budgets, taking notes where they applied to us, and picking one thing to tackle at a time. In September 2013, this is our budget:

Total Income: $2,229
Rent: $300
Transportation: $320 (insurance, gas, taxes/registration, and maintenance)
Car Payment: $320 ($~4,900 @ 23.99%, hair is on fire emergency.)
Dental Work: $118 ($~2,500, no interest)
Student Loans: $118 ($9,000 @ 4.5%)
Phone: $46 (unlimited, we share a phone.)
Cigarettes: $108 (woohoo, a 46% reduction!)
Food: $250
Pets: $85
Household: $100 (Cleaning, toiletries, DIY toolbox building)
Fun Money: $240 ($120 each, gradually working down to reasonable levels.)
Banking Fees: $75
Total Spending: $1,760 <– Saving $469/mo to throw angrily at debt!

Also, upcoming in October, I am scheduled to start my first month as a part-time nanny. I will be making an extra $300-$550 month, $45 of which will be kept for a Treehouse membership and a gym membership, and the rest will also be thrown angrily at debt.

We are also staying with my mother, she offered for us to stay around the time she found out *I* was going to be on *your freaking blog*. We intend to get out around March 2014.

I am proud of this huge 52% reduction in spending levels, but even more proud of the lifestyle changes that allowed it to happen. For one thing, we’ve started cooking at home with at least partially healthy ingredients with more and more regularity. We’ve also all but entirely cut soda and fast food from our lives. My husband has cut his nicotine addiction nearly in half in only three months. We are no longer fostering stray dogs and are buying better-priced cat supplies.

We have not only cut our discretionary spending, but we have also started buying things we need with it instead of random impulse items. We have started paying off my federal loans, previously left in default. Moving in with my mother is not only saving us nearly what our pay cut cost us, but it also allows me to have a job and easy access to a grocery store with reasonable prices. We are also being forced to think carefully before each purchase due to space constraints and a strong desire to become independent as soon as possible. When things break around the house, I determine which tools are needed, buy them, and add them to my collection of problem solvers.

There are several areas that we have identified for further improvement, including every single section of the budget, but for now our largest priorities are a sucka banking cycle we’ve been in for over a year now (borrow $1500, pay $100 in fees, pay back on pay day, repeat…) and that really hot car loan burning my scalp. Once these two emergencies are settled, we’re prioritizing a small emergency savings, our own dwelling, and our disfigured credit reports/scores. As we continue to learn to not suck, we hope to get our monthly living costs down to around $855 plus mortgage by 2015, and from there who could possibly predict? How’s that for a Mustachian 180?

I would say that’s an amazing Mustachian 180. One of my favorite parts is the very hearty self-mockery that she packs in to every sentence. Because when you think about it, we all really do suck, and thus there is room for easy improvement in all aspects of our lives. Sure, I ride my bike instead of driving, and we’re downsizing our house.. but I still do an awful lot of gas-powered travel and the new house will still be pretty fancy. If finances were a concern, I would be a fool to delude myself into thinking that this was the most efficient life we could happily live. And this is not a depressing thing, it’s an inspiring one.

Are you one of these tire-shredding M180 practitioners? Or more of a steady-handed airline pilot making a few course corrections as part of a long journey?

  • Michelle G. September 30, 2013, 6:39 am

    More reader case studies!!

  • CincyCat September 30, 2013, 8:30 am

    I love stories like this! Depending on your perspective, a few months ago, we either made a really dumb move, or perhaps, we made a super smart (“M-90″…?) move.

    In order to knock out some high interest debt (15%), I cashed out a moldy 401k from a previous job, and my husband cashed out some of his incentive stock options from his employer when their value reached an all-time high. (Yes, we paid all appropriate taxes, plus a penalty on the 401k.)

    On paper, even with the penalty/taxes paid, the numbers were overwhelmingly in favor of prioritizing getting rid of the high cost debt “now” versus hanging on to the stocks. (Especially when considered against the total cost of the debt if we took another three years to pay it off.)

    I think our blood pressure dropped about 10 points before the ink was dry on the transactions.

  • Pretired Nick September 30, 2013, 8:43 am

    Every once in a while, I read something that makes me all misty. This is one of those times, Thanks for sharing!
    My only additional advice would be to think about starting a blog. It’ll help keep you honest and focused over the long haul.

    • Ms. M180 September 30, 2013, 3:31 pm

      Not a bad idea! I’m not sure how well I would stick to it, but I’ll look into blogging further. Thanks. :)

  • Mikhaela September 30, 2013, 9:12 am

    A very cool case study! We have been trying to do a 180 ourselves… went from spending MORE than we earned each month and dipping into savings to putting $1,000+ towards our student loans (which are now almost gone—so we’ll then be putting that into investments for retirement).

    The biggest change was food. In July we spent $1,200 on groceries (no idea how that happened? so easy to spend too much on food in NYC) and $400+ on takeout and eating lunch at delis around work, etc.

    In September we spent $550 on groceries and $25 on takeout. The big difference was meal planning, keeping a grocery price sheet and buying items on sale in bulk, cooking as much from scratch as possible, and being really careful to use up all food and not waste any.

    • Mikhaela September 30, 2013, 10:00 am

      P.S. I know a $550 food bill probably still sounds bloated to many Mustachians, but we are navigating multiple food allergies (dairy, eggs, tree nuts, sesame and mustard) so are limited to buying certain safe brands even of cheaper staples like beans and pasta.

      And I do think we can probably get it down more, maybe to $400 or $450.

  • Chris September 30, 2013, 9:16 am

    Ms. M180 — you are a skilled writer. I wonder if you can’t somehow leverage that skill into some lucrative part-time work.

    Thanks for sharing your story, and best wishes for continued progress.

  • Joshua September 30, 2013, 10:55 am

    This blog has changed my life. Thank you.

  • Nicole September 30, 2013, 11:26 am

    My husband and I pulled a mustachian 180 about 4 months ago. Since June we have have paid off over $18k in debt and have reduced our mandatory expenses by nearly $500 a month. We still have a long way to go but it feels good to know we are on our way!

  • payitoff September 30, 2013, 2:22 pm

    i have found your blog in 2011 when i was still in the slumps and barely making ends meet, i saw the stuff i needed to do, i took notes, and said to myself, ‘ill come back to your blog when my husband is done with school and will start making income’ 2 years past, im back here and starting to clean out old and current messes. its hard to bring hubby in yet coz he was out for awhile and would like to catch up on life with triathlons, and marathons which is a pretty expensive sport by the way, but this year, im giving myself a pat on the back for being able to at least set up our 401K, 2 ROTH IRA’s, life insurances, delinquent loans all on automatic payments, i think well be back on track by 2014. im giving myself 4 years to payoff 106k worth of debt primarily student loans, then hopefully well be off to living in Hawaii for a simpler life, bidding bye bye to constant rat race.

    thanks to you MMM.

    • Mike October 1, 2013, 9:55 am

      Triathlon is a VERY expensive hobby. I took it up to stave off an impending hypertension diagnosis, worked like a charm. Now I’ve given it up to save money, though note that I still ride and run all the time. Racing was a blast, but unless you’re one of the top pros it’s a huge money suck. Marathon I think can be done fairly cheaply.

  • Brenden September 30, 2013, 5:07 pm

    I haven’t pulled an M180 because I have been lucky enough to find this blog right as I was starting my first job. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story with us.

  • Pollyanna September 30, 2013, 6:30 pm

    Kudos to Petunia 100 for the intro to MMM and for Ms 180 and husband for embracing it all. They have come a long way and I have no doubt will continue to do so. I have to add that I like Ms 180’s writing style too! It fits right in with MMM blog. Keep at it! You have so many people rooting for you!

  • Ms. Must-stash September 30, 2013, 10:25 pm

    This is such a FANTASTIC case study – I’m getting super fired up right now! Or at least, a combination of fired up / determined to type some things into this computer to tell you all about it / determined to take action on some things that I’ve been dragging my feet over.

    No 180 was required in our financial journey – in fact DH always says that compared to 95% of people in the US our finances are totally kick-ass – but I always tell him to stop setting the bar so low, because we still suck! Confession time, friends, our HUGE area of suckitude is in not making our small green employees work hard enough for us. I’m great at saving and am actively crushing our last remaining debt (mortgage) to powder, but I’ve been sitting on way too much cash for way too long (cringes and ducks from obligatory face punch).

    So after reading this case study I set up some more stock buys RIGHT NOW and I am going to force us to finally stop talking about it and really, seriously, find and buy a rental property by the end of calendar year 2013. I think by declaring my intentions to this group of fierce & savvy people I will be more motivated than ever to stop with the foot dragging.

  • Karl October 1, 2013, 12:39 am

    Definitely a “steady-handed airline pilot making a few course corrections as part of a long journey”. I have a large savings, zero debt, no car, ride my bike everywhere, a well-paid job and a non-materialistic attitude that is focussed on valuing travel, life experiences, nature-based activities (e.g. surfing), friends and family over superficial material items like fancypants TVs and cars etc.

    Actually, I recently took on a weekend project inspired by MM – that being to use Craigslist (actually it’s called Gumtree here in Aus but it’s the same thing) to ‘store’ some items that I had in storage. Now I have to note it was in “free” storage (at a relative’s property, storage shed in the back yard), but it had to go as it was annoying to think I had all these boxes of stuff sitting in someone else’s shed taking up space and losing value at the same time.

    I sold off $1000 worth of household appliances and old gear that I was no longer using and was just weighing me down. The best part was that most of it sold at almost the same price as what I paid for it new (I always get things way below RRP) even though they were 1-2 years old.

    I am hoping to move interstate next year, so instead of paying $$$ to haul the gear around I’ll just sell it all off now for a fair amount and buy what I need, as I need it, later on. No shipping or handling dramas. Less stress too.

    Too easy! :)

  • Renars October 1, 2013, 5:18 am

    I agree with the author of letter. I have been also inspired to take charge of my life after I read nearly all articles on MMM site. I’ve been frugal for a while now but only recently (during last year) tackled some of the remaining biggest money burners – expensive commute; smoking & going out (food/drinks).
    My monthly commute went down from £165 to £70 per month.
    I kicked the cigarette addiction by going ‘cold turkey’ whereas I used to smoke about 10-15 cigarettes a day. This saved another £150 per month.
    Drinking (even regular beer and wine bottles from the grocery store) would usually add to £50 or more (if I go out to bars it could be as much as £200-£300 per month).
    So overall this has helped me to increase my net yearly income by over £4K. And there is a room for more changes/improvements.

  • David October 1, 2013, 7:11 am

    I like this story because it reminds me of how I used to be and how I don’t ever want to return back to that lifestyle. Being Mustachean is being free!

  • Melody October 1, 2013, 8:38 am

    I have made a 180, but is has occurred gradually over the course of many years. Six years ago I was widowed from my spendthrift late husband. In the years since I have gradually resolved all the debt I was left with and am now to the point where I am saving 60% of my take home pay.

    I was gentle with myself. I needed to be because I had to transform my whole life after years of difficult caregiving. The emotional health of myself and my kids needed lots of attention. However, I eventually got to a great place.

    I still suck a little bit at the financials. It is still a work in progress, but I am not going to be too hard on myself.

  • AltEcke October 1, 2013, 10:29 am

    1st, I want to mention to Ms. M180… get that car refinanced! I saw an ad in our local Credit Union for used car loans under 3%; even if you have bad credit, you should be able to get under 10%… do some research for a quick ROI.
    Other options under the right circumstances… not in any particular order:
    > trade it in [at a different dealership!] and get the next used car under more favorable terms. Headache to put up with all the sales noise though.
    > sell it and line something else up under better terms.
    > Or… maybe a relative believes you’re not as bad a credit risk as your current lender and willing to give you a break… they pay off the 23% and carry the note for something more reasonable.

    We’re more in the correctionista realm…
    I used to watch Suze Orman on occasion, and she really zapped on mortgages and ‘excuses’ for paying all that money like ‘having a tax-write-off’. And then I’d hear all the nay-sayers at work and on different ‘financial education’ channels and was conflicted. Since 2001, I had refinanced 2 times to go from nearly 8% to under 4% interest [and points and other charges for the ‘privilege’] using 20 year mortgage instruments each time and reducing our monthly payment from nearly $3k to under $2k along the way… and that felt good. And I kept thinking that we’d find the ‘perfect rental’ and ‘perfect retirement’ properties someplace, so whatever we could save should be ‘at the ready’… went to some property auctions and looked at other properties that continued to be swooped up ‘above my threshold’ [blessings in disguise for most, as we’d be upside-down if took the bait].
    And then I saw an article in the Washington Post about this MMM blog… which I send out on Facebook and share with family and friends regularly now!
    A couple of other changes in our personal financial situation [empty-nesters now] and a death in the family pushed me to see the light.
    Mortgage now paid. Car payments paid [last was a 0% with Toyota; others accelerated when we had them]. Credit card habit of paying in full monthly started in the 1970’s [2 times we actually carried a monthly balance], which I can’t fathom how much savings that would calculate out to… especially seeing that one of our sons [currently unemployed] has over 33% on a couple cards and all kinds of ‘penalty fees’ for the privilege of having Bank accounts versus Credit Union, etc.
    We’re already over 55, so no chance of ‘retiring early’ but we’re better set to retire [to a retirement-friendly state… MD not so much] with less pain than many in our age and affluence-level.

    Not much for political-ranting, but… on this furlough day, I recall a day as a young Army guy… in 1985… where Congress voted themselves a raise that was more than my annual salary.

  • FatChance October 1, 2013, 10:53 am


    You really have changed my life. Total spend in 2011 was $143K. I started reading your blog in 2012. Through you, I met J Collins and others. It really was eye opening. I did not even realize what the hell I was doing before early 2012. It was like I was adrift in obliviousness. I snapped a 180. Total spend in 2012 was $69K. I am on track to spend less than that this year and have a goal to spend $48K or less in 2014. Do I still suck compared to you and many of your fine readers? Of course! But a 66% drop in spending is certainly a step in the right direction. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the message you provide your audience. You really do make a difference.

  • Tallgirl1204 October 1, 2013, 4:04 pm

    This is a great case of a situation driving change. I wonder how many of us are affected by the shutdown– and what changes can we make during it for the better? My family is reasonably good shape but we still drive too much and spend too much on groceries. The shutdown is a great opportunity for me to park the car keys and take the bike, survey the fridge and build simpler meals, etc. All of which may become more and more necessary if this goes on awhile… Is anyone else also going to course-correct while on furlough?

  • Rabia Aziz October 2, 2013, 11:41 pm

    After reading the whole story I realized that it is very difficult to cut down the impulse shopping style. I guess it is better to cut down the expenses rather then start getting into deep debts. I myself have taken student loan for my studies but still struggling with my shopping style. The act which is helping me is that I have reduced the frequent trip at the mall. However, more tips will be welcome!

  • Mike October 3, 2013, 6:37 am

    Bank fees? Mrs. M 180 and her husband, the military veteran, should be able to join USAA or a military-connected credit union (e.g., Navy Federal Credit Union, Pentagon Federal Credit Union, etc.) That should reduce bank fees to close to zero. We bank with USAA Federal Savings Bank and pay no bank fees, including ATM fees of any kind. That’s easy money — go get it.

    • Jeff October 7, 2013, 3:58 pm

      USAA bank is open to everyone. The investments and insurance are limited to military. The investments have some of the cheapest expenses in the country. I pay zero bank fees, get money back on ATM fees and can deposit checks using my phone.

  • stagleton October 4, 2013, 2:35 am

    Very nice story! congrats on a better sounding future

  • Wayne October 5, 2013, 7:44 am

    Mrs. M180,

    Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.

    You may want to check out http://thenewboston.org/tutorials.php as a free Treehouse alternative. Lots of great tutorials on a variety of subjects. A little quirky and immature (I learned C# from a wizkid 14 year old), but these youngsters are bright and completely unpretentious.

    Also https://www.udacity.com/ offers free courses. I find these a little harder to follow, but intro to computer science allows a novice to learn python and intro to programming allows a novice to learn java.

    Thanks again for sharing and best of luck,

    PS MMM, This is my first post, but I have devoured your site and find it enlightening, inspiring and dare I say, life-altering. Thank you!

  • Liz T October 8, 2013, 2:11 pm

    MMM came along at the perfect time for me. A Series of Unfortunate Life Events (aka Effing Personal Growth Opportunities) a few years back (in my late 40s) had given me the opportunity to be single and in charge of my own financial destiny. The change had already caused me to seriously reevaluate my attitude toward possessions, but MMM showed me the path. I’ve made decent progress, but of course I still suck.

    But the biggest benefit of my conversion might the changes I’ve been able to help my boyfriend make. He has two kids at home, his income is under the poverty level for this area, and he has a lot of anxiety about money. Fortunately he had NO debt. The MMM philosophy has helped pull him out of the slow downward spiral. Mustachianism: The Gift That Keeps On Giving!

  • ambi October 25, 2013, 9:45 am

    I am in a very similar situation. My fiance and I are getting married next month and the very first thing we plan on doing is living off of his income and saving and paying down debt with mine.
    I CANT WAIT to pull our own M180.
    We are both frugal, but this blog has been a lifesaver.
    We both make modest incomes and it’s nice to know that even WE (the working class) can take control and make amazing things happen.

  • Dusty January 18, 2014, 9:29 pm

    Ms M180,

    You clearly love dogs and can’t afford them. One thing you might consider is boarding dogs in your home through sites like DogVacay.com or Rover.com. I know elsewhere on this site MMM mentions dog walking and poop scooping for the wealthy as one way to make $50,000/yr without a degree. The great thing about boarding dogs is that you can do it while you are studying, cooking breakfast, etc. You don’t have to go anywhere to do it and it can supplement your income. I realize you are not living in your own home at this time but I recommend you check out those sites which make it very easy to start your own business (you can also list pet sitting at the pet’s home and dog walking as services you offer.) and start imagining the possiblities. I began doing this a few months ago and it has already exceeded my expectations.

  • VJL February 4, 2014, 5:49 am

    I was raised by a Master Mustachian (4 kids, mom stayed home, put us all through grad school and sent us off into the world with no debts) who had been an air force pilot with a lot of combat decorations (of which i never heard him speak when i was a kid) who went to the VA upon turning 65 because my parents live in a TX county where service-connected disabled vets do not pay property taxes after 65, and having long since retired his mortgage, he went to see what other expenses he might reduce (a reasonable quest, as most pilots experience hearing loss at a younger age than their contemporaries). Well, they gave him a thorough physical and caught his (early, treatable) prostate cancer. And decided it was service connected (I think the science is shakey here…when one looks at the “Agent Orange exposure” conditions there is a social justice element to it). He cheerfully says now, “They went fishing up my butt and pulled out a Golden Ticket!”, ie 100% service connected disability pension for life which goes to my mother if he predeceases her and is not taxed. Oh, and no property tax. He was already nicely fixed in retirement due to being a frugal sort, but a nice VA story.

  • Megan February 14, 2014, 9:17 am

    Yes, this reader’s case study is inspiring. What really struck me though is her positive attitude leaking through everywhere. I could so easily see many people feeling trapped and hopeless in their situation and yet she sees it as this surmountable challenge, kind of like how I would approach training for a half marathon or something else totally optional. Great job!

  • Cannot Wait! July 30, 2015, 4:05 pm


  • Frugal Wonkette March 14, 2016, 1:58 pm

    I would love to hear how it has gone for this couple! As they approach 2 years from their planned move-out date from her family, where are they now? Life throws curveballs, so no shame in being behind schedule. I’d more likely expect them to be ahead of schedule, though! I loved the optimism shining through the self-mockery. :)

  • Luke June 14, 2016, 10:31 pm

    Hey MMM

    I really enjoy reading the case studies here, because they give me hope. When there are people out there earning less than I am but turning it around and saving, it makes me feel I can do a much better job of it myself!

    I’m 30 and live with my girlfriend in Sydney, Australia. I’ve been reading this blog for about four months now, and in that time I have:

    – Completely paid off my $3000 student debt.
    – Reduced my credit card debt from nearly $6000 to $3000, with only two months before it’s gone completely.
    -Started saving 40% of my salary by making certain lifestyle changes (like walking to work and making most of our food at home)
    -Earned a pay rise because I wasn’t going out for lunch for an hour at a time and hence got more work done.

    So, thank you so very much for helping my life improve in such a dramatic way! I have passed your blog along to a few friends who are now on the Mustachian path themselves.

  • Masen October 19, 2016, 3:59 pm

    Working my way through your articles at a breakneck pace at the moment (I got here in just over a month). I worry what will happen to my free time when I finish. Since then I have cut my spending from $800/mo to $100 last month mostly by switching to bike/train for my commute and cutting restaurants drastically. I had just graduated from Uni, moved into my parents’ basement, and was proud of myself for saving 80% of my income towards a down payment on a house. Now with your help I am pushing a 98% savings rate from the cushy position of my parent’s house on their food bill. Unfortunately, I cant retire just yet since my GF (she has done even better than me, and although she is still in college and her parents are paying for most things so it has no direct effect on her finances, she is loving the lifestyle and health benefits – and habits for the future growing that Frugality Muscle) and I want 6 kids and my expenses will increase once I get out of my parents’ umbrella in a few months, but YOU have shaved decades off of my time! I think cutting expenses by 85% in one month counts as a bit of an M180 :)

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