374 comments

Making Space for Badassity

teahouseIf you’re going to become rich, you need to either earn way more money than you spend, or spend way less money than you earn.

This is the basic math of it, which even the worst complainypants cannot dispute. The whining usually starts when Mr. Money Mustache starts talking about how to implement the ideas above.

For example, observe the following simulated but very typical conversation as I counsel Joe and Josephine Consumer on how to escape from their current situation (buried under a mountain of debt with no hope for retirement before 75), and instead reach early retirement before their young kids even finish high school.

Mr. Money Mustache:

So, Joe, you tell me it’s hard to pay the bills. But I can’t help but notice this 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 4×4 pickup in the driveway of your home here in the suburbs. That was a $40,000 truck when you bought it on credit. It costs 8 times more than any reasonable vehicle given your financial situation, consumes 3 times the fuel, and depreciates twice as fast.

It’s like pointing a firehose of your hard-earned cash, straight at your toilet while holding the flush lever down, 24 hours a day. So we’ll need to sell that on Craigslist – tonight.

Joe Consumer:

But…But… All my friends at the law firm will think I’m a sissy if I show up with a little Honda Fit! Plus, I need a reliable vehicle because I have to drive to meet clients. And I once hauled a dishwasher with this thing, and was thinking of getting a boat to tow with it since we’re looking at buying a cottage this year.. Plus, I’m underwater on the truck: the loan is bigger than what any dealer would give me for it, and I’ve never bought or sold anything on Craigslist before because I’m scared of talking to strangers and don’t know who I can trust, and (voice fades into background)…

MMM: Right. Well, guess what? None of this matters, because you won’t even be driving to work any more – that’s a sucker’s move. Y’all are moving to a smaller house within 8 miles of your workplace, and biking to work from now on. As a bonus, that’s right next to the university where Josephine teaches, so she can walk to work.

Josephine Consumer: Now hold up Mr. Money Mustache. We’re all settled in this house in the suburbs. Plus, our kids are starting school soon and this school district is better than the one downtown. And I’m not walking to work – winters are cold and slushy here. Nor am I biking around town with my kids – I don’t even have a suitable bike and it’s dangerous to ride bikes in the United states and (fades out)….

MMM: Got it. So anyway, we’ll start cleaning up and staging your house tonight so we can have it photographed for sale next week. You’ll start by moving to a rental downtown, since renting is a better deal than buying here in Expensiveville. Later, you can buy a fixer-upper four plex and renovate it yourself over the next few years as you develop your DIY skills. Also, why the hell do I hear your air conditioner running in the background when it’s only 80 degrees outside, while you keep the daylight out with curtains and use antique 60 watt heaters instead of LED bulbs to light your indoors? And why is your clothes dryer running simultaneously as this beautiful sunshine shines down upon your back porch? This casual waste of electricity is burning about $15,000 of your wealth per decade.

We’ll fix this, then move on to your food, entertainment, child-raising activities, vacations, phone service, and soon enough you’ll have a reasonable 60% after-tax savings rate and be set to retire in your 30s.

J+J (in unison): Gaaah! We can see your wisdom, Mustache, but this is all too much for us. We’re not really in good enough physical condition to ride bikes. We don’t even know how to change a faucet, let alone DIY-renovate a 4-plex. The kids are crying, dogs are barking, our garage is piled high with boxes and broken items, and we have daycare schedules, trips coming up for friends weddings, golf games and happy hours, ski passes and TV series to watch. There is just no time to handle all these changes you want us to make!

Mustache (turning to face you, the audience)

See, this is what it really all boils down to: Time. Energy. Mental and physical overload. When your life is already overfilled, it is very difficult to gain the power to make the major, positive changes you need to actually get somewhere.

In other words, if you want to create more wealth and happiness in your life, you might need to clear some space for it first.

The MMM Family’s Secret Frugality Weapon

When people encounter this site for the first time, they usually see my family’s $25,000 annual spending number and assume that we have an extremely frugal lifestyle. “My family could never be as radical as those guys – Mustache’s ways are extreme!”, they say, “but we’ll implement a few small changes in our own way.”

This frustrates me to no end, because I don’t even try to save money any more – all I see is an abundance of luxury in every direction when I gaze out my kitchen window. But I’ve recently come to realize there is one way that we are extreme when compared to other families of similar background: we schedule a lot less stuff into our lives.

While others will buy an unlimited annual ski pass and ride the mountains every weekend, I’ll get a four-pack and make a single weeklong trip with my friends. Others will buy a cottage and split their time between two houses, I’m happy with one. While others will start with a cat, then have a kid, then adopt a dog, then another dog, then create second, third, and fourth kids, I’m feeling plenty busy with just my boy.

None of this is done with money in mind – it is done out of a desire for balance, free time, and a safety margin in life. By keeping our non-negotiable commitments to only 50% of our time, we leave the other 50% open for growth, self-development, and an ability to work much harder to deal with the black swan events that life inevitably serves up. While others might imagine we’re missing out on life by not stacking it up with more activities, I feel we’re allowing ourselves just the right amount of space to actually live it. And of course, the side effect this has on the money side has been very large as well.

I think this difference in life planning style might boil down to my slightly compulsive tendency to think of future consequences. When I was a 26-year-old deciding between BMW and 401(K) as the destination for each financial windfall, I always chose the more responsible option because I predicted my future self would appreciate it. Even today, when I open the fridge at dinnertime and face the tempting selection of ice-cold Colorado microbrews laid out in front of me, I usually leave them untouched, not because I don’t crave one, but because I don’t want the future me to have to deal with a flabby beer belly.

The same thought process applies when I consider signing up for a big future commitment,  like a busy weekend trip or yet another well-meaning project related to this blog, or even adopting  a cat: sure, it sounds lovely in theory, but will my future self appreciate having that much time taken away from him, when he might have other plans?

Of course, you can take future fixation too far and end up with a boring life today, but I correct for this by imagining a future me regretting a boring youth, and do my best to strategically misbehave at optimal levels today. So far, so good as I do not lead an overly pure or monk-like life.

Getting back to the point: To become richer, you need to make changes in your life. But changes take effort, and to perform this effort you’ll need to free up the time and energy to become powerful enough to do it.

How to Make Space for Badassity

When find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging. In the world of gaining more leverage over your own life, this means to stop adding complexity. To get you started, here are a few tips from my own book of rules.

Discover the Power of No

 For the next several weeks, say NO to all optional plans which are outside of biking distance of your house. If you don’t have a bike, make that walking distance. You need to start focusing your lifestyle on your local radius. Try having a weekend with nothing planned except catching up on things around the house and exercising right within your neighborhood.

Next time someone other than your very closest friends or family invites you to a distant wedding, make up an excuse and give yourself the gift of staying home instead. Save that energy for the people nearer and dearer to you – including yourself.

Institute a “Purchase Procrastination Program”

Pause any and all research and shopping trips besides food, and make do with the things you have at home. If you have a vacation coming up, promise yourself you’ll get that special purchase made after the vacation instead of before it. If you’re working on a major life goal, delay the purchase until after you achieve it.

Clean, Cancel, and Declutter

By now, you’ll already start having more free time. Use it to attack your garage, your closet, your kitchen junk drawer. Sell stuff on Craigslist, recycle, give away, and trash anything not important to you. Note the new breathing space that opens up in your mind, and even your lungs.

And of course, if you haven’t done so already, cancel cable TV and stop consuming the daily news.

Sharpen the Saw

The most efficient thing you can ever do with your time, is to make yourself a better person. So spend some of your new free, quiet time by starting each morning with a 45 minute walk in the quietest local area you can find. If you’re already knowledgeable in weight training, do a bit of it each day. If not, at least do some push-ups and Yoga for now. Learn about basic meditation, and do it.

And Then,

If you follow these steps, within a week or two you will have roughly doubled your free time and energy, which gives you the power to start really making the more difficult changes.

Sell your expensive cars and replace them with efficient ones from the mid-2000s or before. Get a bike. Find a smarter place to live that is closer to work, or a smarter place to work that is closer to home (and get a raise for yourself while you’re at it – the US labor market is quite literally at its strongest point in most of our lifetimes).

Look through this blog’s list of all posts and implement all of the ideas from the early articles, one by one and watch how your life expenses peel away.

None of this is all that difficult – at this point hundreds of thousands of people, many with far fewer advantages than yourself, have done exactly this and have drastically changed their lives for the better.

If you’ve been poking around here on this site for a while and, still find that major change and plentiful surplus money is in short supply, stop struggling and start by slowing down.

  • Dr-in-Debt July 18, 2016, 7:32 am

    I agree, you are a great example of what you can achieve if you just have a plan/vision. We live in a country of great opportunity even for those who start lower on the economic ladder. I think the biggest challenge is not where you start, it is in the knowing how to get where you want to go, or for many people where to go! There are plenty of reasons for excuses along the way.

    Being the first one in my family to attend medical school before the internet era, it was more of a challenge for me to figure out all the steps to get to my end result. Which prerequisites looked good, internships, classes, etc…needed to be put on your application. It basically boiled down to if you did the work and were persistent in your efforts you would get in somewhere, eventually. I have many friends that let the smallest setback push them off course along the way. When my younger brother applied for medical school it was a step easier for him, and if my children apply it will be easier for them because they will have someone to mentor/show them the way. Seth Godin referred to it as a breakthrough. http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/07/the-second-time-you-create-that-breakthrough.html

    Today with the internet, if you want to achieve something, there is a wealth of information at you fingertips giving you most of the steps of how to get there, making it easier than ever even if you don’t have a mentor to help you along the way.

    The activities in our family are lagniappe and admittedly need to be downsized. I think we will be implementing an everyone does at least 1 activity but no more than 2 policy around the house. I think they are important for balance and socialization but I half-hearted agree with you, they probably get enough of that in school anyway.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  • Str8cash32 July 18, 2016, 8:47 am

    I thought that this was going to be a post on the building of your new garage/workshop. Boy was I wrong! Excited to see the writeup for it.

    Reply
  • Mrs. PIE July 18, 2016, 2:06 pm

    In our path to financial independence and early retirement I have found myself feeling rather ‘evangelical’ about the whole frugality / time / money thing. I admit, I could even consider writing something in a similar vein. However, I try to reign myself in for several reasons. One major reason is my realization that everyone is looking for something a little different from life from his or her neighbor – and that’s OK!

    If you lead you life the full-on Mustachian way and are happy – great. If you work hard at a traditional job, earn and spend lots and are happy – great. If you have no kids and are happy – great! If you have five kids….you get my drift!

    My caveat to all this is that all these choices on how to live your life are made INTENTIONALLY. Finding yourself in a hole being miserable due to not making intentional choices is a problem. That where changes of this sort can be important. If made intentionally

    Reply
  • Ken L July 18, 2016, 3:49 pm

    Thanks MMM for doing this post. I’m a long time follower but I’ve drifted the last year. Time to get back on track. I just canceled all the NPR news apps on my phone.

    Reply
  • Monica R. July 18, 2016, 8:23 pm

    We’re having trouble with the where to live part. We own a townhouse in a suburb of Houston. Husband works in the very expensive Galleria area, I stay at home with our two boys. We can sell a car, move close to Memorial Park by renting an apartment so my husband can commute by bike, or we can move to another suburb where the drive is about the same (40 minutes there, 1.25 hours back) but we could homestead – chickens, hang the laundry, under 300k. Having the 2 kids makes us lean toward the suburbs, because we won’t be actually saving money by living close to work. Extra time? Yes. Better health for my husband? Yes. But extra money? Probably not.

    Reply
  • siegrid E. July 18, 2016, 8:51 pm

    This article is very interesting! Now, I want to sell my 2015 Nissan Rouge bought last year on Memorial Day for $35,000, zero interest, zero down. I drive to work 30 miles one way so my mileage is now around 23,000. I work in a maximum security state prison ( California) as a nurse so you can imagine that the area is kind of secluded and there are no houses that is close enough to bike. I have twin babies 8 months old and I know that it’ s more beneficial to have a mini van because they will eventually go to school. Question is, if I sell my 1 year old car now, wouldn’t I be ending up owing more if I have to buy a van? Are there ways to make this situation a win-win? Thank you MMM.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache July 19, 2016, 8:44 am

      Siegrid! You don’t need a $35,000 SUV and you don’t need a 7-passenger van either. You need an efficient car from Craigslist, bought with money that you actually have not money that you borrow.

      http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/03/19/top-10-cars-for-smart-people/

      30 miles is WAY too far to drive one-way, so you need a new place to live (or a new job) as well. But if there is a long car commute involved, it’s usually best to go for an ultra-efficient and reliable one – something like a 2011 Prius or even a 2013 Nissan Leaf (both from Craigslist).

      Reply
    • DAK July 19, 2016, 11:37 am

      Hi Siegrid, you should definitely sell the car now. Or you will owe even more next year.

      Look at two scenarios (hypothetical, but illustrative)

      1) You sell the car now for $30k. You take a $5k loss. Let’s pretend you dont make any payments on the 35k loan. You would owe 5k to the lender.
      2) You sell the car a year from now for $25k. You take a 10k loss. Let’s pretend you dont make any payments on the 35k loan. You would owe 10k to the lender.

      What is the difference between 1 and 2? Not only does the expensive car lose more value over time, but you also have to spend a lot more time driving a low-efficiency car with (probably) higher insurance. So waiting an extra year in #2 not only costs the extra $5k, but probably an extra $1k in gas alone (savings of 26mpg->52 prius mpg over the course of 23,000 miles per year). Good luck!

      Reply
  • Jeff July 19, 2016, 11:01 am

    Your timing could not have been more perfect. We work remotely and spent 5 weeks living and working with family 11 hours away (by car). Coming home was a shock. I had forgotten about the sheer number of possessions and unfinished projects around my house. My wife and I have a renewed focus on decluttering and finishing projects before starting new ones.

    Reply
    • Helen July 19, 2016, 8:13 pm

      Sadly, Jeff, I have realized that there are some projects that I should just abandon (and bin) or scale down. Originally, for instance, I was trying to make wine, 5 gallon equipment needed. Of course I couldn’t maneuver it on my own (without sloshing red wine on the floor), and ended up not doing the proper steps in time. Over a year later, I had vinegar. Properly, I should redo the experiment, adhering totally to the instructions this time. However, I found a method of making apple cider in 1/2 to 1 gallon amounts. While theoretically it should make more sense to make larger batches, the apple juice that you buy in 1/2 -1 gallon containers at the store is fine for this and *comes prepasteurized in its own presanitized container”! Apple juice doesn’t have the staining power of red wine grapes if I do drop it, and gallon containers are easier to deal with than a full 5 gallon glass carboy. So I plan to streamline and simplify with this method instead and get rid of the 5 gallon equipment. When we decided to move to our house, I found the detritus of many failed cooking projects. I always told my self I’d do something with that strange ingredient that I had to buy just for that type of cooking. As wasteful as it seems to throw all that junk out, it’s better to do so than to let it take up valuable real estate in my cupboards. You might want to read “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. It’s delightful, and helped me develop a sense of abundance instead of lack in my life. Oddly, my husband and I now are perplexed by what to do with all the extra space we have. The house feels Too Big.

      Reply
  • Hannah July 20, 2016, 7:21 am

    I really like this short snippet of a common exchange idea it makes it easy to send to people to give them a short tldr summary of this blog to get them hooked.

    Thing is your points always relate to a large US city with suburb – its very US centric not taking into account countries where public transport is cheap/accessible. I would be interested in a ‘common exchange’ type of post on different living situations maybe not focusing on different countries.

    For example working in london and comparing renting in london to commuting in from outside zone 6. (My example being tonbridge)
    What about those millenials who are stuck working as interns or those of us who are single or single parents.
    Or if you go through a divorce and have to start again not just your mum dad baby type situation.

    Reply
  • Ange July 20, 2016, 10:28 am

    I used to think your $25K annual spending was amazing, but then I realized if I just take out our mortgage, investments, and giving to church, we too spend about $25K a year for a family of three. It’s really not that hard to do. We are semi-frugal but we use a dryer, drive places sometimes, have two cars, and buy things on amazon. I think people get amazed by the “$25,000” but forget that you don’t have a mortgage, etc.

    Reply
  • Greg July 20, 2016, 11:55 am

    Making space in your life is essential. Not just because it can help make you rich, but because life is meant to be lived in the moment and enjoyed. Any moment in life can be enjoyed, including right now. You don’t need scheduled activities to keep you entertained.

    Reply
  • Matt July 20, 2016, 3:45 pm

    Mr. Money Moustache . . . have you read ESSENTIALISM by Greg McKeown? You guys are two peas in a pod. Both great reads. Thanks for your content.

    Reply
  • Gretchen July 21, 2016, 3:12 am

    Dear MMM and Mustachians, I feel like I’m a part of a revolution now. Thank you for your website. I used to be a ‘complainypants’ and could not understand how other people got ahead. Now I understand being rich starts with a mindset of contentment with what you have and the rest follows from there. I’m relatively confident that I’ve broken the habit of spending and dropped ‘shopping’ as a hobby now that the pieces of the puzzle have come together for me. I saved 1/3 of my salary last month – this is from a girl who complained about low salary for a long time and how I could not make ends meet. I also negotiated with my partner to share expenses on a proportionate basis e.g 60/40 related to our individual income as a percentage of the household costs – not to the last cent but it certainly has helped me make progress with savings. “Treating people fairly does not mean treating people equally”. Any other men/women doing their household rent and expenses this way?

    Reply
    • Frugal Bazooka July 23, 2016, 12:25 pm

      Great story. It’s amazing how a good idea can motivate people and make real change int he world. Your success makes society a better place to be and that truly is win win.

      Reply
  • JJ July 21, 2016, 6:39 am

    I started reading this blog last year when I decided to leave my very well paid job (1.5 hrs commute one way) so I could look after my baby. Our friends and family were shocked and I think somewhat baffled but I could just see our life energy being wasted by working to pay for a ‘lifestyle’ that I had no time to actually enjoy and I started questioning what my values were and how I wanted to raise my kid. It was very scary and we had no idea what we were doing. I would read your posts and doubt that anything would really work but needless to say, a year later the sky has not fallen in. The funny thing is that by reading through your posts and being disciplined about it, after we started flexing our badass muscle, we discovered that even on one income we had $700 surplus a month without me taking on a new job and we could still cut down and save more. That includes paying a mortgage on a suburban house, all bills, food, insurances, and upkeep of two (old) small hatchback cars. I am now lucky to be able to work part time from home and have family nearby for babysitting and I’ve noticed that I have much stronger community ties and family relationships because of staying local. We are also paying down our credit card debt, something we got too lazy to do when we were on two incomes (I still can’t believe the amounts of money we were wasting on crap). It does take a lot of mental effort to go against convention and live on less, I feel that we are just at the beginning of our badass journey and despite the mental effort and ridiculous questions (but you ‘need’ a ‘family car’ why don’t you buy an SUV?) to go against the societal ‘norm’ I am relieved that we have chosen this path and jumped off the hamster wheel of consumerism. So just wanted to say a big THANK YOU Mr Money Mustache because your posts really helped me out especially when my confidence about my choices was low and please keep on blogging!

    Reply
  • Ann July 21, 2016, 3:59 pm

    I discovered your website about 2 1/2 years ago and something clicked with me. Your ideas where so simple yet so effective that l started questioning every penny I spent! The whole family knows about Mr Money Mustache and your frugal ways! My husband initially was just humouring me when we decided to track our spending and create a budget, then he noticed how much money we where saving and that seemed to get his attention! We decided to get serious and map out an end date when we would be debt free. We paid off our home and 2 rental properties while putting our two children through college. ( They both have jobs now ; teacher and firefighter! Yay).

    We were able to pay off a total sum of 150,000 in this time. I have to tell you we did not adopt all your strategies and we still were able to do it. I am so excited because today is the first day we are officially DEBT FREE!!!! So THANK YOU for all your posts! You made a difference in my life ….. So keep on writing!!😀👍

    Reply
  • Sandy July 24, 2016, 1:19 pm

    Fantastic post. I love reading the comments too and getting details about what people think.
    I have a question for you MMM. I also live in Colorado and last week we had major hail in Denver area. My car got some hail damage. I own a 2012 Nissan Versa and I own it outright. Geico cut a check for around $3000 for the damages and because I don’t owe anything on the car to anyone, that money is mine. My question for you is, should I get my car fixed knowing that cars are depreciating assets and no matter how much you spend on the eventually they are worth nothing. The damage to my car is only cosmetic, just little dings here and there. I also drive my cars till they die in the middle of the road. My last car was a Kia Sephia and I drove that for 18 years and then donated it to charity and got tax deduction. I am retired like you, retired at the age of 39. Don’t owe a penny to anyone either. So if you can help me out here I would appreciate it, would you repair the car or would you invest the $3000 and keep driving the car with the few dings here and there?
    Many thanks for all your great posts. Although I don’t leave a comment all the time, I certainly enjoy reading them all the time.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache July 26, 2016, 8:00 am

      Hi Sandy,

      Congratulations! Winning the Hail Damage Lottery is usually a good thing. Put it this way: would you pay $3000 to upgrade the cosmetics of your car in some other way, if the hail had never fallen? If you’re using it as transportation rather than a fashion accessory, probably not, right?

      Even as a 2012, the difference in resale value between minor hail damage and pristine is probably far less than $3000, so it would be an unwise way to spend that money. And if you’re keeping it, this value difference will continue to shrink. For example my 1999 Honda van is probably worth $2-3k in its current almost-perfect condition, even though somebody paid $33,000 for it back in 1999. Hail damage would barely make a difference.

      Reply
      • Sandy July 26, 2016, 9:20 am

        Thank you so much for your response. For some reason I had to hear it from you since I trust your judgement in money matters very much. You are right, there was no way I would put $3000 worth of cosmetics on my car. A car for me is exactly like a tool that gets me from point “A” to point “B”. Nothing more than that. That $3000 will be invested today. Actually I found another part that was damaged that they didn’t see when inspecting the car. Another $196 will be coming my way soon. I researched some stocks last night while waiting for your response. Off I go to put an order with Vanguard right now. The way you answer questions with examples makes things clear as day and decision making very easy. Many many thanks for your time in responding to my question.

        Reply
  • Vijay July 24, 2016, 6:10 pm

    I agree with most of the post once again. However, if every person in the US adheres to what you have to teach, then there will be no US economy tomorrow. A fiat economy is based on the fact that the debt will keep expanding endlessly till the next depression come up, followed by a war or two. The only hope and prayer I have is that it is not my generation, or in my child’s. This is the kind of economy that the US and many in the western world have created, although this is the better of the other systems that exist. I do understand that what you write is only applicable to minority of individuals who will ever understand this philosophy, the rest of the vast majority will keep spending and declaring bankruptcy, while this bunch which understands the time value of money and the simplest of equation called compounding, will keep having it easy in life!

    Reply
    • Benjamin J July 26, 2016, 3:38 pm

      Vijay – it sounds like you missed a MMM classic:

      http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/04/09/what-if-everyone-became-frugal/

      Just because an economy is built on credit and consumption today doesn’t mean it HAS to be that way. While the transition would obviously be rough, the resultant growth would be nothing short of epic.

      Reply
      • Vijay July 26, 2016, 4:44 pm

        Thanks for that post Benjamin. However, I still stand by the economics of it all. In the current system, there will be a big economic collapse if the debt does not expand y-o-y or if the US does not declare its insolvency. Either which way, we will end up in 1929 once again, only to be followed by a Hitler somewhere. This is a catch 22 situation the US and most of the world economies are in today. At near to 20 trillion USD of declared debt, with undeclared debt at many times that number, countries like US and UK are running on borrowed time and money. The day Raegan took away the dollar from parity to Gold, and brought in this fiat system, he allowed for expansion of the economy but at great cost to long term stability. This whole system as it stands today is unsustainable both to humans and to earth. We are just consuming everything from rare metals to Oil, far quicker than anything the earth can ever replenish it with and thus we leave a fertile ground for conflict in the near future. Generally, humans go through lot of suffering before any system gets replaced with another. This is simply because the existing order will not give way without a fight, and bloodshed. This is a known history, but it keeps repeating itself. Such is human tendencies.

        Reply
  • LazyMillennial July 25, 2016, 12:11 pm

    This is a great post, and an important point.

    I think the 45 hour (or more) work week has a lot to do with this. We have so little time off work that we feel the need to fill up our ‘free time’ with things and events, most of which cost a lot of money.

    Once I stopped working as much, I stopped spending as much money. Instead of paying for a quick fix of entertainment/distraction, I can take more time to appreciate things that cost very little or nothing.

    Reply

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