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Frugality is an approach to managing personal finances that focuses on saving money through smart choices. To be frugal, you need not always opt for the lowest cost, but the best quality for the price. Consumerism Commentary offers many frugal living tips.

Frugal Living Tips

Frugality is an approach to managing personal finances that focuses on saving money through smart choices. To be frugal, you need not always opt for the lowest cost, but the best quality for the price. Consumerism Commentary offers many frugal living tips.

Over the past few years, cell phone providers have declared an out-and-out war to win over consumers. This spells good things for the consumers, who can now take advantage of more low-cost cell phone plans than ever.

These days, even the “big four” cell providers — Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon — are lowering their prices. And there is a host of other companies jumping on board with cheap voice, text, and data services.

Finding the right plan for your needs requires some research, though. First off, the provider you choose should have decent coverage in your area and areas to which you travel often. Saving $15 a month on your cell phone bill doesn’t mean much if you constantly drop calls in your own living room!

Plus, you’ll need to ensure that the plan you choose has what you really need in a cell phone plan. That might mean unlimited voice and text, or a hefty amount of data for your business.

Whenever you are ready to lower your cell phone bill, check out these 20 low-cost plan options.

Sprint Unlimited Freedom and Family Plans

This plan offers two lines with unlimited data, talk, and text for $100 per month. It offers unlimited 4G LTE data, and allows you to add up to 10 additional lines for $30 each. Or you could opt for a cheaper family plan with limited, shared data and $20 per line access.

T-Mobile ONE

The ONE plan offers unlimited talk, text, and data for $70 for the first line, $50 for the second line, and $20 for up to two additional lines — so $140 per month for four lines. Or you could get four lines for $120 per month when you use Auto Pay. The plan offers unlimited everything in Mexico and Canada, and unlimited text and data just about anywhere else in the world.

AT&T Mobile Share Advantage

This customizable plan allows you to choose how much data you want to share, from 1GB for $30 a month to 100GB for $450 per month. Then, add smartphones for a monthly access fee of $20 per month. If you don’t use much data, this plan would be a great way to cut your expenses down to as little as $70 per month for two lines and limited data access.

Verizon Plan

This giant is known for its great coverage, but has started to lower its prices to stay competitive. The plan comes in five “sizes” from S to XXL. As with AT&T, this plan allows you to customize your data to what you’ll actually use, which can save low-data users some money. There’s a $20/month charge per phone, and data costs anywhere from $35/month for 2GB to $110/month for 24GB+2GB per line.

Metro PC

Launching into the smaller providers, we’ll start with Metro PCS, which offers nationwide 4G coverage. Its “unlimited” data, talk, and text plan really comes with 1GB of 4G data before kicking you down to lower data speeds. Still, the plan is a good deal at just $30 per month, or $25 per month as part of a family plan. For just $50 per month, you can get unlimited talk and text plus 5GB of 4G data.


Cricket’s Basic plan runs just $40 per month, and includes unlimited nationwide text and talk plus 2.5GB of high-speed data access. Or the $70/month Unlimited plan offers unlimited high-speed data, unlimited nationwide talk and text, unlimited international texting, and data access and unlimited talk and text to and from Mexico and Canada. Cricket also offers group pricing and discounts for signing up for auto-pay.

Page Plus Cellular

Page Plus Cellular is a no-contract provider that still offers super-cheap plans with restricted minutes and text. The cheapest plan is just $12 per month for 250 minutes, 250 texts, and 10MB of data. Or opt for the largest plan at $69.95 with unlimited calling, unlimited national and international texting, and 7GB of 4G LTE data, which is then restricted down to 2G.

Virgin Mobile

This provider is gaining in popularity, and not without reason. Its main plan is just $40 per month and includes 4GB of high-speed data. Plus, it allows you to stream music from services like Pandora and Slacker without tapping into your data.

Boost Mobile

Boost’s Unlimited Starter package starts at just $30 per month and includes 1GB of 4G LTE data. You can add additional data for $5 per GB per month. Like Virgin, Boost offers unlimited music streaming through certain music apps. For more data, check out the $50/month Unlimited Unhook’d plan, which offers optimized streaming for videos, gaming, and music, and unlimited 4G LTE data for everything else.

Straight Talk

Available plans for Straight Talk depend on your phone and current phone number, so you’ll have to check availability. But some example options include a 1-year unlimited plan for $495 total. This one offers unlimited nationwide talk and text and 5GB of data per month at 4G LTE, restricted to 2G service after that.

Republic Wireless

For just $15 per month, Republic offers unlimited talk and text without data (except on WiFi). It’s a good plan option if you’re near a WiFi signal most of the time. Plans add more data from there, up to 10GB per month on the $90 plan.

GoSmart Mobile

This provider offers four service levels, including a $25/month plan that includes unlimited international texting, unlimited national talk, and unlimited 4G LTE access for Facebook. Its largest plan is $55/month and includes up to 20GB per month of 3G data access, as well as the other perks listed.


This provider actually offers a free Basic Plan that includes 500 texts, 200 minutes, and 500MB of data each month, as well as free calling over WiFi. You may be able to bring your own existing device to this provider, or purchase a device from them.

H2O Wireless

For $30 per month, you can get unlimited talk and text, 500MB of data, and $10 of international talk credit. Or go up to $60 per month of unlimited talk and text, 4.5GB of high-speed data (restricted to 2G data thereafter), and $20 per month of international talk credit. H2O also offers pay-as-you go plans, which let you customize your payment based on how much talk, text, and data you’ll actually use at a time.

Scratch Wireless

This provider, like many other small providers, operates on the “Wi-Fi First” principal. In other words, if WiFi is available, your phone will operate on that rather than using data. When connected to WiFi, you’ll have unlimited text and data. The service is free for three months, and costs just $7.99 per month after that. If you’re typically in places where WiFi is available, Scratch could be the ideal service for you.


Communicate mostly by text? ChatSIM is a super-cheap way to make that happen. The base plan costs $15 per year and comes with unlimited texts and emojis anywhere in the world. You can also purchase multimedia credits to cover photos, videos, and calls, ranging from $15 to $60 each.

Red Pocket

Red Pocket offers two types of service: its Flagship Plans, which work on all its wireless networks and allow you to keep your phone and phone number, and Device-Specific Plans. Flagship Plans begin at just $29.99/month for unlimited talk and text and 500MB of data. These plans go up to $59.99 per month for unlimited everything with 3GB of high-speed data (and lower speed data after that).

Simple Mobile

You can bring your own phone or buy a phone through Simple Mobile, and then sign up for a $60/month plan with unlimited 4G LTE data. Don’t need the data? Keep it simple with a $25/month unlimited talk and text plan.

US Mobile

This provider offers completely customizable plans, so you only need to pay for the services you actually use. For instance, you can pay $3/month for 100 talk minutes, or $15/month for up to 5,000 minutes. Similarly, texting costs $2/month for 100 texts or $7/month for unlimited texts. And data costs from $2/month for 100MB to $35/month for 6GB. Add on a $2/month service charge, and you’ve got a plan you can completely customize to your actual usage.

ROK Mobile

As with other providers, this one cuts back on the cost of streaming music by providing the ROK Music App. It offers a $49.99/month plan with unlimited talk, unlimited text, and 5GB of 4G LTE data.

So which one wins?

As you can see, there’s some huge variability in plan prices here, from free plans that focus on WiFi coverage to $100/month plans from the “big four.” The key is to ensure that any provider you choose will have good coverage in your area, and that the plan will be sufficient to meet your talk, text, and data needs.

Be sure to read the fine print. Also talk to friends and neighbors about their coverage, especially with less well-known providers. Then, pick a plan and start reaping the financial reward of this wireless war for customers.


There’s a good reason I can’t get into extreme savings for retirement. When desperate financial times call for desperate financial measures, there is a good incentive to cut all unnecessary spending and eliminate bad debt. Many people even wait until they hit rock bottom before reforming their approach to their finances, because the effects of bad money management aren’t always clear until they’re completely unavoidable.

After one extreme — complete lack of reasoning and complete lack of understanding consequences — there is a tendency to hit the other extreme. An obsessive spender is just as likely to become an obsessive saver. A little obsession might be good. When I realized I wasn’t saving for my future, I began tracking every cent of income and expense, and it helped me learn where I could cut back my spending and improve my income. It’s an important part of moving your life in the right direction, and I still recommend this to anyone who hasn’t seriously considered their money management skills, particularly those who aren’t left with much net income at the end of the month, if any.

There’s a danger in taking saving too far. Money is more than a number, and you are more than just your net worth. The only point in growing your bank account balances is to use that money for something at some point. Money has no intrinsic meaning; its purpose is only what you can do with it. Although it’s a problem not many will face, it is possible to save too much money.

The government encourage saving decades in advance for retirement by providing tax incentives. It’s a good way to decrease the burden on employers, who at one time offered pensions to assist their employees when they could no longer work. Pensions have all but disappeared in the private sector, replaced by 401(k) plans and IRAs. Preparing for retirement in advance is healthy financial planning, but you still have to consider there is a chance, though remote, that you won’t survive until the end of the saving-for-retirement phase of your life.

It’s a morbid thought, of course, and I wish all Consumerism Commentary readers a long, healthy life. An insurance company may use actuarial tables to determine the chances of any individual living a certain number of additional years, but it’s just an estimation. When we plan for the future we have to assume that the money we invest or save while looking at a time horizon decades in the future will be there when we need it, but we also have to assume that we’ll be there to use it. That’s a lot of assumptions, and putting money away that could be used today is a certain type of risk.

Having a will helps a saver feel comfortable with the fact that if his money outlives him, it will at least see a chance to be used, either by relatives who might save it or by a non-profit organization who can use the funds to move its mission forward. For those who have the means, however, having not completed everything on a “bucket list” could be a regret. Life is almost always shorter than we want it to be, and with many fulfilling activities, many of which require money, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to wait until retirement to do everything.

It’s not a good idea, though, to take this “life is short” mantra and use it as an excuse to spend money with wanton abandon. This is a toxic financial attitude, even though it could be considered the opposite of putting your financial concerns off until the future, another toxic attitude.

While I fully agree that everyone should seize the day in as many opportunities as possible, this approach should be balanced with enough consideration for the future. I don’t think that balance can ever be perfect, though. All anyone can do is make an educated guess, and aim for an approach to finances with which one is comfortable. One that provides a chance for thriving when income from work is no longer a factor while taking advantage of opportunities today for enjoying life.

The good news is that we can enjoy life today while saving for the future. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, although when you’re living paycheck to paycheck or worse, the smart decision is to focus on getting out of that situation and beginning to build wealth as the primary and only priority. Once you are building wealth, you are in a better position to have that flexibility. The frugal approach to life assists with this goal. You can find ways to enjoy life on a budget while keeping the automatic investing plan in full force.

Although I save for retirement to cover myself in the likely event I’ll eventually want to stop working in exchange for money — likely well before I reach the government-suggested age of retirement — I want to make the most of my time today. That doesn’t always require money, but sometimes it does.

  • I see people putting up with terrible bosses and jobs they don’t like. Life is too short to waste your time in situations that aren’t ideal, or at least moving in that direction. It’s a myth that we need to just accept what we have and be happy when we’re treated poorly at work. When the economy is bad, people are brainwashed into thinking they should be lucky to have any job. Get out and find something better.
  • Unhappy marriages and personal relationships are similar to bad working situations. Life is too short to spend your life with someone who doesn’t make you happy or to force yourself to spend time with people who don’t share your values. There are seven billion people in the world.
  • Why waste your time watching television when life is so short? Well, while reading a novel might better flex your neurons, seeking entertainment is a part of enjoying life today, so don’t be too quickly to accept the productivity refrain that mindless entertainment is a waste of time. There may be better ways to be entertained, but life is not worth living if you have to be productive every waking minute of every day — especially if that “productivity” is for the benefit of someone else.

Recognize that life is short and that we might lose our chance to enjoy life if we wait around for retirement or financial independence to start living. We can’t use the fact that life is short as an excuse that prevents good decision-making, which takes the idea to the extreme to the detriment of important goals like saving for the future.

How do you balance the need to plan for your financial future and to achieve financial independence with the need to make use of what you have and enjoy life today? How do you make the most of what is a relatively short life without sacrificing your future? How do you prevent “life is short” from becoming a toxic financial attitude that takes away your ability to save?



For several years, it was a February tradition on Consumerism Commentary to look for moderation on Valentine’s Day. Many young couples would like to use the day to express their love, but might not have the financial means to do what television commercials make you believe is normal. If you have additional ideas, feel free to share them below.

I stopped the tradition of sharing frugal Valentine’s Day ideas by 2010, as I was all ready farther away from a frugality mindset myself. For me, I had a substantial income from my own business, and I was simply counting down the days before leaving my day job to pursue Consumerism Commentary full time.

Frugality wasn’t the first thing on my mind, personally, but it was and is still an important approach for couples throughout the world.

I understand that Valentine’s Day is just another day, and couples can and should be expressing their love every day. I also understand that the holiday is almost purely commercial in nature; Hallmark is only one of the companies that view the holiday as a pay day.

And other retailers excel at making the public believe that spending money is essential for expressing love. But here’s the thing. There are very few worse things you can do as a couple than going into unnecessary debt. I can’t imagine there are people who go out and buy a luxury car for their partner with a giant bow, but Lexus wants you to think there are.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day in a way that bears no resemblance to the commercials. I say avoid mass-produced “love” encouraged by jewelry, luxury vehicle, tropical resorts, and florist companies, and take a personal approach.

LoveThe reality is that for a good portion of couples, frugality isn’t just a choice, but the only choice. The recession officially ended years ago, but its effects still linger. Millions of people are unemployed or underemployed, and paychecks for everyone but the highest paid workers haven’t risen.

Looking at Valentine’s Day through a frugal lens can allow you to express your feelings without sacrificing your financial condition as you stretch to afford to spend a night in a hotel, go on a cruise, or buy a car.

Here are some of my suggestions for experiencing a frugal Valentine’s Day this year, some serious, some with tongue firmly planted in cheek. (And if everything works well for you this holiday, perhaps your tongue may find its way somewhere else.)

1. Make your own greeting cards. Hallmark would have you believe that people love receive cards that play music when opened. Of all the lies commercials tell, this has got to be the worst. No one likes cards that play music, especially eight-bit monophonic music. No one likes personal recordings in cards, unless they’re really funny.

Even standard greeting cards aren’t worth the price. I can never find one that expresses my thoughts accurately. If I could find a card, what would that say about my thoughts? If a card truly spoke for me, my thoughts about love would have to be so generic that thousands or millions of others would express their love the same way.

I refuse to believe that any individual’s brain cells and synapses are aligned in the same way as thousands of other people.

The bottom line is that it takes little effort to hand-write a note or design your own card. You don’t need mad Photoshop skills to make something, either. You can visit this site for some free designs that allow you to easily add your own text. Or just find a photograph of the two of you together and add a note. It’s so much more personal and meaningful.

While you can find $0.99 Valentine’s Day commercial cards, the more popular cards at Target or CVS can cost $5.99, $6.99, or more, while at a Hallmark card store there’s virtually no limit.

2. Pass over the brand-name chocolate. A chocolate connoisseur won’t be impressed with Hershey’s or M&Ms, so the real chocolate is going to be more pricey. Chocolate is a great comfort food because its chemicals stimulate pleasure centers in the brain. You can spend $60 to $100 ordering chocolate to be delivered to your loved one’s place of work on Valentine’s Day. For this, Edible Arrangements is one of my favorites. You can get fruit and chocolate!

But it’s expensive. I’ve found over the years from Consumerism Commentary readers that chocolate is a Valentine’s Day necessity. Suggesting the elimination of chocolate will start reader riots. Here’s the frugal twist. Buy some fresh fruit and chocolate powder or chips from the grocery store instead, and spending the evening making your own chocolate fondue. That way, you take a food favorite and save a lot of money while enjoying a fun couple’s event.

3. Don’t rent pornography. Rather than supporting a dangerous industry, pick up the camcorder, mount in on a tripod, and get to work. If you’re too shy to film your own, peruse your local sex library. If you do, however, choose to take the do-it-yourself approach with your partner, please be sure not to upload your work accidentally to a public website. Lives have been ruined — though in a few cases, fortunes have been made. But chances are slim that you’re the next Kim Kardashian.

4. Avoid lingerie. Here is something that’s pointless. Why spend a lot of money for a small amount of clothing, particularly if the desired end result is the removal of said clothing. Stay naked. Nudity is sexier.

In the past, readers have suggested a strip tease as a fun, frugal, sexy activity to get the night started. You don’t need new lingerie when the focus is on the removal; in fact, a strip tease that starts with business attire might be hotter. If you’re into that kind of thing.

5. Turn off electrical appliances. No television, no lights, nothing that draws power provided by an outside source. Light a candle if you need to see, but otherwise just get in bed and cuddle in the dark… without the aforementioned lingerie.

Save a few bucks on the electricity bill for the night.

6. Skip the gourmet dinner. Filet mignon at Ruth’s Chris is unmatched in terms of taste. Another one of my favorites is the four-course fondue dinner at The Melting Pot with cheese, salad, entrees, and dessert. Dining as an experience is an important part of life for many people, but it isn’t a frugal choice. Those Melting Pot dinners can easily cost upwards of $100 for two, especially once you add in the alcohol.

I’ve been somewhat successful, romantically if not culinarily, cooking myself for the more important occasions. It helps that I don’t cook often; when I do, it’s a special occasion in itself. And remember, when it comes out, it smells the same whether it’s McDonald’s or Omaha Steaks.

7. Create a playlist. They tell me that mix tapes are out of fashion in the twenty-first century. I was big on mix tapes throughout high school and even college. It was never a challenge for me to find songs that I wanted to share with other people, and since I already owned the music for the most part, the only cost was blank audio tapes. Towards the end of college, blank tapes gave way to blank CDs.

When I first started exploring frugal Valentine’s Days, the MP3 player was the device of choice for listening to music. But even in a few short years, the iPod is gone and people listen to services like Spotify on their mobile devices. This has become my method for enjoying music as well. And one thing Spotify does well is allow users to create their own playlists — mix tapes of today.

So create a customized Valentine’s Day playlist to share with your spouse or lover.

8. Find free entertainment. Outdoor concerts in February might not be popular where you live; this doesn’t happen in cold New Jersey, but it may be an option in Arizona, for example. Chances are good you might be able to find some music or theatrical performances for free somewhere near you, if you don’t live somewhere rural.

Some city symphony orchestras and theatrical groups offer free concerts at certain times of the year, so you may be able to find some quality entertainment without spending much money.

Also check out these 5 romantic outdoor day-date ideas under $30.

Note: Don’t feel bad if you are without a partner on this Valentine’s Day. All of the above activities can be accomplished as well, if not better, on your own. If you have any additional frugal Valentine’s Day tips, be sure to leave comments here.

♥ Happy Valentine’s Day from Consumerism Commentary! ♥

Photo: slightly everything


I’ll be honest. When the idea for this article struck me late last night, I had a definitive idea of how I was going to address the topic of conservation mode. But the clarity of day may have changed what I think about the idea.

Throughout my life, I’ve been working with scarce resources. Now, not as scarce as most people living on this planet, but scarce in my environment. After college, time and money eluded me, as I was busy working for an organization that was unable to provide the compensation that would cover my living expenses, which were already low. Working with limited financial resources, I made some living choices out of necessity, like living in an apartment with a group of friends, crashing my newlywed friends’ guest room, and even moving in with my father in his significant others’ house. Talk about an imposition; he had only just moved in there himself.

When you have a new, full tube of toothpaste, if you’re anything like me, you’re more inclined to line the whole length of the toothbrush bristles with the paste when you brush your teeth. When you get to the end of the tube and start rolling up the end, you know a shopping excursion is on the horizon, and you know it’s almost time to spend another $4.00. The price isn’t even relevant, it’s just the fact that you’re running low of a resource. You may start lining only half the length of bristles with the toothpaste; after all, the dentist says you don’t actually need to use more than that.

The same behavior seems to be true regardless of the resource. In the bathroom alone, you use less toilet paper when your last roll is getting thin and less shampoo when the bottle is getting light. You easily adapt and made do with less — and less is all right in these cases. You’re not sacrificing quality of life by conserving toiletries.

But living in this scarcity mode does wear thin a little. You get tired of being low on resources, so you go to the store, replenish your supply, and start the cycle over again while flush and feeling rich.

I’ve found myself doing the same with the money in my checking account. I try to keep $2,000 to $3,000 in my checking account after my credit card payment is made. (I pay for almost all my daily expenses with a rewards credit card and pay off the balance each month.) Because my only consistent income is writing for this website, and because the company that owns it has been reducing the budget, my regular work income has been lower than usual. Therefore, it’s been increasingly difficult to meet my expenses while maintaining a buffer, as I’ve avoided dipping into my investments for income.

So I’ve been living life more frugally than one might expect of someone who sold a profitable business for a good amount of money. When I first started paying attention to my finances and learning about long-term investing, I figured I would need $2 million to retire comfortably and would have to work forty years or more to get there. When a financial planner asked me about my retirement goals recently, I couldn’t even come up with a good answer. On the one hand, I’m already retired — I have a higher level of assets than I ever expected and have no real pressure to work (except the pressure I put on myself) and I am free to spend my days however I want. But on the other hand, I don’t want to live off my assets just yet. I still have more to do, more to accomplish. I’m not done.

Also recently, in a different discussion, an investment manager asked me how much money I needed every month to fund my lifestyle. To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve committed myself as a volunteer to an organization, and my new responsibilities prevent me from living full-time elsewhere or even taking a good amount of time to travel. I still live in the same apartment I’ve had for the last eight years, the apartment I moved into when I finally conceded that my website was a business that was earning real money I could use for expenses. There may be a few indulgences here and there, like a regular massage and home grocery delivery (who really likes walking around a supermarket?) but this seems to be the extent of my extravagance.

So the threat of not being able to pay my monthly bills is something I put on myself. Maybe it’s because this is how I lived for so long, maybe the pressure keeps me aware of my situation. I could sell investments and keep a healthy amount of money between checking and savings, but that would mean watching my investment account decrease. And I’ve grown accustomed to it increasing for the last decade. Nevertheless, that’s likely going to be the plan this coming year.

I’ve believed that forcing myself to live more frugally than necessary is a good thing. Science may disagree with me. I’ve always understood that dealing with urgent problems prevents people from making solid decisions about the future. (See Why Some People Can’t Save: A Matter of Urgency.) However, there must be some benefits to living close to the edge. You’re on your toes, you’re not getting comfortable and lazy, and you keep your eyes open with hyperawareness.

When you have enough resources, your mind isn’t consumed with survival strategies. You are free to cogitate on a higher level.

Poor farmers in India actually perform better on cognitive tests at the end of the harvest season, when they are flush, than at the beginning, when they are running low on money. The effect? The equivalent of a 13-point drop in IQ. (Psychology Today)

We then completed a battery of studies where we saw that manipulating scarcity has an enormous impact on people’s cognitive capacity. First… we went to a mall in New Jersey where we asked people to complete tests measuring cognitive control and fluid intelligence, a component of IQ. We had them do these things while they were contemplating a financial scenario — something that’s manageable, requiring $150 to fix a car that broke down, or more demanding, requiring $1,500 in car-related expenses. We divided the participants by household income and found that the rich people in the mall did equally well on the cognitive tests, whether they were thinking of the challenging or the less challenging scenario related to the car. The poorer people in the mall were equally capable cognitively and did just as well on fluid intelligence as the rich when they were thinking about the manageable scenario. But once they contemplated the more challenging scenario, their scores went way down. Simply being preoccupied with this demanding financial challenge makes them perform worse. (American Psychological Association)

A person who manipulates his money to trick himself into a situation where resources is scarce is still someone who knows his problems aren’t serious. If resources are scarce out of necessity, decision-making skills are impaired. If resources are scarce but within control, as they would be for someone who has the resources but chooses not to deploy them, cognitive reasoning may be normal, but I would have to imagine that not using money that is available might raise a question on whether that in itself is a good decision.

What’s really bugging me, though, is the potential for a market correction. In the past, this wouldn’t have bothered me, because I was in an asset accumulation phase. I could take advantage of market lows and invest for the long-term. Now, I will be able to use a market correction as an opportunity to rebalance my portfolio, but it’s not the same as putting “new money” — income from working — into the market for the best long-term advantage.

It’s a waiting game. In a few months, I’ll have some more freedom to start new businesses, but I have to manage my expectations. I probably won’t have another business as lucrative as this website was for me. But I have ideas and I’m excited about putting them into action.

Do you force yourself into scarcity mode, or do you allow yourself more freedom? Which do you see as a better approach to long-term wealth building?

Photo: Flickr


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