2013 In Review

I have to say that this is one of my favorite posts for the year! It’s really motivating to take a look back and see how far you’ve come in a year since it’s a long enough period of time that you can accomplish a ton!

  1. My gross W-2 income was just under $200,000 for the year. (Just four years ago, it was just under $100,000, so this is an amazing improvement!)
  2. I have some cashback credit cards with useable limits (i.e. > $1,000). I earned over $200 in cashback, which is more than double last year’s $105 number.
  3. I paid the mortgage down from $259,600 to $187,552.40, a difference of just over $72,000. That is about 25% of the original mortgage balance, giving me about 48% in equity, assuming the purchase price.
  4. Increased my net worth by almost $30,000 in one month.
  5. Increased my net worth by $134,400 over the course of the year to $345,070.
  6. Decreased my expenses by almost $6,000 from 2012.
  7. My net income exceeded my expenses by over $100,000 this year. Now that is financial freedom!
  8. I saved about $113,000 this year, for an overall savings rate of about 75% and about 60% of my regular income.
  9. I now have over $100,000 in my retirement accounts (401(k) and Roth IRA), with that split to about $75,000 in the 401(k) and $25,000 in the Roth IRA.
  10. My investments were up about $17,000 for the year, which is a pretty sizeable increase considering that you can only put $17,500 into a 401(k) in a year.

About 65% of my savings in 2013 went to paying down the mortgage. In 2014, I’m expecting that number to be closer to 80%.

2013 Savings Distribution

My net worth took off by leaps and bounds again!

December 2013 Net Worth Graph

I made some really awesome progress with the mortgage. I’ve now paid down about 1/3 of the original balance. The balance is most definitely under $200,000 and I don’t feel nearly as worried about it as I did last year. That could also be because my total monetary assets is now just over $12,000 from the mortgage balance.

2013 Mortgage Paydown

I also contributed a fair amount to my investments in 2013. You can see the compounding growth starting to take off with the slowly increasing separation between the “Contributions” and “Total Value” lines. My investments returned approximately 15% this year, in addition to me and my employer contributing just over $43,000.

2013 Investments Growth

Last, but not least, I reduced my expenses by almost $6,000 from 2012. That’s a pretty good chunk! I spent $44,807.75 when all was said and done. That number still seems high to me, but I don’t see nearly as much room for improvement with it as I did with last year’s number. I do think that I would feel better about my spending if I got it under $40,000 for the year, including the mortgage or about $28,000 excluding the mortgage, which would require a reduction of about $5-6,000 in spending next year.

2013 Spending Pie Chart

Some of the primary differences from last year:

  • I spent $5,555.23 less on housing.
  • I spent $1,369.02 less on clothing.
  • I spent $649.45 more on entertainment.
  • I did my own income tax return, for a savings of $435.85.
  • I spent $302.85 less on eating out by myself and $1,109.15 less on work lunches. (Under $1,000 for the year on work lunches!)
  • I spent $700 more on health.
  • I spent $1,578.33 less on recreation. This is mostly because I paid for an annual gym membership in October 2012 after I’d already paid for monthly memberships throughout most of the year and in 2013, I didn’t pay for sport #1 because of my injury.
  • I spent $2,737.64 more on shopping.
  • I spent $630.35 less on transportation.

What do I expect to change in 2014?

  1. My boyfriend and I are working on a system to split some expenses more so than randomly because we’re working on incurring more shared expenses than we had this year. For now, the plan is to make it easy to transfer money between each other’s accounts since we use the same credit union for our primary checking accounts.
  2. I plan to contribute more to charity in 2014 than I did in 2013. The plan involves getting my donations up to 1% of my gross income, including my bonuses. I have a few annual contributions set up and will continue to donate to the random causes that my friends participate in. When my bonuses post, I will transfer 1% of the gross amount to my checking account, add that amount to the donations budget and then figure out where to go from there.
  3. Overall insurance costs should be about $1,000 cheaper in 2014 because I had been paying monthly through July 2013 and then paid for a full year in August.
  4. I think that I will spend less on electricity. I spent about $700 in 2013. I’m hopeful that I can get that figure down to around $440 for the year, but we will see how things play out!
  5. HOA dues went up a small amount for 2014. I have been budgeting for property taxes to go up about 3% per year, but it looks like my property value went up by much more than that for 2014 and so I’m guessing that they will go up by closer to 20%, putting those two items at about an increase of $800 in 2014. I don’t have much control over those items without moving though.
  6. I think that I will spend less on my household goods and toiletries items because there were a lot of cleaning products and different items that I stocked up on that should last for a long time – I shouldn’t have to re-buy very many of those items.
  7. I will spend around $400 more on recreation in 2014.
  8. I will probably spend around $1,500 less on shopping in 2014- fewer condo projects.
  9. I will spend a lot less on taxis and nothing on tolls.
  10. I will increase my overall savings rate to 85%.

My current forecast is about $38,500 in spending in 2014, which would be about a $7,000 reduction from 2013.

Readers, how was your 2013? What are you looking to change in 2014?



Reflections on Home Ownership: 18 Months In

As we speak, I am coordinating the installation of improving the closet storage space in my master bedroom. Hello home ownership! I’m so excited for this improvement as I’m utilizing very little of the existing closet space, which has been frustrating me lately. You’ll see the cost of that update in the December/January net worth updates and the 2 Year home ownership check-in.

If I sold my condo today for the exact same amount I bought it for 1.5 years ago, I would have spent about $13,301.33 more than I would have renting over the same time period. If the market has truly gone up by as much as it looks like it has by the sale prices around me, buying would be cheaper than renting today by $32,808.67. Buying should be cheaper than renting at my purchase price by the end of 2014.

The mortgage balance at the end of December sat at $187,552.40. It was at $229,752.70 at the end of June, so I have paid down $42,200.30 in the last six months, for a total of $98,447.60 in the 18 months that I have owned my condo, while still maxing out my 401(k), Health Savings Account, Roth IRA, maintaining my $20,000 emergency fund, and occasionally adding to my taxable investments. I now have 47.5% in equity and have paid off 34.4% of the original mortgage balance. The mortgage is currently projected to be paid off by June 1st, 2016 with no intervention from my savings account.

Now let’s compare the charts to where the mortgage was six months ago!

With my December 1st payment, I paid barely over $400 in interest and will pay about $390 with the January 1st payment. I paid $480 in interest with my June 1st payment.

Mortgage Payment Interest Versus Principal Mortgage Payment Interest Versus Principal Dec 2013


I’ve paid so much of the mortgage down that I’m now tracking towards a 3.5 year payoff rather than the original 5 year plan. I’m about $26,000 ahead of the 5 year payoff target for the end of 2013, and about $7,000 behind the 3.5 year payoff target.

Mortgage Paydown Versus Five Year Track Mortgage Paydown Versus 3.5 Year Track Dec 2013


I’m projecting that with my next update at the end of June, the mortgage balance will be sitting at around $145,284.12 or another $42,268.28 gone!



December 2013 net worth update (+1.7%)

31-Dec-2012 30-Nov-2013 31-Dec-2013 MoM YTD
cash $12,100 $14,000 $13,500 -$500 +$1,400
savings $26,800 $27,600 $27,400 -$200 +$600
investments $74,000 $132,700 $134,600 +$1,900
mortgage $259,600 $192,100 $187,600 +$4,500
net worth $211,300 $340,200 $345,900 +$5,700
assets – debts
$146,700 $17,800 $12,100 +$5,700

So, um, this turned into a pretty spendy month. Yeah… I only saved about $1,500 total between my Health Savings Account, the 1/1 mortgage payment principal, and my mortgage pre-payment. Wow. That feels pretty sad, especially considering that my direct deposit in January should be over $2,000 less than my December one. There were a lot of negative budget items in my spreadsheet and I used my December paycheck to zero those out and start the year out fresh and I decided to do a project in my condo this month that used up most of the extra cash flow.

One of my credit cards has a due date of the 1st and when that is a weekend/holiday, the payment credits at the end of the prior month and debits early in the actual month. I’m strongly considering asking them to move the due date a few days further into the month so that this doesn’t happen – I don’t like what it does to my accounting!

Expenses: I spent $4,620 in December (before the mortgage). That puts 2013 so far at $33,650 or an average of $2,804/month. I am way past my stretch ($24,000) goal and just over one month’s spending past the target ($30,000) goal.

Some of my controllable expenses broke down as follows:

  • $409 Clothing: one pair winter running tights, two pairs fleece-lined leggings, return of some of the online shopping from November, pyjamas ($6 – super on sale!), a few pairs of underwear, fixing a pair of boots, some online shoe shopping to replace the other pair that can’t be fixed (most will be returned in January)
  • $99 Dropbox subscription
  • $438 Entertainment/Social ($224 average this year): 12% stocking up on journals, 1% books, 79% eating out with my boyfriend / shows, 21% eating out with friends (-13% re-categorizing cash spending)
  • $18 Eating out by myself ($25 average this year)
  • $118 Groceries ($152 average this year)
  • $103 Work lunches ($77 average this year, $171 average last year) – since this was my last few weeks in my group, I gave myself a pass and ate out a lot more
  • Quite a few charitable donations! I feel much better about how much I donated this year now. There is still room for improvement, but it’s getting better.
  • $247 Presents
  • $31 Internet
  • $96 Electricity (October/November bill)
  • $10 Household goods (bought some paper towels only to realize there was still a roll I bought in March in the cupboard, so I think I won’t be buying any more for a few years…)
  • $532 Medical (waiting on about $350 of bills)
  • $20 Eyebrows
  • $38 Toiletries (cold medicine, moisturizer)
  • $76 Facial (my once per year budgeted for treat)
  • $585 Sport #2 (annual cost, ish)
  • $13 a new sling bag for when I want a bit more than my purse and a bit less than my backpack
  • $19 new charger for my laptop, but this still didn’t fix the problem, so I’m going to need to do something else to fix it more. Hopefully it does NOT involve buying a new laptop. If it does, I am seriously considering just buying a Chromebook.
  • $913 Furnishings (solar-powered Christmas lights for the balcony, silicone baking cups, deposit for closet system install)
  • $14 Car maintenance (the battery in my car key was apparently dying, so I stocked up and shouldn’t have to buy any more for 9 years with the length of time the first one lasted)
  • $39 Fuel ($34 average this year so far, $38 average last year)
  • $8 Parking meters
  • $18 Taxis
  • $30 Tolls (I finally set up an account so I stop paying the super high rates and this was the minimum initial amount. At my usage, it should last me for 1-3 years.)
  • $5 Travel

This basically turned into an expensive month everywhere. It was actually my most expensive month for the year, second to the month where I paid for most of my September trip and the month where I paid for the first half of the property taxes.

The returning of the boots I don’t like from the online shopping should even out this month’s clothing spending next month – just annoying that it’s in a different year.

I ended up spending a bit more on Christmas than I had intended, but that’s okay.

I’m pretty much done with physical therapy (still getting medical bills though) and I’m walking/bussing to work again! So awesome. That did save a lot of money in those categories this month…

The real big expensive thing this month was the fact that I finally decided to upgrade the closets in the master bedroom. I paid a deposit on the install this month and will pay the remainder next month, as well as the painters. I’m pretty excited for the upgraded closets though!

Savings: $27,400 (down $200)

These funds are spread across a Chase savings account (opening bonus!), a general online savings account, a checking account that gets free ATM fees anywhere in the world, a condo furnishing sinking fund, and my health savings account.

The change here comes from:

  1. Spending down the rest of the condo furnishing sinking fund
  2. Paycheck contributions to my health savings account (November and December) and spending down some of it to pay the medical bills

Investments: $134,600 (up $1,900 or +1.4%)

This includes my Roth and Traditional 401(k), my 401(k) employer matching (fully vested!), my Roth IRA, my taxable investments including stock index funds and Series I Savings Bonds.

The change here comes from:

  1. Q4 dividends
  2. Modest market increases
  3. No contributions from me

Mortgage: $187,600 (down $4,500 or -2.3%)

My mortgage is a 5/1 ARM at 2.5%. Before the refinance, it would have been paid off November 1, 2038.

I only made one payment in December and that the savings from my November paycheck.

I estimate with the extra principal payments in December that the payoff date is now at February 1, 2033. I shaved 7 months of payments off with this month’s pre-payments! And I’ll save about $8 in interest on the January 1st payment based on these pre-payments.

The mortgage balance is so far ahead of where it needs to be by the end of 2013 to stay on track with the five year pay-off plan that I’ve adjusted the plan to pay it off by the end of 2015 or two more years. I’m currently about $7,200 behind where I need to have it at the end of 2013 to stay on the two more year payoff plan. I have now paid down 34.4% of the original mortgage balance and am getting so close to 50% in equity! (I have $8,800 more in mortgage principal payments to go before I have 50% in equity.)

TOTAL: $345,900 (up $5,700 or +1.7%)

I ended 2012 with a net worth of $211,300, so I saw a change of $134,600 or +63.7% in 2013. (For reference: my net worth increased by $78,800 in all of 2012.) I surpassed the original y-axis on this graph of $315,000 in November, so I increased it to $350,000.

December 2013 Net Worth Graph

Lastly, to check in on the goals I made at the end of November:

  1. Finalize the work thing 110%. SUCCESS! I am moving to a new group in early January.
  2. Read 3 books. PASS! I possibly read three books. I know I read at least one and have read parts of three others?
  3. Follow the directions of the physical therapist. PASS! I am pretty much done with this. It feels awesome to get back to normal again :)
  4. Make a plan for my time off at Christmas – I possibly only have 15 working days in December :) SUCCESS! This time off has been so awesome and it’s not quite done yet! I spent some time with family, with my boyfriend, as well as some time tidying and cleaning my condo and working on personal projects.
  5. Set goals for 2014! DONE!

Now for some goals for January:

  1. Make my 2014 Roth IRA contribution through the backdoor entirely on my smartphone. (This means a) transferring the money from savings to checking with Ally, b) making the $5,500 contribution to my Traditional IRA with Vanguard, and c) exchanging the $5,500 from the Traditional IRA to the Total Stock Market index fund in my Roth IRA.) – I’ve already done a) and b) – just need to wait for the transaction to post tomorrow or Friday so I can do c).
  2. Plan some trips with my boyfriend.
  3. Have fun with my new job!
  4. Return the shoes I don’t like from the online shopping.



I’m not really done optimizing…

You guys knew this post was coming. Last night, I applied for the Chase Freedom Visa and the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard. Why? I’ll get a $200 statement credit for spending $500 on the Chase Freedom Visa in the first 3 months and $400 worth of points for spending $1,000 on the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard. I have about $1,100 of planned spending in the next few weeks that doesn’t take American Express, so that’ll be perfect for the Barclaycard. I was also pretty excited because the Chase Freedom Visa is now my highest limit card – it’s over $10,000! And I was instantly approved for BOTH of them!! That has NEVER happened to me before. You guys, my credit is finally good! Maybe my income being just shy of $200,000 helps a bit too and me actually declaring that. Since it’s so close to the end of the year, I used this year’s income including RSUs, interest, and investment dividends. Earlier in the year, I was using last year’s W-2 income which was much lower.

My plan is to use the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard for just enough purchases to meet the $1,000 limit and then leave it alone until I make a travel purchase of $400ish and then I will probably cancel it after a year.

My plan is to use the Chase Freedom card for my first $500 of purchases after I satisfy my debit card requirements and then only for the quarterly categories:

  • Jan-Mar Gas stations, movie theaters, and Starbucks
  • Apr-June Restaurants (and Lowe’s)
  • July-Sept Gas stations (and Kohl’s)
  • Oct-Dec Amazon.com, Zappos.com, and select department stores (looks like it includes Nordstrom, Macy’s, and JC Penney)

I’ll probably keep it around as a long-term card for now and just use it for the rotating categories. For the last quarter of 2014, I almost don’t even need to keep it in my wallet since I can set it up to just automatically pay for all of my Amazon.com purchases instead of the only 3% my Amazon.com visa gets. It’s also not that annoying because it has the same login information as the Chase Amazon.com visa I already have. It’s also not like you can get the bonus again and there’s no annual fee, so it’s not that bad to keep it.

It also looks like if you have a Chase checking account, you get 10% bonus points still! So now I’m on the lookout for a bonus to open one of those in early 2014 since it’s a new calendar year! Otherwise, I won’t open it because my estimated return on $1,500 by doing that is 0.48% and would be < $10. So if I did open the checking account, I would possibly still close it after 6 months. Now to go back to cleaning my actual apartment since I am off work…

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I’m Done Optimizing

I never thought I would wrote this post. Until I experience a major life change, I’m done optimizing my finances. I’ve stopped worrying about money. I’m done. A friend asked me why I thought I had hit this point and I’m not quite sure why exactly it is.

Is it because I bought my condo and now have no real financial goal to save for other than retirement? (That was my friend’s assumption.)

Is it because my income has basically hit $200,000 per year? Is it because my net income exceeded my expenses by more than $100,000 this year?

Is it because I have not touched my cash reserves in almost two years? (Knocking on wood…)

Is it because on a normal month, I can save $2,500/month after maxing out my 401(k) and HSA? To put that into perspective, that is about or more than what each of the following cost: 1) moving apartments last year, 2) closing on my condo ignoring the down payment, 3) almost the cost of my bedroom furniture set, 4) the cost of my living room furniture set, 5) my patio furniture, 6) my health insurance deductible, 7) my annual insurance costs, 8) my property taxes for the entire year, 9) my car insurance deductible, 10) my homeowner’s insurance deductible, 11) my entire budget ignoring the mortgage but including wants like travel, 12) my two week trip to Japan including flights, 13) the cost of having closet organizers professionally installed in two closets in my condo, 14) two months of mortgage payments, and the list could go on forever. Basically, I can cover many minor extra costs with my extra cash flow each month rather than dipping into savings.

Is it because I have enough available credit to cover over a year’s worth of credit card spending? (Not that I would actually use it, but the fact that it is there is freeing.)

Is it because my bare bones budget is less than a quarter of my monthly gross pay?

Is it because I could live off of my liquid funds for over a year without reducing my budget?

Is it because I am enjoying my life today?

Well, I’m done optimizing. I’m done worrying about my finances. I’m not going to optimize my credit cards, savings accounts, investments, or checking accounts further. Everything is mostly on auto-pilot and it’s awesome. Now all that’s left is to enjoy life with my boyfriend and kick butt at my new job! This is what financial freedom feels like!

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Financial Plan for 2014

Simple goals, simple implementation, right?

Income plan

The vast majority of my income comes from my W-2 day job. This is separated into regular salary, which is paid out monthly, and stock of which I will see two comparably sized vests this year. I am expecting my overall W-2 income (before deductions) to be somewhere between $160,000 and $200,000 for the 2014 year. This assumes a modest 2% increase and the 52 week low and 52 week high +20% stock prices for the RSUs. I anticipate my income surpassing the Social Security tax maximum ($117,000 in 2014) with my September or October paycheck.

My RSUs see a flat 25% of federal income tax deducted from them, which isn’t quite enough tax because my base pay alone takes me into the 28% federal income tax bracket these days, so I need to compensate for that with my W-4 allowances. My spreadsheet suggests that at this point in time, I should set zero (0) allowances on my W-4 for 2014. I will re-evaluate this after each RSU vest and raise.

Investment contributions

I plan to:

1) Contribute the 2014 maximum of $17,500 to my 401(k) for the year, spread out throughout the year:

  • H3 = annual base pay (gross)
  • J2 = Yearly max to the 401(k) – $17,500 for 2014
  • I2 = ROUNDUP(J2/H3,2) = the % that I should contribute monthly from my paycheck to max out the 401(k) over the course of the year, e.g. if it is XX.3%, I will set it to XX+1%. I will most likely reduce this by one percentage point for my April and subsequent paychecks.

2) Make my 2014 Roth IRA contribution of $5,500 through the backdoor on January 2nd, taking the funds from my savings account.

3) Continue contributing the maximum to my Health Savings Account until the plan year ends partway through 2014. I will then re-evaluate health insurance plans and whether I will contribute to the Health Savings Account again (depends on which plan works out the best).

4) Set aside my 2015 Roth IRA contribution from my final RSU vest for the 2014 year in a savings account. This will probably either be $5,500 or $6,000.

Mortgage plan

All funds that are not set aside for spending, my 401(k), my Health Savings Account, or my Roth IRA will be thrown at the mortgage. My estimate is that this should be around $2,500/month on average, plus RSU vests.

Investment allocations

This exercise is similar to what I did for 2013. As of 12/12/2013, my investments portfolio is worth ~$130,700. I estimate adding about $25,000 to the portfolio this year, including my 401(k) contributions, my employer match, and my Roth IRA contribution, putting an estimated year end balance at $156,000.

(Note: when I wrote this post last year, I estimated that my end of year balance would be $98,100. It is $34,600 higher than that as of November 30th. Crazy!)

My target asset allocation at the end of 2014 will be:

  • 27% Fixed income
  • 36.5% US stocks
  • 36.5% International stocks

Based on this, let’s calculate my ideal portfolio at the end of 2014 and compare it to where my portfolio is now:

Current Ideal EOY Difference
US stocks $48,500 $56,945 $8,422
International Stocks $47,900 $56,945 $9,073
Fixed Income $34,400 $42,124 $7,773
total $130,700 $156,000 $25,268

I will add my $5,500 Roth IRA contribution to the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund Admiral Shares, which means I only need to add another $2,922 to US stocks for the year. Subtracting out my 401(k) match from there leaves my 401(k) contributions as follows for the year:

  • 4% or $654 to add to US stocks (S&P 500 index fund)
  • 52% or $9,073 to add to international stocks (total international index fund)
  • 44% or $7,773 to add to fixed income (stable value fund)

There, we can set and forget for the rest of the year!

I will re-balance the Extended Market index fund vs S&P 500 index fund amounts in January 2015 when I make my Roth IRA contribution for that year – for now, I just care about US vs international vs fixed income.

Banking plan

I’m going to have my entire pay direct deposited to my credit union checking account and then pay the mortgage from there with the leftovers each month. My credit cards are all on auto-pay from here and all of my bills are on auto-pay to a credit card.

I will continue to withdraw any health expenses from my HSA after putting them on a rewards credit card through the end of this plan year. I will re-evaluate my HSA plans during open enrollment.

My plan for expenses is as follows:

  1. If purchase is in person and < $15, use debit card until I reach N transactions. This should earn me just under $200 in interest for the year, i.e. meets my $100 gain for the year rule.
  2. All Amazon.com purchases go on that credit card (this is mostly automatic, so no big deal), as well as restaurants and in-person places that don’t take American Express.
  3. All non-foreign purchases that take American Express go on the Fidelity Amex card
  4. All other purchases (including possibly foreign ones) go on the credit union cashback visa (I love this one because it does automatic redemption every month, no matter the amount!)

This algorithm should net me about $400-550 in cashback rewards for the year, based on 2013 spending levels.

Based on my spending patterns and my rule that I will only add a credit card if it will gain me at least an additional $100/year in cashback rewards and I think I could use the card effectively for at least two years, I can’t really optimize any further than this. I could add the US Bank Cash+ Visa Signature card for 5% cashback on restaurants, but with my spending levels, that may or may not actually make any sense. My credit history is still new enough at this point that I don’t want to churn yet (under 4 years), but I will re-evaluate that in 2015.

I’m really enjoying how simple this plan is and I can’t wait to let it be implemented! Here’s to an awesome 2014!

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Goals for 2014

This year’s goals are so simple that I feel silly publishing this post! I’ll follow up with an implementation plan later this week.

1) My first priority in 2014 is to continue to develop my relationship with my boyfriend. Things are going great and I want to continue to prioritize that.

2) Rock out at my new job. Without the high-paying job I have, I wouldn’t be able to accomplish any of my financial goals.

3) Max out all tax-advantaged accounts available to me. This means $17,500 to my 401(k), $5,500 to the Roth IRA on January 2nd from savings and $5,500 to a savings account to fund the 2015 Roth IRA.

4) Pay down the mortgage. I would like to get it under $91,284.28. That should keep me on track to paying it off by the end of 2015.

5) Spend less than $39,000 for the year. If I can accomplish this, it would be my cheapest year since graduating from college! This would map out to 4.4 years of expenses saved up, which is about 17.6% of the way to FI if you count it as having 25x annual expenses saved up.

Overall, I’m anticipating a net worth increase of about $115,000 for the year to increase my net worth to about $465,000. (For reference, I expect my gross income in 2014 to be between $160,000 and $190,000.)



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