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June 29, 2020

All About Food Deserts

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How Much Is Enough To Retire?

June 3, 2020

How Much Is Enough To Retire?

How much money do you need to retire? That’s a tough question to answer specifically.

People have different expectations of their golden years that range from simple and cheap to extravagant and expensive. But there are a few simple guidelines you can follow that might help point you in the right direction.

Standard of living
How do you envision your retirement? Surrounded by family and friends in the suburbs? Kicking back on white sands? Fishing outside your tiny mountain lodge? Each of these visions come with different price tags and will require different types of planning. Dreams of a simple and stripped back retirement will cost you less than touring Europe or enjoying exotic cocktails on the beach. Figure out the standard of living you want in retirement, estimate how much it will cost and for how long, and then make a plan.

How much should you have saved?

So you’ve figured out how much you want to spend annually during your retirement. How much does that mean you need to save? Let’s say you’ve done your homework and your standard of living will run you about $40,000 a year throughout your retirement. The general rule of thumb is that you want to be able to withdraw roughly 4% of your savings each year throughout retirement without running out of money. To find that number, just take your desired annual spending and divide it by .04 to get your savings target. That means you would need to save around one million dollars to sustain your lifestyle.

How much should you save per month?

Financial advisors typically suggest you put 15% of your income towards retirement. Just remember that there’s always some wriggle room depending on your situation! You might be well ahead of schedule already, due to your budgeting and thriftiness. Maybe you’re just now starting to save and you need to put away a little extra. It’s always best to consult with a professional before making a big saving or investing decision!

The sooner you start planning and setting goals, the better. Start thinking about what you want out of your golden years, crunch the numbers, and meet with a professional!

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Questions To Ask When Buying In Bulk

May 15, 2020

Questions To Ask When Buying In Bulk

Buying in bulk is a no-brainer, right?

It seems cheaper and you can (hopefully) get all your shopping done for the family in one trip. What’s not to love?

But there are certain things to consider when shopping wholesale. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before buying in bulk

Can you afford the upfront cost?
Overall, buying in bulk at a big box store can be cheaper than normal shopping at your local supermarket. But it may not feel that way at the register. The upfront cost can be higher than you’re used to, so just make sure that you’ve budgeted that in. Remember, this is a long-term game where the savings can show up further down the line.

Will this product expire?
As a general rule of thumb, you want to avoid perishable items when buying in bulk. Let’s say you go to the wholesaler and notice that you can get a bargain on chicken. Sounds awesome! Should you buy 45 pounds of chicken and slam it in your fridge? Probably not. You’ll have about a week to get through that amount of poultry. Whatever is leftover will have to go into the freezer (more on that later).

But that still means that non-perishable paper items and personal care essentials are fair game. Buying razors in bulk? Go for it. Party cups? Fire away. Canned foods, beans, rice, and spices are also excellent to buy in bulk. But there’s another factor to consider…

Do you have enough space?
Getting a good deal is amazing. But stuffing your house to the brim isn’t. Make sure you have enough storage space before you decide to buy something in bulk. That deal on toothpaste might be a once in a lifetime opportunity, but will you have enough room to store it? You might be able to get away with buying perishable items and jamming them in a freezer, but how much freezer space do you have? Will you need to purchase an additional freezer? Just because you can afford a deal doesn’t mean you can afford to store it.

Buying in bulk can be a great way to save money. Just make sure you prepare and do your research before you start purchasing huge quantities of items!

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Budget Date Ideas

April 29, 2020

Budget Date Ideas

Budgeting might seem like the death knell for your dating life.

No more extravagant dinners? No more fun times at the movies? No more nights out on the town? How else can you keep that spark alive? But sometimes adding constrictions to your dating life can be a fun change of pace and actually spice things up. Here are some great budget-friendly date ideas.

Cook dinner together
An expensive dinner in a nice part of town is always a killer date idea. But it can start to add up if you’re not careful. That’s why cooking a special dinner at home as a couple is a great alternative. You save money on ingredients, you get real portion sizes that will last you for days, and it’s a fun activity that takes teamwork. Not a chef by nature? YouTube will be your best friend. There are tons of great recipe walkthroughs that will help you two knock this one out of the park!

Go on a hike
You should never tell your partner to take a hike. But you should definitely ask your partner to go on a hike! There’s nothing much better than some physical exertion in the great outdoors with someone you care about. Just remember that this one can add up if you’re not careful. Here are some pointers to make your hike a thrifty winner:

-Drive your most fuel efficient car

-Avoid cutesy stops full of expensive trinkets

-Research and see if the trail you’re hiking charges for parking

-Pack as much food as possible

Follow these tips and you might be surprised how inexpensive a trek can be!

Watch a sunset
Sunsets are incredible. There’s no reason that you and your significant other shouldn’t be sitting outside to take in the everyday beauty of the sun slipping behind the horizon. Any sunset is good, but here are a few steps you can take to find the absolute best sunset for your dollar!

-Choose the right day. The best sunsets typically occur a few hours after rain while there’s still a bit of cloud coverage. Too many clouds hide the sun, but just a few will catch the final light of the day. Check your forecast ahead of time!

-Choose the right location. You don’t have to go far to find the perfect sunset viewing spot. Watching the last beams of the sun shine through skyscrapers? Amazing. Hitting up a small, local airport to watch planes at twilight? Gorgeous. Bathing in the light of golden hour on your front porch with your gal (or guy) beside you? One for the books.

-Pack a picnic. Wherever you decide to watch the sunset with your partner, just remember to pack some food. It’s a great alternative to an atmospheric (and expensive) restaurant!

Creativity is key. The more inventive your budget date ideas are, the more memorable they’ll be. You might find yourself looking back on your budget dating years as some of the best and most exciting of your relationship!

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Can You Buy Happiness?

Can You Buy Happiness?

Let’s face it: There’s a relationship between money and happiness.

Anyone who’s looked at their savings account during a market correction or has lived paycheck to paycheck knows that not having enough money can be incredibly stressful. But there’s also a fair chance that you know of someone who’s wealthy (i.e., seems to have plenty of money) but is often miserable. So what exactly is the relationship between money and happiness? Let’s start by looking a little closer at happiness.

Happiness is really complicated
There is no single key to happiness. Close relationships, exercise, and stress management all may play a role in increasing emotional well-being. Little things like journaling, going on a walk, and listening to upbeat music can also help lift your mood. But none of those factors alone makes you happy—most of them actually turn out to be interrelated. It’s hard to maintain strong personal relationships if you take out your work stress on your friends! Assuming that money alone will outweigh a bad relationship, high stress, and an unhealthy lifestyle is a skewed mindset.

Money contributes to happiness
That being said, money can certainly contribute to happiness. For one, It’s a metric we use to figure out how much we’ve accomplished in our lives. It helps to boost confidence in our achievements if we’ve been handsomely rewarded. But more importantly, the absence of money can be a huge cause of dismay. It’s easy to see why; constantly wondering if you can pay your bills, fending off debt collectors, and worrying about retirement can take a serious emotional toll. In fact, having more money essentially only supports greater emotional well-being until you reach an income of about $75,000 (1). People felt better about how much they had accomplished past that point, but their day-to-day emotional lives pretty much stayed the same.

What’s the takeaway?
In short, you can’t technically buy happiness. However, taking control of your financial life definitely has emotional benefits. You may increase your feeling of wellbeing if your income gets boosted to a point, but it’s not a silver bullet that will solve all of your problems. Instead, try to think of your finances as one of the many factors in your life that has to be balanced with things like friendship, adventure, and generosity.

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Habits of Successful People

Habits of Successful People

Successful people come from all types of backgrounds.

But did you know there are certain habits they tend to have in common? What’s better yet, they’re mostly practices that don’t require a huge budget to start doing. Here are three concrete ways that you can imitate the wealthy—starting today!

Wake up early (but also get enough sleep)
Let’s establish right away that most people shouldn’t wake up at four in the morning if you’re going to bed at midnight. Lack of sleep can exacerbate or cause dozens of health and mental issues ranging from obesity to depression (1). That’s the exact opposite of what rising with the sun is supposed to do!

The primary perk of going to bed early and waking up early is that it helps give you control of your day. You’re not simply rolling out of bed forty-five minutes before work and coming home too tired to do anything useful. Instead, you get to devote your most productive hours to something that you care about, whether that’s meditating, working on a passion project, or exercising. Speaking of which…

Exercise
Exercise is something that the successful tend to prioritize. One survey found that 76 percent of the wealthy devoted 30 minutes or more a day to some kind of aerobic exercise (2). It seems obvious, but working out doesn’t just improve physical health; it can help ward off depression and increase mental sharpness (3). It’s no wonder so many successful people make time to exercise.

Read
Almost 9 out of 10 wealthy people surveyed said they devote thirty minutes a day to reading. Why? It turns out that it can improve mental awareness and helps keep your brain fine-tuned (4). But reading can also be a valuable way of expanding your perspective, learning new ideas, and drawing inspiration from unexpected places.

Some of these habits might seem intimidating. Switching your bedtime back three hours so you can wake up before sunrise is a big commitment, as is working out consistently or reading books if you’re just used to scanning social media. Try starting off small. Get out of bed thirty minutes earlier than usual for a week and see if that makes a difference. One day a week at the gym is much better than zero, and reading a worthwhile article (like this one!) might pique your appetite for more. Whatever your baby step is, keep expanding on it until you’re an early rising, iron-pumping, and well-read machine!

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Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Student Loans: avoid them or use them the smart way?

Going to college can be a great way to invest in your future and get the training and education you need to thrive in the modern job market.

But we’ve all heard the horror stories of students saddled with thousands in loans that they struggle to pay back, sometimes for years. Student loan debt is often the most pressing financial issue for college students and recent grads.

So how do you take advantage of the benefits of a college education without burdening your future with years of debt? Here are some tips to help you avoid high student loan payments and pay your student debt off more quickly after graduation.

Work through school
The days of working a minimum wage job to put yourself through school seem to be over. However, working enough to cover at least some of your books and living expenses may make a huge dent in the amount of money you’ll have to borrow to graduate.

Work-study programs on campus are often good options, as they are willing to work around your class schedules. Off-campus part-time jobs can be a good option as well, and may offer better pay.

Live as cheaply as possible
Everyone knows the cliché of the broke college student existing on nothing but ramen noodles. While not many people would recommend trying to live on nutritionless soup every day, you should be able to find ways to cut your cost of living to reduce the amount of money you need to borrow to sustain your lifestyle.

Try living off campus with family or roommates and packing sandwiches instead of paying expensive meal tickets and dorm fees. Bike, walk, or take public transportation to avoid parking. Take advantage of free on-campus healthcare, counseling, free food events, free entertainment, and more so you can spend as little as possible on living campus life.

It’s okay to go out and have fun sometimes, but don’t borrow from your future in order to live beyond your means now.

Try to avoid unsubsidized loans
Subsidized loans are offered by the Department of Education at lower interest than many private bank loans, and they do not begin accruing interest until after you graduate. Take advantage of these loans first and try to avoid the unsubsidized private loans which begin accruing interest immediately and often have a higher rate. (1)

Be mindful of your future payments
It can be tempting to expect that you’ll have a great job earning plenty of money and time to pay back the student loans you’ve accumulated. But each time you take out a loan, you make your future payments higher and your payback time longer. Be sure to look at the numbers of how much your payment will be every time you up your loan amounts. Can you realistically envision yourself being able to pay that amount every month in just a few years? If not, it may be time to rethink the student loans you’re racking up, and possibly even reconsider your degree or career plan.

Go to trade school, earn an apprenticeship, or work in your chosen field before you commit to a college degree in that field
It’s not a popular topic with many high school guidance counselors, but learning a trade and finding a well-paying job without a degree is not only possible but a great option. Try finding an internship or trade school where you could get training for much less money than a university.

Consider community colleges and state schools
It’s a common misconception that private, ivy league, “big name” colleges are far superior to state schools and automatically the better option. However, state schools can often have great programs for far less money. Also, if you choose a local school, you can live close to your family support system while working through college. It’s possible to have a very successful career with a college degree from a state school, and be more financially stable in your future than someone struggling to pay off loans from an expensive private college.

Likewise, an associate’s degree from a community college can save money toward your bachelor’s degree, allowing you to pay far less than you would even to a state school. Just make sure your degree and credits will transfer to the university of your choice.

Find a graduate program that pays YOU
If you choose to pursue a Masters or Doctorate degree, try to find a program with a teaching assistant position, fellowship, or some other option for getting reduced tuition or getting paid to get the work experience you need.

Resist the urge to move up in lifestyle when you graduate
When you scrimp your way through school, it’s tempting when you get your first degree-related job to celebrate by loosening the reins on your frugal ways and start living it up as a young professional.

It’s great to reward yourself, and you need to adapt to your new financial situation (you may need a new wardrobe or a better car), but resist going too crazy with all the “extra” money a new job in your field can make you feel like you have. You should still live on a budget and manage your money carefully to pay off your student loans as soon as possible so you’re better prepared to move into the next phase of life unencumbered by a mountain of debt. Make paying back debt a priority, and pay extra when you’re able.

Education can be expensive and in some cases impossible to get without loans. But with frugality and an eye toward the future, you’ll be better prepared to get the education you need to succeed in life without being encumbered by debt for years. The high cost of education combined with the high cost of living can make a college education more of a financial burden for today’s students than ever before. By thinking outside the box and carefully prioritizing your educational goals—balanced with your finances—you can pursue your dream degree and have a better chance at a stable financial future.

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Saving For Retirement: Where Do I Start?

January 29, 2020

Saving For Retirement: Where Do I Start?

We all know we should be saving for the future.

But depending on your stage in life, it might feel like retirement is either too far away or it’s too late in the game to make much of a difference. Regardless of your income—or which season of life you’re in—you can (and should) start saving for retirement. Here’s how to get started:

Make savings automatic
Have your employer deposit a set dollar amount or percentage from each paycheck to a savings account or your 401(k). It’s an effortless way to start loading your savings account while also reducing temptations to overspend.

Pay yourself first
Your attitude towards saving makes a big difference. It shouldn’t be something that is optional after all of your other spending. If you view saving the way you would a bill and pay it to yourself first, you will be far more likely to save.

Investigate IRA options
An IRA is a retirement account that invests your money in stocks and bonds. Many people opt for either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA, though there are other types to choose from. The big difference between the traditional and the Roth is how and when their tax exemptions kick in. Contributions to the traditional are tax deductible until they are withdrawn. A Roth, on the other hand, gets taxed on contributions but withdrawals are tax deductible and get to grow tax free. The maximum amount you can contribute to an IRA is $6,000 – $7,000 per year (depending on your age), so you’ll need to consult your budget to see how much you can put away.

Establish your permanent lifestyle
It’s easy to be tempted to try to one-up our friends’ and neighbors’ lifestyles. But continually increasing your cost of living can set your retirement up for failure. Establish a basic amount of what it takes for you to live a comfortable lifestyle, and stick to that mode of living. Doing so can help you save money right now and also give you an idea of how much you’ll need to save for retirement.

Meet with a financial professional
Investing can be intimidating, especially when it’s your future on the line. Be sure to meet with a licensed professional before you make any big saving decisions. Getting an extra pair of qualified eyes on your goals and strategies is always a good move and can help bring you peace of mind about your retirement strategy!

Whether you’re just entering the workforce or retirement is right around the corner, there are many ways to contribute to your future. By adjusting your lifestyle, investing carefully, and making it a priority to prepare for the future, you can nurture your peace of mind and look forward to seeing how your financial strategy unfolds in your golden years.

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Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

September 18, 2019

What Does “Pay Yourself First” Mean?

Do you dread grabbing the mail every day?

Bills, bills, mortgage payment, another bill, maybe some coupons for things you never buy, and of course, more bills. There seems to be an endless stream of envelopes from companies all demanding payment for their products and services. It feels like you have a choice of what you want to do with your money ONLY after all the bills have been paid – if there’s anything left over, that is.

More times than not it might seem like there’s more ‘month’ than ‘dollar.’ Not to rub salt in the wound, but may I ask how much you’re saving each month? $100? $50? Nothing? You may have made a plan and come up with a rock-solid budget in the past, but let’s get real. One month’s expenditures can be very different than another’s. Birthdays, holidays, last-minute things the kids need for school, a spontaneous weekend getaway, replacing that 12-year-old dishwasher that doesn’t sound exactly right, etc., can make saving a fixed amount each month a challenge. Some months you may actually be able to save something, and some months you can’t. The result is that setting funds aside each month becomes an uncertainty.

Although this situation might appear at first benign (i.e., it’s just the way things are), the impact of this uncertainty can have far-reaching negative consequences.

Here’s why: If you don’t know how much you can save each month, then you don’t know how much you can save each year. If you don’t know how much you can save each year, then you don’t know how much you’ll have put away 2, 5, 10, or 20 years from now. Will you have enough saved for retirement?

If you have a goal in mind like buying a home in 10 years or retiring at 65, then you also need a realistic plan that will help you get there. Truth is, most of us don’t have a wealthy relative who might unexpectedly leave us an inheritance we never knew existed!

The good news is that the average American could potentially save over $500 per month! That’s great, and you might want to do that… but how do you do that?

The secret is to “pay yourself first.” The first “bill” you pay each month is to yourself. Shifting your focus each month to a “pay yourself first” mentality is subtle, but it can potentially be life changing. Let’s say for example you make $3,000 per month after taxes. You would put aside $300 (10%) right off the bat, leaving you $2,700 for the rest of your bills. This tactic makes saving $300 per month a certainty. The answer to how much you would be saving each month would always be: “At least $300.” If you stash this in an interest-bearing account, imagine how high this can grow over time if you continue to contribute that $300.

That’s exciting! But at this point you might be thinking, “I can’t afford to save 10% of my income every month because the leftovers aren’t enough for me to live my lifestyle”. If that’s the case, rather than reducing the amount you save, it might be worthwhile to consider if it’s the lifestyle you can’t afford.

Ultimately, paying yourself first means you’re making your future financial goals a priority, and that’s a bill worth paying.

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Are You Going for ‘Normal’ Spending?

August 19, 2019

Are You Going for ‘Normal’ Spending?

When planning your budget, what’s your definition of ‘normal’ spending?

For example, how much would you spend on a meal at a restaurant before it moves into lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous territory? $100? $50? $20? To some, enjoying a daily made-to-order burrito might be par for the course, but to others, spending $10 every day on a tortilla, a scoop of chicken, and a dollop of guacamole might seem extravagant. Chances are, there may be some areas where you’re more in line with the average person and some areas where you’re atypical – but don’t let that worry you. Read on…

In case you were wondering, the top 3 things that Americans spend their money on in a year are housing ($18,186), transportation ($9,049), and food ($7,203). Those top 3 expenses might very well be about the same as your top 3, but everything else after that is a mixed bag. Your lifestyle and the unique things that make you, well – you – greatly influence where you spend your money and how you should budget.

For example, let’s say the average expenditure on a pet is $600 annually, but that may lump in hamsters, guinea pigs, all the way to Siberian Huskies. As you can imagine, each could come with a very different yearly cost associated with keeping that type of pet healthy. So although the average might be $600, your actual cost could be well above $3,000 for the husky! That definitely wouldn’t be seen as ‘normal’ by any means. However, that’s okay!

What are we getting at here? It’s perfectly fine to be ‘abnormal’ in some areas of your spending. You don’t need to make your budget look exactly like other people’s budgets. What matters to them might not be the same as what matters to you.

So go ahead and buy that organic, gluten-free, grass-fed kibble for Fido – he deserves it (if he didn’t pee on the carpet while you were away, that is)! If Fido’s happiness makes you happy, then all the power to you. Just make sure that at the end of the day, Fido’s food bill won’t bust your budget.

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Helping Kids Get Physically Fit

July 17, 2019

Helping Kids Get Physically Fit

We know that for adults, the benefits of being physically active are myriad.

Reducing the risks of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and obesity are worthy goals we should strive for. But how often do we think of these health concerns when it comes to our kids? They’re just kids, right?

When was the last time your kids exercised for an hour every day during the week? According to the US Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, this is the recommended amount of physical activity for children and youth.

However, statistics show that a large majority (more than two-thirds) of children and adolescents don’t meet this standard. Although it’s typical that physical activity tends to decrease with age, developing an active lifestyle while young will likely influence activity levels into adulthood. For instance, if you used to run half-marathons as a teen, the idea of running a half-marathon now – as an adult – wouldn’t be as jarring as if you had never done that at all.

Studies show that there are several factors that can help increase physical activity in children. The first factor is the parents’ activity level. Simply put, active parent = active child. This is relevant for adults who don’t have their own kids, but have nephews, nieces, or kids they mentor. An adult’s level of activity can help foster the activity levels of the children they influence.

Another factor is getting children involved in a rec league or team sport. By adding these into a child’s weekly schedule, each extra hour per week of practice, games, meets, etc., adds nearly 10 minutes to the average daily physical activity for the child. They’ll never have time for exercise if it’s never scheduled to begin with. (This tactic works for adults, too, by the way.)

This much is true: being physically active while younger will affect the health of a child as they grow into an adult. So whether you have children of your own or children you are connected to, your level of activity can help contribute to building a habit of physical activity which will carry on into adulthood. Here’s to building our health, and our children’s, for the future!

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Retirement Mathematics 101: How Much Will You Need?

Retirement Mathematics 101: How Much Will You Need?

Have you ever wondered how someone could actually retire?

The main difference between a strictly unemployed person and a retiree: A retiree has replaced their income somehow. This can be done in a variety of ways including (but not limited to):

  • Saving up a lump sum of money and withdrawing from it regularly
  • Receiving a pension from the company you worked for or from the government (Social Security)
  • Or an annuity you purchased that pays out an amount regularly

For the example below, let’s assume you don’t have a pension from your company nor benefits from the government. In this scenario, your retirement would be 100% dependent on your savings.

The amount you require to successfully retire is dependent on two main factors:

  1. The annual income you desire during retirement
  2. The length of retirement

To keep things simple, say you want to retire at 65 years old with the same retirement income per year as your pre-retirement income per year – $50,000. According to the World Bank, as of 2015, the current average life expectancy in the US is 78. Let’s split the difference and call it 80 for our example which means we should plan for income for a minimum of 15 years. (For our purposes here we’re going to disregard the impact of inflation and taxes to keep our math simple.) With that in mind, this would be the minimum amount we would need saved up by age 60:

  • $50,000 x 15 years = $750,000

There it is: to retire with a $50,000 annual income for 15 years, you’d need to save $750,000. The next challenge is to figure out how to get to that number (if you’re not already there) the most efficient way you can. The more time you have, the easier it can be to get to that number since you have more time for contributions and account growth.

If this number seems daunting to you, you’re not alone. The mean savings amount for American families with members between 56-61 is $163,577 – nearly half a million dollars off our theoretical retirement number. Using these actual savings numbers, even if you decided to live a thriftier lifestyle of $20,000 or $30,000 per year, that would mean you could retire for 8-9 years max!

All of this info may be hard to hear the first time, but it’s the first real step to preparing for your retirement. Knowing your number gives you an idea about where you want to go. After that, it’s figuring out a path to that destination. If retirement is one of the goals you’d like to pursue, let’s get together and figure out a course to get you there – no math degree required!

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Is a home really an investment?

April 15, 2019

Is a home really an investment?

The housing market has experienced major peaks and valleys over the past 15 years.

If you’re in the market for a new home, you might be wondering if buying a house is a good investment, or if it even should be considered an investment at all…

“Owning a home is the best investment you can make.”
We’ve all heard this common financial refrain: “Owning a home is the best investment you can make.” The problem with that piece of conventional wisdom is that technically a home isn’t an investment at all. An investment is something that (you hope) will earn you money. A house costs money. We may expect to save money over the long term by buying a home rather than renting, but we shouldn’t (typically) expect to earn money from buying a home.

So, a home normally shouldn’t be considered an investment, but it may offer some financial benefits. In other words, buying a home may be a good financial decision, but not a good investment. A home may cost much more than it gives back – especially at the beginning of ownership.

The costs of homeownership
One reason that buying a home may not be a good investment is that the cost of homeownership may be much higher than renting – especially at first. Many first time homebuyers are unprepared for the added expense of owning a home, plus the amount of time maintaining a home may often require. First-time homebuyers must be prepared to potentially deal with:

  • Higher utility costs
  • Lawn care
  • Regular maintenance such as painting or cleaning gutters
  • Emergency home repairs
  • Higher insurance costs
  • Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) if you don’t provide a full 20 percent down payment

A long term commitment
Another problem with considering a house as an investment is that it may take many years to build equity. Mortgages are typically interest heavy in the beginning. You can expect to be well into the life of your mortgage before you may see any real equity in your home.

Having the choice to move without worrying about selling your home is a benefit of renting that homeowners don’t enjoy. The freedom to move for a career goal, romantic interest, or even just a lifestyle choice is mostly available to a renter but may be out of reach for a homeowner. So, be sure to consider your long term goals and aspirations before you start planning to buy a house.

When is buying a home the right move?
Buying a home in many cases can be an excellent financial decision. If you are committed to living in a specific area but the rent is very high, homeownership may have some benefits. Some of those may be:

  • Not having a landlord make decisions about your property
  • Tax savings
  • Building equity
  • A stable place to raise a family

Buying a home: Not always a good investment, but may be a good financial decision
Although buying a home may not pay you in high returns, it can be an excellent financial decision. If owning a home is one of your dreams, go for it. Just be aware of the costs as well as the benefits. If you’ve always wanted to own your own home, then the rewards can be myriad – dollars can’t measure joy and the priceless memories you’ll create with your family.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Any examples used in this article are hypothetical. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a licensed financial professional, accountant, realtor, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

Does healthy living have to cost more?

March 11, 2019

Does healthy living have to cost more?

Many of us may be chair-bound during the workday and may come home lethargic and sluggish – seeming results of a sedentary lifestyle and some potentially unhealthy habits of office life.

You might be itching to break this cycle and establish some healthier habits for yourself, but you don’t want to break your budget either.

If you’re interested in improving your healthy habits – but aren’t interested in spending a lot of money to do it – read on!

Getting more exercise
Many people equate maintaining a regular exercise regimen with an expensive gym membership, but you don’t have to have one to exercise. One can perform body-weight exercises just about anywhere, so getting in some sit ups, push ups, squats, and a brisk jog can be free of charge. Other body-weight exercises, like pull-ups, may require finding a place to do them, but all one needs is a horizontal bar. This can range from a sturdy tree limb to the monkey bars at the playground.

Not sure where to begin? There are a myriad of free videos and programs online for all ages, goals, and body types. (As always, get your doctor’s approval before starting any exercise program.) If an exercise program is all new to you, you might want to start with only 10-15 minutes, then work up from there.

It does require forming a habit to establish a regular exercise routine. For that reason, it’s a good idea to build exercise into a part of your day. That way, a sense of something missing may arise when the exercise is not completed, which can be a motivation to get the workout in.

Eating healthy
This one may be a little harder to solve than the exercise issue, because saving money on your food bill may require a bigger time commitment than you’re used to, with additional shopping and food preparation. The good thing about fruits and vegetables is that many of them can be eaten raw with minimal prep time.

Internet shopping provides a myriad of resources for finding good deals for nutritious foodstuffs. If you’re feeling more adventurous and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, there may also be a local communal garden[i] in your area. Some apartment complexes offer their roofs to be used as gardens, and for those with no other options, growing right in your high-rise apartment is feasible[ii]. One of the best parts about gardening? It may give you some exercise in the process.

Unfortunately, most people can’t raise their own livestock, so for meat (and alternative protein sources) online delivery is an option, as well as shopping sales and using coupons at your local grocery store.

If all of this seems like too great of a commitment (admittedly it may take some extra work), there are other ways to start the journey without running headlong into an agricultural venture. Simply avoiding processed and fast foods is a start, as these options can be more expensive and may offer less in the way of solid nutrition. And if you find the “healthy” option too bland, make a pledge to yourself to stick with it until your taste buds become accustomed to the new foods, or experiment with spices and herbs to increase the flavor intensity.

Eating healthy and beginning an exercise program certainly demand a degree of attention and commitment, but they do not always require a lot of money. Regardless of what advertisers want you to believe, it is possible to stay in shape without a gym membership or expensive home gym equipment, and you can eat healthy without spending a week’s paycheck in the grocery store’s organic aisle.

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Your health and your finances

February 20, 2019

Your health and your finances

Staying healthy has obvious physical benefits, like the chance for a longer and higher quality of life.

There is also the increased opportunity to partake in physical activities like team sports, or hiking and skydiving.

But there are also potential financial benefits to staying healthy. These may manifest in lower insurance premiums, lower medical care costs, and other less obvious ways.

The Immediate Benefits
Some benefits may be immediately observable, like a potential drop in insurance premiums for those who quit smoking or who allow an insurance company to track their daily exercise goals and accomplishments.[i] Of course, a healthier body may translate to fewer doctor visits and medication expenses, which may mean lower costs for anyone with high deductibles and copays.

For family members, a longer, healthier, higher quality life may also mean fewer expenses in your twilight years, when senior citizens may continue to live in their own homes without assistance. Of course, genetics play a role in the development and progress of health, but many leading causes of death may be entirely or partially preventable.[ii] Actively pursuing a healthy lifestyle may lead to lower risk of disease and debilitation.

Health and life insurance companies want to attract these kinds of clients (who are long-lived, make fewer claims, and pay premiums for a greater amount of time), so these companies may offer benefits in return. Family members and friends may potentially have less to pay for end-of-life care and even benefit from being able to spend more time with loved ones. This may produce positive financial results, like fewer sick days from stress-related illness and better mental health.

The Less Obvious Benefits
Lower insurance premiums, lower medical costs, and more time to live in a meaningful way are obvious potential benefits of good health. But many latent financial benefits are also derived from maintaining good health. One example is being able to perform certain daily activities that may save you money.

Those with health problems often simply cannot perform tasks that may be taken for granted by healthy individuals, like packing and moving house, walking to the grocery store 15 minutes away, or living in a more affordable walk up building on a non-ground floor. Those who are unhealthy may need to hire people to help them move, to shop for them, or be required to pay a premium for access to a building with an elevator (or potentially even more costly, have a chair lift installed in their home).

A possible benefit of healthier eating is an appreciation for more subtle tastes that are not overpowered by sugar and salt. Those who regularly eat low salt or low sugar foods may create a positive feedback cycle wherein they remain healthy because they start to truly enjoy healthier food. This can lead to a wider range of options of enjoyable food and may help lower food costs.[iii]

Saving on transportation costs can be a benefit of health as well if you’re able to bike or walk to work. Living too far from your place of employment may make this impossible, but for those who live nearby, commuting by bicycle or walking on days with suitable weather may cut down costs on transportation while simultaneously providing the benefit of exercise.

One of the less evident but easily identifiable benefits of maintaining good health may be stronger cognitive abilities and better mood balancing. Eating healthy[iv] may contribute to brain health, while regular exercise[v] may help stimulate improved memory function and thinking skills. Better health may lead to more opportunities. Improved mood may also help navigate society more adeptly, possibly leading to even further opportunity, both economically and in personal fulfillment.

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Preparing to buy your first home

January 23, 2019

Preparing to buy your first home

Home buying can be both very exciting and very stressful.

Picking out your dream home is thrilling, but credit scores, applications, and mortgage underwriting requirements? Well, not so much. Don’t let yourself be deterred. Here are a few moves to make before you amp up your home buying search that will help increase the fun and decrease the stress.

Know what you can afford
One of the first steps to home buying is knowing how much you can afford. Some experts advise that a monthly mortgage payment should be no more than 30% of your monthly take-home pay. Some say no more than 25%. If you stretch past that you could become “mortgage poor”. Consider this carefully. You might not want to be in your dream house and struggling to pay the utility bills, grocery bills, etc., or find yourself in a financial jam if an emergency comes up.

Get your finances ready for home buying
If you’re scouring listings, hunting for your dream home, but you’re not sure what your credit score is – stop. There are few things more disappointing than finally finding your dream home and then not having the financial chops to purchase it. You’ll need to get your finances in order and then start shopping. Focus on these areas:

Credit score: Your credit score is something you should know regardless of whether you’re home shopping. Usually, to get the best mortgage rates, you’ll want a score in the good to excellent range. If you’re not quite there, don’t despair. If you make payments toward your other obligations on time and pay off any debt you’re carrying, your credit score should respond accordingly.

Down payment: A conventional mortgage usually requires a 20 percent down payment. That may seem like a lot of money to come up with, but in turn, you may get the best interest rates, which can save you a significant amount over the life of the mortgage. Also, anything less than 20 percent down and you may have to purchase Private Mortgage Insurance – it’s a type of insurance that protects the lender if you default. Try to avoid it if you can.

Get pre-qualified before you shop for a home
Once you have your credit score and down payment in order, it’s time to get pre-qualified for a mortgage. A prequalification presents you as a serious buyer when you make offers on houses. Mortgage pre-approval doesn’t cost you anything, and it doesn’t make you obligated to any one house or mortgage. It’s just a piece of paper that says a bank trusts you to pay back the loan.

If you go shopping without a pre-approval, expect to get overlooked if there are other bidders. A seller will likely go with the buyer who has been pre-approved for a mortgage.

Prepare your paperwork
Getting approved for a mortgage is going to require you to do a little legwork. The bank will want to see documentation to substantiate your income and lifestyle expenses. Be prepared to cough up income tax documents such as W-2’s, paystubs, and bank statements. The sooner you get the paperwork together, the easier it will be to complete the mortgage application.

Shop for the best mortgage
Mortgage rates differ slightly depending on the lender, so shop for the lowest possible rate you can get. You may wish to use a mortgage broker to help. Also, get familiar with mortgage terms. The most common household mortgages are a 30-year term with a fixed rate, but there are 15-year terms, and mortgages with variable interest rates too.

Do your pre-home-buying homework
With a little legwork early on, home buying can be fun and exciting. Get your finances in order and educate yourself about mortgage options and you’ll be decorating your dream home in no time.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies that may be available to you. Before taking out any loan or enacting a funding strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

How much will this cost me?

How much will this cost me?

If you’re dipping your toe in the pool of life insurance for the first time, you’re bound to have a lot of questions.

At the top of your list is probably how much setting up a policy is going to cost you.

There are several things that can determine how much you’ll pay for life insurance, including the type of policy you select. But before we dive in and look at cost, let’s check out the types of life insurance available.

Major types of life insurance
Life insurance is customizable and can suit many different needs, but for the most part, life insurance comes in three main varieties.

Term life insurance: A term life policy is active for a preselected length of time. It could be 15, 20, or 30 years. If something happens to you during that term, your beneficiary will receive the death benefit of the policy.

Permanent life insurance: Permanent life insurance is a policy that stays active as long as you’re alive. When you pass away, the policy pays out to your named beneficiary. The value of the policy increases over time, and you can borrow against this “cash value” in some circumstances.

Universal life insurance: Universal life insurance works like a permanent life policy in that it pays out to your beneficiary, but it also accrues interest over the policy term (which may be affected by market performance).

How your cost is calculated
The insurance company estimates the cost of a life insurance policy based on your risk factors. Risk factor data is gathered and evaluated based on the information in your application. Then the insurance company uses historical data, trends, and actuarial processes to come up with a premium for you.

The cost of some life insurance policies can change over time, while others remain the same.

What risk factors does the company use?
When the insurance company is calculating your rate, they look at several factors, including:

Your demographics: Your demographics include your age, weight, gender, and health. The company will also want to know if you smoke, and other health-related issues you may have.

The amount of the death benefit: The death benefit is the amount the policy will pay to your beneficiaries when you pass away. The larger the death benefit you select, the more expensive the policy.

Your lifestyle: Lifestyle habits and hobbies can affect the cost of your policy. The insurance company will want to know if you ride a motorcycle regularly, or how often you drink alcohol, for example.

Your risk and life insurance cost
The risk of when your death will occur ultimately determines your life insurance costs. That’s why the younger you are the less the policy should cost. If you wait to purchase your life insurance policy when you’re older, the policy will most likely cost more.

But there are things you can do that may help lessen the cost of the policy. Anything that will increase your health status may help with your life insurance costs. Quitting smoking and starting a regular exercise program can promote your health and in turn this may also have a positive effect on your health insurance premium.

A life insurance agent can help
If you’re looking for a life insurance policy and wondering about the cost, a qualified life insurance agent can be a great help. A life insurance agent has access to many different insurance companies and can work to get you matched with the right policy at the right price for you.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to promote any certain products, plans, or strategies for saving and/or investing that may be available to you. Market performance is based on many factors and cannot be predicted. Before investing or enacting a savings or retirement strategy, seek the advice of a financial professional, accountant, and/or tax expert to discuss your options.

Before you have your life insurance medical exam...

November 19, 2018

Before you have your life insurance medical exam...

When you apply to purchase a life insurance policy, you may be asked to submit to a life insurance medical exam.

The insurance company requests this exam to determine your risk for certain medical conditions. They may also test for drugs in your system, including nicotine.

Depending on the insurance company, the medical exam may include blood work, a urinalysis, physical examination, and maybe even an EKG.

Also, in case you were wondering, many insurers will pay for the exam when you’re seeking a whole or term life insurance policy.

What you can expect during a life insurance medical exam
After you submit your application for life insurance, a third party company will contact you to schedule your exam. These companies are hired by the life insurance carrier to conduct exams on their behalf. They may come to your home or have you visit a medical facility.

You may be asked to refrain from having anything to eat or drink for at least 12 hours prior to your exam.

The exam typically takes less than 30 minutes and may consist of:

  • Taking your height and weight
  • Questions about your health as stated on your application
  • A blood draw
  • Urine sample

When your test is complete, and your results are ready, the company furnishes your results to the insurance carrier. You may also request a copy.

What does a life insurance medical exam test for?
A life insurance medical exam investigates three major areas:

  • Confirming the information you provided on your application
  • The condition of your health
  • Illicit drug use

The exam may test for diseases such as HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. It also may identify indicators of heart disease such as a high cholesterol level. The test results may also point out kidney disease or diabetes.

How to prepare for your life insurance medical exam
Be honest: It’s important to complete your application completely and honestly. If the insurance carrier finds a misrepresentation on your application, they can deny coverage. Keep in mind, the application may ask about your lifestyle and if you regularly participate in dangerous activities, such as skydiving. You may also be asked about driving history and speeding tickets.
Eat a healthy diet: Be mindful of your diet in the days and weeks leading up to your exam. Lower your sodium intake as well as your consumption of fatty or sugary foods. Salt, sugar, and fat may elevate your blood pressure and cholesterol, so it may be best to avoid them to help get the best results. Shed a few pounds: If you’re above a healthy weight for your height, try to shed some pounds before the exam. If you’re overweight, your insurance carrier may charge a higher premium on your policy. It’s best to be as close to your healthy weight as possible.
Abstain from alcohol: Refrain from drinking alcohol for at least 24 hours before your exam. This will help ensure you don’t have a high blood alcohol level.
Drink plenty of water: Hydrating properly helps to flush toxins out of your system, and it may also make the exam more comfortable. You’ll have an easier time producing a urine sample and your veins will be easier to reach for a blood draw.

Dress lightly and practice good posture: Clothing can increase your weight by a few pounds, so dress lightly. Especially if you are approaching an unhealthy weight, your clothing may push you into a higher weight class. Also, stand tall so you are measured at full height.

Keep calm and…
Undergoing a life insurance medical exam can make even the healthiest person a little nervous. Stay calm and complete the application as honestly as you can.

Hint: If you can’t pass a life insurance medical exam, consider a guaranteed issue life insurance policy.

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This article is for informational purposes only. You should discuss your exam criteria with a qualified financial professional.

You're not too young for life insurance

November 12, 2018

You're not too young for life insurance

If you’re young, you may not be thinking you need life insurance yet, but life insurance isn’t something only for your parents or grandparents.

Even if you have a free life insurance policy through your employer, you may not have as much coverage as you need.

There are many great reasons to buy life insurance – and a lot of those great reasons are even better reasons for young people.

So, read on for a little illumination about why you are not too young for life insurance. If you have dependents, life insurance is a must.

Take a moment and think about who depends on you and your income for their well-being. You may be surprised. Most of us think immediately of children, but dependents can include your parents, siblings, a relative with a disability, or even a significant other. A solid life insurance policy can protect the people that count on you.

What would they do without your financial help? A life insurance policy can ensure they are protected if something were to happen to you.

The older you get, the more life insurance costs.
From a simple, cost/benefit perspective, the best time to buy life insurance is when you are young. That’s when it’s the most affordable. As you age (i.e., become more likely to suffer from accident or illness), the cost of the policy will most likely go up. So buying a life insurance policy while you’re young may save you money over the long term.

Your employer-provided life insurance may be problematic.
Getting life insurance through your employer is a great benefit (you should take advantage of it if it’s free).

But it may present some problems. One of the drawbacks is that this type of life insurance policy doesn’t go with you when you leave the company. That may be a challenge for young people who are moving from company to company as they climb the career ladder.

Second, employer-sponsored life insurance may simply not be enough. Even dual-income couples with no dependents should consider purchasing individual policies. Keep in mind that if one of you passed away, would the other afford to maintain your current lifestyle on a single income? Those “what if?” scenarios may be uncomfortable, but they are the best way to determine how much life insurance you need.

You’re never too young to think about your legacy.
It’s not too soon to think about this. Did you know a life insurance policy can provide a lump sum to an organization you select, not just to a family member or other beneficiary? A life insurance policy can allow you to leave a meaningful legacy for the people or causes you care about. When it comes to buying life insurance, generally the younger you are when you start your policy, the better off you’re going to be.

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Are you stressed about saving for retirement?

October 22, 2018

Are you stressed about saving for retirement?

Most of us might feel at least a little anxiety when the subject of preparing for retirement comes up.

Many Americans feel like they haven’t saved enough. In fact, 79% of American workers plan on working longer to make up for what they haven’t saved.[i]

But anticipating staying in the workforce may not be the best strategy when it comes to funding your golden years. Why? Because there are many unforeseen events that can affect your ability (or desire) to work – health problems, caretaking, loss of opportunity in your field… or just wanting to spend time with your grandkids or travel with your partner.

With so much uncertainty, it’s no wonder many Americans feel stressed, burdened, and unprepared when it comes to saving for retirement.

But don’t let retirement worries steal your joy. When it comes to saving for retirement there are a lot of choices you can make to help you prepare. Read on for some principles and tips that may help lessen your stress about the future.

Small changes add up
Retirement saving may seem like an insurmountable task when faced with the high cost of daily life. It’s easy to think we can’t afford to save for retirement and get stuck in a pattern of defeat. But small changes over time can add up to big results.

Shake off despair by implementing small strategies. Consistent saving adds up over time, and it can help build your finance muscle. Read on for some more easy tips.

Direct deposit
Set up a portion of your direct deposit to go straight into a savings account. This is a “set it and forget it” savings strategy, and you’ll be amazed how quickly it can build.

Save found money
Found money is extra cash that comes your way outside of your normal income. It can be from bonuses, gifts, or even a side gig. You weren’t planning on receiving that money anyway, so throw it right into your savings.

Practice frugality
Instead of becoming stressed out and hyper-focused on saving every possible penny, practice frugality. Frugal living can put your energy into something positive – creating a new habit and lifestyle. Also, frugal habits may help prepare you for living on a fixed income during retirement. Try these tips for starters:

Consider downsizing your home
Cut back or eliminate “extras” such as dining out, movies, and concerts When making a purchase, use any available coupons or discount codes Seek sources of free entertainment such as community festivals or neighborhood gatherings

Hire a financial professional
If no matter what you do you still can’t help feeling unprepared and stressed about your retirement, consider hiring a financial professional.

A financial professional may be able to help you change your perspective on preparing for retirement and help empower you with strategies custom made for you.

Remember, financial professionals work with people of all income levels, so don’t hesitate if you need help to get a handle on your retirement. They may assist with:

  • Creating a budget
  • Setting up savings accounts
  • Clarifying your retirement goals
  • Strategies for eliminating debt

Change your perspective on preparing for retirement
If you’re anxious about having enough money for your retirement, try changing your perspective. Focus on small goals and lifestyle habits. Frugality, consistent savings, and solid financial strategies may help take the stress out of retirement planning.

Consistency over time is the name of the game with retirement savings. So implement a few strategies that you can live with now.

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Retiring Boomers: Can You Afford the Long Life You’ve Been Hoping For?

September 3, 2018

Retiring Boomers: Can You Afford the Long Life You’ve Been Hoping For?

As Baby Boomers retire or prepare to retire, there’s good news and bad news.

The good news is Baby Boomers are living much longer – into their 80s. The bad news is that many aren’t financially prepared to handle the gift of a long life.

Can You Afford the Long Life You’ve Been Hoping For?
In 1900 the average lifespan was 47 years – nowadays, that’s just about midlife. The average life expectancy in 2018 is about 80. This means if you’re planning on retiring at 65, you may have another two decades to go. And that means you must have another two decades of income.

A long life is a blessing, but a long life without enough money? That might be a curse.

Baby Boomer Retirement by the Numbers
According to a study by the Insured Retirement Institute – a trade association for the retirement income industry – surprisingly, many Boomers are not financially prepared for retirement.

  • 24 percent of Boomers have no retirement savings
  • 55 percent have some retirement savings
  • 42 percent of those with some retirement savings have less than $100,000

There are a few reasons Baby Boomers are coming up short on retirement savings. Many were heavily invested during the 2008 crash and never fully recovered. Boomers were also the first generation to be tasked with saving for retirement largely on their own. Company pensions were already declining, and the rise of the 401(k) plan was underway.

Also, wages have stagnated, and interest rates have declined. Add to this a relaxed approach to retirement savings and it’s no wonder Baby Boomers are struggling with their retirement funds.

Creative Ways Boomers are Boosting Retirement Savings
Baby Boomers are nothing if not self-reliant, and many are handling their retirement dilemma in some creative ways…

  • Staying in the workforce: Some Boomers keep working for the extra income, while others enjoy their work and aren’t ready to give it up entirely.
  • Side gigs: Boomers are taking on the gig economy – earning extra cash by working part-time or through contract.
  • Alternative lifestyles: Some Boomers have decided to stretch their retirement dollars by living in another country where the dollar goes further. Others are forgoing the expense of homeownership for full-time RV travel or living on a sailboat.

Good Planning Gives You Good Options
Whatever you decide to do during your retirement years, the better prepared you are the more choices you’ll have. Whether you’re a young Boomer still in the workforce, or if you’re already living off your retirement savings, financial planning is key.

Contact a professional today to make sure you’re getting the most out of your retirement.

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