The ABCs of Affording Preschool [Updated]

The preschool application process for kids three to five is quite an eye opener for many parents. If you’re like me, you had no idea that getting your child into her first preschool program could be just about as involved as applying to college. Enjoy this updated article about how to afford tuition more easily.

When to Start Looking

In many areas, the demand for preschool outpaces supply, so it pays to start your research early. I’ve heard stories of some parents putting their children on the preschool waiting list before they were born! Hopefully things won’t be so extreme in your town. Still, it’s smart to start researching preschools a year ahead and plan on touring schools and submitting applications at the beginning of the year in which you’d like your child to start. Most schools offer open houses and enrollment periods as early as January.

How Much?

Accompanying the question of how to get your child into a good program (for most of us anyway), is the equally important consideration of how you’ll afford it.

A recent survey of Parents magazine readers who use child care reveals that 84 percent of surveyed parents feel that finding affordable, quality care is either a challenge, very hard, or impossible. And yet despite the challenge of finding affordable care “only about 23 percent of moms and 3 percent of dads stay home full-time with their kids.”

It’s no wonder parents have a hard time. Preschool tuition costs generally run anywhere from about $250 to $1000 per month. That’s $3000 to $12,000 a year. Yikes! That price varies wildly according to your region, the type of preschool and the number of hours per week your child will attend.

Some types of childcare tend to be more affordable than others. Church-based preschools are some of the most affordable schools around. Whereas a local Montessori school in my area charged around $1000 a month, the church-based school we loved charged less than $300. Co-ops tend to be more affordable, too, but require a time commitment from parents. Even if your school’s not a co-op, see if you can work off a portion of your tuition by spending a few hours per week at the school.

The cost of full time care for a pre-K kiddo in my state (Georgia) is around $500 a month. You can find out average childcare expenses in your state here (.pdf) Note: The cost may be more manageable if you can pay in installments. Look for a school that lets you pay monthly rather than asking for a year’s tuition up front or in two payments.

Important Questions for Potential Schools

Schools are pretty upfront about how much they charge. Still, there are a few crucial questions you should ask potential schools before you make any committments. They’ll help you avoid sticker shock later.

  • Ask about scholarships and tuition assistance.
  • Ask if you can get a discount when you enroll more than one child at a time.
  • Ask about activity and materials fees and any other fees beyond tuition that you’ll be asked to pay.
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Fun Ways to Patch Your Kids’ Pants

When my son was around 3 or 4 he started spending lots of time outside on his knees–playing in the sandbox, dirt, etc.

Needless (kneedless?) to say, the knees of his pants didn’t even have  a chance. They were getting holes waaaay before he outgrew them.

Oh the money we could have saved if I had known about these cute and creative monster knee patch ideas. When I saw them on Pinterest, I just had to share (click the images to go to see them on Pinterest and find links to tutorials).

And these are cute, too!

How about you? Do you patch the knees of your kids’ clothes? What’s your most creative idea?

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How to Haggle Your Way into Holiday Savings [Shopping Secrets]

Most of us have a little experience with haggling, whether it’s buying a car or a house, or scoring some deals at a great garage sale. Did you know you can successfully haggle your way into savings at the mall and at retail stores?

I’ve read lots of articles about how haggling for retail goods really works, but I guess I’m a shrinking violet because I’ve never tried it. It seems like I’m not alone. Yesterday on BC’s Facebook page I asked readers if they had tried haggling at a retail store. 58% of the folks who responded said they hadn’t tried it. But you know what? Of those who had, ALL had been successful.

You’ll see a similar statistic in articles about haggling. The majority of shoppers who have the gumption to ask to ask for a better price, get one. My interest piqued, I pored over recent articles about haggling to find out how it’s done.

Here’s how haggle your way into retail savings.

Understand This Before You Shop:

First, understand that prices aren’t set in stone even though it may seem that way. It’s also important to realize that you’re not going to upset the salesperson or manager if you ask for a discount. As MainStreet.com contributor Matt Brownwell states in his Ultimate Guide to Haggling, “Retailers mark up a product considerably over its wholesale price, which means that even when you factor in the costs of operating a store, there’s still plenty of room for a retailer to discount an item and still turn a profit.” And that’s what salespeople and managers are there to do. They can generally still make a profit if they offer you that  extra discount. And if that’s what it takes to make a sale, that’s what they’re probably going to do, says Tory Johnson at ABCNews.go.com.

And what if the item you want is already on sale? Don’t think that there’s no way a store will go lower. Bob Frick of Kiplinger.com says that “Sales are signs that a price is no longer fixed.” That said, don’t expect stores to cut prices in half. Though you may get luckier, figure on saving an extra 10% to 20% off the price on the tag. Considering that shoppers spent an average of $811 on holiday purchases last year, according to Time magazine, 10% to 20%’s not chump change.

Haggling dos and don’ts:

  • Consumer Reports suggests focusing your haggling efforts late in the month when salespeople are working hard to meet sales quotas. Another great time to try is when sales are slow. During the holidays, you’ll probably have the best success if you wait until late in the season when stores start to get antsy about holiday sales. Black Friday will be too busy and the store will probably feel its discounts are low enough already.
  • Start your negotiations with sales floor team member or salesperson. If you don’t have any luck there, go higher up. Don’t go straight over the salesperson’s head at first, however. It’s insulting to the employee and can make it harder for you to get the deal. Keep in mind, too, that Employees at small stores may have more power to change prices than those at the big chains.
  • Be respectful and avoid negativity when dealing with store personnel. You want to seem friendly and confident (but not pushy). Don’t draw attention to your haggling efforts, says Consumer Reports.
  • Be low key and try not to attract attention to what you’re doing. The person you’re dealing with won’t want to offer the deal to everybody in the store.

What to say:

  • Compliment the item and talk about how useful it would be to you. Tell the salesperson or manager what your budget is and see what happens. Above all, be polite.
  • Ask when the item will go on sale. They may tell you, or discount the item by the future sale discount amount to get you to buy then.
  • Ask questions directly, says Kiplinger, “Could you do better?” “Is there a coupon for this?” Credit Karma suggests asking the salesperson, “What would you do in my situation?”
  • Offer to pay in cash. That’s appealing to stores because it’s a sure thing, and because they won’t have to pay fees for credit card transactions.

Try these techniques:

  • If the box or package is missing (i.e. floor model), open, dented, missing instructions, or otherwise imperfect, ask for a discount on those grounds. The same goes for “scratch and dent” items. (Kiplinger.com)
  • Even if a store doesn’t advertise that they price match, it doesn’t hurt to try. Don’t tell them that’s what you want, though. Credit Karma suggests asking for the discount first, and pull out your info if you need to. Show the salesperson or manager a price you found online or at another store.
  • Try haggling for better deals on perishable food items like bakery items or meat that are close to their expiration date (Kiplinger.com)
  • Discontinued or clearance items may be easy targets for successful haggling because the store wants to get rid of them. The same is true for end-of-season items. You can probably get an extra discount on Christmas stockings, for example, right after Christmas.
  • Offer to buying in bulk. Tell salespeople you want to buy a case of something instead of one or two. The extra volume means stores can make up losses from the discount they give you (MainStreet.com)

And a final caveat: You might have a hard time if it’s one of those stores that tries to get you to sign up for a credit card (like Macy’s or Kohl’s, for example). Because salespeople gain from the number of sign ups they process, they may make it a prerequisite for any discount they’re willing to offer, says MainStreet.com.

Read More:

So what do you think? Want to try haggling next time you go shopping? If you do, let me know how it turned out!

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5 Baby Items You’d Be Crazy to Pay Full Price For

Sometimes I think readers think I’m exaggerating when I say never to pay full price. I’m not! It’s true that some items, like ERGObaby carriers and BOB strollers are pretty hard to find on sale, but there are many items that are nearly ALWAYS on sale. I’ve put together a short list of them (based on prices at Amazon):

You’d be seriously nuts to pay list price for the items on this list:

  • Disposable diapers and wipes: The fact that diapers and wipes are always on sale somewhere is one of the top reasons I started the Baby Cheapskate blog in the first place. Right now at Amazon we’re seeing some of the lowest prices on diapers since I started the blog nearly six years ago. Let’s say there’s a six-cent difference between the full price of a diaper and the price YOU pay. At eight diapers per day, your smart shopping would save you $175 over the course of a year. NEVER pay full price for diapers.
  • Graco cribs are rarely full price. The super-popular Lauren crib lists for $175.99. Over the last 15 months, it’s spent maybe 30 of the last 450 days at that price (around 7%). More often, it’s 15% to 20% off.
  • Baby monitors: Top selling baby monitors from Summer Infant and Philips AVENT are constantly discounted. The Philips AVENT Digital Video Baby Monitor, for example, lists for $219.99. It’s been at least 10% less than that at Amazon for nearly a year. With the exception of a few days, it’s been 20% or more off list price for the past six months, and it’s been around 30% off or more for the past two months.

The Summer Infant Day and Night Handheld Color Video Monitor is the same way. It lists for $179.99. In the last three years it looks like it’s spent only about 3% of the time at list price. It hasn’t come within 6% of list price in the past year. It’s usually more than 20% off and fairly often more than 30% off.

  • Skip Hop diaper bags are also less than full price most of the time. List price on the popular Duo Deluxe bag in the Wave Dot pattern is $58, but it’s generally at least 15% less than that. In fact, it’s only sold for list price during around 30 of the past 500 days or so.
  • Fisher-Price baby gear. It’s easy to find great deals on popular Fisher Price baby gear items. The Jumperoo, one of the most popular pieces of gear, is always on sale. The Rainforest Jumperoo lists for $95.99. What!?! According to CamelCamelCamel, it has NEVER cost that much at Amazon since it showed up there in 2008. Most of the time it’s been at least 20% less than that. It’s been 24% off or more for most of the last six months. Right now, it’s at over 30% off at $65.

There are many, many, MANY more items that, like the ones above, are usually well below list price.

So what’s my point? Simply that smart shoppers will ignore list price. Instead, use price-tracking sites like CamelCamelCamel.com and feedback from other parents to find out what the real price usually is. Then you’ll have a much better idea of what to pay.

What are some baby items that you always see on sale?

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Find Sales Near You with Yard Sale Treasure Map

I found out about this site in a magazine I was reading recently. Real Simple or ShopSmart, I think? It’s pretty cool if you like scouting for deals at yard sales.

Yard Sale Treasure Map is a planning tool that lets you find  sales near you and plan the most efficient route to hit all of them. It takes all the sales listed on your local Craigslist board and puts them on a map. To use the site, simply type in your city, choose the number of miles you want it to search, and go.

You can even search the sales for particular items, like baby gear. Simply type in what you’re looking for and you’ll see a list of sales that have it.

Add your own stops (lunch! Starbucks!), add sales you found on sources other than Craigslist, and remove any sales that don’t interest you. The final step is to print driving directions of your optimized route.

Pretty cool, huh!? There’s also an app for iPhone and Android (Thanks Amy!).

Related:

Yard Sale Shopping Tips for Pregnant Folks

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How-To Tuesday: How to Spend Less. Period.

Screen shot 2013-09-06 at 1.10.01 PMWelcome to another How-To Tuesday. Today I’m sharing ways to avoid over-spending on baby products (and everything else).

You’ll find a ton of posts on this blog for items you can buy at big discounts, but the truth is, I don’t want you to buy everything I post on this blog or on the Facebook page. The very first post I ever posted on Baby Cheapskate was called “Don’t Buy It.” That’s because the real secret to saving big bucks on baby stuff is only buying what you need. Of course, that’s like saying that the secret to having a healthy diet is avoiding junk food. Easier said than done, right?

What drives us to buy what we don’t need?

Like overeating, overspending is usually an attempt to fill an emotional need:

  • Retail therapy helps some of us feel in control of those crazy new-baby days. If we can just buy the right product our baby will sleep through the night  / be fully potty-trained by a year old / become a national chess champion at the age of three…. If only it worked that way.
  • Some of us feel like if we’re not giving our kids the latest model of the hottest baby items out there, we’re somehow shortchanging them (or ourselves).  In reality, children need sooo much less than we think they do. They thrive with nothing more than your love and a few other necessities.
  • As a culture, we are rarely content with what we have. We value consumption and competition. We want the best stroller at the playground, but the larger cup holder of the 2011 model really bring you joy?
  • Scoring a bargain often gives us a drug-like thrill (and for up to 5% of the population, shopping is a real addiction). It feels good, but only for a moment. Like devouring a pint of Ben & Jerry’s alone in one sitting, the pleasure quickly replaced by guilt and lowered self-esteem.
  • Some of us shop because we get bored and maybe a little lonely cooped up in the house with a baby. Shopping gives us places to go and people to see.
  • Some us find we’ve bought something on impulse before we’ve had time to think about whether we should. With the added pressure of “buy it now or lose out”, one-day only and flash-sale sites can be a real danger to those already prone to spending impulsively.

So what do you do about it?

Avoiding impulsive and emotional spending is a lot like avoiding impulsive and emotional eating. Here are four techniques that can help:

  • Keep a spending diary, and write down what you spend every time you buy something, no matter how small it is. This forces you to become conscious of what’s actually happening. Write down ALL your purchases for a week. At the end of the week, go through each item on your list and think about how you feel about the purchase now. Do you regret it? Did it make you happy? If it was an impulsive purchase, think about what may have triggered it. Then try to avoid those triggers
  • Realize that you don’t need to be prepared for everything. Let an actual need arise…and then deal with it then.
  • Try to control impulsive spending by refusing to buy anything without a self-imposed “cooling off” period. Try putting the item in your cart and then doing nothing. Wait a few hours (or days) before you buy. This gives you time to think about WHY you want to buy the item.
  • Set goals and post them near your computer or in your wallet along with questions like “Do I really need it?” and “What will happen if I don’t buy it.”

Who was it that said “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”? The same applies to spending. The fleeting high of a purchase pales in comparison with how good it feels to have a healthy bank balance. Choose to spend your money on baby products that are in line with your family’s needs and values rather than on items that will end up sitting in the closet unused.

Readers, share your tips for avoiding unnecessary spending in the comments!

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USDA Study Lists Price of Raising Kids, BC Readers Sound Off

CBS MoneyWatch published an article last week citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest study on cost of raising a child.  The numbers are broken down by social demographic: “Middle income families (with annual earnings of $56,670 to $98,120) spend between $11,650 and $13,530 a year. Upper income households (with annual incomes above $98,120), dig considerably deeper into their pockets, shelling out between $19,380 and $23,180 a year,” according to the study. By the time the child reaches 18, says the USDA, middle-income parents will have spent nearly $300,000 and upper-income families almost a half a million.

A companion article at MoneyWatch by Sarah Lorge Butler, states that while the USDA study looks at seven expense categories: “housing, food, transportation, health care, clothing, childcare and education, and miscellaneous goods and services,” it leaves out, say Butler and Bradley, common indirect costs like extra life insurance and lost-productivity expenses (such as time at work lost to long waits in the pediatrician’s office). It also excludes the tremendous and ever-rising cost of college.

Curious about what Baby Cheapskate readers would say about their own experiences, I linked to the first MoneyWatch article on Facebook last week and asked BC’s Fans what their largest child-rearing expenses were. Childcare, including daycare, preschool and aftercare topped the list of responses, followed by formula and diapers, clothing, medical costs, larger housing and cars to accommodate a growing family, and children’s activities.

But as any parent will tell you, of course, it’s worth it.

Readers, what are your biggest childcare expenses? Have any of the expenses of raising a chid surprised you, either in a positive or negative way?

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How to Save on Babysitting

This is a guest post from Gina Lincicum, a long-time BabyCheapskate reader, who writes about frugality and family finance at MoneywiseMoms.com.

As a busy mom to three kids, a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old identical twin girls, I’m often looking for a little “me” time during the day or an evening out with my husband. The hourly rate for babysitters for three, however, is outrageous, and it’s difficult to find someone you can trust when you don’t have family around (like us). Living on one income in a high cost-of-living area (Washington DC), I’ve had to get creative with our finances in all areas, and I’ve found a few ways to beat the budget for babysitting:

1) Trade with a Friend/Neighbor: Try setting up a direct trade of babysitting hours with another parent in your neighborhood, preschool class, or neighborhood. When my son was 4 and my girls were 18 months old, I did a weekly trade with a friend whose sons were the same age as my children. My son played with his buddy while I played with the three little ones. While it was hectic having five at once, it made the following week (with zero!) very peaceful. In the past few months, I’ve been trading hours with a friend who was laid off. He babysits while I work from home, and I babysit while he attends interviews–free childcare for both of us.

2) Use a Mother’s Helper Instead: I put up signs in my neighborhood asking for a 12 to 15-year-old “mother’s helper” rather than try to find a college-aged sitter or adult with whom I could leave all three children. I’ve had a 12-year-old walk over afterschool once or twice a week to either play with the twins while I attended to my older son, cleaned house, or made dinner. The novelty of a new face during the witching hour was helpful, and it fit my budget at just $5.00/hour. The key is that you stay home with a younger helper, and having them within walking distance solves the transportation issue.

3) Barter for Payment: Even before the economy turned and bartering came back into fashion, I was trading scrapbooking supplies, gift cards, and groceries for babysitting services. What services or supplies can you use as payment? If you have a direct-sales business, you might pay a sitter in credit or product. If you have a service-based business like tutoriing or accounting, you may want to trade hour-per-hour. Use your talent in trade for babysitting dollars.

4) Join (or create) a Babysitting Co-op: A babysitting co-op is a group of moms/families who trade hours similar to #1 above, but with the larger network it’s less essential that your schedules match up. I began a co-op in my MOMS Club years ago, and it still serves my family well. Because I can choose from 10-12 moms that I know, I have plenty of options for dates and times. I’m able to schedule doctor’s appointments, haircuts, or a date night by emailing the group and finding a sitter.

For years, we tracked our hours on paper through a volunteer coordinator, but recently we switched to HiveMoms.com. HiveMoms is a FREE website where you can join or start a co-op in your own area. Think about the other moms in your networks (preschool, church, clubs, etc.). Get them online and give it a try!

What are your strategies for saving on babysitting or childcare?

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Guest Post: Kiddie Consignment Sale Shopping Secrets

The first of the spring kiddie consignment sales have arrived! Spring consignment sales are a great place to get started with your baby preparations. You’ll find spring and summer clothing items like tees and shorts and sundresses. Baby gear, too–everything from bibs to baby gates.

In today’s guest post, BC reader and experienced consignment sale shopper Corrie tells you how to find the sales and how to make the most of them:

I am a die-hard consignment sale junkie. If I had it my way, I’d go to each one in my community. But, with limited time, I stick to my favorites. My son is dressed in Baby Gap, Children’s Place, and Gymboree at never more than a few bucks an item. I hope these shopping tips will help you navigate your first sale.

How to find the sales:

  • Understand the format. Most have specific rules about what can be sold (clothing must be below a certain size, no stuffed animals, etc.). It is not worth it to pay the entry fee if they aren’t selling what you need. Some sales will mix all consignors items together (my preferred style) and some will have each consignor host their own table.
  • Consider joining the sponsoring organization. Members often get in free or pay discounted admission. Your membership may cover the cost of your admission and/or give you the ability to shop earlier than the general public. Alternatively, consider volunteering for the event. You might be given free admission, early shopping privileges, or at least a sneak peak of what people are selling.

When to shop

  • If you are planning to buy a lot or have a very specific item in mind, pay the early-bird fee to have access to the most items.
  • If you are a cheepie, come at the end of the sale. Prices are generally slashed 30% to 50%. (less selection, but great deals).

Tips for Successful Shopping

  • Leave the kiddos at home. These events are often crowded with little room to maneuver around, even with a small umbrella stroller. Hot, stuffy gyms are not a good combination with the under five age group! [Note: Check the listing: kids and/or strollers may be excluded on the first day of the sale.]
  • Bring your own bags. I bring reusable grocery bags and also a messenger bag that I can put over my shoulder. Some sellers will offer bags, but they are usually the cheap grocery store variety.
  • Make a checklist of items you want. This helps you to remember the off-the-wall things you might be looking for.
  • Go for the big ticket, bulky items first (pack n plays, strollers, larger toys). Since there are fewer of these items, they go quickly. I suggest addressing this first, and running to your car with the items. Some place will have a holding area for this stuff too.
  • Know the going price for these items (new and used). You don’t want to over-pay! If I have a bigger ticket item I am seeking, I scope out craigslist before. I typically target 1/3rd of retail for gear. I usually target under $1.00 – $3.00 per clothing item. I will pay up to $5.00 per item, if it is a coveted name brand (Gymbo, Baby Gap).
  • Bring CASH! – accepting checks is unusual, credit cards are unheard of.
  • Know your kids’ sizes and be prepared to buy up in sizes. Since clothing is so variable, I cut a ribbon to match the inseam on my son’s pants. It is easy to carry around. I don’t worry about tops as much because they are more forgiving if they are a little small or big.
  • Look things over. In my neighborhood, one sale in particular is known for problem items. Broken zippers, stains, etc.

A Couple of Caveats

  • Word of warning to the moms of boys: people buy fewer clothes for their sons, and once you get above a size 2, it is well-loved. A few exceptions are seasonal items that aren’t frequently worn, such as dress clothes and outerwear.
  • Don’t buy used car seats/boosters. Yes – they will sell them even though they shouldn’t. They could be expired, in an accident, or just not properly cared for. Take all the money you saved from your other purchases and buy a cheap new seat, like Angie’s beloved Cosco Scenera.

Happy shopping folks!

Photo: Solon Council of PTA’s Budget Bin –A local sale where Corrie has been a consignor and shopper.

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Readers’ Top 10 Favorite Kids’ Books (And Where to Find Them Free or Cheap)

In last weekend’s book giveaway I asked you for your kids’ favorite books. Here’s a summary of the more than 850 responses I received. Great list!

Your top 10:

Board Books:

  • Good Night, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Erik Carle
  • Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney

Picture Books:

  • Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
  • Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss (and others by Dr. Seuss)
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond (and others in this series)
  • Pinkalicious, by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann
  • The Cat in the Hat, by Dr. Seuss
  • The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein

You also love:
The Monster at the End of This Book, by Jon Stone, On the Night You Were Born, by Nancy Tillman, Mr. Brown can Moo, Can You? by Dr. Seuss, Llama, Llama, Red Pajama, by Anna Dewdney (and others in this series), Fancy Nancy, by by Jane O’connor and Robin Preiss Glasser, Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman, Curious George books (all), Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, Barnyard Dance, by Sandra Boynton, Winnie the Pooh (various)

Where to find kids books cheap (or free!):

  • Alibris carries used and new books, music, and movies. You can pick up classic used-but-unchewed board books like Goodnight, Moon for $1.99. Shipping is around $3.99, though if you buy more than one book from a seller, you’ll often get a break on the shipping. To find the kids’ books, just type “children” in the subject search bar or just search for a particular title. Alibris also carries childrens’ CDs.
  • You can also find used kids’ books at Amazon from 1¢ plus $3.99 shipping (click on “used and new” on the item page).
  • Freepeats, Freecycle and Craigslist offer free books
  • I adore my local library. Most of my son’s picture books are borrowed from its shelves.
  • Hand-me-Downs from family and friends
  • Stores like TJMaxx, Marshalls and Ross sell books for under $5.
  • Get lucky and find them at the thrift store (my favorite!) or at garage sales for less than a buck.
  • Trade books with other members at SwapTree.com.

Readers, Where do you find your best book bargains?

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