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The Honest Truth About Van Dwelling: Answers To The Most Common Van Life Questions

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Van dwelling, or the lifestyle of living in a van, is becoming more and more popular as a way to travel full-time. Since we bought a van a few months ago to live in, I have received a lot of questions about van dwelling.

While they seem funny to us now, I know that we had some of these same questions before we started RVing. 

Some of the questions we are asked are from those who think we are crazy for living in a van. Whereas, others are from people who are interested in van dwelling but are unsure about certain things. Either way, I hope to clear up a lot of the common questions we receive about living in a van.

You never know, maybe I’ll convert some of you. 🙂

Below are questions that I’ve been asked by friends, family, readers, and even strangers. It’s always interesting trying to explain RVing/van dwelling to strangers who stop me at the store after they’ve seen me get out of our van.

It’s a lot of fun, though. I love answering questions about what it’s like living in a van full-time and getting others hooked on this lifestyle!

Some of the questions I answer in today’s post include:

  • Are you done sailing?
  • Why not just keep your last RV?
  • Biggest pros/cons of van dwelling compared to boat life?
  • Do you shower everyday?
  • What do you do when you have to use the bathroom?
  • How much does living in a van cost?
  • Is van dwelling safe?
  • How do you receive mail?
  • Why would you want to explore the U.S.?
  • What do you do for health insurance?
  • How do you have internet while traveling full-time?

If you want to follow our travel adventures, please click here to follow me on Instagram.

Related articles on van dwelling:

Here are the van dwelling questions you’ve asked me:

 

Are you done sailing?

If only I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this question.

I know some of you are thinking, “You quit sailing to live in van?!”

No, we did not quit sailing! We are splitting our time between van dwelling and boat life. We still have lots and lots of plans with the boat, and we enjoy having it. We are getting back to the boat in just a few weeks and cannot wait!

So then, why did we get a van?

Last hurricane season, we mainly stayed in the marina on our boat. We did several short sails, but we wanted to do something different this hurricane season.

We talked to so many sailors and quickly realized that many take a few months away from their boat each year during hurricane season, and we completely get it.

To have the best of both worlds (in our minds), mountains and beaches, we quickly realized that having a 4×4 van along with the boat is how we achieve our dream living situation.

We’ll mainly be living/cruising on the boat, but we will also be occasionally living in our van so that we can still do all the hiking, biking, and rock climbing that we’ve been wanting to do. We’ve been feeling like something has been missing from our lives, and now we feel refreshed and ready again for sailing! ⁣⁣

We have done a lot of traveling off the boat this summer, for family reasons, a wedding, and events, and van dwelling made traveling everywhere much more comfortable for us and our two dogs.

Also, another positive of van dwelling is that the systems are pretty simple, and there isn’t a whole lot that goes into it. So, it’s less likely that we’ll have large repairs that take up a lot of time and money.

We really wanted it to be as simple as possible. Since we already have a sailboat that is quite complex (compared to a van or RV), we wanted our time away from the boat to be as carefree as possible.

Related: Welcome To Paradise – We’re Living On A Sailboat!

 

Was getting a van planned?

I know some people think we’re nuts for our non-traditional living situation, and I hesitated talking about getting the van until we drove it off the lot because I was afraid of being judged. 

When we sold our motorhome in 2018, we had already planned on living in a van when we’re off the boat. So, yes, this was all in the original plan. And, the van makes us even more excited for our future sailing plans!

For us, we think it will be the best of both worlds – sailing and van dwelling.

We have a lot of outdoor goals that we want to achieve, and a van makes all of them much more realistic. We don’t have to wait until we’re finished boating to do those things, and who knows if and when we’ll ever be finished sailing. Now, we can do both of the things we love!

 

What kind of van did you get?

We’ve been looking at vans for quite some time, and decided to get a Winnebago Revel. This is a four-wheel drive van that also has:

  • Solar panels on the roof
  • A small rooftop AC
  • A very small bathroom (you shower over the toilet)
  • A bed that can be easily brought up and down, which gives lots of space for the dogs
  • A kitchen (again, very small, haha) with a stove, fridge, and sink

It sleeps the two of us and our two dogs just fine. Honestly, we were a little surprised with the space (the layout is PERFECT!), and we have really loved being in it this summer.

No, we did not pay full price or anywhere near it. We’re master negotiators when it comes to vans and RVs, haha. We got the van at a little over 30% off MSRP, which is a normal percentage when it comes to new vans.

Sadly, I do know of many people who paid full price for this same van! In fact, I know of people who have bought this same van used for a higher price than what we bought it for new. We got such a good deal on it that we are still scratching our heads on why and how it happened.

 

Do you actually like van dwelling?

Yes!

We are willingly living the Sprinter van life, haha!

Our van is 19 feet long, which surprisingly isn’t much longer than your average vehicle at around 15-18 feet (yes, we measured other vehicles because our family became curious as a joke).

Many people even make jokes about living in a home with wheels, like it’s something you shouldn’t aspire to.

“Living in a van down by the river” – I have heard that so many times now, haha.

But, it’s my life, and I really, really love it!

Here are some of the things that I love about van dwelling:

  • I love the freedom. Whether you’re living in a van, an overland vehicle, a big motorhome, or anything else, living in a vehicle gives you a lot of freedom. You can choose where you want to live, and you can mix it up and change it all the time. You can also decide how long you will stay somewhere and travel however you want. Perhaps the city is for you? Or, maybe you just want to hike all the time! Whatever you decide, it’s about living your life the way you want.
  • I love having all of my stuff with me. I really enjoy traveling in a van because I can travel to tons of amazing places and bring everything I have with me. While that may sound like I’m a hoarder and may have suitcase packing problems – it’s really just that I like to be able to bring my husband, dogs, my work, my clothes, food, outdoor gear, and so on with me. Van dwelling just makes sense for me because I can easily bring everything wherever I go. And, it’s more than just going on a vacation, which is nice too, but I love being able to bring my entire home with me. This way, I’m not forgetting anything, and because my home is always with me, I still get to live comfortably.
  • I can spend more time outside. I’m much more active than when I lived in a “normal” house, and I believe that’s because living in a vehicle takes me to all of these amazing places that I am just dying to explore. We love being able to do things outdoors, and we usually pick places that make that even easier. So, we like to park next to hiking trails, bike trails, rock climbing routes, and more. This is great because we can usually just walk or ride our bikes to wherever we want to go, which allows us to spend a ton of time enjoying the beautiful outdoors.
  • I can easily travel with my dogs. A major reason for why we chose to live in a van was because we, of course, had to bring our dogs with us. They are a part of our family. By traveling via van, our dogs can go everywhere with us. While it would be possible to travel full-time with them and not live in a van, I think it just makes it easier on everyone to have a place to call home. 

 

What do you not like about van dwelling?

Living in a van isn’t perfect. If it was, then everyone would do it!

  1. We can only carry so much water (21 gallons). So, long showers aren’t really possible.
  2. We have a very small fridge. In a van, you can’t have a residential fridge.
  3. We don’t have a washer/dryer. Since we’re really active outdoors when we’re in our van, that means we have lots of dirty clothes!

Those things aren’t really negatives, though, as there are ways around all of them. You simply fill up water more often, go to the grocery store more, and have to visit a laundromat.

 

 

How’s van life compared to the big RV you used to have?

Before we started boating, we lived in an RV for several years. Our previous RV was a Tiffin Allegro Bus, which is a big diesel pusher. It had heated floors, a fireplace, a residential fridge, a bathroom bigger than the one in the house we used to own, 4 TVs, and more.

When you think RV, you probably don’t think of the one we used to have (although, it’s actually quite common in real life!).

Our van is much, much smaller. For example, our WHOLE fridge is smaller than the freezer in the RV we owned.

But, the van is great because we are able to get in to some amazing places due to its smaller size and it being 4-wheel drive.

One of my favorite things about living in a smaller vehicle is that we can pull the van in to places that most vehicles can’t get to, and then comfortably sleep and eat there!

 

Why not just keep your last RV?

Right before we bought the boat, we sold the RV. Some of you are probably wondering why we didn’t just keep the last RV we had, especially if we knew that we were planning on living in a vehicle when we weren’t on the boat.

We didn’t want both a big boat and a big RV – we didn’t want all of the maintenance that goes along with a big RV, we didn’t want a big RV just to be sitting there for months without being used, and the cost difference is fairly large. We also sold our last RV for nearly what we bought it for, so it made sense to get something that better fit our new situation.

We also wanted to be able to pull up to all the amazing trails that we are used to exploring, and since we are only doing it for a few months each year, we don’t need anything massive. The boat is still our “main” home, so living in a van is simply something we do during the boating off season.

 

Biggest pros/cons of camper van life compared to boat life?

I know that everyone wants me to tell them which one is better, but they are so very different that it would be impossible to answer it that way.

Both van dwelling and boat life are both great. They are both very similar, but also drastically different with certain things.

The biggest pro to van dwelling/RVing is that it is a much easier way of living and traveling than being on a boat. The degree of ease/difficulty isn’t even comparable between the two.

RVing/van life is also great because you can drive straight to the best hikes, bikes, climbs, and sleep right there. While it’s possible on a boat, it’s not nearly as easy to access all of the wonderful land adventures that the world has to offer.

Boat life is great, though, because you’re on the water, it’s more eco-friendly since you can make your own water, tend to have more solar, can use the wind, and sailing is a ton of fun. Boats can also bring you to amazing islands and allow you to access more water-based activities. Sailing is very rewarding because it pushes you to learn really fun and new skills.

I think we will always do both for as long as we can as they allow us to do different things.

 

How long will you stay in the van for?

We will be back on our boat in just a few weeks. We will be heading to the Annapolis Boat Show in October and then going to the boat right after that.

 

What will you do with your van when you’re on the boat?

Our plan for now is to store our van when we’re not using it. So, in about a month, we will be tucking her in until we want to use her again.

Here’s an option if you have an RV that you’re not using full-time – How To Make Extra Money By Renting Out Your RV.

 

Do you shower in your van?

Yes, we shower. We have a shower in our van dwelling. I use soap, shampoo, and everything else. I shower pretty much the same way I would at home.

See, our water tank only holds 21 gallons, and since we do a lot of off grid camping, I have to take a lot of short showers.

We even get hot water because we have a water heater. Now, it’s not always the most relaxing shower, but I am still able to shower.

 

Do you shower everyday?

No.

Yep, I’m super gross.

I shower pretty much after each outdoor activity I do. But, if it’s an uneventful day and there’s not much water, I’m probably not showering.

And, when I do shower in the van, I have become the master of the one gallon of water shower.

I do brush my teeth like normal, wash my face everyday, and so on. That hasn’t changed at all.

 

What do you do when you have to use the bathroom?

We use it.

Haha! For real, we have a toilet in our van, so we use the bathroom, just like if we were in a “real” home.

It’s only different in that you have to dump it.

This is often one of the first questions people have about van life 101.

 

How/what do you eat?

We make food in our kitchen. We have a very small table, fridge, stove, and a slow cooker. We are able to cook just as if we were at home.

Yes, our kitchen is tinier, but it works well for us.

We try to keep our meals to something more simple, as cleaning a lot of dishes just means that we’ll quickly go through our water tank. We also only have one stove burner, so we try to only use the stove top or the Instant Pot.

 

How much does living in a van cost?

As I answered in How Much Does It Cost To RV?, RVing can be extremely cheap or it can be very expensive. It’s the same for van dwelling.

We paid for our van in cash, so we don’t plan on having many other costs that go along with it, except fuel and insurance (we did go ahead and prepay for a year of insurance). Of course, we’ll still be paying for food, cell phones, and other normal expenses.

One of the big reasons for why we chose the van is because it is small and can get almost anywhere. That also means that we can park for free in more places, such as family and friend’s driveways, boondock wherever, and more.

You can read more about this here – How To Camp For Free, Even In Beautiful and Desirable Places.

 

Is living in a van safe?

Yes, I believe that living in a van dwelling is safe. We’ve never really felt unsafe while traveling in our van.

We hardly ever park in cities and are almost always either in the backcountry or in someone’s driveway (it’s our favorite way to visit family and friends!).

 

Can you live in a van with a family?

I recommend reading this van life guide to living in a van with kids – How This Couple Does Van Life with A Baby (and a dog!).

Also, this one – Becoming an RV Family – How We Travel Full-Time With 4 Kids and 2 Dogs.

 

How do you do laundry in a van?

Interestingly, this is one of the top questions I get about living in a camper. I could probably write an entire van life guide just about laundry because of how interested people are in how we wash our clothes.

Yes, we do laundry!

We either use a campground laundromat or find a public one.

It usually takes us less than an hour to do our laundry and less than $10. We do our laundry around once per week.

 

How do your dogs do in the van?

We chose the Winnebago Revel because we thought it would be perfect for our dogs, and it is!

Our bed retracts up, so it is completely out of the way when we’re not sleeping in it. We use the area below the bed as a sleeping space for our bigger dog. Our smaller dog has his own area as well.

They also get to go on lots of hikes and walks and explore lots of amazing places.

The van easily stays climate controlled, so that is great for our dogs. We have an AC for when it’s really hot, and we also have a great van fan (if you don’t have an RV, then you probably don’t know what this is, but it’s simply a really, really good fan). We try to follow good weather as much as we can, so that the temperature is nice for our dogs.

 

Do you hate each other yet after living in such a small space?

One of the most common things about full-time van dwelling that we hear from others in relationships is that they think they couldn’t do it because they might end up hating their spouse.

We live in less than 100 square feet, and we’re still doing great!

We are just fine with the small space and it’s never really gotten to us. Sure, there are times when it rains all day and you can’t go outside, but there are always other things to do, such as read, work on the business, and just relax.

 

What do you do for a living, so that you can travel full-time?

This isn’t a common camper van life question that I receive from readers as you all know what I do! However, I hear this all the time when I’m on the road or when I bump into someone in person.

This is a question that is always funny to answer, because many don’t think you can make money while traveling. However, you can!

I make my living entirely online through my blogging business. Here are helpful articles to read:

 

How do you receive mail?

We belong to a mail forwarding company called St. Brendan’s Isle. All of our mail gets sent there, and then they forward our mail to wherever we are.

For example, the other day I knew I would be at my sister’s, so I had all of my mail shipped to her house. St. Brendan’s Isle puts it all in one tidy package and ships it to where I’m staying.

This is one of the top things that stops people from traveling full-time, and I just find it funny. It’s so easy to get your mail so please don’t let this stop you!

 

Where do you like to sleep in the van?

I’ll be honest and say that we are not usually huge fans of RV parks. There are some nice ones out there, but we don’t like to be packed in the middle of a bunch of RVs, which is how most RV parks are.

If we do stay at an RV park, we like to make sure that we have a view, where at least one side of our vehicle backs up to something awesome, such as the ocean, desert, mountain, etc.

This is why we prefer campgrounds at state parks, national parks, and so on, because you get a much better view and a little more space.

For the most part, though, we are camping for free in the backcountry. This is our favorite way to sleep while living in a van full-time as you can get a ton of space all to yourself, you can see the beautiful night sky without any light pollution, and it’s great for exploring.

You can read more about this here – How To Camp For Free, Even In Beautiful and Desirable Places.

 

Can you just park anywhere you want?

Hardly a week goes by without someone saying that we should visit them and that we can park in their driveway, some random lot next to their house, inside their garage, and so on and so on.

I always laugh – you can’t really just park anywhere in your RV or van. RV and camper van life isn’t that easy!

There may be rules and laws against RV parking in some cities on public streets, there may not be enough space, the space might not be level, there can be low hanging trees, or there may be a 9 foot bridge to drive under.

There are plenty of places to stay, though, so for the most part you won’t have a problem. We have stayed in people’s driveways (Google Satellite and Street View are your friend in these cases), free public land, RV parks, state parks, national parks, and everything in between.

However, we always make sure to research where we are going so that there are no difficulties.

 

Why would you want to explore the U.S.?

This is my least favorite question and it honestly makes me want to scream.

BECAUSE IT’S FUN.

The U.S. is full of awesome landscapes and there are so many beautiful and fun things to see here. Just take a look at some of my Instagram photos for proof.

 

What do you do for health insurance?

Learning about health insurance options is part of van life 101 – and unfortunately, there are no realistic options. I didn’t want to pay the penalty for not having health insurance, and I also didn’t want to go uninsured.

For full-time travelers, it is difficult to find health insurance companies that will cover you.

Some health insurance companies won’t cover you once you travel out of your state. If they do offer out-of-state coverage, they usually require that you at least live full time in your home state. While we do have a home state and address, it isn’t technically where we live full time. So, it was important to find a health insurance provider that wouldn’t possibly void a medical expense if they found out that we were trying to get around this loophole.

Plus, the only policy that we qualified for (in our state) had an astonishingly high deductible of $39,000 for out-of-state medical expenses. And, as full-time travelers, we are excluded from the majority of policies anyways due to the loophole described above, so that just didn’t work for us.

Paying a high monthly health insurance premium that comes with a $39,000 annual deductible, and the fact that many of our claims would probably be voided, made this decision a no-brainer.

So, in January of 2016, we started a membership with Liberty HealthShare. For the both of us, we pay just $249 each month.

With this monthly fee, 100% of our eligible medical bills – up to $1,000,000 per incident – are covered after the $1,000 per couple annual unshared amount (think of this as your annual deductible).

Now, belonging to a health sharing ministry is not perfect. Liberty HealthShare is not traditional health insurance, which means:

  • They are under no requirement to cover your medical expenses.
  • You cannot deduct Liberty’s monthly costs from your business taxes.
  • You cannot contribute to a Health Savings Account.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions are not covered until years later.

Health care sharing ministries all have some sort of ethical rules that you must abide by, such as no smoking, no drinking, and so on. If you incur a medical expense due to something that is against their policies, there is a chance that they will not cover it.

You can read more about Liberty HealthShare at We No Longer Have Traditional Health Insurance – Liberty HealthShare Review.

 

The Honest Truth About Van Dwelling: Answers To The Most Common Van Life Questions

How do you get internet while traveling full-time?

I hear this question all the time, and it’s one of the top things that stops people from traveling more.

And, I completely understand the hesitation!

When we first thought about traveling full-time, I had no idea what would happen to my business. I didn’t know how I would connect to the internet, if it would be super expensive, or anything else. I didn’t even really know if it was possible.

I still remember telling Wes (my husband) that I would not be able to travel full-time unless we had internet.

But, now I know it’s actually not too bad. There is usually some form of internet, and I almost always use my own source. It’s not terribly expensive either. Yes, sometimes there is absolutely no internet. However, I usually try to prepare for that by working ahead as much as I can.

We currently have AT&T for our phones and internet. We used to have both Verizon and AT&T (many full-time travelers have multiple sources because you travel to different areas), but we switched to just AT&T and have been happy with it.

Even with that being said, sometimes our internet connection is not that great. Working ahead as much as possible alleviates any work stress that would come from having a lack of internet or a bad connection.

I did just get a WeBoost and put it on the van so that I can improve my signal and work in more places. Since Sprinter van life means we are off the grid a little more often, this is a must for us so that I can still work! 

So far, it has been amazing, and I have been able to have internet almost everywhere that we’ve been due to the WeBoost. About half of the places that we have stayed so far in the van have had no internet, and the WeBoost has boosted our signal to a point that I can actually work! I don’t know how I’ve gone the previous four years of full-time travel without it!

Surprisingly, I’ve found that our internet connection is better in the Bahamas than anything we ever had in the U.S. while traveling full-time. We used a new company called MyIslandWifi. It is truly unlimited internet for just $75 a month (and there’s no contract!). I can make phone calls, text, and hop online whenever I want, and it’s always a fast speed. For people in normal homes, this may seem expensive, but keep in mind that when traveling full-time you don’t have access to the kind of affordable (and FAST) wifi that is usually found in a home.

When we start traveling further outside of the U.S. and Bahamas, I know that finding internet will become more difficult. I’ll update you as I go!

If you’re wanting to know more about the various options (and there are a lot of options!), I highly recommend RV Mobile Internet.

Everyone’s situation is a little different and different options exist due to that.

What other questions do you have for me about van dwelling? Are you interested in living in a van?

The post The Honest Truth About Van Dwelling: Answers To The Most Common Van Life Questions appeared first on Making Sense Of Cents.



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Finance

Here’s Your Plan to Retire in Ten Years

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The average American has only a little over $200,000 saved for retirement by age 65. It’s a small wonder that 50% of married couples and 70% of individuals receive 50% or more of their retirement income from Social Security.

But that doesn’t have to be you. In fact, you don’t even need to wait until you’re 65 to retire. It’s possible you can retire in 10 years – as in 10 years from where you are right now. It doesn’t matter if you’re 25, 35, or 45, with the right mix of discipline, commitment, and financial strategies, it’s a goal you can reach.

Many thousands of others have already done it, which means you can too. And you can do it even if you have no money saved for retirement right now.

Here’s how…

But first, let’s touch on a few important concepts.

Determine “Your Numbers”

What are your numbers? The amount of income you’ll need each year to live in retirement, and the amount of money you’ll need in your portfolio to produce that income.

Let’s say you decide you’ll need $40,000 per year to live in retirement. It’s possible to determine the amount you’ll need to have saved to provide that income.

It’s known loosely as the safe withdrawal rate. It’s a theory mostly, but one that’s been shown to be reliable in a number of studies.

It holds that if you withdraw it no more than 4% from your investment portfolio each year, you’ll have an income for life, and your portfolio will remain intact.

It works something like this: if you earn an average of 7% on your portfolio in retirement, and withdraw 4% for living expenses, that will leave 3% in the portfolio to cover inflation.

If we look at the rate of inflation going back to 1990, it ranged between 1.1% to 5.3% per year, with an average of something less than 3%. Over the past 20 years the average has been closer to 2%. But since early retirement will bring long-term planning consequences, let’s go with 3% as an average.

Can You Earn an Average of 7% Annually for the Rest of Your Life?

Investing is all about playing the long-term averages, and that’s what works in your favor.

Here’s how:

The average return in stocks has been about 10% per year going all the way back to 1928. It varies quite a bit from one year to the next, but that’s the return you can expect over 20 or 30 years.

Meanwhile, safe investments, like high-yield online savings accounts, are currently paying between 1% and 2% per year. But to be conservative, let’s go with 1.5% for our calculations.

If you create an investment portfolio comprising 65% stocks and 35% in high-yield online savings, you can achieve a 7% average annual return.

Here’s how it breaks down:

65% invested in stocks at 10% per year will generate a 6.5 % return.
35% invested in high yield online savings at 1.5% per year will generate a 0.525 return.

The combination of the two will produce an average annual return of 7.025%. That will allow you to withdraw 4% each year for living expenses and retain the remaining roughly 3% in your portfolio to cover inflation.

Why have only 65% in stocks when a higher allocation will get you a bigger return?

If you’re planning to rely on your investments for the rest of your life, you’ll need to build some safety into your portfolio. A 35% allocation in safe assets means that even if the stock market takes a big hit, your portfolio won’t go down with it.

Another important point on this front is that though interest rates are low by historical standards right now, that situation could change. If interest rates were to return to 5%, the savings allocation would make a much bigger contribution to your annual returns, and do it risk-free.

Back to “Your Numbers”

Now that you can see how the 4% safe withdrawal rate works mechanically, it’s time to determine your portfolio number.

If you need $40,000 in income, you can determine your portfolio size by multiplying that number by 25. Why 25? If you really like math, you can divide $40,000 by 4%, and you’ll get $1 million.

But for those of us who don’t like mathematical formulas and number-crunching, it’s easier to simply multiply your income number by 25 to get your portfolio size.

If you multiply $40,000 by 25, you’ll get $1 million. It’s just a simpler calculation, and it’ll get you to the portfolio amount you need quickly.

Commit to Your Numbers

I’ve used $40,000 as an income number for retirement, but it’ll be different for everyone. For example, if you have other income sources you expect to continue in retirement you may need less. But if you want a little bit more fun and luxury in your life, you’ll probably need more.

I’ve only used this number as an example. You can come up with an income number that will work for you. As you can see from my calculations above, your portfolio number will be determined by your income number.

You’ll need to know both.

For example, if you think you’ll need $50,000, you’ll need to build a portfolio of $1.25 million ($50,000 X 25). If you’ll need $100,000 in income, your portfolio will need to reach $2.5 million ($100,000 X 25).

To reach your goal, you’ll need to work toward three objectives:

  1. Saving the money needed to build your portfolio.
  2. Earning a return on your investments that will not only help you build your portfolio, but also keep it growing once you retire.
  3. Implement spending reductions and controls that will enable you to live on what will probably be less money than you are right now.

If you plan to retire in 10 years, you’ll need to commit to all three. Your retirement income and portfolio numbers must serve as a guiding light from now on. As you can easily imagine, retiring in 10 years is a tall order. You won’t get there by taking shortcuts. You’ll need to achieve all three objectives to reach your goal. That’ll take a 100% commitment but it’s the only way to make it happen.

Now let’s look at creating a timetable.

Year 1: Set the Plan to Start Saving

The average person probably saves between 10% and 15% of their pay toward retirement. But if you hope to retire in 10 years, you’ll need to save a lot more. Like 30%, 40%, 50%, or even more.

That’s going to take more than a little bit of sacrifice, and it may not happen right away. That’s why you may need to commit the better part of the first year to getting this phase in full working order.

The best way to start is by implementing a budget immediately. If you’ve never done that in the past, you may need to get help. You can do that by selecting a budgeting application that will show you how.

Your budget should include a generous allocation toward savings. It’s possible that at the beginning of the year you’ll only be able to commit to 15% or 20%. Don’t be discouraged – that’s an excellent start if you’ve never been a saver in the past.

But as you move forward, you’ll need to increase the percentage. For example, you might start by saving 20% of your income. But you can double that percentage by increasing it by 2% each month for 10 months. That will get you to 40%, which may work for you.

If it won’t, commit to continued, gradual increases in savings, even if you have to move them into Year 2.

You should know that anyone who’s committed to a high savings level has found that it gets easier over time. That’s why it’s so important to start in the first year.

Year 2: Focus on Increasing Your Income

There are two ways you can do this: increase your job income or create additional sources of income.

Let’s look at the benefit of each.

  1. Increase your job income. Early retirement shouldn’t mean abandoning your career plans. By continuing to move forward on your job, higher income should follow. That will provide the extra funds to save even more money. But there’s a second purpose for building up your career. If for any reason you may need to rely on a source of earned income when you retire, returning to your current career can be the easiest and most profitable way to make it happen. Most likely, you’ll be able to work in some reduced capacity, like part-time, remote work, contract, or freelancing within your industry, or even with your current employer. Continuing to increase your income on your job will also help if you find it will take longer than 10 years to reach your retirement goal.
  2. Create additional sources of income. What I’m talking about here is creating a side hustle to go along with your full time job. Not only will this generate an additional income while you’re preparing for retirement, but it can also provide a valuable postretirement income source. That would keep you from needing to go back to your current career to earn additional income. One of the best ways to create a side hustle is by making money online. It will not only enable you to make money no matter where you choose to live after retirement, but it holds the potential to make a lot of money. I’ve managed to create seven different income sources using this method. You can do something similar. Begin building a side hustle in Year 2, and you’ll have plenty of extra income when retirement arrives.

Year 3: Focus on Increasing ROI on your Savings

By Year 3 you should be committing to learning all you can about investing. The more you know, the higher your investment returns will be. It will not only enable you to build your retirement portfolio faster, but it can also provide higher returns when you finally retire.

There are ways you can increase your returns, largely by moving into different investment platforms.

For example, if you want to dramatically increase your fixed-income earnings, investing at least some of your bond portfolio in Lending Club can increase your interest income dramatically. Many investors are reporting returns of 7% to 10% per year.

You may also want to allocate part of your stock portfolio toward some type of real estate investing. That will not only provide high returns, but it will also diversify your portfolio in years when stocks are not performing well. Real estate crowdfunding platforms, like Fundrise can provide returns similar to stocks, and sometimes higher. Check out the many different ways you can invest in real estate to improve your return on investment.

If you’re not having much luck with investing, or you don’t have a serious commitment to it, look into investing through a robo-advisor. Those are automated, online investment platforms that provide full portfolio management for a very low fee. That includes building your portfolio, rebalancing it as necessary, reinvesting dividends, and even minimizing your investment-related taxes.

A robo-advisor like Betterment can manage your portfolio for 0.25% per year. That’s $250 for a $100,000 portfolio, or $2,500 for a $1 million portfolio. But if you’d like investing with a more personal touch, you may want to consider Personal Capital. They charge a higher fee, at 0.89%, but also provide financial planning advice, as well as regular access to live investment advisors.

Year 4: Focus on Reducing Your Spending

Cutting your spending is a strategy that needs to be implemented in Year 1. But those reductions will need to become progressive as each year goes by. And it’ll be even more important as your income grows, since there’s always a temptation to spend more as you earn more. That process even has a name – lifestyle inflation. You’ll need to avoid it.

The purpose of reducing spending is twofold:

  1. to free up more money for savings
  2. to lower your cost of living in anticipation of retirement.

Both are equally important. But the second part may be even more so. That’s because early retirement almost certainly requires you to change lifelong spending patterns.

For example, if you’ve been used to living in a large home, driving a late model car, and taking expensive vacations, it may take you several years to unwind those patterns. Put another way, you’ll need to find less expensive ways to create an enjoyable life. And you’ll need to have that well underway before you finally retire. Unfortunately, retirement and an opulent lifestyle are incompatible.

Focus on ways you can reduce your spending. You’ve probably already guessed that involves a lot more than clipping coupons and cutting your cable TV subscription. And in fact, it may require either cutting some very large expenses – like your housing and transportation – or reducing or eliminating dozens of smaller expenses.

There will be tough choices to be made. After all, cutting spending is something like going on a money diet. You’ll do well to think about your ultimate objective – early retirement – to help you embrace the short-term sacrifice.

Ultimately, retirement is about lowering your living expenses to a point where you can live comfortably without working. You may need to remind yourself of that on a regular basis.

Year 5 – 10: Assess and Plan Your Path to Retirement

At this point, you’re moving into the second half of your decade-long early retirement preparation. Generally speaking, you’ll want to concentrate mainly on staying the course. But at the same time, you’ll want to look for ways to increase savings, income and return on investment, and reduce spending.

You may not need to do anything dramatic in those areas at this point. But you should be alert to any ideas or strategies that can improve your performance in each. Small improvements in multiple strategies can dramatically speed your progress. That should be your goal at this point.

But perhaps most important will be guarding against complacency. By now, your overall financial situation will have already improved substantially. This is not the time to take a break. Keep pressing forward until you reach the point where you can finally retire.

Final Thoughts

Why am I stressing the importance of commitment to your early retirement goal? It’s easier than you think to get distracted, especially when you’re making a major change in your life. But while early retirement is certainly possible, it’s not easy. You’ll need to maintain laser beam focus to reach the goal in 10 years.

It will help you to realize the many options that will be open to you once your early retirement goal. Free from needing to make a living, you’ll have the choice to spend your time enjoying your life more, or pursuing opportunities that may even have the potential to make you wealthy.

It’s the kind of thing that happens once financial stress is gone from your life. But before you reach that point, you’ll need to be fully committed to getting there. 

The post Here’s Your Plan to Retire in Ten Years appeared first on Good Financial Cents®.



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The Best Places To Buy College Textbooks Online

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College Textbooks OnlineCollege Textbooks Online

With all of the options to buy books, gadgets, and school supplies online, college bookstores are becoming more obscure, and purchases made on campus are more often made out of emergency, urgency, or convenience rather than necessity.

The costs of college textbooks has been on the rise, but now that there are more options, students are spending less.

Fear not, the odds are stacked in your favor. With several online retailers and comparison websites at your fingertips, the options for saving on textbooks are endless.

Keep reading for tips on how to save as much money as possible on college textbooks!

Chances are you are not going to keep all your college textbooks, so you should buy books with the intention of reselling to save the most money. If another edition of the book is coming out this year, the value of your book will drop. You could also look at renting your textbooks.

You can also resell textbooks on these same websites that you buy them from. Also, if the seller offers an e-book option, make sure you download it onto your computer, not from someone else’s computer, or you may not be able to access the subscription.

Check out our list of the best places to buy textbooks online, in alphabetical order.

Get The Right Information: Author, Title, ISBN Number

You will need to know the title of the book, as well as the author’s first and last name, and the edition of the book. If you get the ISBN number, you will be able to check and make sure you are getting the best deal on the book. With used books, prices can vary greatly for used books depending on the condition of the book.

It’s important to also always check the edition number. Many books have multiple editions, so while you might think you’re getting an awesome deal on the Fifth Edition, the class is actually using the Sixth Edition. This could also pose problems for homework assignments, lessons, and more.

You’ll find the best prices online, but there’s a lot of variation in price, especially for used books. Shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal, and double check the ISBN number to make sure you’re looking at the exact same book.

While you may already be familiar with sites such as Amazon, Half.com, and CampusBooks.com, consider the options below for the best deal possible on your next set of college textbooks. Textbook comparison websites, such as Book Rocket can get you a quick price comparison from multiple websites for the best price with shipping and other discounts.

1. AbeBooks

AbeBooksAbeBooksAbeBooks

AbeBooks is a website with a wide database of textbook sellers for deep discounts, up to 75% on retail prices. AbeBooks has been around for a long time, and they have consistently provided value to their buyers.

Abebooks also partners with local sellers in certain cities for more inventory and great prices. We’ve found that you can get the best deal at AbeBooks for international editions of the textbook you need.

AbeBooks offers fast shipping and a return policy, which guarantees that you can return any book for a refund within 30 days when the return is due to an error on the bookseller’s part.

Even outside of your return window, AbeBooks will still buy those books back from you at a decent rate. Check out our full AbeBooks review here.

Shop AbeBooks here >>

2. Amazon

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If you have done online shopping of any kind, you know Amazon has one of the largest selections for college textbooks. You can see a wide selection of sellers on Amazon.

Amazon offers options to purchase, sell, and rent textbooks at a discount. You can always sell those same books on Amazon once the course is over. If you are eligible for Amazon Prime, you can also get your textbooks super fast.

Remember, students can take advantage of Amazon Student, which is a discount version of Amazon Prime, and still has many of the perks.

Amazon is typically the leader in textbook sales, and their marketplace, where you can buy used books, is top notch. Check out our full Amazon Textbook Review here.

Shop Amazon Textbooks here >>

3. Barnes And Noble

BarnesandNobleBarnesandNobleBarnesandNoble

Barnes and Noble is the last major national book retailer in the United States. While they don’t sell many textbooks in their store, their website sells just about every textbook imaginable. They also offer textbook rentals, and they even have a textbook buyback program to sell your textbook back at the end of the semester.

They advertise that you can save upwards of 90% off the cover price on textbooks, and they offer free shipping on orders over $25 (which covers just about every textbook).

When comparing, we recommend you make Barnes and Noble one of your stops. Check out our full Barnes and Noble review here.

Shop Barnes and Noble here >>

4. BigWords

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BigWords is a search engine designed to help you find the best prices on college textbooks. Although you may end up purchasing textbooks through different retailers, you will be able to get the best prices and shipping costs.

You also have the option to rent textbooks and view rental prices against the price of purchase. Once your class is over, you can sell the books back to the highest bidder on the site.

The site isn’t the easiest to use, but it’s still a great tool to compare the prices before you buy.

5. BookFinder

BookFinderBookFinderBookFinder

BookFinder will help you search for the lowest prices to buy books, and the highest return for selling books. You can compare new, used and rental offers from over a large selection of sellers, including major websites such as AbeBooks and Amazon.

All you need is the ISBN number or Title and Author. BookFinder offers free shipping and quick accurate cost comparison.

The website looks like the best of 1999, but it works, and it can be helpful to find the lowest prices.

6. BooksRun

BooksRun logoBooksRun logoBooksRun logo

BooksRun lets you buy, sell, and rent textbooks. But they are also one of the leaders in eTextbooks – so if you need a digital copy of your book, check out BooksRun.

If you go the eTextbook route, you can get instant access to you book. If you opt for a traditional book, they offer free shipping on everything – which is awesome.

Shop BooksRun here >>

7. CampusBooks.com

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CampusBooks.com has been around since the late 90s, and has been the go to resource for all things related to textbooks. CampusBooks.com offers an option to buy, rent, or sell textbooks, with average savings at least 60%.

A convenient feature on their website includes calculations based on discounts, coupons, promotions, shipping costs, and sales tax so that you get an accurate picture of the cost.

Their coupons are exclusive to their website, and they offer incentives to buy and sell with them. Many of their promotions are exclusive, which means that the savings can only be found right here.

Shop CampusBooks here >>

8. CheapTextBooks.com

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CheapTextBooks.com is a no-frills website where you can buy, sell, and rent textbooks. You can also search by ISBN, Title and Author, or even subject matter.

If you prefer to save your sales proceeds for credits towards future purchases, CheapTextBooks.com lets you sell your textbooks for cash or credit. They also have a blog and host giveaways as an incentive.

9. CheapestTextbooks

CheapestTextbooks.com is a free price comparison page for buying, renting and selling textbooks, they also price compare eBooks for rent or buy, across all the major textbook websites. Shipping is shown and any coupons that can be used are all shown on the same page for ease of use. They are completely up to date and constantly improving their site, so you know you are getting the best service. 

They have a great social media presence and can be found on Twitter, Facebook and even Instagram.

10. Chegg

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Chegg has been a longstanding website that offers competitive prices and a large selection of book versions and editions.

While Chegg discounts of up to 90%, most discounts will be lower, but the prices will still be way lower than some of the major websites, and definitely lower than your local campus bookstore.

Chegg allows you to search via title and author or ISBN number, but it also shows you an eBook version (if available for your selected textbook).

Chegg also offers the bonus of giving you free access to the electronic version of your textbook while the physical copies ship to you to avoid disruptions in your class schedule. In order to continue to offer competitive prices, Chegg features local deals and discounts with retailers on and around your college campus as well.

Chegg also has other resources- they also offer resources to help you find a job or internship, as well as help with your homework.

11. CollegeBooksDirect.com

CollegeBooksDirect.com offers one of the largest selections of used textbooks, and offers same day shipping for your textbook order (unless otherwise noted).

There is a wide selection of over 30,000 textbooks online, ranging from annotated textbooks, Instructor’s Edition textbooks, Text Only textbooks, New textbooks & Used textbooks.

They offer a wide variety of shipping options, with standard shipping options starting at $4.00 for the first book, and $1.00 for each additional item. They also offer UPS shipping 2nd day air at $15.00 for the first book, and $1.00 for each additional item. CollegeBooksDirect.com also offer a 30-day return policy.

12. eCampus

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eCampus is another long time online textbook seller, that also offer rental services and a textbook buyback program.

eCampus has a huge selection of books, but their free shipping level is $59, which is higher than many other places. However, the savings you find on the books might justify the higher price.

They do have a rewards program that can help you save in the long run. Check out our full eCampus review here.

13. SlugBooks.com

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Using SlugBooks.com, you can search by author and title or ISBN. You can also compare prices between Amazon, Chegg, Textbooks.com, and other online sellers.

SlugBooks.com also offers a unique feature that permits sellers to post their textbook requests and textbooks for sale on a separate page via Facebook.

If you’re looking for a more social media oriented comparison site, check out SlugBooks.com.

14. Valore Books

Valore BooksValore BooksValore Books

Valore Books give you the option to buy, rent, and sell textbooks. They offer a 30-day money back guarantee, and all textbook rentals come with free shipping.

Another useful feature is the instant price quotes Valore Books will give you when you sell your books- just enter the ISBN number. They also have an option for textbook stores to liquidate their inventory fast, which could translate into huge savings for you.

They don’t have a free shipping option, but their shipping is relatively cheap. However, it might not make sense compared to other companies in this list. Check out our full Valore Books review here.

Final Thoughts

Check out the cost of the textbooks at the campus bookstore first, this will give you an idea of the baseline retail price. It is worth checking out at least 2 comparison websites so that you can get an idea of the price range.

From there, narrow down the choices based on the factors that are important to you: buy back options for textbooks, low cost or fast shipping, and return policy.

Regardless of the choice you make, you will be sure to save hundreds of dollars off the retail price or your campus bookstore.

Have you bought textbooks online recently? Tell us about your experiences with buying textbooks online in the comments below!

The post The Best Places To Buy College Textbooks Online appeared first on The College Investor.



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Introducing Coverage Critic: Time to Kill the $80 Mobile Phone Bill Forever

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A Quick Foreword: Although the world is still in Pandemic mode, we are shifting gears back to personal finance mode here at MMM. Partly because we could all use a distraction right now, and even more important because forced time off like this is the ideal time to re-invest in optimizing parts of your life such as your fitness, food and finances.

Canadian Readers – we have also collected some recommendations for you at a new Canadian Mobile Phone recommendations page.

Every now and then, I learn to my horror that some people are still paying preposterous amounts for mobile phone service, so I write another article about it.

If we are lucky, a solid number of people make the switch and enjoy increased prosperity, but everyone who didn’t happen to read that article goes on paying and paying, and I see it in the case studies that people email me when looking for advice. Lines like this in their budget:

  • mobile phone service (2 people): $160

“NO!!!!”
is all I can say, when I see such unnecessary expenditure. These days, a great nationwide phone service plan costs between and $10-40 per month, depending on how many frills you need.

Why is this a big deal? Just because of this simple fact:

  • Cutting $100 per month from your budget becomes a $17,000 boost to your wealth every ten years.

And today’s $10-40 phone plans are just great. Anything more than that is just a plain old ripoff, end of story. Just as any phone more expensive than $200* (yes, that includes all new iPhones), is probably a waste of money too.

So today, we are going to take the next step: assigning a permanent inner-circle Mustachian expert to monitor the ever-improving cell phone market, and dispense the latest advice as appropriate. And I happen to know just the guy:

Christian Smith, along with colleagues at GiveWell in San Francisco, circa 2016

My first contact with Chris was in 2016 when he was working with GiveWell, a super-efficient charitable organization that often tops the list for people looking to maximize the impact of their giving.

But much to my surprise, he showed up in my own HQ coworking space in 2018, and I noticed he was a bit of a mobile phone research addict. He had started an intriguing website called Coverage Critic, and started methodically reviewing every phone plan (and even many handsets) he could get his hands on, and I liked the thorough and open way in which he did it.

This was ideal for me, because frankly I don’t have time to keep pace with ongoing changes in the marketplace. I may be an expert on construction and energy consumption, but I defer to my friend Ben when I have questions about fixing cars, Brandon when I need advice on credit cards, HQ member Dr. D for insider perspectives on the life of a doctor and the medical industry, and now Chris can take on the mobile phone world.

So we decided to team up: Chris will maintain his own list of the best cheap mobile phone plans on a new Coverage Critic page here on MMM. He gets the benefit of more people enjoying his work, and I get the benefit of more useful information on my site. And if it goes well, it will generate savings for you and eventual referral income for us (more on that at the bottom of this article).

So to complete this introduction, I will hand the keyboard over to the man himself.

Meet The Coverage Critic

Chris, engaged in some recent Coverage Criticicism at MMM-HQ

I started my professional life working on cost-effectiveness models for the charity evaluator GiveWell. (The organization is awesome; see MMM’s earlier post.) When I was ready for a career change, I figured I’d like to combine my analytical nature with my knack for cutting through bullshit. That quickly led me to the cell phone industry.

So about a year ago, I created a site called Coverage Critic in the hopes of meeting a need that was being overlooked: detailed mobile phone service reviews, without the common problem of bias due to undisclosed financial arrangements between the phone company and the reviewer.

What’s the Problem with the Cell Phone Industry?

Somehow, every mobile phone network in the U.S. claims to offer the best service. And each network can back up its claims by referencing third-party evaluations. 

How is that possible? Bad financial incentives.

Each network wants to claim it is great. Network operators are willing to pay to license reviewers’ “awards”. Consequently, money-hungry reviewers give awards to undeserving, mediocre networks.

On top of this, many phone companies have whipped up combinations of confusing plans, convoluted prices, and misleading claims. Just a few examples:

  • Coverage maps continue to be wildly inaccurate.
  • Many carriers offer “unlimited” plans that have limits.
  • All of the major U.S. network operators are overhyping next-generation, 5G technologies. AT&T has even started tricking its subscribers by renaming some of its 4G service “5GE.”

However, with enough research and shoveling, I believe it becomes clear which phone companies and plans offer the best bang for the buck.  So going forward, MMM and I will be collaborating to share recommended phone plans right here on his website, and adding an automated plan finder tool soon afterwards. I think you’ll find that there are a lot of great, budget-friendly options on the market.

A Few Quick Examples:

Mint Mobile: unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 8GB of data for as low as $20 per month (runs over T-Mobile’s network).

T-Mobile Connect: unlimited minutes and texts with 2GB of data for $15 per month.

Xfinity Mobile: 5 lines with unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, and 10GB of shared data over Verizon’s network for about $12 per line each month (heads up: only Xfinity Internet customers are eligible, and the bring-your-own-device program is somewhat restrictive).

Cricket Wireless: 4 lines in a combined family plan with unlimited calling, unlimited texting, and unlimited data for as low as $100 per month (runs on AT&T’s network).

Ting: Limited use family plans for under $15 per line each month.

[MMM note – even as a frequent traveler, serious techie and a “professional blogger”, I rarely use more than 1GB each month on my own Google Fi plan ($20 base cost plus data, then $15 for each additional family member). So some of these are indeed generous plans]

Okay, What About Phones?

With the above carriers, you may be able to bring your existing phone. But if you need a new one, there are some damn good, low-cost options these days. The Moto G7 Play is only $130 and offers outstanding performance despite the low price point. I use it as my personal phone and love it.

If you really want something fancy, consider the Google Pixel 3a or the recently released, second-generation iPhone SE. Both of these are amazing phones and about half as expensive as an iPhone 11.

——————————————-

Mobile Phone Service 101

If you’re looking to save on cell phone service, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the industry. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to skip over a lot of nuances in the rest of this post. If you’re a nerd like me and want more technical details, check out my longer, drier article that goes into more depth.

The Wireless Market

There are only four nationwide networks in the U.S. (soon to be three thanks to a merger between T-Mobile and Sprint). They vary in the extent of their coverage:

  • Verizon (most coverage)
  • AT&T (2nd best coverage)
  • T-Mobile (3rd best coverage)
  • Sprint (worst coverage)

Not everyone needs the most coverage. All four nationwide networks typically offer solid coverage in densely populated areas. Coverage should be a bigger concern for people who regularly find themselves deep in the mountains or cornfields.

While there are only four nationwide networks, there are dozens of carriers offering cell phone service to consumers – offering vastly different pricing and customer service experiences.

Expensive services running over a given network will tend to offer better customer service, more roaming coverage, and better priority during periods of congestion than low-cost carriers using the same network. That said, many people won’t even notice a difference between low-cost and high-cost carriers using the same network.

For most people, the easiest way to figure out whether a low-cost carrier will provide a good experience is to just try one. You can typically sign up for these services without a long-term commitment. If you have a good initial experience with a budget-friendly carrier, you can stick with it and save substantially month after month.

With a good carrier, a budget-friendly phone, and a bit of effort to limit data use, most people can have a great cellular experience while saving a bunch of money.

MMM’s Conclusion

From now on, you can check in on the Coverage Critic’s recommendations at mrmoneymustache.com/coveragecritic, and he will also be issuing occasional clever or wry commentary on Twitter at @Coverage_Critic.

Thanks for joining the team, Chris!

*okay, special exception if you use it for work in video or photography. I paid $299 a year ago for my stupendously fancy Google Pixel 3a phone.. but only because I run this blog and the extra spending is justified by the better camera.

The Full Disclosure: whenever possible, we have signed this blog up for referral programs with any recommended companies that offer them, so we may receive a commission if you sign up for a plan using our research. We aim to avoid letting income (or lack thereof) affect our recommendations, but we still want to be upfront about everything so you can judge for yourself. Specific details about these referral programs is shared on the CC transparency page. MMM explains more about how he handles affiliate arrangements here.



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