Updated on 06.05.14

Reader Mailbag: Distractions

Trent Hamm

Yesterday, my father had emergency surgery to relieve a big infection that started when he got a fish hook embedded in his hand and he didn’t clean the wound properly immediately. I spent most of the day distracted and worried about him (he seems to be doing okay).

I mostly wandered around in a daze. I did some work, but I had a hard time staying focused. I played with my kids. I took a long walk. Mostly, I wished I was there at the hospital.

We all go through things like this. The best thing you can do to prepare is to make sure you always have breathing room in your work and in your life.

I’m confused about how to calculate what I need in an emergency fund – it is 6 months expenses for normal life or 6 months expenses minus what you wouldn’t spend if you weren’t working (like extra debt payments, commuting costs)? Should you count potential unemployment earnings in your plan? Is the emergency fund for dealing with unemployment or dealing with an accident?
– Michele

I usually use six months of minimal expenses – what you would need to keep food on the table and keep the bills paid. I do assume work costs because such emergencies might not necessarily be a job loss – there are lots of different kinds of emergencies that might happen. Similarly, I don’t include unemployment earnings in that number.

If you feel that six months’ worth of that is somehow too much, then don’t save it. However, I’ve moved to the idea of the “bottomless” emergency fund, simply because I just don’t know what the future holds and I want to be prepared for anything.

I do that by simply saving a small amount each week in my emergency fund and I simply don’t worry about the balance. If it grows beyond some arbitrary level, all that means is that I’ll be extra relieved when an emergency does happen.

I was reading your article on preparing your information for disaster https://www.thesimpledollar.com/2009/05/26/preparing-your-information-for-disaster/ and was wondering what your thoughts are on dead mans switches? I assume you’ve heard of them, basically all the information you highlighted in your article would be kept encrypted on an e-mail server and if you don’t press an electronic button once a week or so to let the server know you are alive it will send out your information to your beneficiaries (usually after 3 failed attempts or so). Do you like this idea? I am a little hesitant about having a binder laying around with all my personal & financial information in it in case it gets misplaced or fell into the wrong hands.
– Chris

I don’t like “dead man’s switches” simply because there are times in everyday life when you won’t necessarily be able to get to that switch in time. Not only do you always have to remember it, you have to be in a place to be able to push it when you think of it.

My solution is to keep the information in a safe box at the bank. I keep an unmarked key in a safe place and I’ve told the small handful of people I deeply trust where the key is and what it’s for. In my will, I state who has access to the document and encourage the executor to contact them. That’s really, truly good enough for me.

My husband and I have decided that it’s probably time to refinance. We think we can get a rate about 2 points lower than what we currently have, which would really help our monthly expenses, particularly since we’re expecting a baby in September. We’re not having any trouble making the mortgage now (and frequently pay extra), but that bit of extra flexibility will be helpful since we don’t know exactly what my work situation is going to be, post-baby (but I’ll probably be making less money than I am now).

The problem is, we don’t QUITE know what we’re doing. I was wondering if you could do an article on how to refinance your home without getting screwed. When we did our mortgage initially, even though we had done some research, we really felt like we were at the mercy of the brokers and real estate people and everyone. We got jerked around a lot, and it was super stressful. The crowning moment was when they called to tell us our official, finalized closing costs–the evening before we were supposed to close–and the number was around $2000 more than the “good faith estimate.” It wasn’t until then that we understood that there was nothing “good faith” about that estimate, and no legal requirement that it be even in the same ballpark as what they would actually charge us. We asked around and found out that this had happened to a number of our friends–I wish we had asked those questions earlier! I don’t want any similar unpleasant surprises, so I’m asking anyone I can think of to give me a talk-through of what to expect, and what warning signs to look out for.
– Alisha

There’s really no need for a full article on refinancing your home. The process is incredibly similar to shopping around for a mortgage, except it’s even easier because you already have the collateral in hand – your home.

All you do is simply go get quotes from various home lenders, do your own research into their reliability and customer service (trust me, it’s much better to work with a local credit union with a great reputation for customer service than MegaBankCorp where you’re just a number when you’re having problems with your mortgage), and select one based on those factors. Usually, lenders that overshoot their “good faith estimate” have a pretty poor reputation online, so just research your lender before you ever sign.

If you feel you need more detailed guidance, there are tons of books at the library that can walk you through this more carefully.

One final tip: don’t deal with a “broker.” Go get the quotes yourself directly from institutions that you’re willing to work with. Yes, it takes time, but it helps you figure out the deal that’s best for you.

I was wondering about your thoughts on the morality of short sales when a person can afford their payments but want to sell and are underwater. I know you agree with me that walking away and foreclosing is wrong.

Here’s our situation: I’ve been offered a job across the country that would include a 30 percent raise an would be a good career move. The problem is that we are underwater on our house and would need to do a short sale to sell. We can easily afford our mortgage and I wonder if it’s right to make this move and leave the bank shortchanged.
– Nate

I don’t think that’s “walking away from a mortgage” at all. You’re moving for a legitimate reason – a different career path – as opposed to merely trying to make someone else hold the bag on a bad investment you made.

Is it the right thing to do? That’s really up to you and your bank. If your bank is willing to accept a short sale in this situation, I’d go for it. Sometimes banks will do that and sometimes they won’t.

This is the normal type of risk that banks account for when they create mortgages, so I wouldn’t worry about it.

Hi Trent: I have long followed many of the principals of your Forum but now find one coming back to haunt me. I loathe debt and have been debt free since the year 2000. I use a debit card or cash to pay for everything. I purchased my condo and car both for cash. I live and work abroad. I recently thought of purchasing a home in California. Was going to put 75% down and thought to borrow the balance. The loan broker said I would not qualify for a normal loan as I had no credit history despite owning a home in the USA in the 90’s! I have a net worth of 1.7m/ annual income of 200k but that was not good enough. Needless to say I was shocked.

So I find mind myself now having to use credit to gain “credit worthiness”. I signed up a for Fidelity Amex credit card. Can you suggest any other way I might establish a credit history? I don’t want to take out a mortgage but you never know. I want the option of access to credit. I would appreciate your comment.
– Matthew

You absolutely need to go to a home lender that does manual underwriting instead of this automated nonsense that gives a pretty poor picture of one’s true credit worthiness. A credit score is a great quick check for simple things (like figuring out insurance rates), but for big things like a home mortgage – especially in your case – manual underwriting is best.

When someone does manual underwriting, they actually investigate you instead of scanning a credit report. You’re obviously a person worth lending to – your credit report, on the other hand, is a blank slate.

If you’re looking to build a positive credit rating (just because it can be generally useful, like for insurance rates), a credit card is a good way to do it, particularly if you have self control when it comes to using it (which you obviously do).

Any recommendations for baby carriers? We have a six-week-old baby boy and so far we have our eyes on both the Ergo and the Baby Bjorn (leaning towards the Ergo since I have back pain and don’t want to exacerbate it). I figure you’ve probably done your research on this.
– Justin

My wife and I chose the Baby Bjorn in 2005 for our son and we’re still using it for child #3. It has worked extremely well as a hands-free child carrier.

It doesn’t appear that the exact model we purchased is still for sale (or maybe it’s been redesigned). After looking at dozens of such carriers on Amazon, it looks like this one is the most similar to the one we have.

The biggest problem we have is that I’m more than a foot taller than my wife, which means that for us to switch users, we have to make a ton of adjustments to it. If you vary greatly in size from your wife, two of them wouldn’t be a bad idea.

I was interested to see your recipe for chicken fingers the other day, and I hope you post more food-related articles in the future. I am curious, since you have two preschool kids, are they picky eaters? Are there any foods they won’t eat or that are hard to get them to eat? How do you and Sarah get them to eat fruits and veggies, or meat? Try new foods, or exotic/ethnic/”weird looking” foods? I hope they aren’t stuck in the chicken fingers/mac n’ cheese/pbj rut too many kids their age are in. I myself was a very picky eater and can recall many heated fights for many years. I am sorry for now as my stubbornness resulted in bad habits and a limited palate on my part. Thank you.
– Lorraine

They have preferences, without question. There are some foods they really like and some foods they do not.

Our goal as parents is usually to just expose them to a lot of different things – and, most importantly, demonstrate an interest in and enjoyment of a wide variety of foods.

For the most part, this has worked well. Among my son’s favorite foods are crab legs and black olives – fairly unusual for a four year old. My daughter has a passion for “spicy” salsa – and the funny part is that her definition of “spicy” is pretty intensely hot.

Whenever we have a meal with an unusual dish, all we require is that they try one bite of it – that’s all. If we have three courses (which is typical), we usually fill their plate with a small amount of each item, then tell them they have to clean up two of the three items and take one bite of the third. That usually takes care of the “ewww…. I don’t like it” problem pretty well.

I have a question that I bet many of your readers may be interested but I am unsure where to post it where it may generate further comments and input from you as well. I will give you the basics and if you can point me to the correct area of your site I will be happy to place my question there.

After poor budgeting, poor planning, unexpected medical bills and a couple of lay-offs after the events of 9/11 – I found myself filing bankruptcy around 4 years ago. Since then I have rebuilt my credit to the point I was able to buy a home at a good interest rate, purchase a good used car and set up a budget that covers my expenses and leaves me a little left over at the end of each month. Here is the problem. At 39 years of age I have NOTHING saved for retirement and I only have a few thousand dollars in my emergency fund. Now certainly I am not in completely dire straits as some may be but the reality of not planning at an earlier age for retirement and how to move forward currently is at the forefront of my mind. I have two young children but I remember hearing a financial planner saying at one point, “if you can only fund a college fund or your retirement fund – save for retirement unless you want to be living with your children when you retire.”

I have a feeling there are many my age who may be in the same boat I am – starting a retirement plan at a less than optimal age. I see many letters in the mailbag regarding 20-somethings’ wanting advise on how to start their financial lives (smart folks) but I have not seen older individuals or families writing in for opinions on this kind of situation. I certainly believe that getting my emergency fund up to a 6-month cushion is paramount but what would you recommend after that?
– Allen

There’s no easy way out here – you simply have to double down on your savings.

If you start retirement savings when you’re 25 years old, you can get away with contributing a lot less per year over your lifetime. This is not only true because you have more years to contribute, but because the earlier contributions have a lot more time to add value.

You’re 39. The numbers are a lot different, but they are doable.

Spend some time looking at a good retirement calculator, like this one at MSN. You’ll find that if you start plugging in numbers, there are ways to get yourself to the retirement level you need at age 65. However, it’ll either take a lot more savings each year or some extremely lucky years on the stock market to make it.

To be on the safe side, bet on the “more savings each year” side of the equation. You most likely need to be socking away 20% of your pretax income starting now in order to be ready for retirement when it rolls around.

I have a question for you about valuable property insurance. My husband and I purchased a very expensive rug at a bankruptcy liquidation sale (original price ~$4,500, but we got it for 10% of that or $450). It was simply a deal we could not pass up and I have been looking for a quality rug for about 7 months now. With the exception of some family jewelery and our house, this is most valuable piece of property we own. We currently have insurance on the jewelry and the house, but we’re unsure if we should insure the rug as well. My husband feels at a certain point we can’t keep paying a separate policy for each valuable item we acquire. I think that we probably will acquire more items that will need to be insured, but since we have so few items right now, it’s not appropriate to adjust our full homeowners policy to cover just a few valuable items. I’d be interested on your opinion on this issue.
– Elaine

You need to read over your homeowners insurance policy very carefully. Almost every homeowners insurance policy has an item included in it that covers loss of contents of the home, so in the event of a fire or other disaster, your rug is most likely covered.

For most people, the default amount of the value of the contents exceeds the value of the contents by quite a lot. This is usually done so that the “value” of the insurance is higher and thus the insurance companies can charge you a higher rate for your insurance.

If you wish to insure the rug separately against other events (like a stain), you can probably do this, but you will likely be paying pretty high premiums for it. If I were you, I’d just bank those premiums instead as a “replacement fund” for the rug so that if something did happen, you’d be ready to replace it on your own without giving money away.

I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and have gained a lot of insight from them.For some reason I always thought that you were not a Christian from the little I could gather about your spirituality from The Simple Dollar.But having read your article today about you being in the committee of your church,I believe that you are.Is that true?If so,why would you comment that a certain book that you reviewed had heavy ‘Christian overtones.’When I read that, I felt you were not endorsing that book because it was “Christian.” If you don’t mind me asking,please tell me more about your spiritual life.
– Preethy

I’ve mentioned quite a few times on The Simple Dollar that I’m a Christian. I am heavily involved in my local church, particularly in terms of helping to organize their money and direct it towards the needy in the local community by giving to the local food pantry and so on.

I don’t waste my time judging other people and I certainly can’t tell them what to believe nor will I berate them for not believing what I do. All I can do is try to help them improve their lives and solve their financial and professional problems so that with a clearer mind and greater opportunities, they are open to finding whatever answers life has in store for them.

If someone writes to me asking for help, I don’t care whether they’re a Christian or a Muslim or a Hindu or an atheist or a Zoroastrian. They’re a person and that, to me, is more than enough to offer my help in whatever way I can. Unless they’re seeking spiritual guidance, talking about religion does not help them – it just likely alienates them from whatever help I might be able to offer.

Most people don’t care what I believe or what you believe, but they don’t like it when someone uses that belief like a weapon of judgment. When a person comes to a point in their life when they’re looking for spiritual answers, they’ll ask the people they trust. That’s a private conversation that doesn’t need to be in a forum like this, so I keep it out of here.

Whats your suggestions on explaining frugal living to friends that don’t want to hear it but are clearly living beyond their means? Or they give excuses why it wont or cant work for them.
– Marvin

My answer to this question is actually pretty similar to the one above. Don’t waste your time preaching the “gospel of frugality” to someone who doesn’t want to hear it. When their life hits bottom and they’re ready, you can talk all you want about it.

What can you do, then? Take action. Invite them over to your home quite often so that they can see how many frugal things are simply a part of your daily routine (without making any show of it). Talk happily about the frugal stuff you do and invite them along to things like community concerts. Offer to help them fix a minor plumbing or electrical problem themselves so they don’t have to call a plumber. When an emergency happens, don’t go into panic mode – simply say, “Wow, glad I’ve got an emergency fund!” and just take care of it with cold, hard cash.

In other words, don’t waste your time talking the talk – people don’t want to hear it. Walk the walk. People see that and when they’ve reached a point in their life when they’re open to hearing more, then you can talk the talk all you want.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag. However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. Shannon says:

    Trent – your answer to Preethy was one of the nicest things you’ve written on this blog…

  2. deb says:

    I agree with Shannon, and I appreciate that your view on this resonates throughout your blog. It’s one of the reasons I keep returning.

  3. Torben says:

    One comment on the baby carrier: many physiotherapists (including my wife) recomment NOT choosing the Baby Björn because the part between baby’s legs is too narrow and allows the legs to dangle down (thus being a potential source for hip problems, or exacerbating risks that would otherwise be lower).

    Babies’ legs should be spread to the side when carried. Instead, products like the Manduca are recommended (http://www.manduca-baby-carrier.eu/). You can see on the website’s images that the babies’ legs are in a sitting position rather than a standing position.

    Manducas can be worn front or back, and the straps are quickly adjusted to different parent body sizes. I’ve been using one for mountain hikes with great comfort even after many hours.

  4. Kate says:

    I agree with Shannon and Deb—I loved this answer and the way you walk the walk. You keep it simple and the grace shines through. Thanks!

  5. Kevin says:

    Nate should be aware that you can’t just “decide” to do a short sale. The bank has to approve it. And the only reason the bank would approve it is if they believe you can’t afford your mortgage, and that a foreclosure is inevitable unless they approve a (less painful for the bank) short sale.

    Nate says he can easily afford his current mortgage payment, so he should proceed assuming that a short sale is not even an option. There’s no way his bank will agree to it. He needs to let go of the short sale idea and find another solution.

  6. Leigh says:

    Baby Carriers
    try before you buy. There are several style (Bjorn type, wrap, sling, soft structured like the ergo and mei tais) particularly with soft structured carriers different ones fit differently and what was perfect for your friend or partner may be uncomfortable for you. Look around for a local babywearing group. They will show you some options, how to wear them and most have a lending library. For more information you can also check out thebabywearer.com

    The Ergo will be comfortable (assuming it fits) for years, while you can not wear 25lb 18 month old comfortable (or at all?) in a Bjorn.

    We use a Baby Hawk Oh Shap (similar to the Ergo) with our toddler and loved their Mei Tai (with ties rather than buckles) when he was smaller. I use my carriers a lot and they were one of the few baby things I really put money into.

  7. guinness416 says:

    Tone-perfect answer on the religion question, mate. Would that others felt the same …. Hope your dad feels better soon.

  8. Sarah says:

    This comment is for Justin, who asked about baby carriers. In my opinion (as a babywearing mother of three who has done a lot of research and also owned both an Ergo and a Baby Bjorn) an Ergo would be a much better purchase. You will be able to carry your baby (and comfortably!) well into toddlerhood. The way the baby’s legs are positioned in an Ergo is also supposed to be better for baby’s hips than the Bjorn. The Ergo is great, but my personal favorite is the Beco. http://www.becobabycarrier.com/ It works for newborns, and we are still carrying my one year old and even my three year old in it sometimes. I am five feet tall and my husband is six feet, and we can both use ti with no problems. It was the best “baby” purchase I ever made!

  9. Eve says:

    I agree with Leigh on the baby carrier question–definitely try before you buy. I can’t say enough good things about the Ergo, and my 16 month old son loves it, too. The Bjorn is ok, but it’s not something you’ll be able to wear once baby hits 15-20 pounds or so. (The carrier can handle the weight, but it’s not distributed well, and it will definitely hurt your back.) You might also want to consider a stretchy type wrap for when the baby is very small.

    If you don’t have a babywearing group nearby, just order from a website with a good return policy. A carrier is useful, but it’s not something that you must have on day 1–you’ve got time to figure out what works for you.

  10. Fred says:

    Regarding insuring personal possessions – it’s been my opinion that you should only insure what you can’t afford to lose. Your life would go on if you lost the rug. Not so with your house or car.

  11. Nate says:

    Kevin –
    A little more clarification on the short sale thing. We can easily afford our mortgage with all things being as they are right now. If I accept this job we will lose my wife’s income and will need to pay rent on a home on the other side of the country. In that situation, we would not be able to afford our mortgage for the long term. We’d be able to make it fly for 9 months, but not much longer.

    Are you saying that morally, I should not accept this job because we would have to do a short sale (assuming the bank agrees)? We are thinking of renting as well, which has many advantages.

    Baby Carriers –
    We have the Ergo and it’s awesome! I love it. We had a Bjorn and it was a lot more complicated to use and I didn’t like it, though I’m sure there are tons of models out there. Try some out and pick the one that feels best to you.

  12. TLS says:

    Elaine – Our homeowners policy covers individual items worth up to $2500. This means that, for a rug worth $4500, we would be reimbursed for an amount up to $2500 (less the deductible) if the rug were stolen or damaged. To insure the entire $4500 amount of the rug, we would have to take out additional insurance. This is how our insurance agent explained it to me.
    I would read your policy carefully (as Trent said) and check with your insurance agent.

  13. TLS says:

    Trent, I hope your dad recovers quickly. It is so hard when you just have to wait and can’t do anything to help.

  14. Lauren says:

    I second Leigh on the baby carriers, though I do not recommend the Bjorn. For a newborn, I LOVED my Moby Wrap ($39), and now I almost exclusively use my Ergo for my 5-month-old. We have a Bjorn as well, and it is terribly uncomfortable for any length of time. Not to mention that it pretty much just hangs baby by the crotch. They actually sit IN the ergo, and both my husband and I are very comfortable wearing it. I wore my baby for 4 hours at the art fair and wasn’t even sore at all the next day.
    Another option people seem to love is the Beco, and I’ve heard great things about the BabyHawk Mei Tai too. I highly recommend trying out the different carriers. There’s very likely a group in your area that will let you borrow them, and if not, try to find a local cloth diaper shop. Almost all of the small independent cloth diaper shops I’ve found online (they’ll open their storefronts a few hours a week or by appt) carry some kind of baby carriers.
    For the occasional babywearing, the Bjorn is fine, but if you’re looking at Attachment Parenting-style babywearing, where you’re wearing quite a lot, I really think you’d be happier with something else. Our Ergo was TOTALLY worth the money.

  15. Geoff says:

    New RESPA guidelines eliminated this practice as of January 1st 2010. Lenders now need to provide a list of their fees upfront that cannot change, and any fees of third parties they use can only go up by 10%.

    I work for a small mortgage bank and I’d say get quotes from a few sources. You can usually tell who is being honest with you just by talking to them.

    I agree to stay away from brokers, go with a small bank or a mortgage company that funds their own loans.

  16. Brent says:

    On the subject of a dead man’s switch. I really like that idea. if you were going on vacation or unavailable in a pre-planned way you could just set it on a delay. I personally would perfer one that used multiple contact avenues. 1. Email a link 2. automated phone call 3. Email a trusted 3rd party.
    For a single person that doesn’t want to share the info unless they are dead, this could be a great peace of mind. If you have a password management database, or a drop box online. All it would take is that info and an executor could gain access to all your accounts. The real boon for the digital access to the drop box is that you can use that as your normal storage and can update as often as you feel like. A safe deposit box is good for hard documents, but not for passwords which should be changed relatively frequently.

  17. Amy says:

    Regardless of spiritual beliefs, I think it’s appropriate to mention in a review is a book has Christian (or other spiritual) overtones, because that is information valuable to the person reading your review.

    I review young adult books for a publication marketed specifically to teen services librarians looking to purchase books for their teen collections. The reviewers are asked to comment if the book contains a fair bit of controversial material (sex, drug use, etc.) — NOT because we are judging, but because the librarians will be better equipped to do their jobs if they know what’s in the books. That’s all. You don’t want to accidentally recommend a teen book with especially adult themes to a precocious 10-year-old reader. Just as a potential reader might be grateful to know if a financial advice book has a notably Christian viewpoint.

  18. Monark says:

    Just wondering why you so strongly advised Michele to avoid mortgage brokers when shopping for a refinance? I have been a mortgage broker for the last 10 years and can frequently deliver better rates and much better service to my customers. As for the changing good faith estimate Michele encountered during the purchase of her home, I would encourage her to research the new for 2010 laws on good faith estimates to see what fees/costs can and cannot change after the estimate has been given.

  19. Monark says:

    SHould have referenced Alisha not Michele – sorry

  20. Your answer to the question of religion is spot on! Spirituality is something that is very personal and leading by example through living a virtuous life has a far greater influence on others than simply preaching the word of God. For people who already believe, being in company of like-minded people creates a feeling of belonging and community but for those who are unsure where they stand about religion, or those who discard it as ghost stories, feel alienated or at the fringe of the community.

    Personally, I am not bothered by the occassional reference to religion since it helps shape my opinion of the church and its followers in a way that is separate from being preached to by people on the street corner (which is a huge turnoff, for me). Lately I have begun to search for meaning beyond the material world, to struggle with the thoughts of my own mortality and the last thing I want is someone telling me there is only one truth. I prefer to observe others and how they live and worship and try to blend that with my own life and personally held beliefs.

    I also think that spirituality can have absolutely nothing to do with God or an afterlife and more with how we live our lives while we are breathing. Where I stand today is that there is no afterlife and I have one shot to get things right. I want to leave an impact on the world in a positive way and I want those around me to remember me for living a great and full life with purpose and meaning, fighting for what I believe is right but always keeping an open mind in case I’m wrong.

    On another note, about the EFs, wouldn’t it be better to set an arbitrary amount that you feel comfortable with and begin directing your savings towards investment vehicles which will yield a higher interest rate over the long-term? Then if you do find yourself in an emergency that requires more money than you have in your fund, you could fall back on your investments? Just wondering, because it doesn’t make sense to me to have a huge pile of money earning low interest rates when it could be used elsewhere.

  21. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    @Kevin (#3)
    A short sale does not depend on your ability to make the mortgage. The bank knows that Nate could walk away from his mortgage if he wants, since the house is underwater. It’s usually in their best interest to go through with a short sale and get a higher return than if they foreclosed. Still, that decision is up to the bank. Some banks will go for it and some won’t.

    Great answer on the religious overtones question Trent, thank you.

  22. Johanna says:

    I too liked the answer to the religion question. But I can’t help but think about what this says about us as a society that stuff like this is even worth mentioning. Should it really be so praiseworthy to say that people of other religions are people too? Shouldn’t it just be, you know, the normal state of things?

  23. T'Pol says:

    I am Muslim (although if you saw me, you wouldn’t be able to tell) and I enjoy a lot of “Christian” themed blogs. Despite what we see in the world, all the religions tell us to be basically “good people”. Fanaticism happens when people just forget that very simple thing.

  24. T'Pol says:

    Oh BTW, sorry Trent! I hope your father is feeling much better now.

  25. @Johanna: Should it be? Yeah, it should. We are all in this thing together. Is it? It doesn’t seem so. Wars fought in the name of religion have killed more people than in the name of Hitler, etc, etc.

    In my own experience, I have found that people, both religious and not, have a condescending attitude towards one another. It is true that we are all human and with it, our human flaws, one of which is to treat one another as inferior.

  26. Ruth says:

    @Allen – Given your age and retirement situation, you’re likely to find retirement calculators VERY discouraging – it’ll be pretty impossible to save enough money to live on for 30 or 40 years in the next 25. That doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless – a lot of people continue working well after age 65 (when many calculators assume you will retire) and it’s not just because of money – these days you are likely to have still have good health and energy at that age, and continuing to work may be more fulfilling than sitting around at home anyway.

  27. Chad says:

    I know I assumed quite a bit, but I thought you weren’t a Christian by your quotes of John Wooden. You failed to mention his purpose in life, “I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior.”

    Keep up the good work.

  28. M says:

    You are right on about preaching to the choir about finance. We have a family member who “again” is in financial trouble, mostly of their own making. We’ve heard “there isn’t any way we could live like you guys, you stay at home all the time, take sack lunches to work, buy clothes from good will”, on and on. But every couple of years there is this “meltdown”, something major happens and they don’t have the balance on the cards to pay for it. What they don’t know is if even both of us lost our jobs at the same time and had no income at all, unemployment etc, we could live comfortably for a little over a year in our present state. Pay our mortgage, utilities, insurance, gas, food without cutting a thing, if we dropped cable, a cell phone, stopped eating meat all together (which we have done in the past), worked little side jobs it would be even longer. It’s taken years to get to this point, and they assume that because we don’t eat out, go to movies or concerts, take expensive vacations, have new cars, a mega house, buy brand new clothes we are destitute, but it’s because we don’t that we are not.
    Hope your father gets well soon. It’s a lesson that even the smallest thing can cause huge problems.

  29. margaret says:

    I read Allen’s letter and thought, gee, that’s not so bad! Because, after all, you could be 39, no retirement savings, and in massive amounts of consumer debt. Which I am (although a little younger and with a tiny amount of retirement savings but OH! the debt!). So it could be worse. First of all, if you’ve learned your lessons from the past, then don’t beat yourself up and let it go. Don’t get overwhelmed by the future — just start taking steps. Even if you can’t start putting away 20% today, put away something — success breeds success.

    Several years ago I read a little book called something like “Free Parking” and it was pretty much a retirement book for people who had no retirement savings at all. It was written for Canadians, so much of the information wouldn’t apply to Americans. The title was based on the game of Monopoly. The author said that some people go all out to win at Monopoly, but sometimes they fail and go bankrupt. He always liked landing on Free Parking — you weren’t making the big bucks, but you were safe. And the book dealt with the minimum retirement benefits and all the programs that would be available if you did reach retirement with nothing but your government pension — e.g. subsidized housing.

    I subscribe to a finance magazine, and I’ve noticed in the last year or two a real shift in how they deal with retirement savings. It used to be about the huge amounts you had to save. But now the articles tend to say things like, hey, you don’t need to have half a million dollars when you retire. If you get the average CPP and receive OAS, you only need $200,000 saved — or whatever. The last article I read gave three scenarios — the eating cat food one, the moderate retirment, and the international travel retirement. Even if you just have CPP and OAS, you will be at the threshhold of the moderate retirement, so whatever you save it great but not barebones essential.

    I’ve also noticed a lot more articles about “where you should be in your 20s, 30s, 40s, etc”. And really, most of them say that in your 20s, you’re broke because you went to university and are at an entry level job and you’re spending your money on fun stuff. In your 30s you aren’t saving because you are paying for children and your first house etc. In your 40s is where most people (according to the article) really get serious about their retirement savings, and in your 50s and 60s you make up a lot of lost ground because your house is paid for, your kids don’t need financial support and you are in your highest income earning years.

    So take heart, Allen, you’re not alone, and there is hope!

  30. Christina in NM says:

    I like that Trent says whether a finance book has a religious overtone. I very much dislike when a non-religious book uses religious analogies to teach a lesson. It doesn’t ring true to me and, to be honest, I feel that it diminishes the message in the book. I don’t look to the Bible for inspiration or guidance on an issue so I avoid Christian-based materials.

  31. momcents says:


    Please, do yourself and your back a favor and go for the Ergo. I bought the Bjorn and completely regret it. The Ergo costs more, but it is a much better value. The Ergo distributes the weight of the baby evenly across your entire back. The Bjorn will only allow the babies weight to be carried on your upper back.

    This may not seem like a huge deal when you’re carrying around an eight pound newborn, but it makes a huge difference once your baby becomes a toddler. Also, the difference will become apparent to your wife much more quickly. There’s a good chance she’s lost some muscle tone after the pregnancy and carrying dead weight on her upper back is not the way build it back up.

    Hope this helps and congrats on the new baby!

  32. nickyt says:

    Regarding Matthew’s need for credit. There have been drastic changes in the mortgage world due to the recent few years. However, there are still options to establishing the “lines of credit” lenders want. If Matthew can show a history of cell phone payments, utility payments, or other monthly payments that don’t report to credit. Given the Loan-to-Value ratio, Debt-to-Income ratios are good, he should have some options available to him.

  33. Crystal says:

    I hope your dad recovers quickly! Great answer about religion.

    Allen, I’d save as much as I could even if I was starting late. You can supplement your retirement with part-time work if you choose or are forced to leave your full-time position.

  34. Claudia says:

    I just have to add my opinion that your answer to Preethy was absolutely perfect. “You can preach a better sermon with your life than your lips.” Don’t know who I’m quoting, but I like the quote.

    Good answer also to Lorraine. I’m a firm believer in not forcing children to eat anything. My mother always forced us to clean our plates. I used to like tomatoes, just not the slimey seeds in the middle. My mother would make me eat them and I’d gag. I still can not eat tomatoes and sometimes start to gag when I’m cutting them up for my husband. There’s a lot of other foods that I just can’t eat because of the negative connotations.

  35. CathyG says:

    If you are planning to keep your emergency papers in a safety deposit box at the bank, you might want to check your local laws. It is pretty common that upon notification of the death, the safety deposit box is sealed and is only allowed to be opened by the executor of the estate and only within certain prescribed timeframes/rules.

    I will also advise the folks that are shopping around for a mortgage: be wary before filling out an internet form that promises to send your information to multiple lenders to get the best rates. We did that and all it did for us was get us put on dozens of spam lists – we got letters, phone calls, emails, etc constantly for over a year. In the end, it was a mortgage broker who had the best rate.

  36. HC says:


    I hope your father feels better soon.

    My family’s rules for eating food, was you dish it you eat it, and you had to try everything once, and then again later “when your tastes change”.

  37. Alex says:


    You might also consider borrowing the 25% from a friend. I for one would be happy to lend money to a trusted friend who is putting 75% down. You would get to borrow the money today, while your friend would be protected by the large equity payment.

    If you are comfortable borrowing from someone you know, contact a friend who is open-minded to such business transactions.

  38. jim says:

    Nate: Be aware that a short sale WILL hurt your credit. And you might even be liable to owe the bank money in the end.

    Elaine: Call your insurance company and ask them about the rug. Your home owners insurance isn’t necessarily going to cover something like a valuable rug. Your insurer can quote you a price for how much to add thee rug if necessary, then you can decide if you want to pay extra.

    Preethy: Pointing out that a book has religious overtones is just simply stating a fact. If a book has religious content then that might be good for some readers or a turnoff for others, either way if religion is a large part of the book then its worth noting in a review. Same as if a book had numerous references to movies from the 1940’s or NASCAR racing then that would be worth a mention too.

    @ Steven : “Wars fought in the name of religion have killed more people than in the name of Hitler, etc, etc.”

    I’ve heard that and accepted it without question at one time. But I’ve come to think the claim is just unsubstantiated opinion. I don’t think that is based in fact. Can you find a reliable source that provides any substantive evidence of the claim? In modern history in teh 20th century most wars have not been religious, the population is significantly higher than in ancient times and we’re much better at killing one another. The Crusades are thought to have taken 1M-5M total lives and those lasted centuries, by comparison over 50M people died in WWII.

  39. Steve says:

    A Bjorn is better than nothing (e.g. holding the baby in your arms all day) but that’s about it. We bought one off craigslist for $15 just as a backup. To comfortably carry your baby older than a few weeks for more than an hour (if that) you need more structure. Even the person who was selling us the aforementioned backup Bjorn admitted that. Also everybody is different, so try them before you buy them!

  40. @Jim: I have read statistics that claim religious conflicts have claimed 809 million lives, including all wars fought on religious principles, not only the Crusades but all conficts, battles and wars throughout time in the name of religion, not only Christianity. I don’t know that anyone can substantiate that number given the lack of accurate data throughout history.

  41. BarbaraB says:

    Putting information that will be needed in an emergency in a safety deposit box is probably not a good idea. As CathyG said, safety deposit boxes are sealed when the owner dies. My mother had to go through probate in Florida to get access to her sister’s box. Maybe a home safe would be a better idea?

  42. Lenetta says:

    I bought my Ergo “used” (I think it was just returned – seemed new to me!) from http://www.myfavoritebabycarrier.com. Plus they have a money back guarantee, so I could return it if I didn’t like it. I loved it! Best money I spent.

  43. jim says:

    Steven, but where does that 809M number come from and whats the credibility of it? My point is nobody can substantiate any number and the numbers I’ve seen don’t even have any kind of data or source cited to back them up. If the number can’t be substantiated then we shouldn’t be citing it as a proven fact.

  44. I agree that the number cannot be substantiated and the source that that number is picked from isn’t any more reliable than any other source for statistics that are only speculation anyways. I never cited the number as fact and I don’t see anyone claiming it as fact. The statement that religion has killed more people than modern warfare or Hitler or whatever is a common statement that gets tossed about rather casually and as often as it is stated, there must be some validity behind it.

  45. Erica says:

    You may be interested in reading this article:
    It’s about kids trying new foods. You were talking about how your kids having food preferences.

  46. Camille says:

    I second CathyG’s note – if leaving items in a safe deposit box, it’s best to check the laws in your state or locality. In some states, safe deposit boxes are supposed to be sealed on the owner’s death so that the contents can be officially inventoried. (This is to prevent heirs from stealing things or hiding valuables in order to avoid paying inheritance tax on them.) This process could take quite a lot of time. And opening a safe deposit box after you know the owner is dead may be a crime. Even a power of attorney may not be applicable, although often there is an allowance for spouses…again, check the laws.

  47. Kingsley says:


    I really admire your ability to be a comitted religious person in a secular milieu. You expressed yourself very well and I think this is a lesson that both religious persons and atheists can learn. As an atheist I try to extend that same kind of respect to religious people.

  48. Kat says:

    Baby Carriers: I don’t recommend those that hang the baby by the crotch either. A lot of parents face them out too early causing hip dislocation when they don’t have the muscle tone to sit like that. I prefer buckle tais (like ergo, TMD (www.twomommasdesigns.com<– my personal fav), beco, baby hawk, etc), wraps (woven not knit {knit stretches to much to use it for very long but woven can even cary a toddler}), and mei tais which I like for the ability to be able to put my kid on my back myself. This is huge if you end up having a baby with colic and you end up holding them to soothe them for long periods of time. I agree. Have someone show you. Thebabywearer.com is a great resource for babywearing knowledge, what types, how to put them on, how to keep kids warm in them or cool in them, etc. I think it also depends on your build. Plus size women/men have a harder time wearing things with a thinner waist strap without discomfort so please also keep this in mind if either of you are carrying a bit of extra weight. The size difference can also make a huge difference in which carrier you get as well. GOOD LUCK :)

  49. Jennifer says:

    Lovely response on religion. I am an atheist and I enjoy this blog. However, as a general rule, I am not going to want to read personal finance books with religious overtones (or straight-up religion). There are too many books in that category to slog through books that offer advice mixed with religious ideas. For instance, I read an Ellie Kay book recently, and I read it despite its religious references, and I was irritated with myself for doing so. She told this story about donating her truck to an organization that helps the homeless, and then someone else gives her a car. It was all very The-Secret-God-is-your-genie, and I had to put the book down to keep from yelling “This is terrible advice!” at the book. Next time, I would rather know before I pick up a book.

    Preethy, I don’t know if you are reading this, but your comment made me think you would only value Trent’s money advice if he follows your religion. I don’t understand this mindset at all; try to consider that people of all faiths (or lack thereof) can make ethical, kind, intelligent decisions about finance as well as other topics. We like in a multi-faith world, and only sticking “with your own kind” is a little 20th century.

  50. I concur that Trent’s answer to the religion question was great, but it does leave out the practical reason that financial advice is more useful the more it reflects the values of the person receiving the advice. I don’t live my life according to Christian values and if it’s assumed that I do, this will lead to advice that I can’t use. Also, for most of my life, I have not been a member of a church so any advice that assumes church membership as a given (“Seek help from your pastor”) would also have been useless (I am now a member of a Unitarian Universalist church, but the speaker there isn’t really a pastor).

    I don’t mind biblical or qu’ranic references if they add insight and wit. But I do find they are very easy to overuse.

  51. Meghan says:

    I am kinda in the same boat as Nate — I lost my job in Feb 2009, found a new one 900 miles away and moved. I put my house on the market in June and it was shown twice before I switched realtors in January.

    After months of battling that my house would sell for 30k less then my owed mortgage (we’re talking $100k versus $130k, not a McMansion), I applied for a Short Sale. My realtor has a negotiator to work with and I submitted MOUNDS of paperwork. My realtor told me that I probably wouldn’t have been approved last June for a short sale without giving it a shot to sell at “Appraisal Value” versus “Market Value”.

    Be prepared for the credit hit. Trent has mentioned before to make sure you have your living space lined up, cars taken care of, ect. The hit on my 770 credit score is expected to be 150-200 points. There’s also a slight possibility that my car insurance and credit card % could increase due to a “bad credit score.”

    I rented it for a while, but it was a hassle. The renters stopped paying, I wasn’t getting an amount close to my mortgage payment, and it was causing undo stress at my current job.

    There is a possibility that I could still owe a small amount ($5k or so) to the mortgage company. Depends on what the house does sell for.

  52. Claudia says:

    Ah Jennifer (#32) I like your post!

  53. Meika says:

    @Justin, re baby carriers: I also highly recommend the Ergo. I still se it for my 18-month-old (30 lbs) and even my 3-year-old (40 lbs) on occasion. I owned several carriers prior to this, and it is the most comfortable and easiest to adjust, hands down. I did like the Moby for a tiny baby, but we really only used it for eight or ten weeks – I have big babies and just found the Ergo more comfortable after that, though I know there are ways to adjust the Moby for bigger babies.

    I recommend that you don’t consider the Bjorn. I used it with my first while in Japan, which means that I used it a LOT. It was fine when she was small, but by the time she was six months old it was incredibly painful to wear for even an hour or so – it just didn’t work for me at all beyond the first couple months, and it really does hang the baby by their crotch. Ouch. You can pay just a little bit more and get a carrier that you can use comfortably for years.

  54. cj says:

    Love the “Christian overtone” reply….so so very true! I just so look forward to reading your posts every morning….I get so many but yours is my first and one I don’t ever want to give up! Thank you for sharing all your insight!!!

  55. beth says:

    “This is the normal type of risk that banks account for when they create mortgages, so I wouldn’t worry about it.”–That’s like saying since businesses budget for some loss by theft, it’s OK to steal. NO! Just because banks know some people will not honor their financial obligation and pay back their loan as promised does not mean it’s OK to do so! Sorry Trent, but your lack of ethics in this answer is REALLY disappointing.

  56. matt says:

    short sale has nothing to do with ethics in this case beth, he needs to sell the house because of a move of job, and its now worth less than what the mortgage is for, since the bank secured the debt with the house, they took that gamble that it might not be worth more by the time they had to sell it. Ethics don’t enter into it at all, morality; possibly but ethics; i don’t think that word means what you think it means.

  57. Katharine says:

    I thought I’d post about babywearing options but it appears I’m behind the game!
    I use a babyhawk mei tai and I have used a moby wrap and a woven wrap. Once my little guy gets big enough I have an ergo!
    There are 2 problems with the Bjorn – 1. it dangles the baby promoting core muscle weakness. This isn’t too much of a concern for a full term baby but as the mom of a preemie I was explicitly told NOT to use one by multiple doctors. 2. The way the Bjorn is designed puts all of the weight on the shoulders of the parent carrying the child. Wraps and ergos and mei tai’s all help put the weight on the waist allowing for easier and more comfortable carries. Not to mention all of them can be used for larger babies and toddlers!

  58. Lisa Francesca says:

    Hi Trent, I remember being in a similar state when my 82 year old Dad got an infection from a cat bite on the ankle while breaking up a cat fight. It takes a while to heal, longer than anyione wants, but it heals. Sending you strength.

  59. jim says:

    “The statement that religion has killed more people than modern warfare or Hitler or whatever is a common statement that gets tossed about rather casually and as often as it is stated, there must be some validity behind it.”

    No, just cause people say it a lot doesn’t mean theres any validity to it. You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. Theres LOTS of bogus rumors and myths out there that people repeat over and over and over.

  60. Joan says:

    Trent: CathyG is right about the Safety Deposit Box laws in some states. A friend has told her daughter (an only child) that upon her death to get to the bank before they can seal the box and remove everything immediately.

  61. Nadine says:

    regarding religion and this blog:

    I (an apathetic agnostic) like your blog just the way it is. I appreciate people who share their believe through their behaviour rather than preaching.
    I don’t mind mentioning religion as long as it does not mess up the main topic or dominates over it. I would not buy a book that mixes Bible verses and financial advise half and half as a quota, but Ramsay mentioning verses like “debtor is slave to the lender” does not put me off. Yes, you can say the same motif in different words, but considering his audience, it’s ok. I like it that you mention the work you put in rather then preaching something. And I hope your Dad is going to be well soon.

  62. Sue says:

    Trent, I have a Roth IRA, which I started last year. My question: Is it better to contribute a small amount this year than nothing at all?

    I hope your father gets well soon.

  63. Ely says:

    can anyone think of a war that isn’t religious, at its core? what started the current iraq/afghanistan mess if not extremist islam? what are terrorist attacks? the irish troubles? the holocaust? the bosnian conflict? the problems between india and pakistan? russia and chechnya? all religious. Narrow belief in a religion allows one to see non-believers as less than human; little else does.
    not that that has anything to do with anything trent has ever said, but it seems to have come up in the comments. :)

  64. Heather says:

    Alisha, something else you can try regarding the good faith estimates is to request a copy of the settlement statement or HUD a few days before closing and compare it to the good faith estimate. I have done this several times buying, selling, or refinancing. Any time the fees were different, I had time to investigate why. The majority of the time it was due to extra fees from the title company. Since that wasn’t part of the original estimate, they took them out. I have also spotted errors in calculations and commissions. By reviewing my settlement statement ahead of time and disputing the additional charges, I estimate I have saved about $10k in the past 7 years. Be firm but polite and you should see results. Good luck!

  65. Kiesa says:

    Yet another comment on baby carriers :) For my one child, I’ve used 2 Baby Bjorns and 1 Beco Carrier. I started out with a very basic Bjorn style that a friend gave me. It was horrible because it didn’t have enough support. I then bought a “sports” style of the Baby Bjorn which was much better and worked reasonably well for around 6 months. I picked it because my area didn’t carrier any other types of carriers and I wanted to try it in person. After 6 months, he was big enough that it was uncomfortable for me (though my husband was fine). As an aside, I personally don’t worry about the “crotch” style of the Baby Bjorn. My baby always seemed perfectly comfortable, it was me that wasn’t. My last baby carrier which I’ve now used for about 8 months was the Beco, similar to the Ergo, which I adore. I’m not so much into attachment parenting but in order to get anything done around the house, I often have to put my 14-month toddler on my back. The Beco is designed with more support than the Bjorn styles I’ve seen so it works better for a larger kid. Unfortunately, the Beco carrier is significantly more expensive than the Bjorns. For a nice comparison between the Ergo and the Beco, see the Portable Baby site (http://www.theportablebaby.com/carrierfeatures.html) Note: this is a commercial site but the most useful one I’ve found.

  66. triLcat says:

    I have a baby bjorn and a moby-type wrap. the moby is an annoyance to tie, but way way way more comfy for baby and mom. the bjorn is just not comfortable once the child goes over 15 lbs or so. (and my kids tended to get that heavy in a hurry.)

  67. Georgia says:

    Allen – I did not start my 503b until I was 49-50 and I was deep in cc debt. I knew I had to start now or never. I set it up with more than enough to get the state match. About the 3rd year, we were still deep in debt, but we were managing to make our payments. So, I started adding my raises each year. That could be stopped if I needed it, but I never did. (In fact, by year 6 or 7, I was told I could put no more in as I was already saving the max – 25% of my gross.) By the time I retired, we had less than $100k in the retirement account, were in no debt, owned our own home and each had a small retirement from our jobs and our Social Security.

    I have been retired for almost 5 years and I have withdrawn over $15k, but by Dec., my account will only be down $1500 from the time I started. See -the power of compound interest.

    Our retirements and SS were sufficient for us, so we took money out of 503b to upgrade our home. It is now so user friendly that my average utility bills last year averaged $126 a month. And that is for all but cable, phone, & internet.

    When my husband died, I lost his SS (mine was the larger), but I kept his retirement. I try to save it most months, as I know things are going up rapidly. We were careful, took a smaller retirement each so that the surviving spouse got 100%. My retirement also went back up to what it would have been (about $40 a month.)

    I am living very well and am planning to save as much as I can. God has blessed my mightily. So, NEVER go with NO savings. Some is better than none. When I worked in a local Savings & Loan, I was told by many people that saving was useless because things would be so high. I said if you had $50 in savings and bread was $50 a loaf, you could live for one week more.

  68. Victoria says:

    In response to Michele. I view “emergencies” and “living expenses” as two different things and I keep the money separate. An emergency to me is when the furnace goes out and I have to replace it. It’s just not something I expected, but it’s something I’ve got to have. I don’t think a job loss should be considered an emergency. It’s a normal part of life, although unfortunate, and as unexpected as the furnace going out, true; but I think labeling it an emergency is just adding negativity and stress to an already upsetting situation. I think keeping one to two years worth of what it costs you to live every month is good for a living expenses fund. Suze Orman recommends 8 months.

    And interesting to know about manual underwriting in response to Trent. It reminds me of my Mom who has always paid for everything in full, including her homes. She went to get a cell phone and since she didn’t have credit (back before prepaids), she couldn’t get it. Interestingly though, she took it as a sign of something that was totally unnecessary because her attitude is you should never need credit for anything you really need in this life. And I’d say, I agree with her. Earn it and then buy it.

  69. Toby says:

    Selling a house via a short sale is defaulting on a debt obligation. When you sign your name to a mortgage document you’re making legal agreement to repay the lender. Inability to repay due to changed circumstance may be unavoidable but wilfully failing to meet a legal obligation is a moral as well as financial failure.

  70. John S says:

    @Nate –
    I have a friend who was in your shoes – underwater on his mortgage and forced to take a job in another state. He lined up a buyer who was willing to pay current market value for the home, and he asked the bank to agree to this short sale, but the bank refused to entertain this option, because he was current on his mortgage payments.

    So, he stopped paying his mortgage.

    Several months later, another buyer entered the picture and made a market value offer. This time the bank was willing to accept a short sale, but not at market value. The bank countered at $10,000 more than market value. The buyer walked.

    I guess what I’m saying is, the lesson here is, No, the bank will probably not be willing to work with you on a short sale.

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t take the job, but you should probably look into renting out your house and hire a property manager to keep it full of tenants. And keep paying the mortgage. That’s probably a safer bet than hoping for a short sale.

  71. John S says:

    @Toby #47
    You should educate yourself about what exactly a short sale is, and how it works, before jumping on a morally critical bandwagon. The bank has to *agree* to accept the short sale in order for it to take place. If the bank agrees to alter your obligation, then they are doing it because it is in the bank’s best interest. Therefore, there is nothing morally wrong with it.

    It isn’t the same as walking away from a mortgage. It isn’t something you do *to* a bank. It is something you and the bank do *together*, to salvage what is a bad situation for both of you. (They don’t want to be stuck with your sunken collateral either. In many cases, they’d much rather have the cash from your sale.)

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