Author Archives: Meredith Rines

Meredith Rines, a budget and financial strategist helping fans pay off debt and live the life they've always wanted.

Quick Cleaning Tips

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Today’s post is going to be a quick one because I am running around like a crazy woman. After this weekend’s 24 hour stomach bug attack. Our house looked as if a tornado had passed through. We had toys thrown everywhere – in the family room, hallway, kitchen, the dog’s crate – everywhere.  Dished piled up and laundry that needed to be folded, washed and dried. 

I knew today was going to be a mess.  There are too many meetings, errands and just stuff to get done in these 24 hours. Plus I like my sleep.  So I figured on a day where I barely have time to catch my breath I wanted to share with you some quick cleaning tips. 

Because let’s be honest…

Who doesn’t need quick cleaning tips this time of year?

These are my go-to when it comes to a messy house, feeling stressed and not much time to get it clean.

Baking Soda To Freshen Carpet

Alright the first one is probably my favorite.  We have a dog who is allergic to any carpet deodorizer we’ve tried.  So to save her from feeling miserable we had to find a new option.  After trying baking soda on our carpets once I fell in love.  It works great and it’s non-toxic for the dogs and kid.  All you have to do is pour some on your carpet, let it set then vacuum it up.  Your carpet will be left smelling fresh. I also LOVE how cheap a box is compared to the fancy carpet powders you can find at the store.

My Favorite Carpet Refresher for Cheap

I like to vacuum once without any baking soda down then pour baking soda to vacuum again.  We have three dogs, so I like to get as much dog hair up as possible. 

Vinegar To Clean Carpet

Do you have a steam cleaner?  If you have kids, dogs or both then you need a steam cleaner!  I love mine.  We got it years ago and it’s still kicking.  After trying to find a less expensive way to clean, I discovered vinegar.  Instead of using the store-bought shampoo and cleaners, just add some white vinegar to your solution.  Then you just clean like normal.  

You will notice your floors will smell a little like salt and vinegar chips until it dries (at least that’s what I thought), but then the smell goes away as it dries.  This was my go-to for steam cleaning our carpets when our little boy was crawling everywhere.  I felt so much better using vinegar on our floors since it’s non-toxic compared to all of those chemicals you find in store-bought cleaners.

Use Vinegar To Clean Your Microwave

Here is the quickest way to clean your microwave without all that scrubbing.  Take a glass of white vinegar and microwave on high for 5 minutes.  Once it’s done, simply wipe down the inside with a towel and you’re done.  No more scrubbing.  Something about the vinegar, the steam and the heat just melts away messes.  

I usually start a cup in the microwave while I’m putting dirty dishes in the dishwasher and by the time I’m done with dishes it’s time to wipe out the microwave.  

Clean Your Toys In The Dishwasher

This one is my new favorite. I really don’t know how I waited until as long as I did to try it.  Did you know you can take your child’s toys (the ones that are plastic and don’t have holes in them) and put in your dishwasher.  Just pile them in and turn on.  Our dishwasher has a one hour cycle, which is perfect.  Make sure to turn off your heat dry option and let them air dry.  I’m always afraid that high of heat might ruin a few of them.  I’ve never had a problem washing any toys in the dishwasher though.

I usually start it before bed and then by the morning they’re dry.  It’s best to do this during cold and flu season or if you have a sick little one.  It’s great at disinfecting all the toys at one time and makes it a lot easier on you.

Wash Your Pillows In The Washing Machine

Again, with another quick deep cleaning tip.  You can wash your pillows in the washing machine – not just the pillow cases.  Just take your pillows out of the cases and toss in the washing machine.  Try not to overload the machine, you want them to move around a little easier. Just wash on cold in a delicate cycle with a little bit of detergent.  I prefer the detergent without any dyes or perfumes since our son and I have allergies.  

Once you’ve washed them you can throw them in the dryer with a tennis ball (I wrap ours in a sock) or even a toy rubber ball.  The ball helps the pillow to dry evenly and come out fluffy.

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Use The Laundry Basket Method

Whenever you have a room that looks as if a tornado hit then grab an empty laundry basket. Go around your house, room-by-room and gather any items that don’t belong. Once you have gone through each room in your house (or until nothing else fits into your basket), you can start emptying it.  Take your basket back into each room and put away anything in it that belongs to that room. 

I use this a lot in our kitchen and family room because they tend to be a catch-all. I put shoes, clothes, pans, toys, and anything else our son tends to carry around. Then I go back through each room and I put away whatever is in the basket.  I usually start in the bedrooms when it comes to putting things away because I always have shoes or dirty clothes in the basket and they tend to be the biggest and bulkiest items.  

Split Your Duties

We prefer to not do any house cleaning on the weekends.  We like to have our weekends to ourselves to do whatever we want.  So J and I bust our butts Monday through Friday to get everything done.  One of the best things we did was stop being a perfectionist.  We break our cleaning into days and then work on something for a few minutes each night.  That way the house is always getting cleaned with little effort. 

We try to focus on one room each night and between the two of us we can dust, sweep or vacuum, mop, clean and straighten within 15 minutes for most rooms.  We tend to clean after our little one goes to bed and before we sit down to relax for the night. 

What are some of your favorite quick cleaning hacks?

The 52 Week Savings Challenge for 2018

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If you could accomplish anything in 2018, what would be? For most of us our answer might involve money in some way. From having less debt, to making more money, having more saved, budget better, whatever it might be. Money is a huge focus for many of us. There never seems to be enough to go around and when it rains, it pours – am I right? This year, I want to help you save more money for those rainy days or for those days where you just want to have a little fun. 

Last year, I introduced the 52 Week Savings Challenge and it was a huge hit. Our family really benefited from taking simple steps to put more money into savings. So, I wanted to start 2018 off with a bang and bring back the 52 week savings challenge.

Now remember this savings challenge is above and beyond what you’re currently budgeting for. This money either needs to come from your grocery budget, your eating out category or a combination of any budget categories. We don’t want to take away from what you’re currently putting aside for your emergency fund or your debt payments.

Last year when we decided to do this challenge, we looked at our budget and realized it wouldn’t hurt to have an extra $1,300 in the bank by the end of the year.

We created an easy-to-follow 52 Week Savings Challenge. It’s easy to follow and you can really tackle it any way you want.

Here’s the gist of the savings challenge:

Start off with saving $1 the first week, then add $1 every week to you new goal. Here’s what it looks like for the whole year:

week 1 – $1, total of $1
week 2 – $2, total of $3
week 3 – $3, total of $6


week 52 – $52, total of $1,378

52 week savings challenge image

I created an easy PDF for you to download to keep track. You can download this free printable here.

Here’s another way to tackle this 52 week savings challenge:

You can start with week 52 and work your way backwards. That way you’re starting with savings $52, $51, $50 and so on then when it’s closer to the holidays your savings would be less than $10 a week. It’s up to you.

Just decide which way is best for your family and get started.

What are you going to do with this extra savings at the end of the year? It’s going to be good to use towards Christmas gifts or you can add it to your emergency fund or even debt! Whatever you want to do with it, it’s up to you!

Just think, $1,378 can be yours by saving a few dollars each month for the next 12 months. So easy!

Need More Help?

If you’re looking for a great tool to help keep your family on budget, then check out out my budget spreadsheet.  Each month is laid out right in front of you where you can keep track of what you budget and what you actually spend. Now you’ll know in real time how you’re doing each month.

Recap of 2017 Goals

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Each year, I like to dust off my goals from the beginning of the previous year and see just how I did. 

I recently shared what my goals are for 2018 and am really excited about them.  As I get older (and wiser), my goals have shifted. I no longer carry about the tiny details as much and like to focus more on the bigger pictures.  What goals will help me achieve my overall success and what does that success look like? To me it’s all about my family and providing for them.  So that’s what helps shape my goals.  

I also don’t like calling them resolutions because to me a resolution is something you want to stop.  A goal is more positive and it’s about expansion.  So that’s why I call them goals instead of resolutions.

Let’s take a look at last year’s goals to see just how I measured up.  

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As you can see my goals were a little broader than they have been in the past, which means success is open to interpretation.  And I love that.

I achieved 7 out of 8 of my goals in 2017.  That’s a pretty good passing rate (if I do say so).  

What are your goals for 2018? Think bigger, but more manageable.  What will make you happier and your family happier.  That’s the goals you need to strive for and work towards. Also, that one goal I didn’t achieve – I shifted to 2018.  Nothing wrong with not reaching every goal.  Sometimes you have to realize that the sacrifices you would have to make to meet everything, may not be worth it.  So you shift, you rearrange your goals so that they fit better with what you have going on.  You’re not a failure for doing that – your a realist who knows the value of your time, sanity and family is much more important.

 

Make sure to take a look at 2014’s goals, 2015’s goals and 2016’s goals, too.

2018 Goals for the New Year

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I’ll be the first to admit I will probably date a few documents with 2017 for the next few weeks until I can get the hang of it. No matter how many times I repeat to myself “2018, 2018, 2018” I still end up dating with the wrong year. This will go on for most of January, which it does every year. At this point, I’ve just accepted it. 

This time of year J and I sit down for our quarterly planning meeting to plan the next few months in advance. Planning the next three months out is one of the biggest YES things we’ve ever done. We don’t plan out each day in detail, but we make sure to plan out any out of town trips we need to make to visit family, birthday gifts we need to buy, any bigger purchases that are coming up (like car maintenance, home repairs, etc.).  This planning helps us make sure our budget is right and makes sure that we’re on the same page. 

So before you get too much further into 2018 (I know, today is only day one), make sure to sit down with your significant other and have a calendar in front of you. We use our Google calendar to organize our entire lives. We each have our own calendar and then we have a joint one that we can both see. Whenever I have an out of town conference or he has a late class then we can put it on our joint calendar so we both know about it. I don’t necessarily put my doctor appointments and client appointments on our joint calendar because they don’t affect him. 

This planning also works great for when we’re out with family and friends. If we want to schedule a dinner out or a weekend visit, then we just look at the joint calendar. If that day or time is open then go ahead and schedule. It’s an unwritten rule in our house that when it comes to family and friends, we like to do whatever we can to be there. So if there isn’t anything scheduled, then mark it down. Whatever is on the calendar is something we’ve committed to and that means a lot to us.

After we have our planning meeting, we also like to talk about goals for the new year.  What do you like most about a new year? I love the idea of new beginnings, which means new goals and new successes. For me, I love creating action steps to help reach our goals. Now J has his goals, I have my goals and then we have family goals.  We like to think of our family goals as the driving force behind our decisions. 

This year our word is simplicity. What can we do in our day-to-day lives that can help simplify everything? For us, it means saying no to more and saying yes to what we actually want to do.  It also means making sure our budget tracking is easy to maintain and encourages us to stay on top of it.  That’s why we created the easiest budget template because we wanted something easy.  We wanted something that didn’t take hours to fill out each month and something that told us exactly how we were doing with our money.

I won’t share J’s goals with you because he didn’t sign up to be a blogger like I did.  But I will show you my personal goals and some of our family goals.  It’s funny that some of mine and J’s goals and our family’s goals are pretty much the same.  I think that’s the price you pay when you become a parent – you’re sole focus is the family.

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As you can see most of my ‘personal’ goals involve my family. The ones that are left involve my blog or my day job as a financial specialist.  To me – building those goals will help me reach our family goals because we will be able to provide more for our son.

What are your goals for the upcoming year? Try to keep them short, sweet and to the point. Don’t put too many details in your annual goals because then it makes it harder to achieve.  What we like to do is take our bigger goals and then break them down into smaller ones.  That way we can focus on one thing at a time and measure our success.  If you’re curious, you can check out last year’s here.

 

  

My Favorite Toddler Hacks

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Hi! My name is Meredith and I am a Mom who is constantly running in circles.  Like constantly.  Like I fall down from being dizzy at least once a week because I have too much going on. That’s why when I find something good that makes my life a little bit easier, I hold onto it.  Then I like to shout it from the nearest rooftop (but not really because I am terrified of heights) so that other Mommas can benefit too.  That’s why I just love finding anything that saves me time and saves my sanity.  

I’m always trying to tweak this or change that to make it more efficient. When it comes to being a Mom, I’m pretty sure we need all the help we can get. It’s hard enough to remember everything on our to-do list, grocery list and doctors appointments – if we could have just a little bit more help then we could rule the world with our eyes closed. 

Recently I was talking with other Moms about things that make our lives a little easier.  I came away with a ton of great idea, but realized I had a lot of toddler hacks already in place.  I thought it was time to share them with you so that hopefully your life can become a little bit easier.

You can watch my favorite toddler hacks online or down below:

What’s some of your favorite toddler hacks that you’ve learned along the way? Leave a comment below!

Check out these posts for more tips and hacks:

Mess Free Baby Painting

Road Trip Hacks with Toddler

Tips For Organized Packing

My Favorite Mom Gadget

Planning For A New Year, Revising Your Budget, and Setting New Goals | December Budget Q&A

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This month’s Budget Q&A was too important to skip. With the end of December and 2017 just a few days away I realized I needed to get this months answers to your questions done.

This month has flown by, with trips to see family, holiday parties, Christmas, and so much more I’m just surprised I let this month’s Q&A slip by.  I started trying to find a time to post this month’s video and realized I needed to just do it.  So that’s why I’m coming at you on a day outside my normal posting schedule.

This month’s Q&A is all about how to plan for a new year to make sure your family is off on a good foot – I’m sharing with you tips on how to plan your year in advance (we do ours in 3 month intervals), why you should revise your budget, and make sure you’re on track to meet your short-term and long-term goals.

Make sure to check out this month’s Q&A online or down below:

For more help, check out these posts:

How We Plan Our Life 3 Months At A Time

How We Use Google Calendar To Stay Organized

The Easiest Budget Template Ever!

Need More Help?

If you’re looking for a great tool to help keep your family on budget, then check out out my budget spreadsheet.  Each month is laid out right in front of you where you can keep track of what you budget and what you actually spend. Now you’ll know in real time how you’re doing each month.

Our Favorite Time of Year

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Christmas is my favorite time of year. Something about the cold air, the bright lights on the Christmas tree, time with our family, and watching our son’s face light up on Christmas morning.

We love being with a family, eating good food and making new memories with our little guy. Last year, Dent was still so young that he passed out half-way through opening gifts and after an hour nap we could continue (ha!).  This year, he loved it. He was showered with way too many gifts, but he loved every second of opening them. J and I stuck to our Christmas budget and was able to buy Dent a few smaller gifts just from us, which meant a lot to us. 

This year I wanted to make a conscious effort to be more present. Sometimes I get so caught up in wanting to take pictures and video so that we never forget this moment, that I don’t actually enjoy myself. So this year was different. Of course I took some pictures, but I wanted to make sure I was right there with him when he opened some of his gifts.  I even asked J to snap a few so I could be in them this year.

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As Moms we get distracted by trying to be perfect – the perfect wrapping job, the perfect gift to be given, the perfect picture, the perfect everything.  And it’s to just be the organizer of everything and let Dad be the one in the pictures and the one helping your child open each present.  

But not this year!

This year, I wanted to be right along side him. Of course I still took a few pictures and J was nice enough to take a few of me with our son. I think there is a fine balance between having the pictures to remember those important memories and then making sure you’re apart of those memories, too.

Creating New Christmas Traditions

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I remember special moments from Christmas that my family did every year. My parents were amazing at making Christmas so magical for my sister and I. 

My Mom gave us pajamas each Christmas Eve to wear opening gifts on Christmas morning. I’m pretty sure I still have a lot of those pajamas in my drawers (well at least the ones that still fit! HA!).  

I love being able to make new traditions with J and our little boy. It’s a hard balance trying to keep traditions alive from when I was a little girl and from J’s family. And yet, we want to create our own traditions that are special to us. 

Since our little guy is only 20 months old, now is the perfect time to introduce them to him.

Here are some great Christmas traditions we love:

Singing Christmas songs around the house. I was not born with any musical talent, so we usually keep our Christmas singing to the house and car where no one else can hear us. But our son loves music. He loves dancing, clapping and even jumping to it. So we like to keep music playing around the house since he loves it so much. This time of year is perfect for us to keep our Alexa turned on to some holiday stations.

Looking at Christmas lights around town. There are a few subdivisions in our town that always go above for Christmas. Plus, there is a park near J’s family that you can drive through and they decorate for Christmas with lights, different scenes and even has music playing on a local radio station. We usually pile in the car, turn on some Christmas music and drive around.

PJs on Christmas Eve. Right now, my Mom actually still gets matching Christmas pajamas for everyone in the family. We head over to my Grandma’s house on Christmas Eve and then my Mom lets us open one gift early – surprise! It’s our PJs. 

Decorating cookies together. Even at 20 months having our little boy help in the kitchen is great. He makes a lot of messes, but he loves every second of it. 

Watching Christmas movies together. Every Thanksgiving day we watch Miracle on 34th Street to kick off the Christmas season.  Afterwards we make sure to include some of our other favorites. Now that our little boy is old enough to watch TV, but gets bored watching our movies we make sure to include some animated ones for him, too.

What are some of your favorite Christmas traditions to do with your family?

How To Afford Christmas on a Budget

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Christmas is a magical time. I have the best memories of Christmas morning from when I was a little girl. 

Santa’s gifts were in the stockings at our house growing up. My sister and I would each have our own stocking laid out in the family room. Because of being a working Mom, my Mom just ran out of time to wrap all the gifts.  So it became a thing to have Santa’s gifts unwrapped in our stockings.  Now as I get older I realize just how much work Christmas can be. I love how my Mom found a way to take the pressure off of her and made it so memorable for us! I can pretty much guarantee our son’s stocking probably will have only unwrapped gifts from Santa.

One year my Dad dressed as Santa and ran out our front door with us chasing after him. My Mom barely caught us and told us to hurry to get our shoes on. We couldn’t move fast enough! By the time we got outside we followed Santa’s footsteps until they disappeared at the end of our sidewalk. They literally disappeared! My Mom dragged us back inside and there was my Dad drinking his coffee wondering what had happened.  Years later we figured out Dad had jumped from the end of the sidewalk into the garage, quickly shut the door, threw the Santa suit in his trunk and ran back through the backdoor.  

Those are the memories I remember as a kid – not the gifts we received, but stuff we did together.  That’s what makes Christmas magical.  I love being able to make Christmas such an amazing memory for our son.

How To Create Christmas on a Budget

Create a budget before buying any gifts.  By creating a Christmas budget you’ll be able to determine, on paper, how much you want to spend before actually spending a dime. It’s important to have a plan for your money so it doesn’t control you. Take a few minutes to determine who you need to buy, what you want to get, and how much you want to spend.

Cut out everything that is sucking your time away from family. Your kids, your family and your friends would much rather spend time with you then have another gift under the tree. So try to be more present when you’re with them and carve our special time with each other.

Gifts for spouses. J and I don’t actually exchange any gifts between the two of us. In the past we set a $15 budget for gifts, but with J being back in school we decided it would be easier to just not do any gifts. It works. If we could spend $30 on ourselves or spend the same amount on our son then we always pick our boy. Always.

Shop smart. Make sure to activate your Ebates before doing any holiday shopping. This time of year is when we earn quite a bit of reward dollars. Ebates give you cash back for doing your usual online shopping and even a bigger bonus when you signup.

Sell anything you don’t use. A great trick to help create some extra cash flow is to go through your house and get rid of any unwanted items. You can easily sell items on Facebook Swap Shops, Craigslist, and Ebay. 

Don’t be afraid of DIY Christmas gifts. There are some great DIY gift ideas you can make. You might even have everything for a great gift at your house and it won’t cost you anything.

Bake your gifts for neighbors. I love the idea of being kind to our neighbors, trash men, and mailman. However, it doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money. You can having a baking day with friends where each of you bake one or two different cookie recipes then at the end of the day you split the cookies. You can go to the dollar store and buy an inexpensive serving tray to deliver them to your neighbors. 

Plan to give back. One of the biggest gifts you can give to someone is by helping them out. This time of year is a great way to help local charities and churches. When I was little, I remember my Mom having us go through our toys to donate. We learned so much from doing that and it made us feel so great. You can easily get your kids involved by donating toys or volunteering to help create care packages. Anything so they can understand the bigger picture and the true meaning of Christmas.

For more tips on how to do a frugal Christmas check out my Youtube channel where I have plenty of holiday budget help.

Need More Help?

If you’re looking for a great tool to help keep your family on budget, then check out out my budget spreadsheet.  Each month is laid out right in front of you where you can keep track of what you budget and what you actually spend. Now you’ll know in real time how you’re doing each month.

My Secret Grocery Hack Weapon | The Mommy Hook

Affiliate Disclosure: Please note when you click links and purchase items, in most (not all) cases I will receive a referral commission. You will not pay more when buying a product through my link. 

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Here I am pulling into the garage after what feels like the longest day. I’m tired. More like beyond tired. But of course we need groceries.  We like to go to the store once every two weeks and we had waited way too long this time around. We had no food, no snacks and very little milk and with a toddler that can’t happen.  I barely had pulled into the garage, put the car in parked and turned it off when our son decided to start screaming.  He was tired and hungry. I had a back full of groceries, a kid begging to get out of his car seat and three dogs barking to greet their boy on the other side of the door.  Usually we go grocery shopping as a family, but it still seems like we need an extra set of hands. J helps carry in the heavy stuff – water, sods, dog food and then he takes the dogs outside so they don’t run over Dent when he walks in.  

I try to grab as many bags as I could while wrestling our son to get him out of the seat.  And of course he’s taken off his shoes and socks so walking barefoot across the cold garage floor was out of the question. It took everything I had to not drop him or drop the bags or fall walking up those steps to get inside. 

Then after unloading I had to go back out for another load.  This time the crying kid and barking dogs were on the same side of the closed door and I just wanted the day to be done. 

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What’s one thing as a Mom you wish you could have?  For me, it’s an extra hand to help me carry all the grocery bags, diaper bags, work bags, and every other type of bag that you can think of.  

A few weeks ago while I was traveling for work, I was sent an email from the makers of The Mommy Hook.  They wanted to send me one to try out.  So I did a little research and quickly typed back – yes, please! I need one of these in my life.  Here’s the low down on The Mommy Hook – it’s a clip you can use to carry grocery bags, diaper bags, and store bags all with one hand. Plus, it can even clip on your stroller to help carry all of those shopping bags. Our stroller doesn’t have a big under area for storage. I can’t even fit our new diaper bag under there.

On one of our recent grocery trips I put The Mommy Hook to the test. Because of course I went close to nap time when our little guy was already tired, it was close to lunch and we were both getting hungry. So after stopping at Walmart for a few household items and then going to Aldi for the rest of our meal planning stuff it was time to haul everything inside.

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J was there to help, so he carried some bags in and then went back to get Dent.  Here I was trying to carry in the rest of the bags (because Moms like to make only one trip to get the job done) and here comes Dent. He wants me to pick him up since he’s just so tired.  I pulled out the Mommy Hook and grabbed the rest of the bags, the diaper bag and then picked him up. It was a breeze getting everything inside.

I think it’s safe to say that I am a fan! This might be my new favorite grocery hack!

You can get The Mommy Hook on Amazon and they come in different colors, too.  They are under $8.00 so they make the perfect gift for any Mom (or Dad)!

 

I did receive The Mommy  Hook at no cost, but have not been paid otherwise for this review. All the opinions are my own.
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