May 2019

I’ve decided we are digital homesteaders. Pretty sure that’s not a real thing, but I think it’s what we are. My husband and I both work from home via the internet. When we’re not doing computer work, we’re doing homestead work: fruit tree pruning, wood harvesting, vegetable garden planting. The backbone of both? The internet.

As a freelancer, everything I do is over the internet. As a remote worker, everything my husband does is over the internet. As rookie homesteaders, we have a constant need to google things like “do groundhogs eat black raspberry buds?” Yes, yes they do. Followed by: “how to ameliorate a groundhog problem. quickly.”

One of the reasons we bought our home and land is the fact that the house has fiber internet with symmetrical 25 Mbps. In other words, really, really, really good and fast internet. Better than what we had in the city.

Wifi Improvement Plan

Kidwoods darting across the lawn

Based on our internet reliance, Mr. Frugalwoods embarked on a wifi improvement plan earlier this year.

Phase One

Involved upgrading all of our networking equipment–router and access point–to commercial grade products, which we’re very happy with. We bought the Ubiquiti Unifi Security Gateway router and the Ubiquiti Unifi Ap-AC Long Range Wireless Access Point back in January (affiliate links). They’re working a lot better than our previous cheaper stuff.

Phase Two: Indoor Wifi

Is yet to occur, but we bought the supplies this month. Mr. FW has plans to address two of our internet issues concurrently:

  1. Relocate networking equipment. Our networking equipment is currently located on a bookshelf in my office. Not ideal for several reasons: it’s taking up space in my office, hogging needed bookshelf space, and looking ugly while doing it. Mr. FW will relocate this to the basement (good news for my office!).
  2. Improve indoor wifi access. Mr. FW’s office (not where the networking equipment lives) is upstairs. The only problem with the location of his office is that there’s a brick chimney, as well as the edge of the metal roof, in the way of the wifi signal leading to his office. Not ideal. He’s currently using a powerline ethernet adaptor in his office, which works but is flaky and the speed isn’t great.

In order to accomplish points one and two, he plans to run a new cable at the entry point to the house and then run cable up through the walls to create access points on both the main floor and the upstairs. Since he’ll be running cable all over the house, it doesn’t make sense to use pre-made Cat5 cable because 1) it’s expensive, 2) the cable is a lot thinner than the ends and so if you’re trying to snake it through walls, you don’t want it to have the ends on it. Given that, he bought 1,000 feet of Cat5e cable along with the tools to terminate the cable into either a wall jack or a plug (affiliate link).

Phase Three: Outdoor Wifi

We’d like for this garden to be wifi enabled

Since we find ourselves living liminal between computer work and homestead work, we have a great desire to more seamlessly merge the two. At present, we have limited wifi access in our yard and barn, which is a hassle. It’s possible that the indoor wifi improvements will boost the signal outside of the house as well.

But Mr. FW suspects it won’t. Hence, the Phase Three goal is to have solid wifi connections as far from the house as our vegetable garden (this would cover a large percentage of the two cleared acres around our house and barn, which is where most of our homestead work takes place).

Mr. FW’s plan is to run another cable up through the exterior eaves of the house and site a directional access point pointed towards the gardens in the yard.

Having better outdoor wifi is a priority for several reasons:

  1. Communication. When one person is outside working and the other person is inside the house, it is shockingly difficult to communicate with each other. Two acres isn’t a ton of space, but it’s enough to make it nearly impossible to yell to each other. We’ve tested it out and you just cannot hear the person on the porch bellowing at you. We’ve also tried two-way radios, a large bell, and arm waving. None of this works reliably. Since we don’t have cell reception, we can’t text without wifi. Having a wifi enabled yard would allow us to text between house, yard, and barn with ease.
  2. Ability to work outside. I can take my laptop on the porch and work, but I can’t really venture beyond that. I sometimes hike while on calls and I’m limited to circling around and around the house and climbing up and down our little hill. Since we have no cell reception, I’m reliant on the wifi for making calls. I’d love to be able to hike farther and not drop calls.
  3. Research options. Since we’re forever needing to google some homestead issue or another, it’ll be nice to have that ability outside instead of needing to tromp into the house.

Phase Four: Outdoor Camera

We already have a number of outdoor cameras, but we’d like to add an IP camera to the exterior of the house to allow us to keep an eye on Kidwoods more easily. At three years old, she is an awesome little independent person outside and follows directions well. Right now, we monitor her through the windows if we’re not outside with her. A camera would make this task even easier.

And now you know WAY more about our wifi improvement plan than you ever wanted to. You’re welcome.

The Next Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge!!!

Starts on July 1, 2019!!!! That’s next month!!! WHOOP de HOOP! Sign up in the box below! If you’re not already indoctrinated into the cult experience that is my FREE Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge, then you are in for a treat. A true treat, buddies.

These daffodils are PUMPED for the Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge

The Uber Frugal Month Challenge (UFM) is designed to help you save as much money as you possibly can in a single month and–more importantly–prompts you to ponder the bigger questions surrounding your finances. Such as what you want to do with your life, what your goals are, and how much you’re spending every month. Sound like fun? It totally is. And it’s especially fun in the month of July because we take Challenge all together as one big happy frugal group. There’s nothing quite like budgeting with friends!

Sign-up in the box below to join me–and thousands of other Frugalwoods readers–for this free 31-day total revamp of your finances! P.S. if you’ve taken the UFM before and want to take it again, you need to sign-up in the box below (and you can use the same email address you used previously):

Uber Frugal Month Challenge Signup

We all need encouragement and inspiration on our financial journey! Sign-up to receive an email a day from me for 31 days starting July 1, 2019. Every email has a tip, a mantra, an action item, and recommended reading, all designed to help you transform your finances.

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Credits Cards: How We Buy Everything

Kidwoods, having taken off her socks and shoes, is now complaining that it hurts to walk because there are sticks poking her feet…

Mr. Frugalwoods and I purchase everything we possibly can with credit cards for several reasons:

  1. It’s easier to track expenses. No guesswork over where that random $20 bill went; it all shows up in our monthly expense report from Personal Capital. This prompts me to spend less money because I KNOW I’m going to see every expense in detail at the end of each month.
  2. We get rewards. Who doesn’t like rewards? Credit card rewards are a simple way to get something for nothing. Through the cards we use, Mr. FW and I get cash back as well as hotel and airline points just for buying things we were going to buy anyway.
  3. We build our credit. Since Mr. FW and I don’t carry debt other than our mortgages, having several credit cards open for many years (which are fully paid off every month) has helped our credit scores. By the way, it’s a dirty, dirty myth that carrying a balance on your credit card helps your credit score–IT DOES NOT. Paying your cards off IN FULL every month and keeping them open for many years, however, does help your score.

For more on our credit card strategy, check out The Frugalwoods Guide to a Simple, Yet Rewarding, Credit Card Experience.

If you want to get a simple cash back credit card, then from my research, I think the Fidelity Rewards Visa (which is the card that I have) and the Chase Freedom Unlimited are both excellent options. Both of these cards have no annual fee and offer good cash back percentages on your purchases. The best way to find a credit card that’ll work for you is to search for them yourself. Fortunately, there’s a website,, with a search function for this purpose that nicely aggregates information about tons of different credit cards.

Littlewoods: “you mean to tell me there was GRASS under that snow? And that I’m supposed to PLAY in it?”

Huge caveat to credit card usage: you MUST pay your credit card bills in full every single month, with no exceptions. If you’re concerned about your ability to do this, or think that using credit cards might prompt you to spend more money, then credit cards are not for you–stick with using a debit card and/or cash.

But if you have no problem paying that bill in full every month? I recommend you credit card away, my friend! (note: these credit card links are affiliate links)

Cash Back Earned This Month: $25.28

We earn 2% cash back on every purchase made with our Fidelity Rewards Visa and this month, we spent $1,264.04 on that card, which netted us $25.28. Not a lot of money, perhaps, but it’s money we earned for buying stuff we were going to buy anyway! This is why I love credit card rewards–they’re the simplest way to earn something for nothing. I will note that if we instead had the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, we would’ve earned 3% cash back, which would be $37.93!

Personal Capital: How We Organize Our Expen$e$

Mr. Frugalwoods and I use Personal Capital to aggregate and consolidate our transactions from across all of our accounts. We then drop them into a spreadsheet to provide the below analysis for you fine people.

May on the homestead

Tracking expenses is, in my opinion, the best way to get a handle on your finances. You absolutely, positively cannot make informed decisions about your money if you don’t know how you’re spending it.

Sounds harsh, but without a holistic picture of how much you spend every month, there’s no way to set savings, debt repayment, or investment goals. It’s a must, folks. No excuses.

Personal Capital (which is free to use) is a great way for us to systematize our financial overviews since it links all of our accounts together and provides a comprehensive picture of our net worth. If you’re not tracking your expenses in an organized manner, you might consider trying Personal Capital (note: these Personal Capital links are affiliate links). Here’s a more detailed explanation of how I use Personal Capital for my expense tracking.

P.S. Tracking your expenses is, like, the first step in the Uber Frugal Month Group Challenge!!

Where’s Your Money?

One of the easiest ways to optimize your money is to use a high-interest savings account. A high-interest savings account gives you money for nothing. With these accounts, interest works in YOUR favor (as opposed to the interest rates on debt, which work against you). Having money in a no (or low) interest savings account is a waste of resources–your money is just sitting there doing nothing. Don’t let your money be lazy! Make it work for you! And now, enjoy some explanatory math:

Let’s say you have $5,000 in a savings account that earns 0% interest. In a year’s time, your $5,000 will still be… $5,000.

Let’s say you instead put that $5,000 into an American Express Personal Savings account that–as of this writing–earns 1.70% in interest. In one year, your $5,000 will have increased to $5,085.67. That means you earned $85.67 just by having your money in a high-interest account.

And you didn’t have to do anything! I’m a big fan of earning money while doing nothing. I mean, is anybody not a fan of that? Apparently so, because anyone who uses a low (or no) interest savings account is NOT making money while doing nothing. Don’t be that person. Be the person who earns money while you sleep. Rack up the interest and prosper. More about high-interest savings accounts, as well as the ones I recommend, is here: The Best High Interest Rate Online Savings Accounts.

How To Read A Frugalwoods Expense Report

Mr. FW employing the flame weeder to start the cleansing fire in our maple sap evaporator

Want to know how we manage the rest of our money? Check out Our Low Cost, No Fuss, DIY Money Management System. We also own a rental property in Cambridge, MA, which I discuss here. Why do we allocate our money like we do? It’s all in service of our goal to reach financial independence and move to a homestead in the woods (which happened in May 2016).

For us, embracing prudent financial management and frugality is a joyful, longterm choice. We prefer a simple life to one filled with consumerism and we spend only on the things that matter most to us. Our approach isn’t one of miserly deprivation; to the contrary, we live a luxuriously frugal existence in which we maximize efficiency.

Why do I share our expenses? To give you a sense of how we spend our money in a values-based manner. Your spending will differ from ours and there’s no “one right way” to spend and no “perfect” budget (perfection does not exist!). We’re not the most frugal people on earth (far from it) and we’re not spendthrifts either.

We fall somewhere in between and I hope that by being transparent about our spending, you might gain some insights into your own spending and be inspired to take proactive control of your money.

If you’re wondering where to start with managing your money, or if you’d like to save more money every month, you might consider taking my free, 31-day Uber Frugal Month Challenge, which we’re taking as a group starting July 1, 2019!

If you’re interested in the other things I love, check out Frugalwoods Recommends.

A Note On Rural Life

Kidwoods actually helping to actually move the wood pile off the porch!!!!

Since we live on 66 acres in rural Vermont, our utilities and expenses are slightly different from traditional urban and suburban dwellings.

We don’t pay for water, sewer, trash, or heating/cooling because we have a well, a septic system, our town doesn’t provide trash pick-up (we take it to a transfer station once a week in bags we purchase from our town), we heat our home with wood we harvest ourselves from our land, and we don’t have central air conditioning (we use window units during the hottest parts of the summer). We also have solar panels, which account for our low electricity bill.

For more on our rural lifestyle, check out my series This Month On The Homestead as well as City vs. Country: Which Is Cheaper? The Ultimate Cost Of Living Showdown.

But Mrs. Frugalwoods, Don’t You Pay For X, Y, Or Even Z????

Wondering about common expenses that you don’t see listed below?

If you’re wondering about anything else, feel free to ask me in the comments section!

Alright you frugal money voyeurs, feast your eyes on every dollar we spent in May:

Item Amount Notes
Vermont mortgage $1,392.86
Groceries $633.17 Food and wine!
Preschool $559.10 Kidwoods goes to preschool four mornings a week, which we and she love! More on our preschool decision here.
Household and homestead supplies $208.91 Thrilling items such as toothpaste, toilet paper, random car parts and farm equipment.
Truck: inspection, oil change, and heat shield repair $171.85 Our 2010 Toyota Tundra truck was due for a Vermont state inspection, an oil change, and needed a heat shield repaired. Pleased to report that truck passed inspection without incident.
Bulk Cat5e cable and associated tools (affiliate link) $125.24 This cable, along with assorted tools, is to hardwire our house and implement a system of outdoor wifi (affiliate link). We have superb fiber internet and would like to get wifi throughout the two acre clearing around our house to enable Mr. FW and I to better communicate (via internet text) when one of us is outside and the other is inside. We’ve tried two-way radios, yelling, and texting via cellular network, none of which works reliably.
Gasoline for cars $96.06
Date night!!!! $77.53 Mr. FW and I go out to dinner once a month without our kids!!! Our fabulous adopted grandma neighbor comes over to babysit. We put the girls to bed before we leave to make it all the easier on everyone involved.
Internet $74.00
Fancy beer $48.00 From the local Vermont Upper Pass Brewery. Life is too short to drink bad beer.
Doctor $20.00 Co-payment for a doctor’s visit.
Skimmies (affiliate link) $20.00 Told you I was going to buy another pair.
Cell phone through BOOM Mobile $19.99 BOOM is an MVNO cell provider, which is why it’s so cheap. If you’re not using an MVNO (such as BOOM, Ting, Mint, Republic Wireless), do some research as it’s likely you’ll be able to decrease your cell phone bill by A LOT.
Utilities: Electricity $17.97 We have solar (which I detail here) and this is our monthly base price for remaining grid tied.
Propane for flame weeder $8.88 Propane for our infamous flame weeder (affiliate link)
Total: $3,473.56
Minus mortgage: $2,080.70

How was your May?

p.s. DON’T FORGET TO SIGN-UP FOR THE UBER FRUGAL MONTH GROUP CHALLENGE (accidentally typed that in caps lock but now I kinda like it so I’m going to leave it)

Uber Frugal Month Challenge Signup

We all need encouragement and inspiration on our financial journey! Sign-up to receive an email a day from me for 31 days starting July 1, 2019. Every email has a tip, a mantra, an action item, and recommended reading, all designed to help you transform your finances.

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  1. This might sound silly, but if you’re looking for a low-tech way to contact someone on the farm (say, if the wifi goes down, there’s an emergency and someone’s not picking up their phone, etc), on our farm growing up my mom had a horn (with a bulb for honking, or you could take off the bulb and blow in it). It worked incredibly well for calling us from the far ends of fields for coffee time, for example, or calling everyone when it was dinner. It sounds weird, but it really works!

    1. Love it!! We have a big old bell, but I don’t think it’s loud enough. We should get a horn!

        1. We have 23 acres – all cleared land. We tried the air horn but when my husband was on the tractor he couldn’t hear it. Also, tried flailing madly on front porch – nope:) The only thing that seems to work is to reach the cell phone on his person. FYI

    2. My grandma used a horn to call my grandpa (and their kids) from the fields for lunch (which, by the way, was called dinner by them) in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They had a 120 acre farm so it must have worked well.

  2. For the internal wiring, have you considered going with a powerline adapter instead of running cat5? It may not be as fast but it’s a little easier than running cable throughout the house.

    1. Yeah, Mr. FW has been using a powerline adaptor in his office and, while it work ok, it’s kind of flaky and not as fast. He does a lot of video conferencing and finds the powerline adaptor just doesn’t really cut it.

      1. If there is cable (coax) in the walls already I ditched the powerline and went to moco paired cable modems. Really fast and stable.

  3. Maybe you’ve done this post, but I would love a post on “financial freedom” versus “retiring early.” My immediate thought when I hear about FIRE is that we have to hit a point where we don’t have to work. But I notice you both work, so maybe the goal is more “financial freedom.” I am trying to sort through my own thoughts and would love to hear yours.

    1. Mmmmm yes, a very good question! I address what we do in detail in both my book and my About Us page and yes, I definitely draw a distinction between retiring early and reaching financial independence. We are financially independent but we choose to work because we both find our work meaningful and fulfilling. So, we’re FI, but not RE, if that makes sense 🙂

    1. Mr. FW reports, “I don’t anticipate needing 10Gb/s speed anytime soon, and cat6 is more expensive and fussier to terminate.”

      1. I understand Mr. FW’s point of view, and would still recommend Cat 6 if you back up data at home. We back up our stuff to a NAS and it’s especially useful for that traffic to pass over fast wiring.

  4. I couldn’t get the the WiFi in my house to work properly (FIOS wanted me to use a MoCa network & it would not work). I ended up setting up a MESH network based on the recommendation of tech support. Not only did it work properly from day 1 it made my internet so much faster! And it saved me from running wires throughout my house which I really didn’t want to hassle with. Good luck!

  5. Although it could be enticing to have WiFi everywhere because of the convenience, may I humbly suggest that you do some research on EMF Radiation and the effect it has on our bodies? Unfortunately, kids are twice as susceptible to these daily barrages of radiation. I love technology just as much as the next guy, but doing some actual research on this stuff has me wanting to go back to wired connections. 5G is even worse. There are actually EMF consultants these days who can come out and measure your property to see where your hot spots are. Something to consider “shrug”.

    1. I am concerned about this as well and purchased a simple light timer so that my wi-fi at least shuts off overnight to reduce exposure.

  6. I’d be concerned about moving the wifi access point gear to the basement, but maybe I misunderstood what you said. The usual recommendation is to put it as high up as possible. You would have to still run wire to wherever you decide you want to put it, but consider this just a heads-up.

  7. Great ideas.
    Much of you WIFI system can be battery/solar backed up for a few hours of emergency operation.
    One thing you may want to look into for outside connectivity is an industrial Ethernet/IP switch with a remote antenna. I’m sure there are other WAP devices on the market also that you can remote the antenna. This would enable you to place an antenna outside at a location that would cover much of the area needed. I’ve used industrial Ethernet/IP switches/WAP products mounted inside a machine enclosure and installed the antenna outside the enclosure on the highest point of the machine in order to network to the factory floor. The device for outside would not need powered unless someone will be outside if needed for security reasons of someone getting onto your network.

  8. How come you are wiring the WiFi in?
    I have a 130 year old stone house (hello from England) and WiFi doesn’t go through walls. But if I can bounce a high quality signal round my house with two WiFi relay plugs (total cost £45, total time to implement 12mins) then so can you. Put. Down. The. Wiring. 🙂

  9. I would love to see you put together some sort of report with some help from Mr. on everything Internet/wifi related when you’ve sorted things out, or at least have a good plan! We have no cellular service on our 2 acres and as a web developer I know some stuff about networking but not enough and every time I try to research outdoor wifi access I don’t really find solutions to fit our size. We aren’t a huge farm or a commercial business that needs wifi for guests, we just want to be able to Google ideas and listen to Pandora while sitting at the pond.

  10. I am curious if you have looked into wind power or a cell tower. I don’t know if 2 acres is enough land, but I have heard that some companies may pay to erect these on property in areas that need it.

  11. Can’t you ask the cell phone provider to adjust their towers to cover also your house? That would replace the need for setting up outdoor wifi, and make life easier in general.

  12. Nice. We just got internet for the first time in 2 years and it’s weird to have it a home. Makes it harder not to bring work home with me… but obviously, y’all have to.
    Good luck with the improvements!

  13. We can’t wait for the Uber Frugal Month Challenge! It’s awesome to get motivated all over again to save as much as we can. We’re currently working toward owning our first home debt-free, and every penny counts! (Btw… I love your monthly expense reports so much that it’s making me want to blog ours as well! haha)

  14. Did you actually type the words “ameliorate groundhogs” into Google? Cause that’s just awesome.

  15. Just a heads up, even though a directional AP can blast out 1000’ you still need your phone or whatever device is in the other other end to also be able to transmit that far. 1-way WiFi transmission is useless for what you need. You could dig a trench and run direct burial cat5e (in conduit) to a location further from the house to solve this issue.

  16. One thing I don’t remember ever seeing in your expense reports is travel or gifts for things like weddings and baby showers. Do you choose to stay home instead of attending these events in person in this season of your lives? Do your family and friend group eschew gifts for these types of events? I come from a big extended family and the summer is a prime time for these purchases. Would love to hear about how you approach this. Thank you!

  17. My dad installed a buzzer and intercom in his barn, where his workshop was, and in the kitchen in the house. My mom pushed the buzzer in the kitchen and he responded by speaking to her on the intercom in the barn. This was pre-wireless days, of course. He was hard of hearing, so he wouldn’t hear her yell into the intercom if he was using a tool, but that buzzer would wake the dead. Don’t ask me how he wired it; this was after I left home.
    The grass looks so pretty and green, and the daffodils are lovely. What a wonderful place for your kids to grow, and they can learn so much that will help them to be self-reliant later on.

  18. I’m very excited for the Uber Frugal Month Challenge! We’re in the midst of a June no-grocery-shopping-clean-out-the-larder challenge, so I’m already in a creative frugal mindset. Time to take it to the next level! Thank you for providing such great resources and all the work you put into them.

  19. Hi again
    You still do not include your renters fees a dnirtgage on your Ma rental and when you plan to sell it?

  20. I totally bought Skimmies after your earlier post about them. Got them from Costco at a great price. Just tried them on this morning and now can’t wait to wear a skirt! 😆

  21. I’m very curious to hear how the products you use pan out. My wife and I have also bought 80 acres in an area with no cell reception (coming from 8 acres in a different town that also has no cell reception) and are in the process of building our long term home. Wifi access is something we’re trying to plan for, given the house is technically 3 stories tall and the yard is made up of around 5 cleared acres.

    I’m anticipating the need for some wired connections to some of the more far flung areas (no signal is going to penetrate a steel clad shop hundreds of feet from the house for example), but I have heard of some sort of directional wireless “bridge” equipment to handle the extreme ones. I’m told they can bridge the one connection we want to make that is too short to justify paying for two services, but too far (2 miles) to run buried wire.

  22. I’m trying to do the calculations about propane (buying versus leasing a tank, size needed, buried or above ground, etc.), and I remembered you had a long, very helpful post about propane and oil, but I’m having no luck finding it in the archive. I think it must be pre-2016 from the notes in your expense reports, but that’s as far back as Search takes me. Would you direct to the link for that post for those of us who haven’t made the solar leap? Thanks.

  23. Regarding your thoughts about running a cable up to FW’s office, I faced a similar situation once in which I already had the CAT5 and RJ45 ends and crimper on hand, and so I snaked the cable through and then connected the ends. The problem then became verifying that the cable had integrity and was good. In order to do that I had to run a second known good cable as the crow flies so that I could test the end to end connection of the first cable. As this was new to me, my cable building skills weren’t optimal and I spent a good amount of time simply getting a cable that would pass the end to end test constructed. If that cable failed for any reason, the same procedure or wholesale replacement would be necessary. Not that the same wouldn’t apply to a pre-made cable, but a pre-made cable has a higher probability of being reliable and good over the course of time than a less than perfectly made cable constructed by someone who is not expert at making cables. Plus, most walls and entry and exit plates for ethernet have plenty of room for the ends of a pre-made cable, the only concern being the possibility of snagging the cable on something en route. Typically you will start with a leader of string or something that you first snake through the walls, and then attach the string to an end of the cable and pull it through. It can indeed get snagged, but usually jiggling the leader so as to cause the end of the cable to bounce around an obstacle is more than sufficient to overcome that problem.

    In short, while there is some modest upside to not going with a pre-made cable, the downsides outweigh such concerns.

  24. I read the title as “Wife pimprovement”…and i thought a few thoughts…and then read on….i’m glad i kept readinging and i will make an appointment with an eye dr soon.

  25. Question: How many hours a day do you and your husband have in each day? My wife and I only have 24 (minus sleep). How many hours do you two spend tending to the house and 66 acres of land and family??? My wife and I are retired and my biggest accomplishment of the day was tying my shoes… and then I needed a nap. (LOL) … Just about finished your book… It’s brought me many smiles… and a LOT of lessons. Thank you.

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