Money + Lifestyle Part I: Setting Financial New Year’s Resolutions

About the Episode

It’s not too late to set your financial New Year’s resolutions and boy do we have a great episode to learn how to not only set them, but actually achieve them this year! Featuring two new guests, financial literacy educator David Maurice Sharp and Addition Financial Specialist Chelsea Conner, our hosts take a deep dive into setting SMART goals for every financial goal you’d want to accomplish – from paying down debt and cutting unnecessary expenses, to saving for a down payment and investing in your retirement. Take a listen and read along to this timely episode below!

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Will asks Question 1: “Let’s start with the big picture question. David, is it a good idea to make financial New Year’s resolutions?”

David responds: “The simple answer is yes, absolutely. Often when it comes to our finances people try to shut their eyes and say, ‘Maybe someday in the future it will take care of itself and I don't have to do anything.’ It never does. So it’s important to address it even if it’s uncomfortable for you.”

“The important thing, particularly when you're working with finances and making resolutions in regard to your finances, is to make sure that you stay realistic. So for example, if you want to start saving money, don't make it really grandiose and say you're to save $10,000 a month. Because pretty soon, within a month, you're going to say, "Well this really sucks. It's not really working for me." And then you stop doing it.”

“So my advice is to start small. If your goal is to save money, start by saving $10. You can always increase it later. Start with something that is very manageable for you.”

“Another tip is to try to automate it as much as you can because then you don't even have to think about it. So if you're wanting to save money, make a monthly automatic transfer from one account to another savings account that you don't use as much. That's a great way to make sure that you stay on track and keep to your financial resolution.”

“You can also think about one financial goal that you really want to accomplish – like cutting down your spending that Will and Chelsea were talking about. You might say that you're still going to go to Starbucks, but maybe not as often. Your goal could be, ‘I'm going to cut out one Starbucks every week and I'm going to take that money and throw it into a separate savings account.’”

“So really be specific, keep it realistic and make it very manageable.”

Read More: How to Define Your Financial New Year's Resolutions for 2022


Cristina asks Question 2: “David mentioned making goals realistic and achievable, so let’s talk a little bit about SMART goals so that our listeners know what we mean by that. Chelsea, what makes a goal SMART?”

Chelsea responds: “SMART is actually an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound. A good example of the difference between a basic goal and a SMART goal is saying ‘Okay, I'm going to save money this year.’ We all want to do that right? That's everyone's plan. But that's really vague. There's no time frame around that, there's no dollar amount, it's just saying, ‘I'm going to lose weight this year.’ No actual plan in place.”

“So a SMART version of that goal would be to say, ‘I'm going to save 10% of my salary this year and by the end of the year I will have $6,000 saved.’ That's a really specific goal because you have a target amount and a timeframe. Ten percent is realistic for some people and it's achievable because you don't have to break the bank for it.”

“Everybody's financial situation is different, so some people may not be able to save 10%. They may not even be able to save 5%. So start with 1%. Start with what you can. Don't beat yourself up if you can't hit that goal right away. We're all learning; be gracious with yourself, but also hold yourself accountable.”

Download our SMART Financial Goal Setting Worksheet


Will as Question 3: “That’s great. Now, let’s dive into some specific resolutions. I want to start with one of the most common, which is to pay down debt. David, how can people set a resolution to reduce or eliminate their debt?”

David responds: “A good way to start, and something I encourage people to do at the beginning of every year, at least, is to just sit down and write out all of your assets and liabilities. This way you have a really good handle on what your investments are, what your assets are, and what kind of debt you have.”

“Along with listing all of your liabilities, you want to figure out the minimum payments that are due on each one of them and also have a look at the interest that you're paying on them. That's going to help you address what method of repayment you want to have.”

“Interestingly, because it's January, a lot of these payment methods have snow-based imagery. So the first one would be if you want to first tackle all of the debt that has the highest interest rate first. You would pay the minimum on every debt instrument that you have, figure out if you have a little bit extra in your budget that you could put toward paying it down a little bit more and put that extra toward that debt that has the highest interest rate. Then once you've paid that off, you can start applying both the minimum payment on that debt as well as the extra little bit onto the next highest interest payment so that way you're eliminating the highest interest first. That's often referred to as the avalanche method.”

“Another method is called the snowball method. In that one, instead of going for the highest interest rate, you look for the smallest amount of debt that you have, whichever instrument is the lowest amount of debt, and you put the extra money on that. Once you've eliminated that debt, you take all of that money and you roll it up to the next smallest debt. The benefit of this is that it psychologically can make you see these debt instruments going away faster so that you have less and less places that you're having to pay off. By the time you get to only having one left, all of that money has accumulated in a snowball and is being paid toward that final debt that you owe.”

“The other choice that you can make is to pay the minimum on everything and take that extra money that you have and split it amongst all of them. Sometimes they call that the snowflake method.”

“So those are three debt repayment methods and a lot of it depends on what makes you feel the best. Does it make you feel better to get rid of the highest interest rate, to see these debts be eliminated so that you have it all concentrated, or do you feel better just paying a little bit on each one every month?”

“The other thing you can do is get a low interest loan that will help you pay off all of that debt so that you just have to repay this one loan at a lower interest. I will plug credit unions on that as I always do in my classes because credit unions often offer very good rates on loans. You may also find a credit card that you can rollover all your debt onto that's going to charge you 0% interest for the first year and then you can pay that off as much as possible before the interest rate starts to kick in.”

Read More: Best Ways to Pay Off Credit Card Debt in 5 Steps


Cristina asks a follow-up question: “Chelsea, you work with credit union members all the time. Have you seen that being really helpful for members?”

Chelsea responds: “Oh, absolutely. I always tell our members that credit cards are one of the quickest ways to build your credit, but they're also one of the quickest ways to destroy it. Credit cards can tend to get away for you because you don't have a fixed payment every month, you just have the minimum. And what happens is people will just pay the minimum and it's very hard to get yourself out of that hole.”

“So David is exactly right, credit unions are the best place to go and debt consolidation is going to be your best friend. You can roll all of your debt into one loan or card so you know at a specific time you will be completely debt free and your payment will be predictable every month. This gives you a SMART goal for yourself to do that debt consolidation.”


Cristina asks Question 4: “That’s terrific advice. One topic that comes up a lot in my friend group is the best way to pay off a mortgage early and I think a lot of people make a resolution to reduce their mortgage. Chelsea, what are some ways to turn that into a SMART goal?”

Chelsea responds: “Oh, absolutely. And that's exactly right. The mortgage is most everyone's biggest bill. So you can do this a couple of ways and I heard you mention it earlier, so I think you might be onto something. But for those of us that are not doing this, most lenders will allow you to make a principal payment at any time – keyword is "most" so you want to make sure with your lender first that you are able to do that. But you can add a little extra to your payment every month and apply that to your principal balance.”

Cristina asks a follow-up question: “What does principal balance mean?”

“So the principal balance is actually what you owe. This is not including the interest that you're being charged for the loan. This is just the base amount that we're talking about here. As we all know interest is calculated on your principal balance, so the higher that your principal balance is, the more interest you pay. In order to not pay so much interest over the life of your loan, you make principal payments, therefore bringing that amount down.”

“So there's a couple methods you can do. You can take your monthly mortgage payment and just divide by twelve. So for example, let's just say your mortgage is $1,800, if you pay $150 extra every month, by the end of the year you will have made those 13 payments instead of 12.”

“But we have other people that get paid bi-weekly (every other week). So if that's your case, you can do 26 half payments over the year and that has the same result. So if doing $150 is not feasible for you, you can break it down. Just make a payment every time you get paid and that will give you the same result.”

David also responds: “For my mortgage, I ended up just rounding up my payment each month. The first month I rounded up only $0.32 cents! But I paid my mortgage off in 16 years by just using that extra money when I could. It's amazing how fast it can get paid off.”

Chelsea follows-up: “Another option that people could do, and this one is not as realistic because it's not very predictable, but you can do a lump sum. You may run into a time when you have a little bit more cash on hand – apply that to your mortgage balance. Maybe it’s during tax season you get a big refund or if the government gives out another stimulus check. Anything that happens, you can use those extra funds toward your mortgage since that's your biggest loan. It really is a lot of people's goal to pay that thing off quicker.”


Will asks Question 5: “Let’s talk about saving for retirement. David, what are some good resolutions for people who want to jump-start their retirement savings?”

David responds: “The most important friend you have in saving for retirement is something called compounding, which is basically where the assets that you have, any income that they generate in the form of dividends, interest, and capital gains, are being reinvested back into that asset. The asset grows over time, which makes it able to produce even more income, which is then reinvested.”

“To stick with the snow analogies, I like to say compounding is like the snowball rolling down the hill – the longer you have an asset working for you, the bigger it can get as a snowball. The more snow it accumulates, the more revenue it will generate. The hill is the amount of time you have. So the earlier you can start saving for retirement, the better off you are.”

“Also, keep in mind that retirement vehicles are all tax protected. Any income or capital gains that are being generated within them are protected from taxes, which is a great thing because they can grow even faster.”

“I like to talk about two pathways in terms of retirement savings. One path is going to be employer-related vehicles and the other path are vehicles you can do on your own. First with the employer path, most people will see those in the form of a 401k or a 403b. Those all come from salary deferral. You wanna try and defer money from your paycheck into those accounts.”

“The interesting thing often scares people about doing that is them thinking, ‘Well I can't afford to have my paycheck go down by the amount of money I'm putting into a 401k or 403b.’ But, because it's a salary deferral and the money is coming out of your paycheck before they calculate taxes on it, your paycheck is not actually going to go down by the amount of money that you put into and defer into one of these plans. For example, if you defer $10 away from your paycheck into your 401k or 403b, then they're going to calculate taxes on it, so your paycheck may only go down by $7 or $8.”

“The other thing to look out for in these employer-based plans would be if the employer is actually making a match on it. A lot of times what the employer will agree to do is say for every dollar you put in, they're going to put in X amount of money. You always, always, always, if possible, try to make sure that you defer at least enough to get the maximum amount of the match that your employer is giving you. Because basically that's free extra money.”

“Again with these sorts of salary deferrals, you want to keep it manageable because if you're very far away from retirement, keep in mind you're not going to touch these assets until you reach at least age 59 and a half.”

“The other path is retirement vehicles that we can control ourselves, which are usually in the form of Individual Retirement Accounts better known as IRAs. There are tax advantages to these as well because they are made up of after-tax contributions. The money you put in each month comes from earned income. And there are a few types of IRAs.”

“Something to note is that you can have both the salary deferred 401k/403b and still make contributions to IRAs. So try to do as much as you can without hurting yourself because they benefit from these tax protections. They also benefit you more the longer you make contributions because you can take advantage of the rule of compounding which is going to be your new best friend.”

“Generally, the advice is if you're pretty far away from retirement age you want to skew your investments toward more risky stocks. The rule of thumb is that as you get closer to using the money, you want to shift it into bonds. There are these wonderful mutual funds called target date funds which almost every 401k, 403b, or IRA will allow you to invest in, which do all of that automatically for you. Pick a target date and the closer you get to it, your investments will slowly convert over to being more bond heavy – it's that set it and forget it idea.”

Listen Now: Retirement Strategies for People Under 40


Cristina asks Question 6: “Speaking of savings, let’s pivot to buying a house. Chelsea, what’s the best way to save for a down payment?”

Chelsea responds: “Oh, yes. The down payment. So buying a house right now is like one of the number one stressors for people just because of the climate we are in. So the first recommendation that I would say is to start saving your money in a higher yield account. What that means is put these funds into a money market or an account that will generate a little more interest than just a plain Jane savings account.”

“We all know the rates right now are just definitely not where they used to be as far as the savings yields go, so I wouldn't recommend just putting those funds where you're going to earn 0.05% interest. You want to get a little bit more out of your money. So let your money sit and make money for you, right? Why not?”

“Another option to do that is actually making a budget. David hit on this earlier – writing down your assets and liabilities, which is a good place to start. But also taking an account of the miscellaneous spending, that's where I always fail in my budget. I'm like, ‘Oh, I'm going to make a budget and stick to it.’ And what happens is I just allot all of my money to ‘Entertainment.’ Well, entertainment is a lot of things. Is it me eating out or ordering in, these random trips to Target, is this me going into Sephora and buying all the makeup samples? So you want to make a budget that actually allots money for those things, but still allows you to save.”

“Definitely eating out is a guilty thing for me, especially on the weekends, I am horrible with that. So I try to limit myself so I can get toward that move of buying a house. We are renters, we are in an apartment, we have not purchased a home yet. So this is something I will be doing in the near future myself.”

“Something that I want to explain for first-time homebuyers is the myth of the 20% down payment. That is not always true. It depends on the loan program that you are applying for. Plug to Addition Financial – we have programs where you can put as little as 3% down depending on which profession you are in. There's also VA loans where you're not required to put anything down. Put down the minimum and a few years down the road you can refinance once you've reached that point in your loan. So don't think, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to save up $20,000 to get into this house.’ That's not always the case. Do your research, look into the programs and find a lender that will work for what you're looking for.”

Listen Now: Buying a Home for the First Time


Cristina asks Question 7: “People with children may set a goal of setting aside money for the child’s college education. David, is that a useful resolution?”

David responds: “Definitely. We know that if future college prices continue to escalate, it's a frightening prospect. But we also know from hearing in the news that student debt is reaching catastrophic proportions. So how can you sort of prevent yourself or your child from being in that position of having crushing student debt? There are a couple accounts that you can open which will allow you to defer money and get some kind of a tax break and grow tax-free. These are similar to the retirement accounts, but are specifically geared towards higher education and educational expenses.”

“The most common type is called a 529 account and those are usually state-sponsored. You want to check with the state that you live in to see what the regulations are surrounding it, but usually you will get a break on taxes from the state up to a certain amount that you contribute to it. They'll usually give you the opportunity to invest in a variety of different kinds of assets. Some make it really easy and they'll let you choose between a conservative or more aggressive mix. These are great because you're getting exposure to the stock and bond markets and getting a little more bang for your buck than you're going to get from the interest on simple cash payments.”

“There are also savings vehicles called Coverdell accounts that you can look into as well and also some colleges will allow you to prepay tuition ahead of time so you can lock in today's rates. Of course, that would necessitate that your child knows where they want to go.”

“I would also very much recommend looping your child into what you're doing when they're ready. I think we can all agree that financial literacy is just not really taught anywhere in this country to the extent that it should be and the sooner you can start teaching children about financial literacy, the better. So maybe after you open one of these accounts and your child becomes old enough to be more cognizant of spending habits, you can show them you are putting money aside to pay for their future education. Tell them how you're investing and what you're doing with it.”

“You could even ask them to start their own savings account or some kind of investment account that they could put a little bit of the money they get from their part-time job or babysitting to go toward some of the spending money that they're going to want to have later on for university. It really makes a huge difference.”

“I have five nephews and a niece. When they turn 16 I open up a stock account for them and start putting a little bit of money into it. My mom and sisters also contribute. I send them the statements every month and when they turn 21, I turn the portfolio over to them to manage. It gives them exposure to how the markets work and the benefits of investing, doing something on a regular basis, and saving now for something that you're going to use in future. The sooner you can loop your children into something like this, the better and saving for college spending is a great place to start.”

Read More: When & How to Start Contributing to a Child Savings Account


Will asks Question 8: “David mentioned kids and I’m wondering, Chelsea, is it a good idea to encourage kids to make financial resolutions?”

Chelsea responds: “My child is two, so our conversations about money are slim, but my mom has a habit of giving my daughter dollar bills every time she comes to visit us. My daughter will keep them and put them in her little fake purse. She also keeps coins anywhere we go – if she finds a coin she's like ‘Money!’ and keeps it. So that's as far as we've gotten with financial conversations.”

“I will say, college seems like lightyears away for us, but it's never too early to at least get the conversation started. Like you talked about in a previous episode about money taboos, it's not really common to talk about money with your family. It's not something my parents did; in fact, they were horrible money managers. They had no money for me to go to college, so I was relying on Pell grants to get by.”

“As a credit union that has partnered with colleges, I get a lot of college student members where it's their first time out on their own and they found those people that give them a credit card on campus. It's so easy to get – just sign the paper right there. And before you know it, they have racked up $5,000 on top of the student debt that they already had.”

“Usually parents start talking about finances when they give an allowance to their kids. Two apps that I want to mention are iAllowance and Bankaroo. Kids can keep track of what they're getting for doing their chores and that way they can actually monitor it.”

“I definitely recommend starting now or as soon as you can, and don't make it a taboo. A lot of parents will stress about money and they don't want their kids to be involved. That was my parents. They think it's only ‘grown people's business’ when it comes to talking about bills and what you get paid. I didn't know what a 401k was until I got into the financial industry. No one had ever explained that to me.”

“So make sure you're setting your kids up for financial success. The last thing that you want to do is see your kids being taboo with money – not wanting to talk about it and not willing to invest or spend on themselves, just strictly paying bills. No one wants to use all their money for that. So definitely talk about it, make it as open as you can and don't make your child feel uncomfortable to ask you about your finances. They live in your house, too. So be open with them, share and enlighten them.”

“And if you're looking to set up an account, Addition Financial has kids accounts. Get one set up and let their little allowance start making them money. Then they can withdraw their fun bucks and spend it – make it a game!”

Checklist for Teaching Kids Financial Basics by Age Group


Will asks Question 9: “One of the resolutions that I’ve been hearing a lot is to cut spending. David, what are some ways that people can create specific goals around spending less?”

David responds: “Chelsea earlier touched on having a budget. Another exercise I like to have people do at the beginning of the year is calculate out their monthly expenses, which I refer to as your "monthly nut." So figure out how much your monthly nut is. There's a couple of ways that you can do that. One is it just to sit down and write down all the expenses that you typically incur in any month and add that all up. The other way is to spend a month or two actually writing down every single purchase that you make. What this does is it makes you much more aware of where you're spending money. If you're writing down your purchases, the mocha cappuccino from Starbucks is going to start popping up a lot and you're going to say, ‘Yeah, maybe I could cut one of those out.’”

“Being cognizant of where you're spending your money and how much you need to spend each month can really be a good first step. That way, if you're making more money than you're spending in your monthly nut, which we hope we are, then you can say, ‘Hey wait a minute, I've got an extra $200 or $300 over my monthly nut that I'm earning from my paycheck. I can funnel that toward debt repayment, investing, or building assets like an IRA.’”

“I tend to like to keep track of my spending through an Excel spreadsheet because I'm a little old fashioned like that. The newest way, of course, are apps. A very popular spending app is Mint. Basically you want to find the thing that is going to work best for you. And again, just like we were just saying with spending money, when you spend $50 in cash, as opposed to $50 on a credit card, being cognizant of where your money is going and how you're spending will help you to take better control of your spending habits.”


Cristina asks Question 10: “This is our last question before our quickfire round. If there’s anything the past two years have taught us, it’s the importance of having an emergency savings fund. Chelsea, if people don’t have a fund, should they set a new year’s resolution to create one?”

Chelsea responds: “Oh man, yes, yes, yes. My emergency fund has saved my behind more times than one. So I definitely recommend having that rainy day fund. I like that Will hit on marriage and combined finances because that's something that you don't think about. I may not have an emergency come up where I need to dip into it, but my husband might. Anything can happen for the both of us and that's something that you also want to take into consideration: something can happen to our daughter. You're not just doing an emergency fund for yourself – it's not just about saving a couple of hundred dollars in case I get a flat tire.”

“You want to make sure that you can save your behind if something goes wrong. Like we talked about, over the last two years we've seen how COVID has affected people and is still affecting people. Not all of us are blessed to have a job where we have the sick time and the ability to still get paid while we're not working. If you don't have that benefit, you have to have funds to keep your ball rolling. You don't want to get behind while you're also sick on top of that, then that's just a huge stressor.”

“So with an emergency savings fund, you at least want to have, and I know this is a stretch for some people, three to six months of a nest egg to where you can use the money to pay your bills if something happens. You don't want just enough money to repair the water heater if it breaks. You need a little bit more to make those car, credit card and daycare payments. These are all things that don't stop and you don't want to start racking up that credit card because you don't have any other money.”

“So if you don't already have a fund, you absolutely need to start one. Just put whatever you can afford into a completely separate account – mine is at a whole different institution from where I do all my bills because I will transfer the money. I have no control when it comes to that, so I put it into a whole different bank that I don't even have a card to. I would have to physically go into the location to get the money. I set it like that because I know myself.”

“And for the people who already have an emergency fund, keep adding to it. Don't get complacent with the amount that's in there because we never know. Always having that little nest egg can make you breathe a little bit better. You go to sleep a little bit easier at night. And who knows, you may not have to break into it for an emergency. But what if there's something that you need to buy – an anniversary rolling around or something that you want to actually splurge on that's realistic – you can dip into that fund as well for those reasons.”

Read More: How to Start an Emergency Fund and Set Savings Goals


Will asks Quick Question 1: “David, we’ve mentioned budgeting a couple of times. What are some quick methods for people to find money in their budget to put toward their savings goals?”

David responds: “When we were talking about calculating your monthly nut, you can easily spot those impulse spending purchases that you are making. Try to cut one of those out. The other thing is to look at your bank statements and credit card statements. We get these statements every month and we tend to ignore them, but you want to double check and make sure you're not paying any fees. If you are paying fees, which banks have this habit of slipping in these fees, get rid of them because any money that's going to them for fees is money that's coming out of your pocket.”

“Another thing is to look at your utility bills. I'm one of those dinosaurs that has both a landline and mobile phone. I found out a few years ago that if I bundled the landline into my cable and internet I saved $70 a month by doing that. That’s hundreds of dollars a year that I was saving.”

“Coming out of the pandemic, which we hope we are coming out of, we've also become very reliant on streaming services. It’s very tempting when it's only $1.99 per month to rack up ten streaming services. So just have a look and be very cognizant of where you're spending your money. That will help you locate places to cut it back.”


Cristina asks Quick Question 2: “Chelsea, what can people do to get back on track with a resolution if they’re having trouble with it?”

Chelsea responds: “We know it happens to all of us, nobody’s perfect and sometimes we tend to fall off track. If that happens, take a step back, reevaluate your budget and see where you can cut. Like David mentioned, cut subscriptions, cut anything that you're not actively using.”

“Look into refinancing – can you refinance your car loan for a lower payment? Can you refinance your mortgage for a lower payment? Can you consolidate some debt with a debt consolidation loan? There’s other things that you can do to reconfigure that budget to get it to work. But most importantly, cutting those unnecessary expenses, like do you really need Disney+, Netflix, and Hulu?”


Cristina asks Quick Question 4: “Chelsea, what type of financial resolution should people not set?”

Chelsea responds: “So a resolution I would suggest not setting is something where the outcome is not controllable by you. And what that means is you can say, ‘Okay, I’m going to save 5% of my income this year.’ You can do that because this is your money, it's guaranteed that it's coming in and you can do that. Something that's not controllable is to say, ‘I’m going to have my investments grow by 5% this year.’ The stock market is subject to change at any time. We are not in control of that, so anything can happen. It could drop out tomorrow. So you don't want to set something where you can't control the outcome.”


Will asks Quick Question 5: David, is there a financial resolution we haven’t mentioned yet that you think our listeners should consider?

David responds: “One other big taboo topic in addition to talking about money and everything else is discussing what is going to happen after we die. Nobody really wants to talk about that, but as you start to accrue assets (like a 401k, 403b or IRA) it is important to make sure that you take into consideration what will happen to them after you pass or if you pass unexpectedly.”

“It's also important to talk to your parents, or anyone else that you're responsible for, to make sure you understand what they want to have done. My father was incredibly practical and every holiday when we would all get together he would say, ‘Okay, we are going to have a family meeting and we're all going to talk about what we want to have happen when we die.’ We did it in a very lighthearted way to say what we want, where we are, and how we want to do it. When my dad did pass many years ago, I will say there was no question as to what we needed to do, what he wanted done, where everything was and how to take care of it. It made his passing so much easier, in that we didn't have to figure a lot of things out.”

“Another really important thing to do is to make sure you have powers of attorney in case you become incapacitated, and health proxies in case you need someone to make health decisions. It's not the easiest topic to broach at first, but once you've started to talk about it, it will make a huge difference in the long run and become a little bit easier to discuss.”


You can reach David through his website at He also has a book out called The Thriving Artist: Saving and Investing for Performers, Artists, and the Stage & Film Industries, which you can find on Amazon here.

You can visit Chelsea at the Addition Financial Lake Mary branch or reach out to her via email at


In this episode, Cristina and Will shared the SMART Financial Goal Setting Worksheet. In this printable worksheet, Addition Financial outlines a framework for setting both short and long term financial goals using the SMART acronym.

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