Sunday, December 27, 2009

Introducing a Price Chart

(This is an old post that I am republishing. I wrote about the topic yesterday, assuming it was common knowledge. Through some valid criticism in the comments section, I decided to repost this information because I think it will be helpful to readers. I do apologize to any that were offended. That was not my intent.)

Would you pay $0.98 per pound for potatoes if you knew you could get them for $0.35 per pound elsewhere? Would you pay $1.99 for pork chops if you knew they went on sale regularly for $0.99? How do you know when a sale is really a good sale?

As far as I can see, there is only one way to get the lowest prices on food. It is commonly referred to as a price book, but I find a chart easier to work with and fit in my purse. First, list all of the most common ingredients you buy. Here is my list, basically divided by where they are in the store:


white wheat flour
tomato paste
diced tomatoes
dried beans
tonic water

ground turkey
chicken quarter
ground beef
pork shoulder
frozen broccoli
frozen green beans
frozen strawberries

Your list will probably look different.

Next, what stores are in your area? The best way to find this out is the yellow pages. There were stores in my town I didn't know about. Most of them were high priced Mom-n-Pop type stores, but I found a small market where I get most of my produce for way less than anywhere else.

I also live a short distance from the biggest city in Maine. I go there frequently, so I included a few stores, but certainly not all. I included a Dollar Tree with a big frozen section and a Save-A-Lot, which we don't have in our town.

So I have Walmart, two in-town supermarkets, the local market with good produce, Save-A-Lot and the Dollar Tree. If you have a Sam's or BJ's membership, include these. I went into all of them and got their regular price on the items on my list. This is a time investment, but it will pay for itself quickly.

Walmart and Save-A-Lot have the most general low prices. Walmart has a better selection, but Save-A-Lot has better meat prices. One supermarket has the best prices on cheese, dairy and ham. The other supermarket has high prices but good sales, along with an "almost expired" produce rack, where I can add variety to my produce menu I would otherwise not afford. The local market has the best price on produce and a few other things. The Dollar Tree has the best price on strawberries ($1/lb, frozen!) and a few other things.

Now, with this knowledge, I DO NOT GO TO EVERY STORE EVERY WEEK. I go to Walmart every week, because that's where I get my flour, eggs, and butter, which I seem to run out of a lot. When I go to the other stores, I go to buy several weeks worth of what they have cheapest.

I check almost every week to see if any of the stores are having worthwhile sales on my ingredients. This website is an excellent free resource that gathers the sales flyers for the supermarkets in your area.

I also have a basic price guide for buying things that aren't in my regular menu when the mood strikes. I don't pay more that $1.50 per pound for meat or more than $1.00 per pound for produce, with occasional exceptions.


Angie Gail said...

Emily, I am just curious. What if, God forbid, something happened to your husband. How would you support yourself and your children?

Anonymous said...

Emily, the price chart is a nice idea and a reasonably good tool. With limitations. Why not ask readers to dicuss those limitations?

An apology might have been better. Just saying.


Anonymous said...

I like your price chart idea. :-) And I love to read your blog each day.

I haven't read all your blogs, but have you ever considered (or have you already) solicited cheap recipe ideas from your readers when they comment? It might be a way for you to get some ideas, or for your readers to!


Anonymous said...

I thought the price book idea was useless when it was in the tightwad gazette and I still think it is useless. I pretty much know how much a gallon of organic raw milk costs. I know who to buy it from. I know where to buy organic fresh apples for the best price. Maybe if I was feeding my family a worse than prisoners diet like this a price book would be handy. But honestly my dogs eat better.

Anonymous said...

Emily you are plain and simply a bitch, you treat people badly, most people feed their pets better than you feed your children, and you claim to be a Christian woman.
You are a disgrace and you need to wake up to yourself

Anonymous said...

What are those spots on your oldest kid's arms? Is it dirt or what?

unebellevieblog said...

Wow, previous 3 anon posters (which strike me as likely being the same person), those are some of the most hurtful things I've ever heard a human being say to another. Implying abuse off of one picture is low.

The "lazy" comment Emily made in her previous article was condescending at most, and didn't take into account different levels of frugal education or circumstances.

Anonymous said...

Emily, you are not doing your family any good eating 'discount' fruit and dollar tree meat. Eating the fat and skin is setting your family up for heart disease. I too wonder what the marks on your childrens arms are.
How do you disipline your kids? Do you hit them? Grab them? The pitures look like bruises to me. I am surprised you have not had a visit from the authorties.

Brittany said...

So I have a question. Obviously cost is an important factor, but what about quality? I think most people can agree that ground beef and hot dogs (no matter how cheap) are usually not particularly healthy.

Roxy in New England said...


You certainly have the right to delete comments like the anonymous ones above. This in response to being called "lazy" is amazing.

If you're not lazy, great! If you aren't being challenged to do better than you're doing, what's the point of reading challenging blogs?

But to say the things said above is WAY beyond being a little offended.


Anonymous said...

I must say that the horrendous comments I just read were completely uncalled for.

She said the word "lazy"--so what? Rather than get all offended (and extremely offensive!), check and see if it does apply. If not, that's fantastic. Move on.

I started using a price book back when Amy's books were still newsletters. I *thought* I knew the prices of everything, but it was quite an eye opener to track things at several stores. Now I generally know the best prices of things (after years of being aware of them), but about once a year I make it a point to track the prices again to see if things have changed.

Anonymous said...

I keep a price book in my head so I know a good price when I see one. I keep staples in my pantry, but I don't like to stockpile, and I don't like to waste time driving from store to store, and waiting in lines just to fulfill a particular grocery list. I will shop at whatever store is convenient for me at that time, and I will purchase what is at a good price at a good quality, and determine what my family's menu from there.

connie said...

"I too wonder what the marks on your childrens arms are" can someone clarify what photo is being referred to here?

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why all the hate. This is rediculous! Emily, why don't you censor your comments and not allow some of these completly non-constructive critizims? Please answer, I'm curious as to why you'd allow that on YOUR blog.

Anyways, obviously a price book is a valuable tool for some and not for others. Either way though it is a great suggestion especially for those just starting out like me, a new wife and stay at home mom trying to plan meals on a budget. If it is not something that works for you than just 'eat the meat and spit out the bones' and move on! Emily is simple sharing what works for her and what MAY work for you. If not, that's fine. I was also glad to see somewhat of an aplogy although what I'm really looking for is a change of tone in your future posts. :)

Anonymous said...

I live in the same general area of you and am wondering where you shop. I have never seen frozen food at the Dollar Tree in Biddo, granted I have only popped in there a few times.

As for the price book, like others have stated its not an entirely new concept...the Tightwad Gazette gal Amy D (also a Mainer) pretty much brought it to the maintream over a dozen years ago.

I think a price book is a neat idea but it takes time and for some folks they do have a shortage of time. I have a pretty intense job and while I like the idea truth is my time is such that going to 4-5 stores and writing it all down is too much. Add in the fact that half of what I buy is direct from farmers or farmers markets.

I just wanted to say that you really should not presume to guess who your readers are...fact is I read a lot of different bloggers especially ones from Maine bloggers. In your last post you stated something to the effect that you doubt anyone who is not super frugal reads you..

I work with low income families in the area and while I strive to live frugally I also know my budget constraints are nowhere near yours.

Angie Gail said...

Can anyone tell me about Emily's past post showing her apartment pictures? I asked about this on yesterday's post, however, it went unanswered by Emily. Perhaps she has already answered it in a previous post that I missed. Please help. Thanks.

Emily said...

Anon on censoring, I turned off comment moderation. It became emotionally taxing for me, so everyone's comments are published automatically. I am hoping my trolls will get tired of this little game, and maybe my regular readers will understand why sometimes I come off as a little defensive.

Anon on Dollar Tree, the Dollar Tree by the mall in the plaza with the Great Wall Buffet has a great frozen food section. It's the only one with a frozen food section that I've seen.

Angie, I'm starting a series next week on the apt pics. They're on their way.

Scottish Twins said...

I still don't get all of the comments about prison food that you get. Although it would be nice if you were feeding your children better quality meats and organic when possible, overall your grocery list is well-rounded and nutritious.

The majority of Americans let their kids eat cold sugary cereals every morning, school lunches, and fast food or processed meals for dinner. At least you're not doing that, right?!

And I would much rather feed my children frozen produce than fresh produce in Maine in the middle of winter - you know that stuff was picked unripe, gassed and shipped to Maine where it ripened in a truck. The frozen is much more nutritious.

But I really think you need to look further into meats. There has to be a local farmer that can sell you meats (even if not organic or grass-fed) for cheap. Have you tried contacting the person who organizes your local Farmer's Market? Maybe they could put you in touch with someone.

Anonymous said...

Emily- keep up the great blog! Thanks for reposting
the info about the price chart/book. Being new to the concept of heightened frugality, I find the information interesting. (:

Valley Girl

Angie Gail said...

I just wanted to thank you for addressing my question. I think you are really sweet, despite what people say. You are doing what you feel is best for your family. Who cares what anyone else thinks or says? I love your blog, so keep on keepin' on! Also, your kids are ADORABLE! Love ya hon.!

Anonymous said...

These people have not seen true mistreatment of children. I see meat - maybe not the BEST meat, but let's face it, beef ain't healthy, whether it comes from a Wagyu cow or the Dollar Tree. I see fruit and vegetables. I see dairy and grains. I see little processed sugar or grease.

When I worked as a lawyer, I saw kids who ate nothing - I mean NOTHING - but Walmart cupcakes and GV brand Coke. Kids who had to cook for themselves, so lived off sandwiches and ramen noodles.

I don't agree with everything you do, Emily, but I have to say that these comments seem far too angry to actually be about food.

Acheron (again - sorry, I'd sign into my google account but I get an error when I try)

Dogfood Provider said...

These trolls, sheesh. I heart you Emily, and I will stand up for you any day of the week. You've inspired me to check out the sales online for the week. My freezer is now half-empty after a flurry of cooking ahead has been eaten up.

thelittlegreenhouse said...

Geez. I only started reading today, and I certainly don't agree with everything Emily posts. But some of these comments are VILE. I think she feeds her children just fine, and certainly better than most of America eats. My family lives on about the same salary as Emily's (and my husband works at Walmart, too) and you know what? We don't always have a great choice on what kind of meats/produce we can feed our family, either.

Sometimes one must choose between eating well, and eating. I'm going to choose "eating" every time.

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily,

I found your blog recently and check in often. I enjoy your posts, and while I do not always agree with your opinion, it does provide interesting things for me to think about. I admire your conviction and strength by refusing to let some comments to bother you.


Anita said...

As an older Christian woman I like to exhort you a bit...

The lazy comment seems to have caused a lot of angry feelings. Even if it was not your intention to offend anyone, you have and should apologize for offensive. You don't want to be a stumbling block 1 corinthian 8:9. I recommend apologizing to those you have offended, it shows humility, which is a Christian virtue and one to be sought.

Secondly...sharing ideas on how you live under $1,000 is good and should be done in the spirit of encouragment and with Christian love. It great that you can feed your family on such as tight budget, but do keep in mind when writing your posts that not everyone is in your shoes nor walking your path. If you wanted to point out that there are some who won't do a price book because of their lack of knowledge or the mere fact that most just want to do the work, you could have done so in a much sweeter tone. Because I will agree, there are those who don't like doing the work necessary for saving money because they don't want to do their homework, but it's not a sin, nor was it necessary to address in your blog post. I think the lazy comment took away from the message you were trying to relay, which is AFM isn't always a good deal and it would be wise to do your homework before using it.

One last thing. My husband who writes emails and deals daily with situations that can be very heated always advises...NEVER, NEVER, NEVER refer to your audience as you, them, some, etc. Because it makes it personal.

Hope pray you ponder things.


Happily Frugal Mama said...

Emily, good for you to not let these trolls scare you off! Some people thrive on hurting others (and trying to draw more into their miserable viewpoints). We don't have to live on as tight of a budget as you do... we have lower prices on dairy products... we have access to homegrown foods... so, yes, I'm able to feed my kids more organic/free range/grass fed foods. Does that mean my children are getting better nutrition? No, it does not. I'm a firm believer in homegrown foods for many reasons, but I'm not naive enough to believe an apple from my neighbors tree has more nutrients than one from the grocer. It may be fresher, so there may be a bit more retained nutrition, but that's where the line is drawn. Frozen produce is an excellent way to go when you can't have LOCAL, fresh produce. Food is frozen quickly after being picked so more nutrition is retained than any other method of preservation.

I think Emily's family does eat well... they appear to eat a well balanced diet (and it sounds similar in ways to an Atkins diet which many obese American's prescribe too regularly). We must remember that their three boys are very young and therefore, a serving for them is tiny! 1 oz of meat, 1/4 cup or 1/2 slice of grain, 1/4 cup of fruit or veggies, 1/2 cup of milk or 1/2 oz of cheese.

I applaud you, Emily for choosing to make homemade mac and cheese over cheap packaged mac (although it appears some here would say the store bought was a better choice, even chock full of chemical preservatives and dyes!)... For baking your bread using a whole wheat flour (even if I choose to bake mine in an oven)... for fermenting, for making your own ketchup (BTW, its a good thing you're little one LOVES ketchup, it's chock full of nutrition and cancer fighting properties!)... for making yogurt and cream cheese... for making due (in a very positive way) with the little funds you have available instead of standing in the foodstamp line. (Although, no one would should shame you if you chose to use FS for a while.)
I understand your husbands desire to become a pastor and strive toward a Godly life. You are to be applauded for supporting him and making things work on your limited means.

For those who say you can't accept criticism... we must all remember we were your age once. I received so much criticism for breastfeeding that I became a long term Bf'r out of sheer force of will to prove all those peeps wrong. Sometimes, negative criticism can actually push us forward in very positive ways. And over time, you will be able to take that criticism with a grain of salt.

I also don't think Emily is opposed to opinions or resources from her readers... right now, she has figured out a system that is working quite well for her family... mucking with that system could potentially throw everything out of balance. That doesn't mean she isn't investigated and looking into resources we are sharing!

Anita said...

Wow, my grammar in my post is terrible, LOL, I should have proof read it before posting. Oh well I hope you understand what I'm saying anyway.

Pam said...

Emily, you have changed my life. I thought I was a frugal zealot, but you really have challenged me. From soap nuts to homemade yogurt (and that awesome cheese you get if you let it drain longer) to Stevia to seeing your crock pot as a miniature oven, you have helped me make positive, money-saving, healthy, green changes for my family. I get your sense of humor, have never been offended, and look forward to your new tip/story/recipe/topic each morning. I also admire your courage. Keep doing what you are doing.

Blessed said...


I get an error message too when I try to post comments "as" my Google account. It says the comments could not be posted, or something like that. I just ignore the message and click "post comment" again. Sometimes it makes me click a third time with verification, but it always posts my comments then, under my user name.

Just thought that might work for you too.

Emily, I really do think that even if you are not moderating comments anymore, you are not only welcome but ENCOURAGED to delete those vile ones. Who cares what Mean Anonymous thinks about you if you delete her posts (sadly we can all tell she is a she--and she gives womanhood a bad name, which is why she is afraid to comment under her own name!)--you are not only sparing yourself, but the rest of your readers too. I am starting to not want to visit the comments section because those vile and crude anon comments are truly offensive. Most of us would appreciate NOT seeing them!

But if it makes you feel better to leave them be, then I am glad you see that you never have to address them. One quotation I enjoy says, "Never defend yourself: your friends don't need it, and your enemies won't believe it anyway." Your readers can be your bulldogs. ; )

Mean Anonymous: please stay away.

dust in the wind said...

I try to keep a price chart in my head, but I'm a little too scatter-brained for that. This post inspires me to do myself a favor and keep a written one with me. Thank you.

As for all the hype... many of your readers are cruel and just plain weird. Don't you wish they would leave if they don't like what they read?!

Your family look very happy and healthy. And your nasty commenters are probably horkin' down Twinkies as they type. You are way ahead of most us young moms when it comes to healthy eating.

Dogs eating better? Give me a break!


Simple in France said...

Emily, I use more of a price chart too. I set mine up on an excell spread sheet at home and then fill in the blanks at the store . . .afterward, I enter the prices I find on the computer and can do all kinds of calculations with it . . .if I really want to--hah.

I basically found that for what we buy, there's just one local grocery store that's worth it--the other two are too expensive. After that, I generally try to buy food at a coop once a month in bulk--it's a way to get cheap, quality organic staples like rice and oats. But my budget is not as streamlined as yours since I don't have as many mouths to feed.

Emily said...

Acheron, I don't mind you signing your name instead of signing in. Just curious, who are you when you sign in?

Anita, I apologized in the first paragraph of this post, but thank you for the encouragement.

Happy Frugal Mama, I look into ALL resources from readers. Some are good for our family and help a lot. Some aren't relavent to our situation. My readers have actually saved me a ton of money in good advice. I'm thankful for that.

Pam, I get excited about every one of your comments, because in the first one you wrote, you said you "got my humour." That means a lot, as many don't. (:

Blessed, it does make me feel better to leave those comments. Some anonymous commenters were playing a little game of how nasty can they be and still be published. It wasn't fun for me. If I delete them, it will turn to how nasty can they be before being deleted. Thanks for the quote, very applicable.

Simple Life, I'm glad you're getting around the blogosphere! Mine is an excel, too.

Clisby said...

People who find it works best to shop at only one store can still have a version of a price chart, at least if it's a chain grocery that has regular sale cycles. For example, I do 90% of my shopping at one store. I know that sales of .89/lb whole chicken come around periodically. When that sale turns up, I buy 3 or 4 chickens. I know pork chops will go on sale for $1.99/lb at some point. When they do, I stock up. Also, I can usually get better prices on ground beef by waiting for a good sale on roasts (chuck, eye of round, sirloin tip), and having the store butcher grind it up (no charge).

Lucy said...

While I keep a price book, I find I don't refer to it as often as I used to because I'm getting better at remembering prices and I generally make a shopping list at home from the sale ads and stick to it. I do update it frequently and this keeps things fresh in my mind. I needed it badly when I first started it amd it helped save a bunch even though it took some time to put together. I think it is a worthwhile exercise to help anyone get a better understanding of their food and household goods costs. I use one for each of my businesses also. This is a great time of year to start new projects and this is a worthy one.

Cagey (Kelli Oliver George) said...

I actually felt compelled to comment on the this post (and in regard to the last.) I am one of those perpetually lazy folks of whom you speak. I stay at home, but I do not keep a price list and frankly, I refuse to litter my brain with saving pennies here and there. Yes, "saving money" is one of my tasks, but I am also a believer in that my own time is valuable and can be better spent than driving to and fro from store to store. I am at several nearby grocery stores throughout the week because we rely on fresh veggies. While I am there, I scope out our more expensive items, such as chicken and fish (we don't cook beef and port at home) But our list is simple - milk, veggies and chicken. We eat very few processed foods and I think there were some valid concerns about the heavy reliance on the cheaper, processed foods. The food industry would absolutely delight in these posts.

However - all that said, I was not offended or outraged. I AM lazy and I think saving pennies is boring. And I adore hearing my washing machine and dishwasher as I roll around on our floor playing with our kids.

But! I do enjoy this blog and will continue to read because I believe in the greater message here. The lazy comment was rude and immature, but much of the nastiness was uncalled for! Most of our lives are filled with excess and we would be better off by reducing it. What constitutes an excess? That is for each of us to determine individually.

Anonymous said...

If you want to buy local meat, you can get beef from Harris Farm in Dayton. But their prices are higher than what you state you will pay for meat but its high quality meat. You can get on the gerrealme site and look up local farmers and see what you can find as far as locally grown meat.

That said to those who suggested Emily go this route as someome who lives in her general area and buys local meats, it is costly. Best deal would be getting a side of beef and going in with some other folks.

Thanks for the tip about Dollar Tree, I have been wondering where you went since as you know the dollar stores down here don't have frozen food.

Anonymous in Saco

Emily said...

Cagey, it sounds like what you are doing is exactly the same as a price chart, just simpler as your list is simpler.

As far as concern about cheaper processed foods, I don't think so. I buy canned tomatoes, ground meat, and cheese. That is it for processed foods. And I'm even cutting down on those. Yes, maybe there are some families that eat less processed food than we do, but I would guess they are rare.

Guinevere said...

Emily, I can understand why you'd want to leave comments unmoderated so you can see some of the crazy things people are saying. Your lifestyle, while certainly interesting to read about, is not for me, but I don't think these really unkind attacks are fair or justified at all. I don't understand the vehemence here.

I keep a running comparison in my head on the things we buy most, but I might create an actual price list for our basics now. I have access to a grocery store that sells at-cost (military base commissaries are not allowed to make a profit), but interestingly enough, that isn't where the best deals always are, since our local Wegman's will have loss leaders and accepts coupons. I try to keep my shopping to these two places, and know what's generally best to buy in each one, but perhaps I'll learn something new with the price list.

Guinevere said...

I meant to say, so WE can see some of the crazy things people are saying. That would make a lot more sense!

Moderate Means said...

I think price books are like cloth diapers - they seem so overwhelming and time consuming that you debate and worry...and then you try it and think, "oh, that was easy!"

My price book has changed the way I shop and I've learned where real bargains are. Even when I had it in my head, the difference between serving sizes sometimes tripped me up - and I calculate carb factors in my head (my daughter is diabetic) so I'm no slouch at math. In the past 2 weeks, I've started adding flyer prices to track sales. It's so easy. It's really helpful at more than shopping - I use it for determining the value of AFM boxes and for evaluating the cost of my BJ's membership.

I wasn't offended by the lazy comment - it WAS laziness that made me wait so long to start one!


Anonymous said...

Emily, you have apologized for offending people, but you have not apologized for calling those who use AFM lazy. A real apology would involve saying that you realize that your words were hurtful and not always accurate and that you are sorry for writing them. I used to use a price book, and honestly, the cost of gas driving around getting good deals ended up costing me money. And that isn't even counting in the time spent doing it. I get so much more done at home now that I'm not shopping at least once a week. So when it comes down to it, a price book isn't always more cost effective, and AFM isn't always a waste of money used by lazy people.


Anonymous said...

A price book is really not terribly useful to me for most things. Either I know what a good price for an item is because I've been buying it for years, or prices vary so much seasonally and even from week to week, that as long as I know what a good price for the time of year is, a price book is unnecessary.

Paying attention to fluctuating prices is important though. My usual supermarket has followed spralmart's lead in constantly advertising their new lower prices. At the same time, they don't bother mentioning all the other items they've jacked up in price. Our usual baked beans have gone from $.69 to $.99/can over the past 3 months. Without looking at the shelf label every single time I shop, I'd be paying $.30 more per can rather than waiting or buying them somewhere else.

thelittlegreenhouse said...

I don't use a price book, not because I'm lazy, but because we only have one grocery store and one non-super center Walmart in our town. I do keep track (in my head) where the cheapest items are. I know that milk will always be cheaper at walmart, for example, however, almost anything else I want to buy must come from the other grocery store.

I still wasn't offended by the lazy comment. I neither thought it applied to me, nor did I care, even if I did think it applied to me. I know I'm not lazy, even if I do things slightly different.

Treva said...

Emily, I don't use a paper pricebook. I use a $2 ipod touch app called Price Book $ense. I've had a paper pricebook and I think the initial time investment is the same regardless if you go with paper or electronic (about 2 hours for me), but I find updating my itouch pricebook easier. It easily saved me 10x the amount I invested in it the first time I used it at a grocery store. So for anyone who loathes the idea of the paper pricebook (like I did when I knew I would have to start a new one b/c I lived in a new area with completely different stores and sales cycles), they may want to give the iphone/itouch app a try.

P.S. My itouch was a free gift, so no money out on my part for the gadget itself.

Debbie Meyer said...

Hi Emily,
I have been following your blog for a couple of months now and have noticed that your recopies contain mostly carbs and meat. I was wondering what fruits and vegetables your family eats. I see a couple on your grocery list, but they are very limited and most are starchy and not the super fruits and veggies that keep bodies healthy. Do you serve sides with your meals? What would you serve along with the quesadilla?

Do you ever buy Spinach? Kale? Eggplant? Kiwi? Citrus fruits? Pomegranate? Fresh Berries? Also, do you ever eat fresh fish like Salmon?

Be well,
Debbie Meyer

Anonymous said...

Why should she apologize for calling people who don't do it lazy. I'm not saying I agree with her. But she believes it, so by apologizing she is saying that she feels she was wrong. Why is it wrong to think someone else is lazy? It's her thoughts, her opinion, and you shouldn't have to apologize for your opinion.

I think people who feed their kids McDonald's every day are lazy. Of course those people don't think they are lazy and if someone told me to apologize, I wouldn't. Because I think it's lazy, period. I'm not going to apologize for my opinion. Emily, neither should you if it's how you really feel.


Wishing you a Prosperous New Year!!!

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