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Money is to relationship as icebergs are to feats of engineering hubris.

How Dafuq Do Couples Share Their Money?

As we’ve discussed previously, the Olde Method for merging finances was simple and straightforward:

The Man and Womyn shall meet when they are idiot teenagers. They shall marrie when they are both seventeen years old, after two weeks of casual dates at the soda shoppe. The couple shall thereafter commence cohabitation. The Man shall seek salaried employment, and shield the Womyn’s eyes from their mutual finances, excepting the allowance to keep herself in straight pins, and the house in mutton, and the sheepe in the oat corne, and the rye corne, and the barley. And i ‘t be true the Husband gambles her dowry hence, the Wyfe might not but wend to Reno and return to her father’s home in shame and disgrace. Oye, oye, oye, forever and ever, Amen.

Mmhmm, yep, that’s just how it went!

Because labor outside the home was classically a masculine burden (at least in the last few centuries and at least for middle- to upper-class folks), salaries and investments were largely the purview of men. Women, conversely, were usually tasked with domestic labor and household budgets.

The history of gendered expectations around money is long and bonkers. It was only in the 1960s that women gained the legal right to open a savings account of their own. Until the mid-1970s, banks refused to issue lines of credit to women without their husbands’ permission—and not at all to unmarried women. This is a great example of a situation where the patriarchy makes life unpleasant for all genders of people: women are treated like idiot children, men are treated like the long-suffering babysitters of their life partners. And it was all within living memory for our parents! Jeeeeezuz.

Point being, it hasn’t been a long time at all since couples were legally forced to merge most aspects of their individual finances. (We also invented gay marriage since then. You’re welcome.)

That means that couples today are almost certainly managing their finances radically differently than their parents and grandparents. We have a very shallow bench of examples to pull from! And we’ve made up individualized systems as we go, aided by technology.

Here are the successful ways I’ve seen couples divide, partition, and share their finances.

Step one: figure out how you’re going to share expenses

50/50

This is the way you’ll split most things with a roommate. You get a $50 internet bill, and you both pay $25. Boom, done.

Assuming you both come into the relationship with similar circumstances, it’s perfectly fair! Of course, that’s rarely how life actually works.

UNFAIR.

Usage-based

There are lots of instances where splitting something 50/50 doesn’t make sense. In the above example, you’re paying to have equal access to a needed utility. But how do you divide the rent if, say, it includes a parking spot, but only one of you drives?

It’s usually easiest to come to a gentleperson’s agreement up-front about what feels fair to both parties given your unique circumstances. This means you have to be prepared to negotiate for yourself.

I once had a roommate (not Piggy) who wanted to split our rent based on square footage, because her room was smaller. But I pointed out that my room was a bizarre, asymmetrical L-shape, which made her room much more usable. My roommate backed down and agreed to stick to an even split. But every once in a while, she’d make an odd comment about how “funky and cool” my “big” room was, which I took for evidence of mild resentment. (I offered to switch with her. She declined. Can’t imagine why.) When I moved out, that roommate brought it up again with the next girl, and successfully pressed her into paying more for that Tetris block of a room. Poor thing.

If you want to be successful navigating a usage-split, I suggest being firm up-front, but flexible in the long run. Use it as practice for more important negotiations later, like buying a car or agreeing to a salary. And strive to neither be a passive-aggressive person, nor to live with one.

Scaled to circumstances

The nature of a roommate relationship is probably more businesslike than it is for a live-in partner. That’s because live-in partners come with all sorts of extra bonuses. Like sharing omelette ingredients. And fucking.

The heightened intimacy makes it more likely you’ll decide to scale some expenses based on your respective incomes. If Partner A makes $75,000 and Partner B makes $35,000, it would feel weird for them to split rent evenly. It means that Partner A has extra money for investments and luxuries that Partner B cannot relate to nor share in. Over time, this makes the relationship feel lopsided and dysfunctional.

I would only subsidize my partner if the following two conditions were met. One: I need to believe that their financial priorities are similar to my own. If I’m kicking in an extra $200 towards rent, you better be using that cushion to eliminate your student loans, not buy even moar weed. And two: I need to believe that we’re likely in it for the long haul. It’s a significant investment, so make it a sure thing.

Disclaimer: Don’t stay in sucky relationships because “well, I’ve come this far.” That’s the sunk cost fallacy talking. If you’re not happy, cut your losses and consider the money well-spent figuring out what you didn’t want in your future.

Scaled to effort

When Piggy and I lived together as roommates-cum-crime-fighting-duo, we had a lovely arrangement for sharing our food bill. I bought all of the food, and she did all of the dishes.

I have a feeling that exactly 50% of people reading this will say “Holy shit, Piggy got ripped off!” And the other 50% will say “Holy shit, Kitty got ripped off!” Which is how you know you’ve negotiated well!

This arrangement worked perfectly for both of us. Piggy was a tireless cleaner trying to save money wherever she could. I was a degenerate slob with good cash flow. It made perfect sense for me to pitch in more money, and her to pitch in more effort.

This kind of arrangement may seem unusual, but I can attest to its awesomeness. It streamlined a lot of unnecessary stress and resentment out of living situation, and we were both perfectly happy. It’s a great demonstration of the reality that equality is adaptive, not identical. (Piggy note: It was through this arrangement that I was introduced to the life-changing-yet-affordable wonder of Trader Joe’s frozen bison burgers.)

Step two: figure out how you’re going to share surplus

I think this step is the hardest part of figuring out how to share finances.

When a bill comes up, it’s not that hard to come to an agreement about how to split it. But what do you do when you have significant money left over? When does yours and mine become ours? And does it have to?

My blanket advice is to never, ever share your surplus with anyone without making a mutual meaningful long-term commitment. Getting married was a no-brainer to me, but the idea of merging finances made me balk like a Shetland pony asked to take a Normandy bank jump. I got there eventually—necessity is the mother of acceptance—but it was hard. And it should be.

After all, money is freedom. And hearts mend faster than credit scores.

But when the time is right to share, here are some options.

Yours is yours, mine is mine

Many couples persist in keeping completely separate accounts long into their relationship. After all, it’s easier than ever to shuffle money around. It’s not like you have to write checks to each other, an insane thing my grandparents still do.

There’s something to be said for keeping accounts completely separate, and each handling their own expenses, but selecting targeted areas to mutually invest in—an apartment, a pet, some furniture, etc. Adults with a strong foundation of trust should be able to commit to such things with a plan for how to divide them if things don’t work out.

Some people scoff at the idea of keeping separate accounts. Like it’s unromantic for everyone to retain their independent financial personhood, or something. But lots of people do it, and they’re also less likely to divorce! Shook emoji!! So if it works for you, haters can make an orderly single file line to the left.

Couples who want to keep separate accounts often find it easiest to put a set amount into a joint checking account for shared bills, and oversee the rest as they see fit.

Mine is yours, yours is mine

Some people don’t want any walls between them. They might feel that keeping separate finances feels deceptive or uncooperative. I get that. I initially kept separate accounts from my husband, but gave up when it no longer felt useful or necessary.

A complete merger of finances has great risks and great rewards. Your savings and investments can compound faster. You can work together to pay off debts more quickly. Some bills are cheaper, like phone plans. And you have full visibility into all the information you need to budget together.

But the obvious downside is that people use and value money differently. Before you merge finances, you should have a deep understanding and acceptance of the other person’s spending habits. You don’t have to be on the exact same page, but you must at least be in the same chapter. A quarter of marriages end over issues related to money.

1, 2, 3, DIVORCE!

If you and your partner share core money values, merging finances can work great. If you’re thrifty and your partner isn’t, it’s pragmatic to design your financial arrangement to circumvent as many future fights and disappointments as you can.

Fun money

In this method, couples agree to a budget that accounts for individual tastes and interests. Both people have a set amount of “fun money” set aside each month. They can do absolutely anything they want with it (including letting it compile for a bigger-ticket purchase) and neither one gets to say shit about it. It lets everybody get on with their personal hobbies and feel a sense of some privacy and autonomy without letting it spiral out of hand.

Pay per chore

Divisions of household labor and emotional labor are still overwhelmingly gendered. Which means it’s not a bad solution that the person who performs the most work for the household to get more discretionary spending as a reward.

This can be done formally, with the help of a chore chart or an app that tracks household contributions. It can also be done informally. If I busted ass all day in the yard adding value to our biggest shared asset (our house), I have earned the right to spend $20 on a burger and a small aircraft carrier’s worth of fries at Five Guys. #treatyoself

Let’s take turns

Life deals out good luck and bad luck in turns. Maybe one partner is laid off, or pursuing an advanced degree, or is too sick to contribute meaningfully to the household, or wants to care for dependents on a full-time basis. These things happen, and committed partners may find themselves temporarily carrying the other financially.

This is a very easy way for one person to take advantage of another. Therefore, I advise a whole lot of caution.

I’ve been with my husband for eight years. And when he wanted to take time off to work on changing careers, I buckled down in a job I didn’t like to support him. I did that because we are family. We’re committed to sinking or swimming together. And I know that it’s very likely that one day I’ll need his support in the exact same way. But it took many years to grow that close. If we’d been in the same situation when we were one year into dating, I would’ve said “fuck naw.”

Money makes me romantic.

If a situation arises where your partner needs money, take serious stock of the state of your relationship first. Evaluate your partner’s credibility and trustworthiness. Money is to relationships as icebergs are to feats of engineering hubris. If you have doubts, exhaust every avenue of resolution before loaning or giving it to them. It does not make you a bad partner to be cautious and stay inside your comfort zone.

Whose job is it?

Never cede responsibility of your finances to anyone. Not your partner, your parent, nor even a financial advisor. It doesn’t matter if you’re committed like Penelope at the loom. No one and never.

Imagine a situation where the IRS contacted you about unpaid taxes. Or a credit card company started sending you threatening letters about a card you’ve never heard of. Saying “But, but, my spouse handles all that stuff!” is not going to make those nightmare situations go away.

Even worse, what if the spouse who “handled things” became injured, or sick, or even died? I hate to point it out, but as mortal creatures, there is literally a 100% chance of that happening at some point!

Regardless of who handles the day-to-day financial chores, both partners should know:

  • What’s the family’s net worth, right now?
  • What does your budget look like, if you have one?
  • What’s the general trend of your net worth? Are you growing slowly, or bleeding money?
  • How much money do both partners make, including bonuses or other significant financial perks?
  • How much are you each contributing to your retirement?
  • What do your taxes look like, and where are the copies of your past returns?
  • What are your major shared assets?
  • How much debt do you have, including student loans, car payments, mortgages, and credit cards?
  • What’s the login for every credit card, bank account, brokerage account, and retirement account you share?
  • Who are the beneficiaries in your wills?

If you couldn’t answer all of this information in an hour, what you’ve got is a fucking financial independence emergency. Fix that shit right dafuq now.

Friends and readers, I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive. How do y’all share finances with your respective henny pies? Tell us what works (and hasn’t worked) for you in the comments below!

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18 thoughts to “How Dafuq Do Couples Share Their Money?”

  1. Awesome thoughts (as mostly always)! Have you done any research on software for a) calculating/updating net worth and b) budgeting/keeping track of income/expenditures? Keep em coming and Thank You!

  2. “Live-in partners come with all sorts of extra bonuses. Like sharing omelette ingredients. And fucking.” Almost spit out my tea at this one.

    Absolutely awesome guide to what to consider when deciding how to share finances. I have a hard no against it personally (which luckily my partner agrees with). Reading this gave me flashbacks to roommate negotiations *shudder.* We paid different amounts based on space. What an epic fight.

    Also great that you pointed out what a bad idea it is to let your partner handle everything. That was the case for a woman whose husband tragically died and as a result she created a website so others wouldn’t go through the nightmare she did. It has the awesome title “Get Your Shit Together.com”: https://www.gyst.com/

  3. I guess we do the mine is yours, yours is mine type of sharing. It’s been a long time since we started merging finances but i remember that we opened a joint checking account shortly after we officially moved in together. I don’t remember how we figured out how much money was needed jointly but I don’t think we ever did the 50/50 split on expenses or if we did it was only for a short while. Very recently, like 10+ years into the relationship, we’ve settled on a “no questions asked” allowance for each of us. It was needed to curb some burgeoning resentment (mostly on my part). I might still think it crazy that he keeps buying movies on Google even though there is more than enough content available through our netflix and amazon and hulu accounts, but then he might resent that I have purchased enough fabric to clothe a family of 12 but much of it sits unmade in bins around the house. The problem with doing this last year was that there were no repercussions if you spent over your allowance. This year I’m planning on holding us to the limits that we set and I guess that mean that the other can complain and question purchases over the limit.
    We’ve always worked to be on the same page, or at least in the same chapter with spending goals although I am usually the one that sets the goals after analysis of our money in vs money out. We’ve recently redoubled our savings efforts and set some concrete (but flexible) goals for saving/investing over the next 6 years. One thing that really helped us both understand was my tracking of all of our spending over the last 18 months. He’s been pretty uninterested in looking at the reports until recently when I said, “hey, if we cut our spending by 20% we could both work on our dream jobs in 6 years without fear of being financially destitute.” After that he looked at the report of how much we spend and was like, “hey, we saved $XX,XXX last year without much effort?” followed by, “we really spend $X,XXX/month on groceries plus $XXX eating out?” We agreed to cut both those numbers in half and I created a spending plan to work toward our shared goal.
    We’ve always had income disparity between us and until 3 years ago I was the high wage earner, now he makes nearly double my salary. I think we’ve been successful in not feeling entitled to spend more if we’re the one that makes more – I’ve never seen a benefit in that.
    I’ve been good about sharing access to all of my spreadsheets and money tracking apps, even if the other person isn’t interested in looking at them. I do need to make sure that all bills are itemized somewhere with account access info made available in case something happens. Most bills are e-bills now so if i’m not checking my email no one would know that bills are due.

  4. Love your run down of all the different scenarios.
    My partner and I started out as housemates and our money conversations reflected that for a long time. We are now engaged and take more of a ‘team oriented’ approach to our finances and plan to merge financially when we marry.
    My goal for next year is to work and save for our house deposit while he is still studying, and then when he lands a job we will start trying for a family and I will be a stay at home parent while he pays the mortgage etc. Once the kids are in school, we would ideally like to both work part-time because we are pretty chilled individuals and like taking it slow.
    That’s the plan anyway, but hey life will throw us come curve balls I am sure haha.

  5. My husband and I have totally combined finances and have since a week after our wedding. One checking, one savings, IRAs in both our names, one credit card (my name but paid from joint checking. There are many, many good reasons why this is not advisable (see the EXCELLENTLY written article above) but it has worked well for us. Why?

    We met as undergrads and never co-habitated together until we were married (long-distance dating/engagement, also not advised). We talked A LOT about all the important financial questions brought up: our student debt, other debts, financial goals, etc. At the time of our marriage, we were very, VERY broke grad students, with one of us in a long-haul PhD (more ill-advised choices here, save yourself if you are considering this!!!). It made the most sense for us to combine what little we had to be able to make ends meet (and show how srslypoorplzhelp we were to qualify for government assistance).

    Since then, every time our situation has changed for better or for worse, we’ve talked it out. We’ve had disagreements on what the next steps are in our plan, but always came to a middle ground that we both were OK with. This wasn’t “I got a bonus and want to save it, you want to go to Vegas” disagreements, more like “I got a bonus, do we send it into the dark abyss of FedLoan, Nelnet, or kick it to our retirement?”. Same chapter, different pages.

    TL;DR If you want your finances to be totally combined, you had better have the world’s best communication skills with your partner and zero shame talking about your finances with them.

    1. Our finances (as well as dating/marriage) experiences were very similar. We were both young and broke. I had just finished school (and had the loans to show for it) and he had two years of undergrad and three years of law school to finish. He was the more flexible of the two of us for the first three years and after the first child, as he was in school and I was working full-time. We both handled the checkbook pretty evenly at that point. Once he finished and I stayed home full-time (though I did work from home), I took over the finances. Once he finished school, we consolidated our student loans so we could afford more of a house than we could otherwise–and with two kids we needed bigger.

      The problem came with the divorce. Really, we didn’t have any problems because we’re both honest and trustworthy (at least about money; fidelity is another matter), so with his $120k a year income and my $0 income as a SAHM, he took the debts and student loans. The caveat here is that IF he had decided to be a deadbeat, *I* would have been stuck with the consolidated student loans that were 90% his (private law school loans vs. my public undergrad loans). Looking back, it really was the only way to get into the home we needed, but I got lucky that he paid what he should have paid, and I know a lot of people who aren’t so lucky. Also lucky that we were reasonably compatible in our spending habits, something we never talked about before getting married.

  6. My Husband got married… And then we opened a joint account and set up direct deposits to the same account. The idea that (married) people… Wouldn’t…. Share income and finances both from a single pool is just…. Weird to me for some reason?

    But when I lived with Roommates, it was an even 3 way split; we all ate from the same fridge. We all used the same common rooms. We all had our own bedrooms… Why should any singular person pay more than another when we all live in and use the whole house? That being said, there were a few exceptions in a couple circumstances- like after I lost my job… At which point I immediately got on Food Stamps and took over all of the domestic work and paid for all the groceries because it’s what I was able to contribute, and doing so meant it evened out and no one else paid more than they did originally.

    1. (whoops, sent that in too soon. My bad!)

      Ill admit I’m dying over the “never cede control of your finances even to your spouse” bit, though, because…. That’s exactly what my Husband and I did; we opened the joint account and then I was pretty much unanimously appointed budgetor of the Household because he gets severe anxiety abotu finances, and has a horrible habit of blowing all his money in one go- plus I’m the best with financing and budgeting out of the two of us.

      I keep an eye on the accounts, make sure the bills are paid, make sure the savings is stashed away, and tell him “no” when he wants something frivolous but we don’t have the money at the moment… But I also keep him well updated on the state of the accounts, make sure he always has all of the account information every time it gets updated, and arrange “saving plans” for whatever he wants that we don’t have the money for in full at the time he wants it.

      I’m not sure why, but it just feels… Weird to me not to do married finances that way. But everything about my Husband and I’s relationship is fairly unconventional when you think about it (we were engaged within 6 months, married within a year, are about to celebrate 5 years, and have still never ever had a single fight over anything ever) so I’m not surprised XD

  7. My partner and I (unmarried, together for 8 years) mostly do a proportional split based on our incomes. As the lower earner and a ~strong independent woman~ I was reluctant to do this at first, but now I love it! We have a shared credit card that we use for all shared expenses, and we pay it off proportionally each month. We use all the points this racks up to pay for vacations! The one thing we DO split 50/50 is our housing payments. I felt strongly that I wanted completely equal ownership of our biggest asset, so half of our down payment and every mortgage payment comes from me. We have a shared checking account where our emergency fund lives, and keep everything else separate. It works well for us!

  8. One of the best Bitches articles. Thank you!

    DH and I have been together for 17 years, married for 13 of those. We are DINKs with a Betta because that’s all we have time for, LOL. Similar to Katie above, we split our finances. I cannot imagine having to ask if it’s okay if I bought the Coach bag (on sale! free shipping!) with part of my bonus last year, and I’m sure he appreciates not being hounded about his tobacco use. After the recession, being commission only he was making more than I, so I did ask him to take on the utility bill because “something had to give”. Sales have increased, so I took over responsibility of it last year again. We’ve always split the mortgage. We used to have a joint account to pay bills out of, but now he just hands me his half of the mortgage $$, and I pay it from my account. Less accounts to fuss with. He pays for satellite and WiFi (I could go without either at the house). I buy all the food, and he pays for the home maintenance things. Any tax refunds to into our EF.

    As far as roommates, I don’t remember eating enough back then to have the cost to split. 😉

  9. We combined our accounts as soon as we got married. I got a bit of the short stick on that one as I had been a saver and he a spender, so I had a decent (for an early 20-something) savings account while he had basically spent all his money before the wedding.

    We had some major battles over money in the early years. It took a long time to find equitable & agreeable ways of handling our joint money. Honestly, the biggest factor in smoothing a lot things over was simply making more money.

    We’ve done monthly allowances for a few years now, and my hubs is asking to increase them. I like the idea of using the per chore method to determine the increase. Any idea how people calculate this? Is there an app for that??

  10. Me and my husband have separate daily accounts, joint financial goals and jointly owned assets. After breaking down our income and expenses as a household, we came to an arrangement where he pays all the household bills from his income and I save 90% of mine to an account for later investment. The surplus from his income after the bills is his fun money, and 10% of my income is my fun money. It’s worked out fairly well, but the first step was a grand survey of both our incomes and expenses as a single household, and mutually agreeing on financial goals.

  11. There are endless options for how little or much you combine your money as a couple and none of them are perfect. It completely depends on the couple.

    My partner and I have been together for over a decade (not married) and have never combined finances. We own a house together so have lots of shared expenses but we’ve divided up the bills as closely as possible and will email money transfer each other money if necessary. I always assumed we’d combine when we got married but we keep pushing both things off.

  12. Not married or cohabiting, so I have no horse in this race just yet. But from observing married friends, it was somewhat surprising to me how many of them automatically went with complete combined finances just because that was what their parents did and they didn’t see why it should be any other way. They didn’t take the time to consider other options or the differences in circumstances between them and their parents. So far, I know of at least one couple who ended up changing this system once it became evident it wasn’t working, but I would be curious to know how many end up doing so in the future.

  13. Not married yet, but trying to plan cohabitation in the near future. I can tell already that this is going to be helpful, especially since my boyfriend and I come from two very different money cultures – his family is pretty damn rich and mine is solidly middle-class, inching into poor. I recently found out he had *almost no student loans* and paid off what he did have in a year on a minimum-wage salary – not because he got a full-ride scholarship or anything, but because his parents were so rich they could afford to pay for his college out-of-pocket (to compare: when I graduated law school, I had $34k in loans, and it would have been more had I not gotten a full-tuition scholarship for law school). Dealing with debt in the future is going to be fun, I can already tell.

  14. My husband’s favorite joke is the fact that he gets an allowance like a kid! He likes the way it tips the conventional idea of Ye Olde Methode. When we married, we made the decision to combine finances because he traveled and couldn’t count on being home to pay things so I took on the mantle of being the One Who Makes Sure Things Are Paid. I track all our spending and our actual versus projected budget expenditures and he gets a lovely multi-page spreadsheet report each month. It’s also the basis of our annual Budget Planning session on New Year’s Eve. In addition to having accountability and clarity, I need to know that if I am incapacitated, he knows who and what we pay so things will spin along. Romantic devil that I am, when we first found out we were expecting offspring, the first words out of my mouth were, “We need wills and life insurance independent of employment.” and then proceeded to waddle my fat, pregnant self into a lawyers office with him. Shout out to APurpleLIfe who mentioned Get Your Shit Together. It drives me bonkers when my friends have no idea about their finances, information about life insurance, or wills. And they and their spouses don’t want to talk about it. People have no idea how awful and hard it is to manage daily household stuff without a paper trail that gives you permission to manage stupid stuff like, I don’t know, the light bill! For us, merging finances was about convenience and ensuring the household could cruise along with minimal disruption regardless whoever was at the helm. I loved the list of stuff you should know at the end of the article! Thank you for an article near and dear to my heart!

  15. In the wacky land of Canada after 2 years of cohabitation, you become common-law and the only difference between that and marriage here is you don’t have to go to court to get divorced, but your partner is entitled to support payments, get 1/2 the shit you collected together and so forth. So we had some money talks after moving in together!

    We slowly combine our money, first, one joint account that we both put a little cheddar in and bills came out of, then a joint account where salaries went in, bills came out and fun allowances in personal chequing.

    Now we are fully joint in day to day money using the worry-free money plan (http://www.shannonleesimmons.com/tag/worry-free-money/) its the fucking best because I don’t have to worry about bills and such and we can both spend whatever we want out of the spending account 🙂

    The one caveat to this jointness is our saving goals joint but the actual saving is separate. So our emger fund is $X,000 we each have 1/2 in our own high-interest saving account. Both my partner and I have had shifting finical stability due to health, being in school and gender, so it has always been really important to have our own ‘bug-out’ money. Same for retirement and investing.

    This works because we both generally have to same money thinkings (cheap af) but have had to work out some kinks along the way. For example, they like to save up a chunk of money then decided what to spend it on and I like to save for a specific thing. So they have Mylo (like acorn) that passive builds up money that 100% theirs and when I have something on my list I get to tuck away a little spending money for it.

    But thanks bitches – I need a kick in the but to share all the finical logins with them so that is anything happens they can manage all the things 🙂

  16. You are so right. When it comes to finances, you have do what feels right as a couple. We have our separate 401(k)s, IRAs, savings accounts, and checking accounts, but we also have a joint checking and savings account. That helps us manage things together, and it works for us.

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