6 Things You Can Buy That Will Pay for Themselves in a Year

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I really get a kick out of doing little things that will pay big dividends. So each of these six items offer a little bit of that promise. Put a few bucks in now and save more! What I love about it is that you can run out and buy everything mentioned here and actually be richer in a year! Yes, you are welcome! ;)

1. “SmartStrip” Surge Protector

If your computer setup is anything like mine you have an overflowing surge protector behind your computer desk that is powering all kinds of peripheral computer devices. This is where the SmartStrip starts to shine. Whenever you power down your computer, it automatically shuts off everything else – printer, speakers, etc. For avid computer users, and at about $38 this one should easily pay for itself in a year.

2. Water Heater Blanket

Depending on the temperature setting you use and the location of your hot water heater, a water heater blanket can save you 10% or more on your energy bill – which for some would be almost $10 a month. A quick test to see if you would benefit from having one is to just touch you water heater. If the tank is warm to the touch, you would save money by having a blanket. If you don’t get one, you can also cut your energy bill by lowering the heating temperature on the tank.

3. Battery Charger

I remember a battery charger I had about 15 years ago and how miserable the batteries were. I had to recharge them just about every day. Thankfully, the technology has advanced quite a bit and if you use a lot of batteries, they can be a very cost-effective investment. Energizer has a charger that charges AA/AAAs for under $14.

4. Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulbs

I have to admit – I don’t like fluorescent light. I just enjoy the full spectrum a bit better, but if “a lightbulb is a lightbulb” to you, then you might be able to save a few bucks with some CFLs. From the numbers I have heard about CFLs, the average family can easily save over $100 a year by making the switch.

5. Programmable Thermostat

Having a programmable thermostat is the easiest way to lower your heating and cooling costs. And having the house temperature right where you want it every hour of the day isn’t bad either. You can find programmable thermostats as cheap as $20 – at that price, it would probably pay for itself many times over in a year.

6. Water-Saving Shower Head

Regular shower heads can release as much as 6 gallons per minute (GPM) and some of the showerhead manufacturers have figured out how to let much less water through, but make it still feel like a lot. This particular one flows at 1.82 GPMs. By making the switch, “you’ll skip heating 15,000 gallons of extra water each year, reducing your energy cost of heating water and water consumption by a whopping 50 percent.”

Need more? Check out these 25 money saving gadgets and 8 gadgets to save money and go green.

What’s your favorite money-saving item? Leave a comment!

















FTC Disclosure of Material Connection: In order for us to maintain this website, some of the links in the post above may be affiliate links. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we use personally and/or believe will add value to readers. Read more here.

56 Comments
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  1. I don’t own a house but hear you can save a few dollars per month from a programmable thermostat. Keep the house cool during the day, time it to heat for when you will be home. Easy way to cut utility costs a bit.

    • barbara

      I am going to ask my husband to get us one of these. I like to save money any way we can. it cost so much to live these days and if I can find something I am going for it.

  2. These are all awesome suggestions!

    I really enjoy simple and easy to implement lists like this. I recently bought water heater blankets for a family-members rentals and we’ve already noticed a difference this past winter.

    Great read!

  3. I’m going to get some CFLs…they are worth it long term.

    • Yes but be VERY CAREFUL if you break one, it is likely filled with mercury. Never change one of these lightbulbs in bare feet, and make sure the little ones have shoes on as well!

      When these break, the have enough mercury to be classified as a hazardous material!

      Overall, you may save some money with these, but everyone should know the facts, and weigh the risks, before they buy a house full of these

      http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cfl.asp

      • Great to know Damien – thanks for sharing!

      • It’s not quite “filled” with mercury. According to your link, there is about a ‘period at the end of a sentence’ worth of it in each CFL.

        That being said, I’ve never had very good luck with my CFLs lasting much longer than incandescents anyway, so when I broke one last week, that was the last straw. LEDs for me and my family from now on. No waiting for it to ‘warm up’ and no dangerous chemicals and better efficiency too.

  4. The shower head sounds like it has a huge payoff…not sure if I can sacrifice a good shower though. I’ve have many fears of the low-flow shower. :)

    • Eden, I am with you on that one… From the reviews of that particular shower it – they say it feels just as full… I am going to get one myself, so I will find out…

    • barbara

      I want one of these also. so what if your shower cant last as long as you’d like, you are still clean. I am disabled so what I have to do, I use a bathtub chair & put a towel down where the drain is so as not to slip. I use the hand held shower but turn it off when not in use. I bath, wash my hair, etc and I have been able to save a lot of money by turning it off. when I am through with showering, I take a last shower just to make sure all is off my body, shampoo, soap bath oil. it works just great. my mother-in-law lives with us now and I have got her doing the same thing. think about all that running water going down the drain when it should just be on your body

  5. Another money saver is a product called the Green Cloth. It cleans with only water. Completely replaces paper towels and windex, and doesn’t leave streaks. Runs about $6.50 for one, with a discount for more. Pays for itself many times over in one year. I’m not affiliated with it, just love it. Check it out at http://www.greenclothllc.com

  6. You never cease to amaze me with your great lists/tips. I am dilligently working on my personal finance website and to be sure your link will be on my favorite sites page!

  7. Just had two CFL bulbs burn out on me (manufactured by GE). Both were less than one year old and not in high use areas of my home. Far less usage than the 5-year life claimed for these bulbs. I have several other CFL bulbs in use, and I hope they perform much better or this whole CFL push will have been an expensive joke. Not to mention how do I dispose of these mercury-filled things?

    • Totally agree. We’ve had massive push for CFL’s by local authorities, to the extent they bought them in bulk and onsold them to the people in the community at about half the price of normal retail. Downside is they keep blowing. I have a 5 bulb chandelier, put 3 CFL bulbs and 2 incandescent in. 2 of the CFL’s blew in under a year. Incandescents still going strong. And no, not an on/off/on/off lighting situation. Light goes on and stays on for hours on end.
      Complete and utter con. I’ve saved money by having incandescents which while not lasting 5 years (some have up to 3 years) and the energy cost for them is higher, but lifetime cost is lower then CFL’s coz they DON’T last 5 years.

      • Even though compact florescent lights are promoted, they are still toxic (mercury), and should not be thrown in the trash.

        Lowe’s will take burnt out cfls, and dispose of them properly. Please make the effort to drop them off for everyone’s health’s sake!

      • I have to agree with you on the CFLs as well. I did stock up on a few of them when they were offered for $1 each as an incentive. Not only are they ugly (IMO) and put out a strange flickering light in some fixtures, but I’ve had them consistently burn out at a much higher rate. I think we’ve all been taken. Now we’re not supposed to be able to buy the old bulbs (I paid 22 cents each … a pack of 4 for 88 cents) anymore. The new CFLs can run several dollars (as high as $7 each). I never noticed a savings on my electric bill, but even if there WAS one, I doubt it offsets the much higher cost of the new bulbs. Not to mention I can do without bringing mercury into my home in a breakable container …

        • barbara

          but these light bulbs save soo much money it is worth the initial cost and the guarantee at home depot is wonderful.

      • Topeka

        Just remember not to touch the metal part of any light bulb with your fingers. the oils from your skin diminish the life of the bulb .

  8. such practical tips – never heard of the hot water heater cover

  9. Hi, just wanted to caution you and your readers that the CFL bulbs are not environmentally friendly. They contain mercury and cannot just be tossed in the trash due to contamination to landfills. They must be deposited in a special type of trash container that goes to a hazardous waste facility. It is far better and cheaper to use LED lights. Not nearly as pretty but better for our earth and, no, I am not a “greenie”. lol :)

  10. I was half expecting to see “NetFlix” listed.
    I took my 10 yr old and a friend to a movie last weekend. Tickets, $26, popcorn and soda, $12. $40 with gas. Two of these outings a year can pay for NetFlix for the entire year.

  11. Joe, that IS a great idea and there are other more “family-friendly” services like NetFlix that offer similar bargains. We rarely, if ever, go to the movie theater but I do take my grandchildren from time to time. We go during the ‘bargain matinee’ time, plus between my senior discount and the student price, we save at least $7 than if I go with my adult daughter. Brenden Theaters is offering a Tuesday special: all seats are $4 and the refreshments are 50% off. Check to see if there is a Brenden Theater near you!

  12. I already have the programmable thermostat, compact fluorescent bulbs, and low-flow shower heads, and I have seen my electric bill drop as a result. I think the nest item on the list will be the water heater insulation blanket.
    You will definitely see savings by taking these few steps.

    • 3 years ago our hot water cylinder died. Not surprising, date of manufacture was Dec 1972!! Got new cylinder and asked the electrician for a water cylinder insulation blanket and he said not to bother because they are so well insulated these days. Was dubious but 1) you can’t feel the warmth on the outside of the cylinder and 2) my wife complains she can’t raise bread dough in the hot water cupboard anymore. Don’t need any more evidence than that.

  13. Another “pay for itself” item: Electric Hair Clippers.

    My wife picked up a good quality set (w/attachments) for about $12 (it was some time ago). It paid for itself with a single haircut (we had been paying about $12 for my haircuts).
    What a deal!!

    Note: This works because I have a basic HAIRCUT vs. having hair “styled.”

    • Marilyn

      I have been cutting my 3 sons and my husbands hair with a clipper, or simple scissor technique for years. It was a small initial investment, but big payoff. Our boys went through teen years not frustrated with some weird cut they got in a shop. We can do longer or shorter as long as it isn’t too complicated. I always like the time it gives me of their undivided attention, and they like the time and money saved. They have all purchased their own clippers now to take to college. 4 haircuts every 5 weeks or so over several years has really added up to a lot of savings.

  14. Jaymes

    Be careful with CFLs!

    They do contain mercury and if you break one, proper cleanup can cost significantly more than the savings attributed from a full house conversion.

    Here is a link for proper clean up from a CFL bulb breakage:
    http://www.energystar.gov/ia/products/lighting/cfls/downloads/CFL_Cleanup_and_Disposal.pdf

    Snoops article:
    http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cfl.asp

    Basically, don’t break them on clothes and whatnot :)

  15. You better know that to dispose of these CFLs in the local landfill will pollute the earth with mercury. Consult the Coast Guard with Google on the issue of this being a hazardous waste and should not be just thrown away. You should not just throw them away when they die but must pay for their disposal or pay the ultimate price of a polluted world not fit for living in.

  16. Joshua

    I am so surprised that REDBOX movie vending hasn’t been mentioned yet! Perhaps they aren’t as wide-spread as I thought. But to piggy-back on Joe and Steph, REDBOX is great because they only cost $1 per day for all their movies – including new releases. If you are like me, I only watch them once then I am done. On top of that, every Monday you can get a code sent to your mobile phone that will get you 1 free movie. Every Week!
    P.S. Good to know about the CFL bulbs and their effect on the enviroment. Anyone know of cheap disposal methods?

  17. Hey guys,

    This one won me a $100 on a radio station last year. To save money on movies, go to your local library and check some out. I usually get two but you can get up to five at one time near the libraries in my area. They really have alot on DVD now and they have alot of current ones. I rent movies rarely now. The cool thing is that if it turned out to be a bad movie that your not out anything. Trust me on that one, I just checked out Semi Pro and that was a waste of my time.

  18. I’ve had 3 of those CFL bulbs burn out on me this year alone. They don’t last anywhere near 5 years, much less one year. Then, they have to be treated as hazardous waste once they are done. There are no savings to be had in buying CFL bulbs.

  19. Patrick, I totally agree with you about the hazards of CFL and we have had the same thing happen with our “5-year bulbs”. Once again, our nanny state government has completely blown it by pushing these hazardous bulbs on us. I agree that incandescent bulbs use more energy but LED lights are better and no hazards! Folks who make these laws should actually KNOW what they are doing.

  20. The graf on battery chargers is virtually content-free. Too much trouble to do something that actually resembles making an effort? I did a lot of research when I got interested in rechargeables; here are some data that may be of interest.

    The picture that accompanies this article shows a cheap, "dumb" battery charger that runs for a set time, usually 8 hours. If you’re traveling light and need something to re-power your batteries once or twice while on the road, they’re okay for that. But regular use of them will shorten the lives of your rechargeables.

    There are some really super chargers that are very inexpensive (about $25) considering how sophisticated they are. Two that seemed good when I was looking (which was a couple years ago; current shoppers should do their own research) were the La Crosse BC-900 and the Rayovac Universal Battery Charger PS3. These are ‘smart chargers’ — for example, the PS3 is smart enough to recognize the difference between various rechargeable batteries, and can automatically initiate the correct charging method. When a battery is inserted into the PS3, the charger begins with a small “trickle current” to determine which type it is. The charger will then use feedback from this procedure to utilize the appropriate charging current and charging time until the battery is ready. The charger has four independent charging channels, so you can charge different batteries in any channel. Each channel comes with a status indicator LED, which turns off once each battery is fully charged. These chargers also have diodes that prevent reverse current flow.

    It’s important to read the instructions on rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. I’ve seen people leave batteries in a "dumb charger", plugged into a wall socket, for over a month…. possibly no harm was done, but all it takes is for a battery to be that single “lemon” out of thousands and something really bad could happen. I’ve also witnessed someone mixing AA and AAA batteries in one of the little “dumb chargers” and plugging it in overnight. Those little pocket chargers are not designed for mixing different size batteries and this could cause overheating and a possible fire.

    Older rechargeable NiCad (Nickel-cadmium) batteries contain cadmium, a toxic heavy metal that leeches into the environment when discarded. They also tend to have ‘memory’ which means that if you recharge a battery when it’s lost only half its power, it will thenceforth only recharge halfway. The newer rechargeable NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride) batteries don’t have the ‘memory’ issue, but they self-discharge (lose power) at a high rate — around 30pc to 60pc per month, even when not used. Fortunately, there are better rechargeables now available!

    Sanyo makes the Eneloop and Rayovac makes the Hybrid; they are supposed to be similar in properties. I haven’t used the Eneloop, but I’ve used plenty of the Hybrid batteries and love them. Eneloop and Hybrid batteries do not have the rapid self-discharge that plague regular NiMH batteries. They hold their power for about as long as regular alkalines, and you can rapidly save big money on battery purchases — hundreds of dollars, no exaggeration. Rayovac Hybrids are available at Target for about $10 for a package of four batteries. Currently made only in AA and AAA but I called Rayovac and they tell me that more sizes are in the works.
    ————————–
    As for the CFL lamps, I am still using some that I bought in 1992 and have used continually ever since. I also have other, newer spiral style CFL lamps (‘lamp’ is the technically correct term for a "light bulb" type device) that have been used daily since being purchased about six or eight years ago. In the past 18 years, I’ve had exactly THREE of my CFLs burn out; my entire house is outfitted with them (except for a couple incandescent lamps that are on dimmer switches) and the rest keep working year in and year out. Rather than just bleating "they burn out fast, they must be junk" maybe you folks should try to figure out WHY they’re burning out. It’s possible that some CFLs may indeed be inferior products from corner-cutting Asian factories; so, try several different brands of CFLs and see if they all exhibit the same problems. If your CFLs burn out all the time, my guess is that you may be getting current fluctuations. Electric current is not uniform, as most people assume. CFLs are sophisticated electronic devices, not just a wire inside a glass bulb like the old incandescants. Spikes will severely shorten the life of sensitive devices. You should regard your CFLs as ‘canaries in the coal mine’ and investigate the source of the problem. Current spikes will kill ALL of your expensive electronics, including your computer, television, stereo, etc. — all of which should be connected to power manager devices that control spiking. You can pick these up for about $25 each — cheap insurance. In addition, if your CFLs all burn out quickly, it may well be indicitave of frequent, severe power fluctuations. You may want to consult an electrician about putting a similar device inline on the main power line to correct the problem throughout your house.

  21. @Karl….you still have not addressed the problem of disposal of CFL Lamps. We must come up with something that will not kill us in the long run. Yes, I too have had CFL Lamps that have lasted a long time but once they are done, what then? It is illegal here in our town to put them in the garbage or recycle bins. They are considered hazardous waste everywhere. So what is your answer to this whiner?

  22. @Steph That’s a bit over the top calling him a whiner. Exactly where do you see him whining? All I see is him saying they work for him, and possibly other people have issues with their wiring or power fluctuations. If that’s whining, well I guess the whole US of A is whining. Methinks you owe @Karl an apology.

    • Earle

      Uh… Paul – time for a basic English lesson here. Steph asked for an answer to “…this whiner” (meaning herself). If she had written “…this, [comma] whiner”, you would be correct. Looks like you scared her off in any case… : )

  23. This is what I do with CFLs, I bought 2 multipacks, keep them in my utility cabinet in the kitchen, when one blows, I mark it with a pen/crayon/whatever I find in the junk drawer and put it back in the pack. When it box is full, I’ll take it to the dump, or lowes or whereever they can be disposed of.

  24. Just want to let you know not to use a water heater blanket for a gas water heater. We had one at our last house and when we sold the house, the inspector made us take it off as it is a fire hazard. We had it on the water heater for years, so who knows?

  25. Spuffler

    1. “SmartStrip” Surge Protector
    -ROI depends on IF your electrical system gets surges and also depends on whether the suppressor hasn’t been destroyed by the prior surge. No savings if the first surge destroys the protector and the next surge, seconds after the first surge, gets through to the devices plugged into it.

    3. Battery Charger
    -Umm, if you ever charge a dead battery with a battery which is charged , you get a dead battery and a charged battery. The chargers are designed to charge pairs of batteries, but we quickly confuse charged with dead batteries. I’ve tried 3 systems, they all fail to charge SINGLE batteries, and will improperly charge mixed pairs. You quickly learn these are far from cost savings because you don’t get any way to charge only the dead batteries, and cannot keep pairs from splitting up.

    4. Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulbs
    -Nope, wrong here, too. My very first CFL lasted 4 weeks. in the next 5 CFLs, none of them lasted over 2 years. Every one I put outside, at my house entrance and in my unheated garage, they will not light up when the outdoor temperature drops below 10F. This happens a dozen times a month, during New England winters. Most CFLs will burn out if the screw base is NOT below the rest of the lamp, and most CFLs tell you to NOT install them in enclosed light fixtures. “Base up” and “base horizontal” covers a lot of light fixtures in my house, fixtures that work fine with Incandescent lamps, and enclosed light fixtures are also popular in kitchens and baths. Nope, CFL is not the answer, LEDs are getting to be MUCH better, but LED bulbs cost so much to purchase that the bulb would have to live a decade to return a savings.

    6. Water-Saving Shower Head
    -How about leaving the GPM as a user adjustable setting, like my 1970′s era Moen head had? No wait, my shower head STILL has adjustability. I use the adjustment during my showers: lowest GPM needle spray to get wet and for when the water is not being used, highest GPM to rinse quickly, then lowest GPM to finish the rinse.

    All in all, it is still good to consider these points 3 years later.

  26. Spuffler – my basement has 20 CFLs (big basement) and they are 50W lower than the incandescents they replaced. So even if I only light half the area at a time, I’m saving 8cents an hour, as we pay 16cent/KWH. Every 12 hrs I save the cost of a bulb as they are under $4 a 4 pack here. My observation is two burned out bulbs over two years. I could replace one a month and still be well ahead of the game.
    In the summer, the heat of incandescent bulbs also makes the AC run longer. I can’t tell you the exact cost, but I’m sure it adds to the bill.

  27. The wife and I built our house in 2002 and installed CFLs everywhere {at nearly $10.00 each in 2002}. Only appliance lighting was not CFL. My experience is the CFLs that failed early were all in the same wobbly ceiling fan. If the fan is on low or medium speed, it doesn’t kill them as fast. Those last more than a year. In the rest of the sockets, I have had 2 bulbs go bad over that same time frame. One in a closet that is turned on a couple of times daily and one in the light over the dining room table. FWIW, I’ve been told that a fixture that “eats” bulbs has a problem such as a loose wire connection. I’d check that fixture carefully if I kept blowing any type of bulb in it.

    Lowes & Home Depot have collection boxes for inoperative CFL bulbs. I thank them by purchasing new bulbs from them {instead of Walmart who does not dispose of the dead bulbs}.

    The suggestion for a power strip surge suppressor failed to explain its greatest benefit. Using it on your audio and video components add a layer of protection sure, but if you take a moment to turn the power strip off when those devices are not in use, it eliminates the phantom loads that all devices that are remote controlled have. I have ALL my audio/video electronics on power strips. If you have a satellite dish box, it will take about 3 minutes to synch up when you turn it on. It’s a minor bother considering the money we save. I save a continuous 19 watts of TV and dish box standby power usage when I turn it off. Not huge, but it adds up.
    We have our microwave oven on a power strip also. No need to power its clock because my stove has a clock that can’t realistically be disconnected. Just flip it on, cook, flip it off. After you get used to it, it is no bother at all. This is another 5 watts continuous saved.

    As for the water heater, a no money idea is to check the thermostats to be sure the temp is not set in excess of 120 degrees. For a nominal investment, you can have a timer installed on the HWH to turn the power off shortly before you go to bed and back on just before you get up. If the house is not occupied at all during regular daytime hours, have it turn the HWH off during the daytime as well. Those savings will add up quicklu.

  28. Kimberly

    One thing that I have noticed since we moved from Minnesota to Florida last year is that I am saving a lot of hot water in my showers. When we first moved, I continued taking the same hot showers as ever (because I hate being cold) but then realized that with the water pipes being only 6 inches below the ground, our cold water is really luke-warm. Now I don’t even use any hot water in my shower which saves quite a lot in the long run and feels better after a day working outside in the heat..

    Also, our washer is not hooked up to the hot water either. Most clothes will last longer, with brighter colors and less shrinking, if they are washed in cool/cold water. I have never encountered clothing that HAD to be washed in hot water. So why even hook it up?

  29. Great list. I would replace the CFL piece with LEDs. I picked up a 60 watt equivalent bulb at a major home improvement retailer yesterday for $7. It uses 10 watts and should run fro 16 years. It can operate in closed light fixtures which is where I have had some trouble with CFL bulbs. At $0.08 per kwh I calculate the cost of a incandescent bulb at $7.01 per year and the LED at $1.17 per year. A little better than the CFL at $1.52.

  30. Do yourself a favor, get LED lights. They run cool, and last a long time. Yes, they can be spendy compared to CFL or incandescent bulbs. But from a safety perspective, they cannot be beat. Little kids who wander around touching everything will not get burned from a LED light. Check it out yourself,

    Remember the easy bake oven?

    I have LEDs for my outside lights and they have gone through our mild southern California winter just fine.

    They are considered green waste so don’t throw them out if they fail.

  31. Hm. $38 is pretty steep for the surge protector. I turn off my other peripherals anyway. I suppose this would be nice for the convenience aspect though :)

  32. Kay Rowland

    I run the ugly light bulbs in a floor lamp 24 hours a day. The current bulb has been in there for 3 years and has been moved from one residence to another. The problem I have is with the halogen headlight bulbs. I keep forgetting to install them wearing protection on my hands so they keep blowing out.

  33. Bob:

    Your Blog and the information you provide are very helpful and greatly appreciated.

    My wife and I reviewed our budget. We eliminated $162.00 per month in excess expenses.

    Here is one way to extend the life of your water heater; Use a garden hose to drain sediment from it. Hook up the garden hose and flow water from the heater until you see absolutely clear water, Do this once a year; it will extend the life of the water heater.

    Thank you for your work,

    B & H

    .

  34. My next hot water heater is going to be propane on demand. With electric hot water heaters, money is being spent to store hot water about 70% of the day. Makes no sense to spend money on something that’s not being used.

  35. Hubby and I do not use the energy saver light bulbs because of the mercury aspect. We have instead invested a few extra dollars into purchasing LED bulbs instead. if purchased in the ‘cool white’ option, they give off a brilliant level of light and only use 4 watts of energy each per hour when on. Yes – 4 watts per bulb. That’s only a third of the consumption that is used with energy savers, so these bulbs usually also pay for themselves within a year. The light they give off is also fr superior to that of energy savers.

  36. James Corbin

    On Surge Protectors, do your research and find out what protection you need. 2000 joules is a good round figure. Also, how quickly the surge protector protects when the surge hits is also important. Don’t buy one of the strip outlets and think you are protected. Also, what most people don’t realize is that the materials in Surge Protectors does disintegrate over time. A good figure for replacement is three years.

    CFL lights are highly overrated. They have mercury in them and don’t last nearly as long as advertised. Can’t tell you how many I replaced. I now use LEDs instead. Big improvement in both durability and light output.

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