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14 January 2010

Simple Livng Series - Paying off credit card debt

It might sound strange but it's a good idea to start off your debt reduction program by saving for an emergency fund, before you pay off your debt.  Even if you can put aside $500, do it, put it in a separate account where you won't be tempted by it and leave it for unexpected emergencies.  If you can get your fund to $1000 fast, do it, but have at least a $500 cushion before you start reducing your debt.  You emergency fund will be a god-send if your car breaks down, you need new tyres, the dog gets sick or the children need something important that you didn't budget for.  Having that emergency fund will stop you putting those unexpected expenses on your credit card.  This is a way of preparing to reduce your debt.  You will give yourself the best chance of success if you have that cash tucked away somewhere.

If you have only one credit card, find out what the minimum payment is every month and pay that, plus every extra dollar you have spare. It will be difficult at first but as you see the amount reduce every month, it will give you even more incentive to keep paying it off.  You will see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Don't be tempted to go back to spending when you reduce your debt.  Keep going until you've got that final payment, then celebrate your success with the knowledge that you were strong enough to stand up to the banks, the department stores and your old ways, and you won!

If you have more than one credit card you can snowball your payments.  This means you make a list of all your cards with the smallest amount at the top and the highest at the bottom.  Make a list of all the minimum amounts and pay those minimum amounts on all the cards except the one at the top.  On that one you pay at least the minimum, plus as much money as you can spare that month.  Search high and low for a spare five dollars, search pockets and purses, just make sure you pay as much as you possibly can.  When you finish paying off that first credit card, you concentrate of the second one on the list.  On this credit card you will pay the minimum payment, plus the minimum payment you were paying on the first card and anything extra you can manage that month.  This card will be paid off faster than the first card because you're using that extra payment from the first, now retired, card.  And you keep on doing that - paying the minimum on all cards , plus as much as possible on the top card, until they're all paid off.

It sounds simple writing it down like that and I know it's not simple, or easy.  But if you can do this, if you can dig yourself out from this debt, you'll put yourself in a much better position to live the life you want.  Debt strangles you.

I have no doubt that while you're paying off your debt you will get a letter from the bank telling you that as you're such a good customer, they're raising your credit limit and please feel free to use the extra credit facilities they so kindly offer you.  (gag)  Always remember this: it is not in the bank's interest for you to pay off your debt quickly or completely.  When you do that, they stop getting your money.  They will tempt you, YOU will tempt you, you say you've been so good you deserve a reward.  And yes, you do deserve a reward.  But the reward you really deserve is to be debt-free.  Never stray from that thought.  Having no debt will set you free.  I'm not saying you'll never spend money on what you fancy again. But when you get rid of your debt burden you will look at spending in a different light.  You will know how difficult it is to pay back and you won't want to go back there again.  So, when you get that letter from the bank extending your credit, write back and tell them to decrease your limit.  If you used to have $5000, reduce it to $3000, when you pay off more, reduce it again.  It will reduce your temptation in this period of debt reduction and as you're such a good customer you'll be given the credit you desire when you finish paying everything off, if you do decide to keep just one credit card.

Another way to save for debt reduction is to have a change jar.  It can be anything like a jar or tin or old vase.  Leave it in your bedroom and every time you come home, put your loose change into the jar.  If you have any spare small notes, put them in too.  It will quickly build up if you do it every time you come home.  Don't raid the jar!  It's not for spending, it's your savings and part of this debt reduction program.  Every so often, or when you have to make a credit card payment - or a mortgage payment, take the jar with you to be counted and added to your payments.

If you have a lot of debt it will take a lot of will power to get yourself out of that hole. But it's not impossible.  Starting is difficult - making those decisions to change always are, staying on target is difficult too but if you're reading this you're probably at the stage when you're ready to do it.  Remember what I wrote about sacrifices yesterday.  We all have to make them at some point.  So if you're at the beginning of your debt reduction, or half way through it, I wish you the very best and hope you achieve what you set out to do.


  1. Thank you so much for the article- this is life changing.

  2. This is an excellent post. I am often amazed at what people consider to be "normal" credit card debt. What a terrible and often unnecessary trap to fall into. As you have mentioned previously, there is something to be said about paying cash for items - it definitely feels more like spending this way. I should know, as I have started doing this of late.
    Have a wonderful day. The heat is back upon us in SE Qld.
    Tracy (Brisbane)

  3. A wonderful post, as always, Rhonda!

  4. I can't tell you how much I enjoy your blog! I am learning so much from you. We used to be strangled by debt, too. Now we only have our car payment (that will be paid off in a few months) and our house payment, which we put extra on every month. We have already decided that we'll never buy a brand new car again. We've had enough of that. We plan on putting our current monthly car payment aside in savings every month when it's paid off. We'll pay cash for a good used vehicle next time.

    Thanks for sharing all of your experiences. I look forward to your posts each day.


  5. At one time when our children were small my husband and I did build up a credit card debt. Thankfully with a lot of hard work we have managed to pay it off. However as you said we were bombarded with letters from the credit card company offering us increases in our limit and 'special rate' loans. One company phoned us almost weekly, we politely declined their offers and asked them not to phone but they persisted. Until one day when, I'm afraid to say I lost my temper, they didn't phone again. We are now working on our mortgage.
    Good luck to everyone out there trying to clear their debts. Keep at it you will get there in the end.

  6. Thank you for this post. I have a lot of credit card debt. At least 1/3 of which was the result of not having any money in savings. Right now I have $1200 in savings and plan to add another $400 to it. I wanted to pay off my debt, but also wanted to build a savings so this type of thing never happens again.
    I plan on using the snowball effect on mine. Except slightly differen from what you described. I am paying off my smallest debt, but it also happens to be my debt with the biggest interest. I understand the logic of paying the smallest debt (because its usually done quickly and it can make you feel like you have accomplished something), but I really want the higher interest rate card gone first so regardless of its balance I would have started with that one. I am moving down my list in order of interest rate.
    This was just the post I needed. I also have the penny jar thing going, and when it gets full I roll it, and apply it to my debts as well.
    The other thing I would suggest and which I am doing, is to list items I no longer (never) use on Craigslist and taking the funds from the sale (I give everything two weeks and then put it on Freecycle) and splitting it. 1/2 is mine to do with as I wish (right now build my savings) and the other half goes directly to debt. I also don't wait until my payment is do. I make the minimum payment when its do, but all the extra cash is applied to the debt as soon as I have it (easy enough since the card I am working on is bank card and the bank is in the building I work in). We shall see what I do when I move on to my Home Depot and Discover cards...

  7. Thank you, Rhonda. Your posts this week are helping me so much with some financial mountains I'm scaling. The last two months I've been working on living cash only, and now I'm focusing on eliminating my debt as quickly as possible. Thank you for your encouragement and solid, practical tips. :-)

  8. Seeing those Card balances disappear is the most liberating and empowering thing. Once you set your self on the the path and see the amounts decreasing the excitement builds as you near the end and the triumphant call to the CC company cancelling the card with a steely resolve that can't be shaken by their offers, extra deals and pleads is such a prize.
    I was amazed at the mental weight the debt was without me even realising it. Freeing ourselves of that hanging debt opened my mind to other pursuits... I did not even realise how heavily the debt was weighing me down.
    We have been 16 months free of CC debt and I never want to be in that boat again.

    We still use a CC to accrue points that go towards free groceries but we always have the money to pay the balance on hand sitting in our mortgage offset account reducing the interest in the meantime.

  9. The very idea of a credit card scares me rigid; so I never, ever had one until recently (and I'm 44!) Well done to anyone who has done or is doing what you describe, Rhonda. The reason we decided I would get a credit card (my DH had them in the past), was to pay for online purchases and large purchases. We bank online (with a high street bank) and whenever we buy something with the credit card, we immediately transfer the full amount to an old savings account (we moved our savings to a better interest savings account). When the bill comes in, we pay it from that cash put in the "piggybank". Attila

  10. Honey and I were very careful at the start of our marriage to avoid credit card debt. Unfortunately we weren't smart enough to build up an emergency fund. One major family emergency and two trips to Alaska later and we had a pile of credit card debt. It was so frustrating how little my payments of everything we could afford changed the overall balance. Eventually we stopped paying anything but the minimum for a few months, built up an emergency fund, froze the one card we used to have, and are now focusing all our extra money on paying the card off.
    It's amazing how many of our friends try to talk us into having an "emergency" credit card. They just don't think you can survive without one. We respond we've been doing it for a year now and are still going strong.

  11. Hi Rhonda, such good stuff! Our credit cards are clear as is the house mortgage but we have a small loan on the business. When I do the shop online banking the amount we have paid off sits there looking at me as if it's there for the taking -- which it is as far as the bank is concerned! Just thought I'd mention this as younger people probably have the same experience with their house mortgages.

    Also for any other self-employed people, be careful of trade debt! It's useful to spin out payments within the due month but not for anything else.

    BTW, Gavin has a great post on debt today. "Debt=Slavery" at

  12. Credit card debt is a terrible thing - When we first got married we used ours on our honeymoon, the limit was $2000 we might have put $500 on but then DH was made redundant- no package he'd be there less than a year and then he was ill for about 6 months. One bill and before you know it all you ever pay is the interest. It took us seven years to pay it off and we lived simply but in a unit in which I couldn't grow anything- I did try. With a very small wage,it was a hard and horrible time but also a good one for learning and growing our love. Last year, when we finally did pay the credit card off, the bank tried to insist to us (3x) that we might need it. We firmly assurred them that was unlikely. We also regularly were offered increased limit whether we'd payed our minimum or not! I would NEVER have a credit card again. For internet transactions for DH business we use a debit card.

    I love your blog Rhonda, I read it everday - when I feel uninspired to do jobs it motivates me.

  13. How timely! We just paid off two important debts yesterday! Now, everytime the phone rings, I KNOW it's not going to be an Indian call centre, and I can't begin to tell you how liberating that feels.

    We still have a couple more to deal with, but we're making 2010 the year that we are finally debt free

  14. I agree, credit card debt is terrible! It's a slippery slope that many people get trapped by. However, I would NOT encourage people to save BEFORE they pay off their debt. Paying off debt is like making that percentage for YOURSELF! You're making sure that, with each dollar you reduce debt, that you WON"T be paying the bank interest on that amount. YOU get to keep that. Then you use it to reduce your debt further.

    While you do this, I would suggest people simply cut up, or at a minimum, NOT carry their credit cards. You can't use what isn't available to you.

    I wish anyone with credit card debt to pay it off. It's like having a huge weight holding you back. Pay it off, and live free of it!

  15. What a great and encouraging post...well done! I am sure many will benefit from your wise advice.


  16. We used these principles, from Dave Ramsey's book. Very good indeed.

  17. You have such great ideas for reducing credit card debt/mortgage debt etc.

    What a wonderful article.

    Dh and I just renewed our mortgage and locked in in for a 10 yr term. I hope to have it payed off by then if not sooner. I figure I can pay off a car in less than 3 yrs then I can pay off our mortgage alot quicker too.

    Thanks for the motivation to do so. ---Krystal

  18. We are one of those whom the banks love to hate as we pay off our card in full each month. But I've noticed that sometimes I will pay on the due date by internet banking and it doesn't get processed until the next day - so you get hit with interest because it's not paid BY the due date. Banks are very sneaky so it's worth people asking their banks about this. I find that daylight saving time is the worst for me because of the time difference in cut-off times for transactions as we in Queensland don't always realise it when we do things.

  19. credit card debt is the best way for banks to earn $$$
    A grace period is given on each card & this the banks promote. However what they do not share (well they do in fine print) & which is actually the killer is what happens when you do not pay your card in full each month. Eg if my billing cycle goes 12th Jan - 11th Feb & you have nothing on my cc but charge 6 items to cc say $1k - then you have 20 days after the billing cycle for the grace period - sweet!

    However if you not pay this balance by 3rd March (20 days) you will get charged a late fee - we all accept this & get charged interest on the 1K.
    BUT now what happens & is the killer - if you just pay minimum payment plus the finance charge as well as late fee - you no longer have a grace period. Just what the banks want & hay remember you have a good credit limit & banks want you to use it - so from now on anything you charge you pay interest on as soon as it is more grace period.

    Hence if you want to get out of cc debt & can only pay the minimum balance stop charging - otherwise you just can't get ahead of the interest.

  20. Banks don't have/offer personnel loans any longer, the loan of days gone by, where you had a fixed interest and payment date and after xx time it was paid in full.

    Credit Cards are the scam of the century, because most people have no idea how money / interest works, as they did when you could take out a personnel loan.

  21. Hello Rhonda,

    We have just returned from 2 days in the big smoke and we had need to pass through one of the big shopping centres. Nearly every shop had a SALE sign in their window. I feel sorry for the young ones who get tempted by all this. Advertising is in their face daily and it must be so hard not to use the "fantastic plastic". Your post today was so good and I totally agree with every word written. May I encourage all you parents and grandparents to instill this message into their young folk.
    Blessings Gail

  22. We're lucky enough to not have credit card debt. We do have a credit card, though, and I'm posting a comment because this may be of interest to other readers in the UK. We bank with the Cooperative Bank and with them you can choose to have the whole balance transferred from your current account every month. I am pretty sure (but may be wrong) but no other bank does this; you can only set up a direct debit for the minimum payment with other companies. I know this isn't of help to people wishing to reduce their debt, but for those of us who use cards to purchase online and then pay at the end of the month, the Coop way means that there's no risk of forgetting to pay and being tempted to then either incrue interest and pay the following month, or to just pay off the minimum and thus set yourself off on the path to incurring long term debt.

  23. Great blog! I love the co-op and follow it regularly now.
    I'm actually filing for a Debt Relief Order in the UK - it's sort of a "mini-bankruptcy"; it's not quite as hard-core as a full bankruptcy and is designed for people who have no more £50 spare after living expenses, and for those who have under £15,000 in debt. It works well for me as one thing they won't count as income is any money you receive for disability - whereas the bank would claim that I should be using money for my son to pay off my debts. Not likely! As I only have the one credit card to deal with, it's actually a good thing for me. I'd suggest folks in the UK to get information on a DRO.
    I've always had a change jar and always pop pence into it. Last November that came in handy as I had no money for groceries, so I grabbed the change jar and lo and behold, there was £60 in there!

  24. Hi good advice but doesn't it make sense to pay of the card with the highest interest first rather than the one with the smallest debt?

  25. We also enjoy living by these principles based on Dave Ramsey's book, The Total Money Makeover - funny - you didn't mention it at all.

  26. I thought I would add this...
    I know that credit cards are not a good thing to have however that is only if you are not paying it off every month.

    We have only the one card with dh as a primary card holder on it. We always pay it of at end month.
    SO we have good credit in case we need it.

    Now if something was to happen to him (g*d forbid) I would be left with NO credit history in my name. Which means I would not be able to borrow even 10 bucks if i needed it from a bank.

    I have decided that I would get one in my name only and just rotate the cards so that my credit builds and dh's stays the same. Once I have a good credit score dh said we will cut up his cards so that we only have the one again. He does not feel that he would ever need them.

    Too many cards in the house is not a good thing either.

    I asked the bank yesterday if I could get one and they said I could under the household income. I am and always have been a SAHM. So this was my only concern.

    Just thought I would give you something to think about.
    Just my opinion.--- Krystal

  27. Thank you so much for the last three posts. I want to tell you and your readers what a difference you have made in my peace of mind. About a year ago whenever I started reading your posts, I earnestly started focusing on paying down our credit card debt while building up our emergency fund. In the beginning, I could only put $10 per week into the emergency fund, but I have gradually built up to $25 per week and by next month I will be putting $50 per week toward that fund. All our credit card debt is gone and we have literally "frozen" our credit cards (I put them in the freezer), except for one that we need for gas and it's paid off every month. At first paying off the credit cards seemed impossible, but we did it in a year's time (the amount was over $10,000). Now mind you we didn't have any sort of extra income - I just concentrated on paying every possible cent I could round up toward that debt.

    Another thing I did was follow your suggestion about the bagging of cash. I didn't like the way the ziplog bags felt (a quirk of mine, I guess), so I splurged about $10 and bought an eighth yard of different fabrics and made small cloth zippered bags. The one for my pocket money has piggy faces on it because I mainly use it whenever I want a drink from a fast food place. I deposit $16 per week into that bag and if I don't spend it all, the left over money is split among several other bags. Some I put into a zippered bag with turtles on it. That bag represents long term savings (like a slow and steady turtle) for projects that can wait a while. Some I put into a zippered bag with chickens and eggs printed on it. That bag represents savings for birthdays, other gifts (makes me think of how women used to sell eggs to get extra money). Some I put into a zippered bag with colorful insects on it. That bag represents savings for Christmas (makes me think of how I used to scurry around before Christmas like a little ant buying with no thought to how I'd pay for the presents). The next week I again put $16 into the piggy bag, but I never dip into the other bags once the leftovers are distributed. I limit myself to not more than $16.

    The last bag I have is for grocery money. It has ladybird beetles printed on it just because I like them. That bag gets $65 per week. That covers groceries, including pet foods, cleaning supplies, etc. I do make an exception and leave any leftovers in that bag from week to week to take advantage of a sale that the weekly $65 might not take care of.

    The rest of our fixed bills are paid the day the bill arrives, so that I'm not tempted to use the money for something else. The wonderful thing is that now that there's no credit card debt, there's money there to pay them right away. I feel like a bird out of a cage and I am especially touched by how my husband is so proud of how I (we - because he cooperated) have managed to become debt free. I must tell you that I've read Dave Ramsey and other debt management gurus, but until I read your posts, it didn't seem real that I could actually accomplish those goals. As another poster said, you have literally changed my life and I am so grateful to you. I sincerely hope that every single person who is struggling with credit card debt will take your messages to heart and begin the journey to a more peaceful life.

    I hope you and Hanno have a wonderful day.

    Diane in North Carolina

  28. We just opened a savings account for an emergency fund right before Christmas. It was an awesome feeling. Wouldn't you know, though, that we just found out we have termites! Ugh! Very discouraging... So, less than a month after openeing it, it is g-o-n-e, plus now we are trying to scrape up cash every where we can think of to pay the rest of the treatment. We will NOT use a credit card, though! We have enough to pay off as it is! As we are trying to be better stewards of God's gifts to us, I am certain He will make a way! Then, back to building up the emergency fund. I am SO enjoying these posts! Thank you!

  29. Hey Rhonda-Jean
    Here we have an old cat shaped money jar called fat cat and in it I put all my copper coins and I never ever miss them so far at the end of each year I get it changed up and I have been lucky enoough to be able to buy the ingredeients fro xmass pudding cake and mince pies including the icing and the almond paste. to me this is free treats as I really dont miss the coppers in my change purse amny thanks fro another good post.
    Plymouth Devon England

  30. Thank you, Rhonda, for being the voice of reason. I used some of your ideas years ago and was criticized by my family as being cheap and stingy. I have paid off my house and have no credit card debt, though I do use my card for a few items a month that are easier to pay by card. The card is paid off every cycle so there is no interest or annual fee. When I lost my "real" job in 2008, I did not need to panic as I really didn't need as much as I made anyway. Besides, you should always have plan "b" for additional income as well as the emergency fund.
    I am learning to live a simple life and have enjoyed your blog for some time now. Thanks for the good advice that our families don't always give us.

  31. Jill, that book wasn't mentioned because I haven't read it. This information is a mixture of common sense and info that's available in many places on the internet.

  32. Rhonda, this is a great way for people to organize themselves and take control of their debt. One small suggestion, instead of paying from the smallest amount to the largest, you should list your debt by interest rate. Then pay off the one with the highest interest, and then work your way down the list, getting rid of the really expensive debt first.

  33. I have to say that saving $500 for unexpected emergencies really isn't even enough these days. A set of tires can cost nearly that! You almost have to put a minimum of $1000 away somewhere safe and yet accessible. Make it a game to see how quickly you can put away a lot of $$. Yes, I've done it and I now have them staggered in CDs so each month something matures and if I need I'll cash it, if not leave it and even add to it. AND we are at the most expensive time in our lives with 3 teenage children in tuition paying high school and drving and I do it all in CASH--no credit cards, no loans! It takes years to get there but it's worth it in the end.


  34. I just love your blog and am so happy I found it. I'm using your ideas and because of your blog I am teaching myself how to knit!

  35. We stopped using our credit cards a few years ago - we were almost $24,000 in debt, we worked hard and snowballed our way to debt free. The last one was paid off in October 2009.

    I heard about emergency funds a few months ago, so we started one last August - we were able to use it to help us over the christmas period when my handbag was stolen. We repaid ourselves some of our cash budget, and also money to replace my driver's licence etc... The insurance cheque came yesterday and I will deposit it back into the emergency fund once it clears.

    Also just wanted to mention - in our budget I save $10 p/w for tyres - we know that this is something that needs replacing so to me it's not an emergency. By planning ahead even on a long term purchase like tyres the stress is gone. On our 4wd the cost was $1300 last August - I was able to pay in cash with no worries about it.


  36. Thanks for clarifying about not reading Dave Ramsey's book - it's a great one, but it sounds like you and he are on the very same page!! Great blog!

  37. I was busy paying off my credit cards (using the snowball method) when I had my job. And then I lost my job. I really wish that instead of making those huge credit card payments every month, I had saved $2000. It would have been much easier to get through the past few months with cash in the bank instead of having to charge every single thing and borrow from one credit card to pay the other.

  38. thank you for all those great ideeas....some of them, like the coin jar, is alreaddy working for me, and I'm cutting down on many does become like a kind of thrill each time I can cut down, without feeling bad....

  39. This is such wonderful, helpful advice. It took me several years to get debt free and it is the best feeling. What I found strange was how easy it was to get credit cards but how hard it was to then cancel those cards completely when we had paid them off. The banks kept saying "you never know when you might need them" and we kept saying "JUST CANCEL IT" they made it very difficult, having to go in sign all these forms, quite ridiculous really!

  40. I have never commented but have read your blog for quite some time. I enjoyed this post because I think it will help people who feel overwhelmed by their debt. I have always been frugal so don't need it myself but thought it was quite clever. I don't think it really matters how you list the cards, either by amount of debt or by interest, I think its more important for the person to feel as if its possible to be debt free. This gives them hope and that is most important of all.

    My other comment is that I have no debt, not even a mortgage. I have always been amazed how much free advice friends and relatives want to give and most of it over the years has been to stay in debt. People want to be right so instead of engaging in an argument, I would always just nod my head say "I know, I know, but I just like the feeling of not owing money". You don't always get support from others but you don't really need to have it to do what's right.

  41. I second this. Yes, most people think that hitting the highest interest rate card first makes sense...but when you watch those other cards disappear so fast it is so motivating. We killed 4 cards in three months and it really helped us through the hump for getting used to living on a budget. It was seeing those cards disappear that kept us excited and feeling like we CAN do this. Its a mind game...but it works.

  42. Such practical and clearly articulated advice! I am really enjoying reading your blog. Thank you!

  43. We used the change jar to pay off our house. We had paid off all other debt first. Also we had a bank account already for an emergency such as you stated in the first part of the post. Next our aim was to pay our home off early. Each month the extra change we had plus any other little bits we could we put together and put in our payment towards the house principle. You must mention that is where it is to go. You do not want it to go towards the interest. Call the place that holds your debt first and find out if you can pay the mortgage off early and any rules they might have. Ours allowed us to pay any amount extra we wanted to each month. Some months all we could put extra was $3 and other months it was the change plus extra $ that amounted to $100, but each month it was something. We paid off our mortgage 13 years ahead only doing this. I called the mortgage holder and made sure the payment was recorded right so the money was going towards paying down the principle. The people in town where I had made payments had off and on recorded it as extra towards the interest till I caught it and had them change it quickly. After the house was paid off we used half each month towards retirement and the other half to save up for any major applience or car that mght later be needed. Sometimes when out and about we did not get a soft drink and that $1 then could be used this way. Other times we made and sold something and added this money. All this while I was a stay at home wife.

  44. great post! i'm going to take this EXACT advice!

  45. Oh boy the average American has over 8k in credit card debt: Im a single parent and I've been smart enough not to fall into that trap: I do several things:
    2 store credit cards that I used to frequent,
    2 major credit cards that I use for to buy everything
    1 Amex card for business and travel
    a huge savings account,
    coin jars, yup I use them
    529 college savings plan
    I cook at home we don't eat out,
    I payed off a 30 yrs mortgage in 8 yrs,
    Bought a few houses in another area cash and rent them out,
    and this is how I am finally living the "American Dream"

    If you have debt pay it off after you build an emergency fund, I use credit cards for everything but I pay off the balance each month before the bill is due. Remember that all that struggling now will have HUGE positive quality of life impact so grin and bear it for the moment. Don't despair, take heart in knowing others have done it, are doing it and will continue to do it, there's a wealth of support of like minded folks on line, such as HERE, I love this blog< and you are never alone.

    Kudos to all you wonderful people


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