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Frugal Living Tips for Families: Save Money and Have Fun

Stephanie has four children, including a set of twins! She loves to share ideas on raising kids—the good, bad, and ugly!

Frugal living tips for families

Frugal living tips for families

How Can Families Save Money and Still Have Fun?

Let's face it: raising children is costly. From grocery shopping to buying clothes, entertainment, and much more... it all adds up!

Experts estimate that the cost of raising a U.S.-born infant to age 18 is approximately $200,000-250,000. If you have more than one child, multiply that figure accordingly.

As a mother of four children, ages 9-14, I am constantly looking for ideas to save money as a family but still have fun. Until 2008, my husband and I both worked full-time. Then the recession hit, and we transitioned to a single-income family. While I had always been good at pinching pennies, we had to quickly adopt a more frugal living style. Before long, we realized that we could save hundreds of dollars each month with a few simple tips. What's more, it was actually fun to watch the savings add up.

Clipping coupons is only part of the equation here. I've never been that good at organizing all my coupons anyway, so we've streamlined the process of saving money for busy families.

Saving Money as a Family: Teamwork!

A good friend of mine always reminds me that when it comes to family, we're all on the "same team."

This applies to rules, chores, and disagreements concerning everyday matters. The bottom line is that we all basically want the same things: a stable household, food on the table, and a place to sleep.

Saving money as a family helps to ensure these fundamental needs are met in most cases.

Minimize disagreements on money issues by calling a "team meeting" at which you ask for ideas from each person as to how to save more. Talk about what expenses can be cut out. Ask what trade-offs each is willing to make. How can you save more energy or hot water? Perhaps even set a long-term goal to set aside part of the monthly savings for a special family outing!

Whether or not you have tight finances, the exercise of saving money as a family helps establish good habits and responsibilities concerning making and sticking to a budget. These are lifelong lessons that will follow your children into adulthood.

Save Money at Meals

One of the easiest ways to incorporate frugal living into a family routine is to save money at meals. Homemade lunches and dinners are less expensive and usually healthier than take-out meals.

Collect some cheap, fast, and easy family recipes, shop smart at the grocery store, and follow these tips:

  • Purchase discounted groceries and freeze them for future use (meat, bread), or incorporate them into a meal immediately.
  • Never throw away leftovers.
  • Stretch your shopping dollar by stocking up on staples when they are on sale.
  • Double your recipes and put one in the freezer for another day.
  • Have your children help with meal preparation (there are many great children's cookbooks!).
  • Shop for seasonal produce and pantry essentials; skip items that are out of season.
  • Grow your own vegetable or herb garden.
  • Make dried fruit, can fruits and vegetables, make pickles, and make your own jam or jelly.
  • Bake from scratch instead of buying pre-packaged items.
  • Make popcorn on the stovetop instead of buying microwave popcorn.
  • Clip and use coupons or, if you have a smartphone, download free coupon apps.
Cooking at home saves money.

Cooking at home saves money.

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Read More From Toughnickel

Save on Clothing

My four children seem to grow overnight! The clothes and shoes that I purchase in September are often too small by the holiday season.

To stretch our clothing dollar, I use these frugal tips to save money on clothing:

  • Purchase new clothes on clearance and/or at the end of the season; stock up on essentials in larger sizes such as t-shirts, socks, undergarments, and jeans, and pack away for 9-12 months.
  • Repair clothing where possible: patch jeans, sew on buttons, replace zippers.
  • Organize hats, gloves, socks, and underwear in easy-to-see bins; have children help you match pairs of gloves and socks.
  • Save, wash and organize older siblings' clothes to hand down to younger kids.
  • Ask friends with children older than yours if they have outgrown items that can be passed along.
  • Shop at consignment shops, Goodwill, and garage sales.
  • Check eBay or Craigslist.
  • Organize or attend a clothing swap party with friends.
  • Avoid purchasing premium brands unless for a gift or when the child has earned the extra money themselves.

Save on Entertainment

Entertainment expenses are often the first items cut when a family is working on a budget. But while you are saving money, you still want to have fun!

Fortunately, there are many options for family entertainment on a shoestring budget—some are even free!

  • Check out books at the library instead of buying new ones.
  • Check out DVDs or CDs instead of renting or purchasing.
  • Borrow books, DVDs, and CDs from friends.
  • Watch for special inexpensive or free movie screenings for families—our elementary school offers these quarterly; during the summer, our city has outdoor movie nights once a month.
  • Organize a movie night with friends and their kids to share the costs of entertainment.
  • Attend public lectures or book readings at the library.
  • Attend high school plays or concerts—even if you don't have a child that attends the school.
  • Spend time outdoors walking, hiking, bicycling, or swimming.
  • Go to the playground or park.
  • Attend local sporting events rather than professional games.
  • Organize a toy exchange and swap items that your children have outgrown or are no longer interested in.
  • Print out coloring pages from the Internet rather than purchasing coloring books.
  • Tell imaginative tales with your children during "story night" at your home.
  • Enjoy traditional, inexpensive games such as dominoes, playing cards, cribbage, checkers, chess, marbles, and jacks.
  • Entertain your children while also having them help out at home, saving even more money: enlist their help gardening, folding clothes, preparing meals, walking the dog, and much more!
The best family entertainment is often free.

The best family entertainment is often free.

General Frugal Living Tips for Families

It's not hard to save money and have fun as a family. In addition to the tips above, reducing your monthly living expenditures can add up to significant savings.

Whether you minimize energy use at home, increase fuel efficiency of your vehicle, or pay less for services through a barter system, consider these general frugal living tips:

  • Use a programmable thermostat to reduce heating and cooling costs.
  • Unplug appliances when not in use.
  • Reduce frequency of running appliances (dishwashers, laundry).
  • Hang clothes to dry.
  • Wash in cold water.
  • Drive your vehicle less often.
  • Maintain your vehicle to increase fuel efficiency.
  • Consider having your teen take a part-time job to earn his or her spending money.
  • Consider bartering/swapping services with a friend: i.e., you color their hair, and they fix a plumbing issue at your home (note that the government may determine a bartering scheme to be taxable—confirm with your CPA before proceeding).

What general frugal living tips have you found most useful?

© 2012 Stephanie Marshall


MarloByDesign from United States on March 28, 2015:

Rated 'Useful' and I am definitely going to bookmark this Hub to reference later! I love your "team meeting" idea and "Never throw away leftovers" suggestion!! I totally agree.

Jacobb9205 on February 17, 2015:

Great tips, thank you!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 10, 2012:

Thanks! The small expenditures can really add up! If you can efficiently shop and use food, etc., you'll end up saving hundreds over a year or two. Cheers, Steph

Kathryn Lamoreux on July 10, 2012:

Great article! My family is trying to incorporate a lot of these things into our lives, but old habits seem to die hard-- food waste is a problem with only two of us. Getting through produce before it spoils is tough, so we need to freeze more. Voting up and useful!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on July 08, 2012:

Thanks Nancy! Glad you liked the ideas to help save money! Steph

Nancy McClintock from Southeast USA on July 08, 2012:

Great ides. Thanks so much for sharing. You worked hard and it shows. Can't wait to try some of these great ideas.

chrissie klinger on June 04, 2012:

These are all great ideas and when my husband's company gave everyone a 10% paycut to eliminate lay offs we had to implement many of these same ideas. Now we are making more money but we still follow a frugal lifestyle while having fun!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on June 03, 2012:

Thank you everyone! There are so many fun things to do as a family that are free, or very inexpensive. So glad its nearly summer! Best, Steph

Chantele Cross-Jones from Cardiff on June 03, 2012:

Great tips will be looking to see if Cardiff in Wales has any free Movie Nights for sure! Outdoor ones would be great. We are pretty frugal with food and clothing usually, buying local and second hand, but finding more free events and entertainment would be great. Thanks for the hub

Amber Ramirez from Mt. Dora, Florida on June 02, 2012:

I am new to hubs but this hub takes the cake! It was very well written and so helpful. I myself am a struggling mother of two and I have never really been able to save or spend money wisely. But your amazing tips are going to be put into action as of today! Thanks for the great advice!

Lisas-thoughts101 from Northeast Texas on June 01, 2012:

Steph, the comment from Lisa was from me. I didn't realize I wasn't logged in. Sorry! I will also be following.


Lisa on June 01, 2012:

Step, There are so many good ideas. I have found some ideas hard to place into action but there are some such as the playing inexpensive games, the library for books and C.D.s, movie nights, etc.. that are so much fun and really no hardship at all. I am going to check out your cheap and easy recipe hub and see if I can get some ideas, as this is my weak area.

Thanks for the great hub and congratulations on it being hotd. I voted up and awesome.

Take care,


Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 29, 2012:

Thanks again to everyone! I love the empowering feeling you get from living frugally. As a family of 6, every little bit we save per person can really add up. Best to all, Steph

Vegas Elias from Mumbai on May 28, 2012:

Very informative hub indeed. My grandparents had the habit of putting aside a handful of rice each day in a separate can. In a month that can would contain enough rice to feed the family for a couple of days. Small savings add up to a small amount.

Celiegirl on May 27, 2012:

Thank you so much always looking for ways to save and still enjoy life!!

Jessee R from Gurgaon, India on May 27, 2012:

Brilliant tips and advice on saving money! All of them can be utilized and used for living better!

Great hub!

Jen Smith from UK on May 27, 2012:

Thanks for this comprehensive and informative post Steph. We don't have kids but enjoy living frugally and making the most of what we have. I like the way you shared about making decisions as a family and involving your children in the processes and in taking responsibility collectively - inspiring!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 26, 2012:

Thank you, everyone! I am so grateful for this community and all the wonderful comments. Best - enjoy the rest of the weekend, Steph

RTalloni on May 26, 2012:

Ditto all the compliments and congrats! Have a great time at the tournaments!

mwilliams66 from Left Coast, USA on May 26, 2012:

Well done stephhicks. With or without children we can all benefit from taking your advice.

Congrats of being chosen for the HOTD.

Navneet Thakur from India on May 26, 2012:

interesting article.

Thanks for share it.

Suzanne Ridgeway from Dublin, Ireland on May 26, 2012:

Fantastic artcle stephhick, WELL WORTHY as HOTD . . .Congrats!! Awesome hub, so many excellent tips, ideas and suggestions for life. Thanks so much for sharing and voted up, awesome, interesting and useful.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 26, 2012:

Thank you to everyone! Its Memorial Day weekend and we're at baseball tournaments, so its hard for me to respond individually to each one of you right now. What an honor to have been chosen for HOTD! Appreciate the support from each of you, Steph

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 26, 2012:

We follow many of these tips even though we do not have kids. It just makes sense. I grew up learning similar things from my teaching your kids will have a long lasting effect no matter what the economy does in the years ahead. Great hub and congrats on HOTD. Well deserved! Voted useful and plan to share this so others can learn from your experience.

the best reviewer from Belfast on May 26, 2012:

Fantastic read Steph, I will certainly be taking into account your recommendations. I noticed the part where you said about the cost of raising a child to 18 around the $250,000 mark....well my wife had twins a week before Christmas last year, and I've just turned seven shades of blue!!

Suzie from Carson City on May 26, 2012:

Smart, sensible advice. We can all benefit from any and all money-saving tips. Personally, I am Miss Frugal to the max. I see it as a Science, a challenge....almost an art form!

Every time I think I've included every way to save, I find another method.

I am positive that your average consumer is not aware of the "waste" we can be guilty of. I believe we need to take the time to focus on our daily life, get organized and create a budget that we can easily live with. Be diligent and keep up with our "homework"....always being willing to change, rearrange, cut corners and stay with a savings program. Great information here. Thank you UP+++

Carrie Smith from Dallas, Texas on May 26, 2012:

What a great guide! I definitely agree about the part of the family working together as a team. That's very important to future financial success. Congrats on being featured as the hub of the day!

Marlene Bertrand from USA on May 26, 2012:

These are all wonderful ideas - all quite doable. One of the biggest savings I received was in hanging my clothes out to dry. It was almost unbelievable how much money I saved on my electricity bill. That little dryer sucked up way more electricity than I thought. Excellent hub. Congratulations on receiving Hub of the Day!

Angela Brummer from Lincoln, Nebraska on May 26, 2012:

I love the family meeting idea. People,including children, always take more interest in something when their oppinion was valued. Also being carefull with what you have shows appreciation. You sound like an amazing mother! I also have four children, Gage, Hunter, Regan, and Jillian. Bless You for sharing!

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on May 26, 2012:

Hi Stephanie, what a wonderful hub this is. Yes, you're correct about people being able to do things without having to have to spend too much money.

Great hub and congrats on winning HOTD


prakashkl from India on May 26, 2012:

Great way shown about living the life without undue expenses.

Vinaya Ghimire from Nepal on May 26, 2012:

Wonderful tips.

Congrats for well deserved the Hub of the day.

Nancy McClintock from Southeast USA on May 26, 2012:

You have some great and fun ideas. Great hub!!

Living Well Now from Near Indianapolis on May 26, 2012:

Great hub! Chock full of good ideas! Inspiring!

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on May 26, 2012:

I've read and commented on this hub before. Just wanted to say congrats for it being Hub of the Day!

Milli from USA on May 26, 2012:

Wonderful hub with great tips to save money. Thanks for sharing it. Voted up. Congrats on HOTD!

Alissa Roberts from Normandy, TN on May 26, 2012:

Fantastic hub! All these ideas are so helpful to families living on one income. I need to print this out and hang it on the fridge to remind me of all the different ways to save money. Thanks for sharing all of your wonderful ideas with us! Congrats on your well deserved Hub of the Day!

chamilj from Sri Lanka on May 26, 2012:

Excellent ways to save money. Thanks!

Kristine Manley from Atlanta, GA on May 26, 2012:

Steph, this Hub is wonderful. I am on my way to paying off one more credit card, then the house is next. This Hub is so encouraging.

Mary from Cronulla NSW on May 26, 2012:

This is a fantastic hub Steph...Especially when so much of the world is struggling economically...timely info and is sure to benefit many...thanks for sharing with us...up, useful and awesome.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on May 26, 2012:

Congrats on HOTD! This was well researched and well written. I voted it UP, etc.

Just last night I published a Hub on divorcing my cable company to save money, and here I see your Hub on saving money this AM.

I keep a container of left over veggies in the freezer, beans, corn, etc. When I have enough, I make soup.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on May 26, 2012:

Congratulation on the HOTD! This is indeed an excellent hub for families. Family teamwork is very important and you outline it very well. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful;-)

kelleyward on May 26, 2012:

Excellent Hub Steph! I could use many of these tips to cut back on extra spending. I also enjoyed the video you included on the family who lives frugally! Congrats on the HOTD! Take care, Kelley

Cosmic Bus from Maryland on May 26, 2012:

Excellent advice Steph! Congrats on Hub of the Day.

a2aoptima from Bangalore, Karnataka on May 26, 2012:

Great tips. This hub will surely helpful for every family.

Jacob from Delhi, India on May 26, 2012:

very interesting money saving points.


Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 11, 2012:

Hi Amber, I would like to think that most of us have room for improvement when it comes to saving money. Even when you prepare a budget and think about purchases ahead of time, many families can save even more.

Good point about the washing machine. Today's detergents allow cold water wash for all types of laundry, which can save a lot of energy and money. A shorter cycle is usually sufficient, too. Best, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 11, 2012:

Definitely ECAL! In fact, I tend to spend just a little bit more on clothes that I know can be handed down. That practice ends up saving money in the long run. Thank you for the comment! Best, Steph

Amber Allen on March 11, 2012:

Hi Steph

This is a hub packed full of so many great ideas on how to make your money go further.

I had to vote "All of the above" too, not because we don't try to spend our money wisely but because we have room for improvement in all of these areas.

You've suggested using your washing machine less often which is going to save the most money but if you do need to use it washing at a lower temperature or on a shorter cycle will also help.


Anastasia Kingsley from Croatia, Europe on March 11, 2012:

One more point: For us, what you buy for your child will be passed on to the kid next door and vice versa. Most hand-me-downs are in remarkably good condition. While passing along shoes is not recommended, the majority of clothes can be extended to more than one child if they are cared for - changed into "play clothes" when coming home from school. Best, ECAL

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 10, 2012:

Thank you poowool, I do believe in families working together so that everyone feels like they have a voice, and compromise is more easily obtained. Appreciate the comment. Cheers to you, Steph

poowool5 from here in my house on March 10, 2012:

Great hub, Steph, packed with tips that we should all use in these green-conscious times, whether or not budget is an issue. Totally support your suggestion of "team meetings" too, so important for everyone to feel that they are included, important and have a say. Greater likelihood of following through too! Voted up, thanks!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 04, 2012:

Veronica, you are not the only one to vote "all of the above" Saving money can be fun when you all pitch in as a family. Good luck with budgeting! :) Steph

Veronica Roberts from Ohio, USA on March 04, 2012:

So many great ideas and suggestions, and all are very useful! I, unfortunately, had to vote "all of the above"! lol I'm working on it! =]

Voted up & useful.

johnr54 on February 18, 2012:

Thanks for reminding me of some ways I should be living! Great Hub!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 17, 2012:

Thanks teaches,

You are right about eating out! It gets very expensive. We try to save it for special occasions. Appreciate the vote up and the comment. Best to you, Steph

Dianna Mendez on February 17, 2012:

Great hub topic and full of useful ideas on saving money. We cut our dining out to once every two weeks and it has made a big difference. We also freeze all leftovers and cook fresh food at home. I have also taken to borrowing books, videos, etc. from the library or friends instead of purchasing them new. Wonderful hub topic and voted up!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 17, 2012:

Hi Barry, Thank you! Owning a car is definitely a huge monthly expense, from maintenance, insurance, licensing, parking, car payments, and of course, the fuel. If people could go without a vehicle, or reduce to a single vehicle per family, they could save anywhere from $100-$1000 a month (or more). It really adds up, doesn't it? Cheers, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 17, 2012:

Twoseven, you are right! At our library, there are computer stations for the kids that help them learn to read, or play educational games - more free entertainment, in addition to books, DVDs and CDs. Plus, there are often book readings for kids, lectures for adults and more. Love the library!! Cheers, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 17, 2012:

Hi Suzie, taking a few frugal steps is not very hard and anyone can pocket an extra $5-10 per month ($60-120 per year!) Thanks for reading and commenting, Steph

Barry Rutherford from Queensland Australia on February 17, 2012:

Another great hub by you;well done Have found doing without a motor vehicle has saved me a lot of money and stress. Don't have to worry about fuel prices,cleaning location parking fees other traffic. the list goes on

twoseven from Madison, Wisconsin on February 17, 2012:

Thanks for the tips! We have been using the various local libraries a lot, and that has been really great. It's a fun destination - almost as fun as a toy store - and I like that you can pass the time there and also take stuff home! Kids don't really know the difference whether you're buying or borrowing for free! :)

Suzie ONeill from Lost in La La Land on February 17, 2012:

Thanks for the tips! I'm always looking for ways to stretch a dollar even further! :)

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 17, 2012:

thanks much @EuroCafeAuLait!

Anastasia Kingsley from Croatia, Europe on February 17, 2012:

Loved it! Voted up. Way to go, Stephhicks68!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 17, 2012:

Oh Jimmy - I am in the same boat! :) Who knows??? LOL!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 17, 2012:

Thanks Jools, I thought it was important to include inexpensive resources for families on a budget. Cheers to you, Steph

Jimmy the jock from Scotland on February 17, 2012:

I was shocked to see just how much it costs to raise a child, especially as I have 4 children which makes it a nice round million can't wait till they all pay me back lol.....jimmy

I wonder where that million is coming from lol.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 17, 2012:

Thank you Robie! Yes, respect is key to success in adopting a frugal living system as a family. Everyone can celebrate accomplishing the goal of saving money when they feel like a valued part of the solution. Cheers to you, Steph

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on February 17, 2012:

I love your suggestions about how a family can work together to be more frugal-- this is so great and not just in terms of saving money. It teaches valuable lessons in terms of relationships, people, respect and so much more. Great hub, Steph!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 17, 2012:

Thanks Shelley - you are right! It has to be a family effort and everyone needs to be on board when it comes to saving money. It reduces stress and minimizes the chance that a single person is perceived as the "bad guy." Thank you for the comment. Best, Steph

Jools Hogg from North-East UK on February 16, 2012:

Great hub, thanks for the Google references to cheap kindle downloads. Everybody seems to be tightening their belts these days and this hub is very useful.

Shelly McRae from Phoenix, Arizona on February 16, 2012:

Great tips for saving as a family. Making it a family project, rather than leaving it to one person to try to control the budget, is an excellent approach. Thanks for sharing this hub.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 16, 2012:

Thank you Lenzy!

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 16, 2012:

Thanks alocsin - we regularly take our cub scout group to the library and many of the kids are amazed at the resources available at no cost. Cheers, Steph

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 16, 2012:

@drbj Ha!! :)

Lenzy from Arlington, Texas on February 16, 2012:

Well done. You covered a lot of ground with your material.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on February 16, 2012:

Excellent tips, steph. You would be proud of me. I NEVER throw away leftovers.

That's because I never HAVE any leftovers!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 16, 2012:

Excellent tips. In these days of multimedia and Internet entertainment, we forget that there's such a thing as a library in most cities. Good reminder that it still exists. Voting this Up and Useful.

Stephanie Marshall (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 16, 2012:

Thanks so much everyone! I think that its much more fun to be careful with money than to worry about it. It's great to be able to share our successes and hear that many others are living frugally too. Best, Steph

odeisa from Anaheim on February 16, 2012:

This is a very nice hub. Everyone from all over the world can use your tips. Thank you!

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on February 16, 2012:

All of us can use tips to save money. Especially with the cost of living going up.

Arlene V. Poma on February 16, 2012:

This is a very impressive Hub and a reminder that all of us need to live smarter. I don't have children, and I have to hand it to you for raising them in these "hard economic times." As a retiree, I am on a fixed income unless I hustle for the writing jobs.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 16, 2012:

I love these types of hubs; I always get something good out of them that I can use. Good job and helpful!

susanm23b on February 16, 2012:

You have put together a very comprehensive list of money saving ideas! I am a SAHM and try to economize as much as possible. I love coupons--not just because of the savings BUT it's a kind of "thrill of the hunt" to me to see just how much I can save and still purchase the brands I like. I agree with Simone above--sometimes being frugal can be fun :)

I also think money could be saved by buying fewer "convenience foods" such as the popcorn you discussed. I think the regular popcorn IS SO MUCH BETTER than the microwave with its weird waxy coatings anyway. Excellent job - voted up :)

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on February 16, 2012:

Wonderful hub, Steph. Great ideas! I grew up with a frugal mom, and I continue her tradition. I do think living frugally and continually finding new ways is fun. Lots of votes on this one!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on February 16, 2012:

Hehee, these things sound like so much fun- I want to do them anyway- not to save money, but just because I want to! Movie nights, going to the library, working as a team.. who would NOT like to do these things!

I'm beginning to think that we make more expensive choices not because more costly alternatives are better, but simply because we've forgotten how fun it is to be frugal. Thanks for reminding me!

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