Government Shutdown: How to Survive on Half Your Military Pay

Update: The Office of the Navy has released information regarding how the possible government shut down will affect its personnel, active duty and civilian. You can download the Rhumb Lines document here.

As I write this the Federal Government is still debating over a plan that will keep the government from shutting down at midnight on Friday. If they cannot pass a budget or a stopgap spending bill, military members all over the world will only receive half a paycheck on April 15th.

Some military families are not prepared to live on half their income, even for a few days or weeks. Many joined the military for the consistent paycheck and guaranteed (so to speak) income. Many are trying to pay off their old debts, or struggling to get by on one small military income. While there are many things you can do to be prepared if this happens again, let’s focus on what you can do if this happens tomorrow!


You will be getting a paycheck on April 15th even if the government shuts down. (April 29th is not guaranteed if the government doesn’t get its act together before then) The paycheck will be half of the regular amount. Figure out what bills have to be paid. If it were me I would prioritize food, shelter, utilities, gas.

If you truly cannot make a payment consider calling your landlord or mortgage company and explaining the situation. If you have never been late with payments before they might be willing to work with you. Offer to pay part of your payment or as much as you can afford.

Create a Budget

Take your usual paycheck and divide it in half. Then take that amount and start deducting your expenses based on your spending priorities. Remember this is temporary, so if you are paying extra on your mortgage or car payment don’t do it this month if it means skipping or being late on another payment. If you are living paycheck to paycheck you will not have enough money to cover all your expenses which is why the first step was to prioritize.

Write all of this down and put it on your fridge. Make sure everyone in your family sees the new budget so there are no surprises.

Do You Have an Emergency Fund? This is an Emergency!

If you have an emergency fund, now is the time to use it, if necessary. Even if you only have a few hundred dollars saved it might get you through this crisis. Use money from your emergency fund instead of a credit card. You will be able to fund it again once a budget is passed and you are paid.

Stop Spending Money

Starbucks, no. McDonalds, no. Magazine in the check-out line, no. If it isn’t something that is needed to keep you alive and under shelter don’t buy it. I realize some people feel like they need Starbucks to survive, but you can live on home brewed coffee for a few weeks. Carefully consider every purchase, if it means going into debt or possibly paying late fees on your mortgage, rent or utilities it probably isn’t worth it.

Eat From the Pantry

One of the biggest areas for potential flex is the food budget. Take stock of the food you already have in your home and create a meal plan. Figure out what ingredients you need to go with your pantry food and make a grocery list. If the words steak, soda, chips, or ice cream are on your list cross them off. You don’t need them. Think like you are broke, because for now you are. Dried beans, rice, ground turkey, whole chickens, inexpensive vegetables, and oatmeal are all good for you, filling, and cheap.

Take cash to the grocery store and only buy what you absolutely need. If possible shop without your kids so you aren’t tempted to appease them by throwing in a box of overpriced cereal or fruit snacks.

*Note: If the Government shuts down, Commissaries will not be open. Shop today or tomorrow if this is your cheapest grocery option.

Pack a Lunch

I’ve noticed that military members have a habit on going out to lunch, often. Hopefully since everyone is working for free this won’t be an issue, but you never know. Packing a lunch is a huge immediate savings and a great way to use up leftovers.

Stay at Home

Gas is expensive, so limit your trips. Carpool with friends if your kids have practices and consider walking. When we lived on base almost everything was within walking distance. It was a long walk, but it was possible. Consider canceling activities that are far from home for the next few weeks to keep your gas costs to a minimum.

Stop Looking For Deals and Bargains

While I love a good deal, sometimes these deals and bargains can actually cost you more. Amy has a great post about deals, detailing the best way to save money. Stop hunting for great deals and focus only on purchasing what you absolutely need to live for the next few weeks. It’s okay if you miss a great deal, there will be more, I promise.

Ask for Help

Don’t be so proud as to not ask for help if you need it. Letting others serve you blesses them far more than it blesses you. If the budget shut down means your kids will go hungry (truly hungry – not missing out on lunchables) go to your church, command, or friends and let them know you need a little help. I’m sure one day you will be able to help others in return.

* If you are in dire need you can contact the Army Emergency Relief for help.

Never Forget

Remember how you feel right now having to make very difficult choices about money. After the government starts signing paychecks again you have a chance to get on the right track financially and begin saving for these types of emergencies. For the past few years we challenged ourselves to live on half of my husband’s income. We did it even if it meant making sacrifices that made us seem weird to others. We now have an emergency fund that could keep us living at our current standard for six months. While we hope to not have to touch it, we know that it is there and I honestly sleep better at night because of it.

Money does not make you happy or solve every problem, but making wise choices regarding your finances is important.

What is your plan for living on half a paycheck? Are you prepared or will you be making some drastic cuts in your spending over the next few weeks?


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  1. Excellent article! We’re pretty prepared – we’ve been building an emergency fund for quite some time – but we plan to go into “austerity mode” anyhow, so we don’t deplete it any more than necessary. Consider bartering/trading services to save even more money, particularly on things like babysitting.

  2. Great post! Will be sharing with my friends; thanks! 🙂

  3. melissa martinez says:

    My dad is a retired marine..will this also affect him.

  4. There is also some help to be found in an emergency through Navy Marine Corp Relief Society. For those of you out there in the military. They are offering preapproved emergency assistance loans to military personnel in case of government shutdown (300 for single 600 for family) Check out the website for details

  5. Katie Lewis says:

    The shutdown doesn’t affect retirement pay, only active duty. Reaching the debt ceiling on May 16th or before, unless raised will affect all government programs including but not limited to – social security, retirement pay, etc. I was reading that those programs are paid out of “guaranteed funds”, while active duty pay is paid with the budget currently in question funding. HTH

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      Thanks for clarifying Katie!

    • Christina Wiseman says:

      Katie were did you get your info DFAS told us it would effect us. My husband get disability/retirement. Please clarify that would take my stress level down a lot.

      • Katie Lewis says:
        Here’s a link from DFAS stating it and another from the Army Times

        My understanding is that if they don’t raise the debt ceiling on May 16th, then it will affect retirement/disability pay, BUT they haven’t started worrying about that yet. 🙁 As of April, only active duty will be affected paywise. Hope it helps you feel a little better! 🙂

        • Kasie Bernal says:

          My husband is in the Navy as a reservist but attending school, so he is getting paid active pay. They told him yesterday he wont receive a paycheck at all on April 15th? Although they said that all military will receive back pay to make up for the check that will not be givin on April 15, on May 1st.? Any clarity on this? I am so stressed about this I dont know what we will do if he does not get paid because I do not work! Also, any clarity that there will be a check May 1st?

          • TheHappyHousewife says:

            I just posted a link to the official Navy document which might provide you with more information regarding your situation.

        • Christina Wiseman says:

          Thank you. I am still preparing just in case.

  6. danielle says:

    I am so sorry you all are having to go through this, it is not right at all! You have given your lives to the government in sacrifice for our country already…I have no clue why they are taking it out on the little man. I am sure we all could put our heads together and figuer out where they could take a huge cut out of someones paycheck…but i am sure they wouldn’t even consider that.

    Thank you so much for your service to our country, and again i am so sorry that this is they way you get repaid!


    • I agree with you Danielle I think all our government officials should do what Lee Iacoca did with Chrysler. If they did this we would probally have a surplus again. But when your greedy you know that isn’t going to happen.

  7. I am so thankful for your post. We are pretty well set for food, have a meager emergency fund, and already paid the rent but I will be emailing this link to my husband so that he can share it with his coworkers on base. I’ll also be sharing this link on my Facebook for all of my military wife friends. If we do get half a paycheck we will definitely need to use some of our emergency fund, but we’ll be taking your tips to heart so that we can stretch our emergency fund as much as possible. Thanks again!

  8. Katrina Rubio says:

    I’m active duty military, going through a divorce and have a 21 month old son. My “emergency fund” was going to be paying for the items my soon to be ex husband was going to be taking when he moved out. I live in Germany and our rent and utilities are completely different than in the states.
    I can go without but my son can’t. I don’t know what tomorrow holds but I’m hoping and praying that it will unfold and we’ll be okay.

    • Praying for you Katrina! We are also in Germany.

    • Amanda Y. says:

      As a starting point, remember that Navy Marine Corps Relief / Army Relief will be doing $600 interest free loans to help, as well as if you bank with Navy Federal Credit Union or USAA for your direct deposit, they have said they will front you the other half of the 15th’s paycheck.

  9. Words of wisdom, thank you!! I shared on FB and Twitter. 🙂

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      Thank you for sharing Jessica! I love how the military always comes together when times are tough!

  10. I have an idea, let the government eat beans, rice, get on a budget and stay on one. this is crazy, the american people are suppose to live on nothing but not the government.
    God bless us all and I hope that everyone makes it through this mess.

  11. Very well written post that we all could learn from. However, it sickens me that our military and their families are even having to consider this!!! Washington – Get it together!!!!

  12. I was told the commissary would still be open, only with active duty members running it instead of commissary employees?

  13. We are at a small reserve base which does not have base housing, commissary or any of the typical amenities of a large active duty base. Until a week ago we would have had no issues for a couple of months but discovered that we have a pay a considerable amount for our state taxes as county taxes are not taken out of the paycheck. Yes this will affect us but thankfully we do have plenty of food and can still pay our bills!

  14. What sickens me is that the junior enlisted servicemen and women may NOT be able to survive on 1/2 a paycheck. We are lucky–my husband is not junior enlisted, and we can survive on 1/2 a month’s pay. We budgeted for a shutdown until the end of April. It’s NOT fun, but we’re doing it. Lots of beans and rice, as it were. Back pay is all fine and good, but it doesn’t make creditors happy. I am so angry that Congress hasn’t at least passed the legislation sitting in committee right now that would ensure military pay wouldn’t stop.


    Thanks for the great post! Please, if you would in a later post, update with the information for the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, whose info can be found here: According to their website NMCR will be open and available to help in case of military pay stoppage:

    • Really for some poor little E3 getting shot at in Afghanistan half a paycheck is not going to pay rent for his wife back home. It’s reprehensible.

  15. Great post. I’m not military, but I was raised with military parents, and they’re now facing this. I know they’re more than prepared, but it still pains me to know it’s happening.

  16. Thanks for the post! All great info. A little worried but we do have a small emergency fund set up.
    Praying for all of you.

  17. The worst part of this whole debate is the Obama Administration’s decision to hold military pay hostage to the budget debate. For the last few decades, government shutdowns have been guided by an OMB directive issued during the Reagan Administration. Under this directive, military personnel would continue to receive the paychecks while politicians argued about the budget. The Clinton Administration, during the last government shutdown, kept the paychecks flowing.

    The Obama Administration has overturned the old OMB directive and has decided to suspend military paychecks if there is a government shutdown. No reason to do it…but they have decided to. Reprehensible.

    My prayers for all who might get hurt in this whole debacle.

    • Well said, JuliB!
      The military and their families are our FIRST line of defense and they should be the FIRST in line to get their pay! We are not a military family but I have much respect for all the military families who make so many sacrifices for this country!!! It just makes me sick to see this happen to them! They have EARNED so much more than this sort of treatment! Prayers for all of you!

    • Amanda Y. says:

      This isn’t true, the only reason the military was paid under Clinton was there was a funding bill passed for the military in time for their payday, just as there still could be this time. Ask your congress people to pass a no strings attached funding for the military and then sort out the rest!

  18. I had no idea you were going to have to face this (I’m from Scotland, so not so up to speed with your news). How awful – the military of all things…. I can think of countless government schemes, both here in the UK and there in the US, I would cut in a heartbeat, and that would leave plenty money to pay the ones who really deserve it.
    Although I’m not American, your country is in my heart, and I pray for your ‘boys’ in the warzones constantly (as well as our own boys)
    Blessings, Anne x

  19. The “GOVERNMENT” will never really shut down and many aspects keep rolling and keep being paid. So, please folks don’t panic. The military, as we all know, is pretty darn protected. Even when we give up everything else in this failing economy the warmongers will make sure the military pushes full steam ahead.
    Having said that….all the things listed in this article are GREAT practices for everyone at all times. It’s only because everyone got so bloated with greed that we’re in the shape we’re in.
    Downsize, be thrifty, think smart and don’t let fear rule your mind.

    • this is all good and well, but not all military members can currently survive on half a paycheck. i myself am going through a horrible divorce and have a 15 month old child. due to certain things the only money i even have set aside is money in my daughters savings account as i had to use mine to move. i know quite a few other military members in very similar boats to me where i am stationed. and yes the leaders wont shut down but things funded by the government that we need will. also to quote you “everyone got so bloated with gree” which everyone are you refering to? not all americans are greedy in the sense here. yes the government members are being greedy in not being willing to cut their pay by even 5% so we can get our normal pay…but not everyone is greedy. heck i could care less about getting more than what im allotted and thats becasue what i get pays my bills and helps me get through.

  20. That is insane… The government shutdown I get, but expecting military to work for free? How can they even do that? Big business could never get away with it. I assume the active millitary will still recieve orders, but are they under any obligation (other than love of country) to follow them through? And if they aren’t recieving orders, then what about the people deployed overseas who will be twiddling their thumbs in the middle of a warzone. Our government in Australia is flawed terribly, but I’m thankful that something like this would never be an issue.

    As for surviving emergencies, the best thing I ever did was to stock a pantry. These days it is not uncommon for people to only have enough food in the house for the week. I can rest with some confidence knowing that if we had to we could survive off what I have in the freezer and cupboard for a couple weeks, and even more if I had a small amount of money to get little nececities. My supply is low atm as we recently had to do without during a 6 week period with about half the income for completely different reasons, but it got us through those weeks, and is probably the difference between getting by and having to sell shares and get into our savings, as food prices in Australia are far higher than they are for Americans.

    • Amanda Y. says:

      Yes, they are all under orders to work and aside from love of country, if they do not report to work, they will be processed for a bad discharge from the military (which is very very bad) once the budget is operating again.

  21. kathleen says:

    i can’t believe it’s come to this. i’m so disappointed in our government

  22. I just featured your advice on my blog! Thanks!

    Jennifer B.

  23. Merrilee says:

    Although my husband isn’t currently active duty military (he is Nat’l Guard), we are facing the same issues. He is a US civilian (Dept Interior) employee and we also are concerned about not getting paid. We aren’t sure about either – his regular job or his Natl Guard being paid We are looking at our budget tonight & our meager emergency fund to see what we can do. 🙂
    I am thankful for the 7lbs of hamburger a friend shared with us recently!

  24. Alison Gilmore says:

    Great article!!! I will be sharing with my fellow military wives. I’m also going to be selling a lot of stuff that we don’t need to save as exta cash.

  25. This is awesome thank you so much.

  26. If you have USAA, they are offering help should the need arise for you to adjust your payments to them if this actually happens.

    I find it hard to believe it would actually happen, however. I think it’s a political time bomb for Obama if it affects service members. Surely even he couldn’t be that unaware of his role and responsibilities as Commander in Chief; and even if he is, I am certain he is aware of the political repercussions to his re-election. His wife promised to be an advocate for the military family if he was elected, right? Does anyone remember that campaign promise that got so many of our service members on board?

    No? I guess it got lost in the messages about obesity.

  27. My computer just flipped out on me, so forgive me if this is a repeat comment.

    USAA has offered to make adjustments to your payments if the government shuts down and your pay is affected.

    I doubt it will shut down, though.

  28. At least military will get 1/2 pay. My husband is a civilian government employee and we’re being told he won’t get any pay if the government shuts down. We have an emergency fund, but not sure how long we’ll be able to go without a paycheck. . .

    • Military isn’t going to actually get 1/2 pay. It just so happens that the next pay check will include a week where they were being paid and a week where they weren’t being paid. If the shutdown were to continue, there would be no more pay checks.

      • TheHappyHousewife says:

        In the event of a shutdown the military will receive 1/2 of their pay on April 15. If the shutdown continues they will not receive a paycheck on May 1. Historically, the last shutdown lasted 15 days (if I remember correctly) so if we have another 15 day shutdown there would be paychecks on May 1st.
        And yes, if the shutdown continues indefinitely there will be no more paychecks, but I don’t anticipate this going on for an extended period or everyone in Washington will be out of a job November 2012. 🙂

        • I think we’re saying the same thing. I was replying to Lisa, who said that at least military would get half pay. I took this to mean that if, for example, a serviceman were supposed to earn $20/hour, he’d get $10/hour. I was saying that the only reason they will get half of their pay the next pay period is because they will have worked one week with pay, but the next week in the pay period is being worked without pay. Military workers don’t have it any better than any other federal worker. The fact that they’ll have paychecks at all is just a timing issue.

          • TheHappyHousewife says:

            Sorry about that, I comment through my dashboard and didn’t see that you were responding to another commenter. 🙂

  29. Great post! Thank you.

  30. Things like cell phone service and cable are frequently paid in advance. My Verizon bill I paid March 17 covered service for 3/21-4/20. So I’m paid up through 4/20. Before then I’ll know if we are getting paid or not (hubby DOD, not active duty, so we are either essential and paid or furloughed and no pay, as I’ve heard). If not I’ll call and ask to put it on “hold” for $5 a month. It will extend my contract for however long it’s on hold and it won’t work except for 911, but I can stop paying without breaching my contract. Cable is also a bill that’s paid in advance and it will kill me to lose internet, but it beats not eating.

    • If you have a DirecTV subscription you can call and put a hold on that account as well, free of charge last I knew. We’ve done it a couple of times, once when we took and extended vacation and once when our TV broke. It just extends your contract for that amount of time.

  31. Thank you for this, this is a great post!

  32. Toni, I didn’t know this would happen to military families if the government didn’t pass a budget – thank you for informing me.
    Also, I live in Chicago, and if you know any local military families who need help, please give them my email address.

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      Thank you Molly! I don’t know of any military families in that area, but if I hear from any I will pass along your info.

  33. Rachael says:

    We’re military and my husband is in the med board process. We’re waiting on our numbers so that they can finally cut our retirement orders. We’ve been using our “extra” money to pay for plane tickets so my husband could find a job in the state we’re going to be moving to. So now we’re strapped for cash and only going to get half a paycheck on the 15th. We don’t even have the money to pay for gas to drive up to my parents to stay with them (so we could eat at least).

    I’m just so frustrated by the government on all sides, the people who can least afford to go without are being asked to do so.

  34. Thank you so much for this informative post! I know all of these things already, however, seeing them in print all together has given me a positive outlook on making it through this potential situation!


  35. Great article. Thankfully we have savings and will be okay. Best of luck to everyone else in this situation. I just shared this article via facebook.

  36. Angel Stuempert says:

    just referred to this site by my friend and I already know I’m gonna love it! Thank you!

  37. Great post!

    I am not a military wife, but we have had very lean times throughout our married lives.

    I think it is very important for all of us to be saving all the time so that we are ready for tough times. From the way things look there are going to be a lot more of them for all of us.

    Also, I think that the government needs to start having some “tough times” of its own. It’s about time that they started having to live on (at the very most) half of their income (which is our money anyway).

    • You are so right Adrienne it is our money that they are living on. I am in the military and I think it is foolish that they have enough nerves to cut the service member that aloud them to sleep in peace every night. The other thing I don’t understand is how the football, basketball,a nd etc. get there money and get paid more then we do and will not be effected.

  38. Great article, Toni!

    We’re DHS (Coast Guard), so I’m not sure how they are handling our paychecks as it will be different than how DoD’s are handled. Thankfully, our tax refund came and my husband prepaid all of our April bills in anticipation of the shutdown. We did a bulk shopping trip and stocked up the deep freezer and pantry and have frozen all other spending until things are worked out. Hopefully this thing will be over with quickly.

  39. Anna Hollingsworth says:

    Thank you so much for posting this! We thankfully have enough saved to get us through another 2 months, but I was concerned about our friends that haven’t been as lucky. I will definitely be sharing this with them. Again, Thank You!

  40. AWESOME article. When my husband deployed in 2003 at the start of the war in Iraq we started Financial peace university and crown ministries programs. We have always been tight and have an emergency fund of a years worth of income.

    I wish that everyone could say the same but I’ve seen first hand how our friends live and is this going to really hurt for many

    • Sorry my phone posted before I wanted it to.

      Was going to say we are praying for a quick and smart “cure” for this situation. Because it does effect everyone one this nation.

  41. First of all if the govenment had their stuff together the military would not have to live like they are broke. Second of all what’s really funny about this whole situation is people in congress are getting paid. Which i think is bs. How dare this country expect soldiers to still have integrity and high morale about what they do when we have government that act as if we dont matter. Sacrifice our pay so congressmen and house representers can get paid right? I know I am in the wrong career field.

  42. sarah Heaton says:

    Sorry USAA I have 5 kids to feed hope you dont mind missing out on your insurance payment.

  43. s.moore says:

    im going to guess this WILL effect ANY KIND of funding from the military as VA payments..of the GI BILL for school? how lame is that!? that is our RENT each payments..etc…they really need to get their heads out of their asses and do something! i mean, the only reason they are wanting to shutdown is b/c they don’t want to loose out on their 200k a year income…and take a SMALL pay cut we are struggling as it is already. i KNOW what it’s like to have NO MONEY..i feel for all of our troops out there..hell, if your NOT gonna pay them, SEND them HOME! 🙂

  44. Great post! I am running into this now and am terrified. The hubby is deployed so I’m at a loss for how to handle these situations. We have no savings, since we just bought a house. Ugh.

  45. Erin F. says:

    you don’t have to pay any bills right now! your bills can NOT be shut off and you can NOT be evicted . Its the LAW! they companinies and/or your landlord would be in HUGE trouble if the tried. Take care of your families the best you can and worry about bills later once the govt. decides to stop treating some of the most important ppl in our country as ‘ non-essentials’

    Do you think our president is going to live on half or none of his pay and his family will have to use coupons of Prioritize … I don’t think so and thats a HUGE problem!!

  46. I am not a military wife. I just had to write to all of you who are that I’m so stinking sorry that you all are having to even THINK and PLAN for this. My heart sinks for you all. Cannot begin to imagine the daily sacrifices you make when your families are compensated in full for your work, and your husbands’. I pray great and specific provision for each of your families, in your own circumstances. And I say, yes, please accept help. Toni, I’m in Tennessee. Anything specifically that we civilians can do to help, please let us know. I am forwarding this post to a friend who works for our congresswoman.

  47. Why are the democrats blaming women for the government shut down?

    They ignore our issues for years but suddenly women’s rights are important enough to shut down the government. They should stop hiding behind our petticoats!

  48. If you are really going to struggle on this one, I hope and pray you have friends and family to help you. I am so sorry this is happening. I noticed someone mentioned there are loans available for service members during this situation. Please, please, please do not get a loan unless you need if for food, shelter, and utilities. Even then ask family, friends, or your church for help. Getting into more debt for a temporary situation is not a good idea. After this is over, you will end up having another monthly payment that will affect your budget and your life.

  49. Do you know of any reputable places that we could donate to, to specifically help military families during the government shutdown? I live in MO if that makes any difference.

    • Amanda Y. says:

      The Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, Army Emergency Relief, and Air Force Aid Society are always available to our servicemembers in their times of need and for this, they will be assisting any military members with a $300 (single) or $600 (family) emergency 0 interest loan, they work with volunteers and operate solely on donations.

  50. Good, simple advice…but always needed to be heard. We are already living a Dave Ramsey lifestyle, so the littlest bit isn’t even there. Between the new card they are using for TDYs and this shutdown, I am not in a panic, but we are in more than a pickle. Husby has had to use all our savings on this current TDY (between shuttles, hotels, excess/overweight luggage…and a surprise rental car they told him he had to have, as opposed to the much higher ranking fellow with him)…I absolutely detest that we don’t have the gov’t travel card, anymore…because of his special orders, those expenses all come out of pocket FIRST. Our old ways were to run to CC in a real bind (granted, 4 years later, we are admittedly still paying on those old ways), but if things go topsy turvy this time around, we will ask my in-laws. We give into Air Force Aide Society, but there is part of me that has said out loud, “As E-5s, we shouldn’t be in the position to need them.” I am in serious denial.

    • TheHappyHousewife says:

      I can totally sympathize. My husband spent almost 3 months TDY during our move, all our of our pocket. It was almost 10k. They “forgot” to advance most of his travel pay and we are still waiting on about 4k of the travel money. We have the funds to cover it, but most people do not.

  51. absolutely ridiculous situation! The military is one of the last things that should be neglected when it comes to being funded.


  1. […] in case of financial crisis. And last, but certainly not least, The Happy Housewife has some fantastic information about how to cope on half a month’s pay. Though she is a military wife herself, her info is very good […]

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