Prepping at the Dollar Store, by Ani

Editor’s Note: Coincidentally, I received two very similar articles from readers in two states, in the same month. But because they have different perspectives, I’ve decided to post both of them. (The other one was posted yesterday.)

With a lot of attention being paid in the past few weeks to the spread of the novel coronavirus in China and the potential but still unknown ramifications for both the health and economy of other countries. preparedness has been getting some attention. While many of us who have been avidly following the news on this virus are experienced preppers, there are many who are new to it. Some may have already done some prepping but are still lacking in supplies for many reasons(divorce, illness, job loss, relocation, etc). Some may be thinking that perhaps they should try to stock up on some stuff “just in case” they were to experience a “lockdown” as in China due to the pandemic spread of this virus or perhaps economic distress due to the disruption of the global economy. The possibility of experiencing a run on supplies as happens before hurricanes and other natural disasters can’t be underestimated. Although things appear to be pretty calm at present in the US(other than sporadic runs on face masks) one never knows what will happen. It could only take a local outbreak in an area such as NYC to raise the panic level here.

Reading some prepping web sites and articles could make a person give up in despair. So many people are just getting by without much in the way of income beyond meeting their basic needs. Some are on fixed incomes such as Social Security or Disability payments. They look at the web sites advertising freeze-dried #10 cans of meals, emergency generators and all sorts of prepper “gear” and they feel it is hopeless. What I’d like to do here is to point out all of the affordable stuff you can buy locally that will help with your prepping that is available to anyone who can come up with an extra $10 or $20 to spend on products that they will eventually use, whether during a disaster scenario, an extended economic downturn or just day to day living.

Now many of you may be regular shoppers at dollar stores but not everyone is, nor are they aware of how useful what they sell can be to prepping “on the cheap”. I’ve been looking at dollar stores and other discount retail operations with this in mind. I’d like to share some of what I recently found in a local Dollar Tree store as well as a few other discount retail stores. These stores are now pretty ubiquitous in the US. The one thing about Dollar Tree is that pretty much everything in the store is $1. A few things cost less but I’ve never seen anything priced higher. Stores such as Dollar General tend to have a greater number of higher priced items. An advantage of shopping at a Dollar Tree is that you can go in there with a $20 bill and be assured of leaving with 20 items (although if your state charges tax on non-food items that will bring you a little over the $20 mark, depending on what your buy). This is a good way of sticking to a budget, not blowing more than you can afford and slowly but surely adding to your “stockpile”. Plus, it’s going to be a good feeling to come home with your bag of supplies and see regular progress being made in increasing the security of you and your family.

Food Items

Let’s get started. On a few recent trips to my local Dollar Tree store I found the following items which could be very helpful for prepping, both for BOB/GOOD supplies and for home storage/ use. Not all of these are items I would personally use but some definitely are(and have been acquired!). Everyone’s tastes and dietary needs vary as does the makeup of your household . All of these cost $1 each other than a couple of items(mostly canned meats) that are priced lower:

  • pasta
  • rice
  • cold cereal
  • UHT shelf stable milk in quarts, evaporated milk
  • hot chocolate mix
  • instant coffee
  • peanut butter
  • canned vegetables
  • canned fruit and pudding in shelf stable single serve packs
  • beans(canned and dried)
  • salt and spices
  • dried fruit
  • freeze-dried fruit
  • nuts and seeds
  • trail mix/snack type packs
  • Craisins
  • candy and chocolate
  • cookie and cake mix
  • flour
  • sugar
  • canned soup
  • Ramen
  • canned/foil pack fish(tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel)
  • pasta sauce
  • kid type dried “fruit” snacks
  • honey
  • dried potatoes
  • mac n cheese
  • canned meats
  • coffee creamer
  • juice
  • chips and other snacks
  • canned pasta meals(ravioli etc)
Other Useful Items

This is only a short list of how many food items potentially useful to prepping I’ve noticed there recently. None cost more than $1 and some, such as the canned meats, cost less. Besides food there are many other potentially useful items to be found at a store like Dollar Tree that only cost $1(plus tax if applicable). Recently seen items in this category include:

  • candles(unscented tea candles, votive and large glass jar candles)
  • LED flashlights
  • LED bulbs
  • carabiners(for attaching gear; wouldn’t trust these for climbing use)
  • Super Glue
  • cleaners:laundry and dish detergent, bleach, kitchen/bath sprays etc
  • freezer and storage bags, sandwich bags
  • plastic wrap and aluminum foil
  • plastic storage containers(food grade)
  • paper goods(toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, plates, napkins, cups etc)
  • garbage bags
  • sponges, scrubbies and other cleaning implements
  • clothespins
  • nylon rope
  • small wooden sticks(2 sizes) to label seed starting flats and garden rows(in craft section)
  • knit gloves(one-size fits all)
  • baby supplies
  • hand/foot warmers
  • instant(chemical) light-sticks
  • bungee cords
  • dog and cat supplies
  • lots of glass containers to use to safely burn candles in
Health and Hygiene Items

There were many useful health and safety/personal hygiene items to be found, as well:

  • hand wipes(antibacterial)
  • bandaids
  • toothpaste
  • travel toothpaste/brush packs
  • paper first aid tape
  • gauze pads and rolls
  • ankle/wrist wraps
  • antibiotic ointment
  • feminine hygiene items
  • generic “Pedialyte”
  • shampoo and conditioner
  • hand sanitizer
  • liquid and bar soap
  • ibuprofen, aspirin and other OTC meds
  • disposable gloves
  • surgical style masks
  • empty travel size plastic containers(fill with soap or hand sanitizer from large bottles)

There were also plenty of items such as coloring books, crayons, markers, toys, craft items, puzzle books, puzzles, decks of playing cards etc to keep kids busy. Should the event you are prepping for include loss of electricity, having lots of activities for kids to engage in, especially if cooped up indoors, is a sanity must! Lots of stationary type supplies such as pens, paper, tape, glue, Sharpies and other markers were to be found, as well.

Quality Matters

There were some items there that I personally wouldn’t trust the quality of such as batteries, tools, duct and other hardware tape, cell phone accessories and garden seeds. Cheap tools in my opinion are just pretty well worthless. I don’t trust cheap non-brand name batteries and suspect they will have limited life. Cheap duct tape has never been useful to me. Garden seeds tend in my experience to be worth what you pay for them. I wouldn’t want to bet my life or that of others on junk seeds; pay a little more and stick to reputable well-known brands.

Besides the dollar store there are also some other discount stores where good deals(although mostly more than $1) are to be found. The trick here I think is to keep in mind a dollar limit and be able to resist the higher priced items of which there are many. If you have to, go armed with only the cash you want to spend so you can’t run up the credit card balance. Some recent notable “finds” of this nature at a couple of discount stores include:

  • “Season” brand sardines, kippers, herring etc ($1 each)
  • Plastic seed starting flats for $1.25 each
  • packs of 25 heavy-duty metal “staples”, 3-6” to anchor row cover, tarps etc($3-$4 depending on size)
  • Olive oil (Extra Virgin)
  • bags of walnuts
  • LED work-lights for seed starting(more expensive but a good deal and very useful)
  • spices
  • containers of Himalayan/sea salt
  • 40% off Burpee garden seeds

You can also find really good deals at your local grocery store, especially if you keep track of prices so you recognize a great buying opportunity when you see one. Sales events such as “10 for $10” can be a great way to get useful great quality canned goods at dollar store prices. I’ve seen a lot of canned fish, beans, tomatoes, soups, pasta etc go for these prices. Sometimes one finds something even better like an 88 cent deal. A recent sale were jars of Teddie peanut butter(the all natural no sugar or oils added type) for $2 each. Sadly, I only bought one. That was a great deal and I wish I’d stocked up. So track your prices and be ready to act when those great deals come along.

If your finances are so tight that you’re having to get food at the local food shelf, there are still many items that are useful for preparedness to be found there. I used to volunteer at a local food pantry and was shocked by how many times we offered unlimited quantities of some really useful food items to anyone who wanted it but had few takers. Some of these included packages of rolled oats, dried beans, canned diced tomatoes etc. Many of our patrons were looking for already prepared soups, canned pasta etc and didn’t want to /know how to cook the items that were were practically begging people to take. So don’t overlook places like this if your finances are seriously low. If you ask the folks that run it you might discover a goldmine of storage foods.

So are you going to be able to fill all your prepping needs at the dollar or discount store? That’s unlikely as there are still going to be items that you need to acquire that just aren’t going to be found there. Adding scrounging for finds such as free 5 gallon pails from the grocery bakery section(they even gave me an extra lid opener they had), yard sales, “free” piles and similar venues will go a long way towards adding to what you find at the dollar stores. The important thing is not to give up in despair, believing it to be out of reach but to get going on your quest for greater preparedness. It’s totally obtainable even if your finances are limited.


  1. Excellent ideas especially for those just getting started or on very limited budgets.

    The only suggestion I might add for newbies concerns EXPIRATION DATES and PROPER STORAGE. From canned food to most medicines the stamped dates are largely marketing tools. Message: ‘Throw the stuff out and buy new stuff from us’.

    A search here on SurvivalBlog will yield much valuable information on this.

  2. These dollar stores are really great for these and lots of other supplies.
    Why spend $2.99 on “X” when you can buy it for a buck. It’s the exact same thing!
    I routinely pick up things like baby wipe travel packs, hand sanitizer, cooking utensils, etc.

    These two articles are a great reminder!

  3. Excellent and well written!
    Thank you for the lists.
    Little containers of Honey for a buck!
    I pass by several of these dollar stores but I never go in. I will now!

    I also take advantage of the 10 for 10 types of deals at the grocery store because I buy for myself and my husband as well as for my mom and dad and the meals we make for them every week.
    Good job Ani, take care

  4. Excellent articles, today’s and yesterday’s. For the same amount of money spent, the lower the prices of the items, the more of them you can buy.

    My Dad always said, “It is much easier to make money by saving it than by working for it.”


  5. The only suggestion I will add is to consider stores like Harbor Freight. While they carry items that are more than $1, they are much less expensive than a typical hardware store. They carry a breadth of items beyond tools, such as gardening supplies, flashlights, nitrile gloves and much more. Their price points are good and the quality is good as well.

  6. Another excellent article with practical, cost-saving ideas — good for all of us, whether we’ve been preparing for a very long time, or are just beginning the journey. Thank you!

    Rather than the “convenience of the one-stop shop”, we have gone with shopping for the best price, product and value for different items from different stores. $1 shops are great for all the aforementioned items. Additionally, there are excellent discount grocers (check Sav-a-Lot and Aldi if you have these in your area) that can help shoppers save lots on their grocery costs. Be sure to check in on shelf-stable canned and boxed goods. Walmart works for a broad range of items. Costco is terrific for larger quantities and bulk items, and has offered excellent quality in our experience. We reserve our usual local grocery chains for the items we cannot find in the other spots, treating these as our “specialty” shops.

    Also! Walmart and Costco both SHIP. Free shipping is available with minimum orders. It’s worth checking on these online shopping options.

  7. I’ve actually had good luck with the seeds (4 packs for $1.00). Not tons of seed in each packet but plenty and they germinated well. Ace Hardware was selling the exactly the same brand at a grand opening for 99 cents each.

  8. In a real, devastating disaster, a 25 dollar bolt cutter from Harbor Freight is a must-have.

    Also, timing is everything.

    Dollar stores in populated areas will be cleaned out within 24 hours, or even before the disaster strikes as the looting in Florida showed before and during the hurricane. Stock up now.

    1. Wheatley Fisher! You make a very good point, and in this case, we could see the combined effects of supply chain disruption in addition to potential panic (and which may add to the level of panic).

      This is true not only for $1 shops, but for stores more generally. A quick way to understand this is to count the number of a particular and usual item on the shelves, and to know the number of shoppers that particular store serves. Let’s say your store serves a population of 50,000…and there are just 50 of the particular item you’re counting. The picture and the problem becomes clear, and very quickly. Even if you imagine that more supplies are in the back room or are on the way, you can still see the problem. Our just-in-time strategy has left us without longstanding reserves. In a crisis (and one may be and probably is emerging right before our eyes), this will become a serious problem — and in a quick minute.

      Remain steady. Be safe. Stay well everyone!

      1. In extreme times for desperate survival, it cuts through chain link fences at places like RV trailer sales…to get shelter. It cuts through locks on bicycles abandoned by owners for your emergency transport. It cuts through padlocks on your or other people’s storage units. When your keys ate lost/stolen you regain access to your property and storage. When your guns are locked and you need them, you cut the cable. When your neighbor needs this kind of help you can do all these things for him or her. It cuts through padlocked propane supply tanks.

        In an urban area, you should also carry a 5 dollar sillcock key so you can access water in building’s pipes.

        One of my CERT team members quietly set up a disguised supply cache for our use, and told certain ones of us where it is and to use the bolt cutter to access it in emergencies, for example.

        I’m a devout, non-stealing, well prepped Christian, but in dire emergencies survival is paramount.

  9. Great ideas for getting supplies started or adding on regular basis. IMHO when faced with limited resources ( money, older prepper, space for storage & geographic location), you need to look for other preppers to team up with. It’s not easy, church is best place to start. We all have good abilities to add to a team. In SHTF situation … More hands and eyes are needed to survive .

  10. Like all stores, you have to watch the quality of what you buy. I shop at Dollar Tree regularly and then go next door to my local Aldi’s Store. Aldi’s has great prices on can goods and other long term food products. Product turn over is high so you don’t have a problem finding something that has a long expiration date, but we know products will last well past those. Aldis also has specials all through the year (veggies and fruits for freeze drying) so stock up when you find what you like.

    They do have seasonal specials on tools and household items that are high quality that we have put in our supplies or in cars for emergencies.

  11. If you are on a strict budget, spending $10 – $20 a week will gain you a BO Kit pretty quickly. BUT pick the items that can be compromised on quality. A cheap Chinese mult-tool vs. a quality built Leatherman – Gerber – Victorinox type of unit will likely break on you much quicker. Same with foot wear – you DON’T want to buy inexpensive footwear that will wear out too quickly.

    Do your research on foods before you buy. If you are planning to shelter in place, canned foods already with water inside are much less trouble than having to use water to hydrate your meal. If you are on foot, then select the lightweight foods because now your carrying them.

    1. Since you can get a ‘sleeper’ , crappy looking but good running mountain bike for a hundred bucks, it makes much more sense to me to load it with a hundred pounds of gear that looks like a Homelss Vagrant, even if you have to walk alongside it (as if the bike cannot be pedaled).

      If you are planning to big out, will you be driving your rusty 1985 tuned up pickup truck with less than 5K miles on the rebuild? With the loaded bike in back?

      Or will you be driving your new diesel 4×4 with the nice paint job?

      If you must bug out, do you have ripped and tattered flannel shirt and jeans with a very greasy looking insulated Carhart-type coat worn ball cap all ready to disguise yourself with?

      Or will you have on your new fully matching camo or top quality outdoorsman wear, when you start approaching the expected roadblocks?

      1. Good point , Wheatley. I have always been suspicious and / or uncomfortable with people who advertise their wealth, affluence or influence. I like the idea of one of the wealthiest men in the world (Sam Walton-founder of WalMart) driving around town in a 1973 Ford pickup. An emotionally and mentally secure and stable individual has no need or desire to impress anyone.

  12. Excellent and timely. As someone who has lived on an extreme low budget for years, and as many folks to will have to adjust to in the future, it is an acquired skill.

    These recommendations spot on. On a low budget, we cannot afford to make mistakes. In my view food is number one, especially if one is on a low budget. I have found I can usually find an alternative way of getting some thing done, but I have not found an alternative way to produce food other than growing it. I not yet confident I can do that on a large enough scale. Some foods, such as is grains, are difficult to grow. If some one was just starting out, put your pennies into inexpensive staple foods, even if that is only rolled oats and rice to start. Strive to balanced diet based upon staple foods and then food that provide muscle build proteins. With the Lord’s help, even on an extreme low budget of *less than* $3,000 per year. In one particular year, I managed to stock up 1,500 pounds of long term storage foods through barter and other means. I’ve managed with the Lord’s help to pull this off year after year. Any one who tells me they can’t pull it off doesn’t have the proper motivation. However in this environment where panic buying of long term storage food has begun, it is time to get super busy, and sell what ever, and do whatever it might take to pile it up fast as prices will go much higher soon. Get it while you can at today’s price.

    1. Tunnel Rabbit! Your experience in developing resources within the limits of a budget is invaluable. If you’ve written about this, and we’ve missed your article, I must apologize. If not, we hope you will do just that. There is no substitute for “hands-on how-to” advice. What works, and what does not! Your success in prepared living is an inspiration.

      1. Thanks, perhaps some day I can. Been awful busy with this virus stuff for weeks. Time well spent for number of reasons. Life as we know is about to change, and so are the dynamics involved with getting by, or what once referred to as ‘possum living. It was good to learn how to get it done on nothing, while times where relatively good. It been a sort of ‘field training exercise’, or FTX.

        Learning to live by faith may not be possible for some, if not, a ‘can do attitude is key’. Those without faith will have a harder time, especially during the worst of times. If we are faithful, the Lord will be faithful, and he will provide in mysterious and unexpected ways, and just in the nick of time. He is the most late/on time God. One must be close enough to function on the ‘unction’ from the Holy Ghost, and amazing things happen. I have no need to worry, because I know it will be handled, yet the we must do our best make it happen, even if the attempt might be inadequate, the Lord will make up the difference somehow. He does help those who help themselves. This is true.

        My story is long and boring, so it will have to wait for the moment. So it will have to suffice to say, seek Him, and learn to live by faithful. Yet do strive to do your best. Those who now live comfortable lives are untested, yet as ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, you’ll discover what needs to be done.

        I should also mention that had I not been a hardcore prepper for more than a decade, before my health crisis that preceded my fall from the middle class, I would not have done as well. Attitude is a good thing, mindset is every thing. I have almost zero dollars in my pocket at the moment, yet I have all I need for many years. Money or precious metals is not as advantages as having the essentials one requires to be healthy and happy. I use to have it all, yet now I have everything I need. Also know that skills are as important, and even more important than stuff, especially when there is no stuff left. It takes years to hone skills, yet the more one acquires, the faster the next skill set is learned. It’s like learning your first second language. After learning a second language, the third comes quickly.

        Specialization is for ants. Specialize in being a generalist, just like the farmer that could do it all.

  13. The American seeds that are sold at the Dollar Tree are great seeds. Only a few of them are heirloom but they germinate great – better than some of the more expensive brand name seeds. If you are on a budget and you want to start a garden or set aside some seeds just in case you can’t beat 4 packs for a dollar!

    1. I’ll take your word for it. I’ve always just been leery of really cheap seeds from brands I’ve never heard of and have had experience with poorly germinating seeds overseas. Good to know that you’ve had a good experience with it as has Chris from Northern CA.

  14. Good articles both yesterday and today.
    Here in the Northern Great lakes we have a plethora of different Dollar Stores, Dollar Tree being my favorite (and it’s right next door to Tractor Supply…almost a one stop shop.) Dollar General not near the bargains as D.T.
    As stated, Dollar Tree is $1 or less (but not all $1 items are a bargain for instance, Rotel Tomatoes which we use a lot of, are (obviously) $1 here, but $.88 at the local Mega-Lo-Mart, but also, as mentioned, be careful of the Chinese made stuff, just as an example: Toothbrushes that look like Oral-B’s are copies made in China or Colgate brand toothpaste that’s made in Africa, not that there is any thing necessarily wrong with either, just be aware….

    One store we have here (and they have them in other states too) is Big Lots! They have a great selection of different foods (at different times, rarely consistent.) for instance: Their Canned Hams are close to 40% less or more than the same one at Mega-Lo-Mart, the same goes for ‘Bear Creek’ packaged soup mix, close to a $1.50 less than at Big-WM…

    All in all, both articles gave very good advice, especially for budget minded folks (are most of us like that???) and on that same note, don’t forget thrift stores for more budget minded shopping.

  15. An alternative to the overpriced “chip clips/ bag clips ” can be found at Harbor Freight. I bought plastic clips used in electrical work to use as bag clips. They work just as well as the overpriced “chip clips” for keeping open bags of pretzels or whatever else closed.

  16. One of my favorite items at the Dollar Store is these little dry ease boards with magnetic strips. These are great placed on the freezer door, showing a diagram of what is contained inside. This helps when the freezer is deep and you don’t want to pull everything out to find something. Another way to use these little dry erase boards is to use peel and stick adhesive strips to attach them to the inside of a kitchen cabinet door. I like to keep weights and measurements written on one for reference when I am baking.

  17. Maybe not the most economical purchase from Dollar tree, but I bought the individual wrapped Tylenol, ibuprofen, and Advil for my IFAK and BOBs. Individual packets also convenient for doling out to others we may come across but don’t want to get to know, if you know what I mean. Also a good place to get food items for charity.

  18. Once a year (literally) we stock up on deodorant, toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, soap and shampoo. Sometimes you can find the $1 deal at other stores, but we go to Dollar Tree for convenience and transportation savings. We stagger when we go, so there is some overlap in our year’s worth of supplies depending on finances.

    Prepping for disasters aside, it’s a great comfort to know you don’t risk running out of these basics if your budge is tight or there’s a problem getting to the store. We’ve also been able to help someone having a really hard time with one or two items they need.

    Great article. Dollar store stocking is a great way to stock basics that are actually used, instead of stocking expensive things for “some day” that turn out to have gone bad when actually needed. Everything fits in a plastic container under the bed, easy to pull out when the next item is needed. If it starts looking low, it’s time for another stock up run.

  19. I don’t buy canned seafood from Asia….no matter what the price at the dollar store….OTOH I’m a consistent buyer of rice and canned beans and pasta….dried beans take too much fuel to cook post SHTF….canned ham are often a good buy at Dollar General….don’t forget hard candy, a morale lifter in times of monotonous diet….and tea bags and sugar as well as salt, pepper, and bullion cubes….face it,wild game is better stewed with bullion cubes to give it flavor.

  20. I too have bought the seeds last 3 years and all have produced. I just bought this years as did our daughter. And being mostly heirloom bonus . I shop our dollar tree at least 2 a week otherwise it’s withdrawals for me. I have made 15 go bags depending on family members. Thank you for all the knowledge

    1. Good to know people are having success with those seeds. I guess as I farmed for many years I am used to buying seeds in large quantities, had specific varietal needs and relied upon the fact that reputable seed companies with good reputations did germination tests before releasing the seeds for sale. I’ve had bad experiences with cheap seeds in the past so I avoid that like the plague now(other than good seeds on sale). But if the dollar store is actually selling decent seeds at 4/$1 it’s nice to know. I still stand by my assertions that their tools and duct tape isn’t a good idea nor should you trust the carabiners to climb with! 😉

  21. Ani, Your wonderful article inspired me to stop at Dollar Store after classes. For anyone interested, I was pleasantly surprised to find the Diamond, Strike on the Box matches are 300 per box @ the Dollar Tree, compared to only 250 per box @ Walmart; same Diamond brand of Strike on the Box… just less.

  22. Sure, hotels are not for the poor but they are a superb source for toiletries, sundries and condiments. Years of vacationing have bolstered my stores for sure.
    …. “from my cold dead fingers” …

  23. I scanned all the comments here pretty quick and maybe I missed it. I didn’t see anyone mention Grocery Outlet. It’s not as cheap as the $ Store but way cheaper than the regular grocery stores. They are all over the west coast (WA, OR, CA) Not sure about any other states. I always shop there first before I head to the regular grocery stores. I always find great bargains there, often even cheaper than the $ Store. A great place to check out for items you want the stock up on.

  24. Some regions of the country are far more affordable than others. My Mother retired to Florida many years ago, she enjoys shopping at a “Dollar Store” near her Condo. I went in with her to see what all of the Hoopla was about. My Mom comes from a long line of practical Protestant Germans, These folks can always find a great deal sometimes and a good deal all of the times. Her store actually has fresh fruit and vegetables. I was surprised because I live in the “East Sierra” Where everything is expensive. I don’t find my region is worth shopping at “Dollar Stores” because the selections are not varied, they dont carry fresh produce or even dairy products, except for the frozen Ice cream section near the registers, (Impulse buying) these Items are far more inexpensive when purchased in Bulk from COSTCO or WalMart or even Raley’s grocery stores. Experiences vary based on your zip code.

    1. The stores do vary a lot depending on where you live. I was in MA for over 2 months and got some really good deals at a Dollar Tree there which was clean, orderly, well stocked and a joy to shop at. In VT in the area I am now the Dollar Tree is disgusting; totally trashed, filthy, poorly stocked and a nightmare to deal with. Same for the Dollar General. Even our Walmart has minimal selection, empty shelves at the best of times etc. So definitely a lot easier in some places to stock up and get deals. I often have to shop online to find affordable stuff here.

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