Can You Make Ends Meet on a Single Income?

Can You Make Ends Meet on a Single Income?


My wife and I made a conscious decision roughly 20 years ago to live on a single income. At the time, we just had our first child and we didn’t feel right leaving her at day care all day long. Also, my wife really wanted to be home with our daughter. At that time, my wife and I were making roughly the same salary. So, in effect, we basically took a 50% pay cut by having her stay at home and live off of one income. Eventually we went through all of our savings. In time, due to increases in my salary, we were able to stabilize and start saving money for the future – but this took many years.

We ended up having another child four years later. Currently one is in college and the other is in high school. Granted, we live frugally and don’t splurge on expensive vacations, electronic gadgets, or a fancy house. My wife also cooks each night which saves us on restaurant bills. With the advent of college bills and a stabilizing of my salary, there tends to be a whole lot of month at the end of the paycheck. It seems that even though the economy is still in a funk, prices are still going up…but not commensurate with my compensation.

I went in for a financial consultation the other day and it wasn’t pretty. The suggestion by the financial advisor was to try to supplement my income. So I have been doing just that in the form of freelance writing. I am also trying to think of other ways to bring in some more money to pay the bills and to put away more for our future.

Are you feeling the same pinch that I am feeling? Can you make ends meet on just one salary? Are you looking for ways to supplement your income or have you already done so?


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Discussion

  1. Laneth Sffarlenn on the 11th August

    That pinch definitely is there, though I must say we’re more in the “fear” stage right now, rather than living it.

    My wife and I are both working full time but facing the possibility of me stepping out of my lower-paying job once I’m in a position to earn similar from freelancing / my own business as I currently am while employed.

    The compromise will be that, if I can equal or extend my salary (which wouldn’t be too hard) I can leave work and fully concentrate on setting up my own business – but not beforehand as we simply cannot survive on just one salary.

    The fact that you’ve done it and survived gives me heart, thanks for writing this!

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Hi Laneth,
      Good luck with starting up your own business. That sounds very exciting but I understand that it is also very scary. Maybe if your business takes off, your wife can leave her job and help you out with yours. It’s a definite possibility.

      Best,
      Bob

    • Laneth Sffarlenn on the 12th August

      Hey Bob,

      Thanks for the reply :) I don’t know if editing / proofreading is really her thing, nor web development, but you never know!

      Actually, if my business did indeed take off and she left her job, I’m pretty confident she’s got her own little entrepreneurial ideas stored away in her noggin :)

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Hi Laneth,

      Who knows, maybe she could help you out with doing your books or even marketing your business. Good luck.

      Best,
      Bob

    • Laneth Sffarlenn on the 12th August

      Hey again Bob,

      True – she is the one with a business and human resources diploma :)

      Cheers, Laneth.

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Laneth,
      Sounds like a match made in heaven. :-)

      Best,
      Bob

    • Mis on the 12th February

      Are you still looking for an editor? I offer reasonable rates as I’m not an “official” editor, and am also looking for at home work. Let me know!!
      Thanks.

  2. Nick on the 11th August

    Does your wife still remain a stay-at-home mom? I’m sure it is not easy to re-enter the workforce after being classified as unemployed for 20 years, but that has to at least be something to consider.

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Yes Nick, my youngest is a rising sophomore in high school. My wife always needs to drive her from place to place as my daughter is not yet driving. My wife doesn’t plan on re-entering the workforce as she has plenty to keep her busy. She does pick up a few dollars doing some painting, construction, catering, etc on the side but nothing consistent.

      I agree with you that it would be difficult to re-enter the workforce after 20 years. Another consideration is that if my wife worked and made good money, our financial aid could be cut at the college that my eldest attends. So you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. She may end up working for nothing.

      Best,
      Bob

  3. gtadaddy on the 11th August

    we’re on the same paths only i’m a few miles (years) behind you. my wife didn’t return to work after our firstborn (we’ve got 3 now…8, 5 & 3 yr old) for pretty much the same reason…why throw em in daycare and waste all that money? no regrets. my wife began homeschooling our children last yr and will continue to do so in september. like you, through the years my income increased to supplement but she also started up an online business. it didn’t do so well so she started up another doing what she loves to do…paint. her market is toward mothers. her product his children’s personalized art.

    at the end of last year, i quit my well paying job. i was unemployed up until june of this year. i also dj on the side (which i’ve been doing for decades and love to do) which also brings in occasional income. right now, it’s tough. our heads are just above water but when we look back we would never trade in the time she has spent and invested in raising our own children.

    it really is tough on a single income…

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Hi,
      Choosing to raise your three children rather than sending them to daycare is an honorable choice. Believe me, I certainly understand why people still work because you certainly have to pay the mortgage and everything else that goes with the kids. We used to bring our kids to a daycare 2 or 3 days a week for 1/2 a day so that they could be with other kids their ages. But I know there were so many kids that were dropped off really early in the morning and weren’t picked up until evening.
      I’m impressed with your wife’s energy to raise three kids and set out on an online business and another one simultaneously.
      I’m curious, did you quit your well paying job so that you could help with the kids while your wife worked on her new venture?

      Best,
      Bob

  4. Sandro Salsi on the 11th August

    Funny, we have made the same choices about 4 years ago when our little one was born.

    Now my wife is a stay-at-home mom and I am self-employed (working from home).

    Our life has changed…for the best :)

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Hi Sandro,
      I am thoroughly impressed that you are self-employed and working from home and can make ends meet. You will never regret the decision to have your wife stay at home. Good luck with your business.

      Best,
      Bob

  5. Right now I am on a single income. But I would consider multiple sources of income in the future.

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Hi Nabeel,

      Do you currently have children with a wife at home?

      Best,
      Bob

  6. John Braine on the 12th August

    Same her. Single income + 3 kids. Now and then I do a bit of extra work. Being a web designer, it’s not hard to find extra work. But working a whole weekend while my family are out at the beach/park/whatever is no fun at all. My RSI usually kicks up a fuss when I’m overdoing it too.

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Hi John,
      I hear you about working while the rest of the family is having fun. Sometimes that extra work is just what the doctor ordered to get through paying the bills. Good luck with getting by on your single income.

      Best,
      Bob

  7. Avdi Grimm on the 12th August

    Of course you can! We have four children and are completely committed to staying a single-earner family. It has challenges, but it’s completely doable.

    For me, one of the most important steps was to completely disconnect myself from the American ideal of what things and activities you “should” have in your life. Most upper middle class US Americans are accustomed to a level of consumption that is completely unsustainable without two lucrative incomes feeding it. You have to leave behind all your expectations of having things like a giant TV, brand-new furniture, a late-model car fresh from the auto lot, designer clothes, and frequent restaurant outings.

    We buy our cars used, make do with hand-me-down furniture, but clothes at wal-mart and thrift stores. My wife cooks the vast majority of our meals (which also means I eat healthier than almost anyone I know). We grow some of our own food and participate in Community-Supported Agriculture. We homeschool our children. I buy refurbished Dell computers and install Ubuntu on them instead of buying the latest and greatest MacBook. Friends and family watch our children when we go out, not an expensive babysitter.

    It’s also important to realize that single-*earner* is not the same thing as single-*income*. I’m currently in the process of diversifying my income stream. In these times I’m convinced that no family – single or dual-earner – should depend on salary alone. It makes it too easy for a stroke of bad luck – whether a layoff or ill-health – to completely destroy your way of life.

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Hi Avdi,
      I am thoroughly impressed with your lifestyle. My wife is one of the most frugal people I know and she cooks every night. I certainly eat healthier than anyone I know as well, as do my children. If you both have the same philosophy on spending and frugality that is a big key for sustaining a marriage. I have seen some marriages disintegrate if one of the partners is a spender and the other is not.
      Good luck with diversifying your income. That is very wise but I am wondering when you have the time to do so?

      Best,
      Bob

  8. Haakon on the 12th August

    The financial advisor was hinting very vaguely and polite that your wife should start working again. Grown kids and all.

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Hi Haakon,
      As I stated in an earlier comment, we receive some very good aid from my eldest daughter’s college. If my wife started working, those dollars would not be given to us. So, for her, it would not make any sense, at least not while my children are in college. I agree, my financial advisor did say this, but when I told him why she was not back working he understood.
      What is funny is that the financial advisor was younger with no kids and really did not have a clue when it came to paying for college and the financial aspects of it all.

      Best,
      Bob

    • Haakon on the 12th August

      Aha I understand. I don’t have a clue about that either :-) Best of luck, hope you’ll find a solution!

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Thanks Haakon. That college aid thing tends to throw a wrinkle into my plans.

      Best,
      Bob

  9. Avdi Grimm on the 12th August

    Bob, I get some “extra” time from the fact that I work from home, which saves on the commute and also means if I work late it doesn’t mean as much separation from my family as it would if I worked at an office.

    I’m also presently making extra time by adopting a polyphasic sleep schedule, meaning that rather than sleep all night I take naps throughout the day, for a total of 2-3 hours of sleep a day. I don’t see this as a long-term solution but it’s useful right now as I’m trying to get a number of projects off the ground.

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Hi Avdi,
      You are certainly pushing the envelope with your polyphasic sleep schedule. I love it! Why not push the envelope as long as you aren’t hurting your health. I just love the fact that you are going against the grain. You’re trying different things to help yourself to be productive. I gotta hand it to you. Please keep me abreast of your progress if at all possible.

      Best,
      Bob

  10. BIll on the 12th August

    This solution may be a little left-field for some, but I ended up moving from Canada to Brazil, and started freelancing from here. Much cheaper living expenses, and a pretty amazing experience.

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Hi,
      I think it’s great that you can just move to Brazil. I’m sure it took a lot of decision-making to make such a jump. I hope you do really well. It sounds like you are truly enjoying the experience.

      Best,
      Bob

  11. Min on the 12th August

    Yes! I’m thinking this problem because My wife in working in China (Chinese) and I am Taiwanese. If she come to live with me, she cannot work for two years (law said it) and I really need to find other ways to supplement the income.

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Hi Min,
      Now that is a problem I never even considered. That is interesting. I can see why it would be very difficult to have her come to live with you while you are currently bringing in two salaries. Hopefully you will come up with a solution because it must be so difficult being away from her.

      Best,
      Bob

  12. naomi on the 12th August

    Hi Bob,
    Great piece. Like your financial advisor, I’m still pretty young, no children or college bills. It’s my parents that I’m worried about. My mom took an early retirement a year ago planning to go back to work, but currently has no plans to do so. They both turn 60 this year, and I am really worried about my parents being able to make it and really retire on one income.

    I don’t think I could ever live in a single income household for more than a few years (young children). A large part of my identity comes from having a job and knowing that I pay the bills.

    It sounds like you and your wife do a good job on one income. Now you just need to get syndicated for some extra cash. ;)

    • Bob Bessette on the 12th August

      Naomi,
      That is interesting about your mother taking an early retirement. I am currently 52 years of age and if this opportunity presented itself to me, say when I was 55, it would be hard to turn down. Obviously that depends on the package that was offered. I can imagine that getting a job at 60 must be difficult.
      I guess the difference between you and my wife was that my wife’s identity was in being a mother, not in a career. I understand a woman who wants a career and have no problems with that. Sometimes it is just a necessity.
      We do OK on one salary as I have a good paying job. But, every day there are more and more bills to consider. Not the least of which is college bills. But, we plod along.
      Thanks for your comment.

      Best,
      Bob

  13. Dila on the 14th August

    Hi Bob,

    It’s really nice reading your post. I’m having the same problem as yours too but fortunately I only have myself to support. But since I’m living in the city with a quite low income, I make my ends meet by being a freelance writer myself. It’s become my passion now and I might ditch the 9-5 to be a full time freelance writer instead. Managed to cut on petrol more than 50% of my monthly expenses and not needing to wake up and dive into the traffic jam is a bliss.

    Regards,
    Dila

    • Bob Bessette on the 14th August

      Hi Dila,
      Having just yourself to support really makes a difference when it comes to living on one income. I am jealous that you are contemplating doing freelance writing as your sole mode of employment. I hope you can do it because it must be your passion. That is the key. Make a living doing what you are passionate about. Keep me abreast of your progress.

      Best,
      Bob

  14. Dila on the 14th August

    Hi Bob,

    Thank you for wishing me well. Actually, I’ve only started freelance writing for less than a year and fortunately enough for me, the internet marketing trends are currently a craze in my part of the world.

    And may I suggest that you ask your wife to try her hands on online business. She can promote her catering service online or in your neighborhood/community if she’s interested in doing it seriously. I’m sure she can get more people to look for her this way.

    Rgds,
    Dila

    • Bob Bessette on the 15th August

      Hi Dila,
      I’m in a similar situation as you are since I started my blog just over a year ago. I didn’t start it to make money. It was just a way for me to express myself in my writing. Freelance writing is very enjoyable to me and it’s a way to supplement my income. I marvel at people who are able to live solely on their internet ventures.
      My wife is very talented in many areas. She isn’t looking to promote herself at this point in time. Eventually she may like to be a personal chef or caterer but we have a daughter left at home in high school. My wife wants to always be there for her until she heads off to college. At that time, she may look for ways to supplement our income.

      Best,
      Bob

  15. Brent Dickens on the 15th August

    Hi Bob,

    Great post. It’s great to see other people in a similar boat to myself and family. we have a 15month year old. My wife has taken time off from her career to look after her and if we can help she will stay home at least until our daughter is at primary school (5 years old). I think our children deserve all the love and attention only a parent can give and a cut in our income is a small sacrafice to make. They go to lots of groups from swimming to music and play groups so we’re not worried about lack of interaction with other kids. She gets plenty.
    Like you we cook at home, try to grow our own food and do what we can to cut costs. I also dj and do some freelance web design work to make ends meet so that all helps.
    Anyway it’s great to hear from so many other people who feel the same way.

    Cheers,

    BD

    • Bob Bessette on the 16th August

      Hi Brent,
      I commend you and your wife in your decision to be with your daughter until primary school. You certainly will not regret it and your daughter will be much happier as a result. I agree that it is important for your daughter to be with other kids and it sounds like you’re on the right track there. The bond between your daughter and your wife will be that much stronger having her mother there especially in these formative years.
      Good luck and I’d be interested in your wife’s transition back into the workforce in a few years.

      Best,
      Bob

  16. Issa on the 15th August

    Is this a trick question? Interesting story you’ve got there. I’d say it’s tough to earn from one source of income, unless you’re paid as the CEO or managing director of that job ( or you’re one of Hollywood’s finest ). Unfortunately, I have to find as many projects I can and try to live a decent life from my earnings.

    • Bob Bessette on the 22nd August

      Hi Issa,
      It is not a trick question. Currently I am an individual contributor but I get compensated well. Certainly I am not at the level of a CEO or managing director but I can’t complain. I agree that it is tough but it is doable. Going without is part of the solution. But it is all worth it in the end, especially if you are on one income because one partner is with the children. Thanks for your contribution.

      Best,
      Bob

  17. Christopher on the 15th August

    So hard to make it on a single income and not feel like your missing out on living. My parents did it, but those were different times.

    I remember playing the “the game of Life” board game when I was a kid. The highest wage you could earn was $50k as a doctor. And once upon a time that was pretty realistic. Today, I think most two income families that are bringing in around 50k are certainly not feeling the high life, especially if you packing a car load of pink and blue children.

    one more off topic note…

    When I was in high school… and that wasn’t that long ago… I used to maintain a steady diet of Little Debbie snack cakes. They were so cheap.. $.99 a box. I haven’t looked at them in years, but I was at the store the other day and do you know that they were on sale for $3.00… down from $3.50…

    holy crap… that’s a 300% price increase in 10 years!!!

    • Bob Bessette on the 16th August

      Hi Christopher,
      I know those were different times but it still IS possible to make it on a single income. Is it easy? No. But you have to sacrifice the toys and the big house and the fancy cars. Making more of less is possible if you put your mind to it. Interesting about the Game of Life. I haven’t played it recently but I’m wondering if they modified it and adjusted the salaries. :-) Thanks for your comment.

      Best,
      Bob

  18. Bryan Thompson on the 16th August

    We made the decision for my wife to stay home as well when our kids came along. It is tighter financially, I suppose, but because we’re so used to making it work, it hasn’t been much of a challenge. And it was ultimately her decision – I would support her decision to work outside the home and I support her to stay home. (I don’t like to use the word “working mom” because there is just no such thing as a “non-working mom”).

    We certainly made sacrifices but all in all we haven’t missed them:

    1. She cooks at home so we rarely eat out – and when we do, it’s a treat and not a necessity.

    2. We have 1 car – and it’s paid off. I will drive it until the wheels fall off of it. :) (Now that we have 3 kids, though – and the 3rd was a surprise! – we do need a mini-van, so we are saving to buy a used one.)

    3. We [try] to snowball our way out of debt (or “dave ramsey it” as we say) and live with no credit card debt looming over us.

    4. I dig through the garbage for lunch scraps.

    Just kidding about #4. Well…maybe.

    It looks like we’re poor, but we have everything we need and a bunch of what we want as well. And it’s been worth it.

  19. Bob Bessette on the 17th August

    HI Bryan,
    Good stuff here. I have noticed that most of my expense is on cars and home. I guess that isn’t unusual. We have 3 cars as my eldest is in college and needs a car for work. And I have another one that is just starting to drive. I also live over an hour from work so gas adds up even though I have a small car that gets good gas mileage.
    I would call you RICH. BTW, my wife is such a good cook that each night for us is a treat. Eating out is more of a treat for her because there is no cleanup involved (although I help out in that area a lot). I also have basically 0 credit card debt. Once you start depending on them, it can get out of control. Thanks for your contribution.

    Best,
    Bob

  20. Eric Granata on the 17th August

    I’m the sole earner of my household of six. Income includes the 9-to-5, a modest amount of freelance, and some small, passive revenue streams. Another thing that helps is that we live in a part of the country (USA) that is cheap to live in.

    We budget each month and try to follow it (not always easy) keep a small amount in savings for emergencies and are constantly trying to pay off debt (we have a relatively small amount of debt but once paid off, we’ll have $600/mo. more in cash flow…which is life changing).

    Once the kiddos are all in school, i would not be surprised if my wife went back to work at least part time. But we would never inflate our lifestyle to match. Most of the surplus would go towards debt, be saved or invested.

    • Bob Bessette on the 17th August

      Eric,
      I like how you are talking. Living in a cheaper area is what a lot of people choose to do. My wife and I will probably do just that once our youngest heads off to college in 3 years. I also like what you said about not inflating your lifestyle if your wife goes back to work. Just think how much you will be saving with your wife’s salary being added to yours. I do think it is important for one of you to be home right after school so that obviously could limit the jobs your wife could apply for.
      Good luck with paying off your debt and keeping to that conservative lifestyle.

      Best,
      Bob

  21. Ryan on the 19th August

    To make ends meat my wife has a small in-house daycare. I currently work full time and run a freelance/printing business for a handful of clients.

    Last year I lost my job due to the market crash and at the same time we had two family’s (all but one family left) due to someone in their house losing a job.

    Its tricky at best! Without my wife having her in-house daycare. I don’t think we would make it at all.

    Best of luck!

    • Bob Bessette on the 22nd August

      Hi Ryan,
      You know, we actually thought of the in-house daycare, to supplement our income. But we thought it would add a tremendous amount of stress to add more children to caring for our own. There is also the added responsibility of always being there for the other children and dealing with their parents’ schedules. I commend you for taking on that undertaking but it sounds like it was a lifesaver for you.
      I agree that it is tricky! Good luck to you and your family.

      Best,
      Bob

  22. Roslyn Churchill on the 21st August

    Hi everyone we make ends meet on one income , but also get to have fun this is how.
    1. We rent out our house to go on holidays (so other people pay us rent to stay at our house) and then we use the money to go on holidays.

    2.we return camper vans around Australia or new Zealand .So we holiday for free and use the money to pay off bills.

    3.buy kids cloths used on eBay (you can get 10items for under $5 if your lucky)

    4.All of our 3 kids learn music ,they learn from chinese who are great teachers but cheeper

    We ale ays reinvent ways to save all the time .

    • Bob Bessette on the 26th August

      Hi Roslyn,
      I like your creativity. I have a co-worker who just went to Italy and did a house swap with an Italian couple. It worked out great for them. It’s a great idea. Buying used clothes on eBay is another creative idea. We typically purchase cookware for my wife on eBay and save a bundle ourselves. If you come up with more ways to save money please visit my site and drop me a line. I think it would make a great post!

      Best,
      Bob

  23. Sachin on the 6th September

    life is tough this way, ..and more over inflation is all time high….

  24. Tom on the 29th March

    Thanks for this article.
    I live in France and it’s the same situation here.
    It seems that a few decades ago, it was easy for a family to live comfortably with only one income. And with less money than today.
    If both the two persons of a couple want to work, no problem of course. But I think we should have the choice. But nowadays, we don’t really have the choice and everyone have to work (in most of the case) to guarantee a correct way of life. Prices went up but salaries didn’t, am I wrong ?
    And also I think it’s better for kids to be raise at home with their mother/father instead of going to child care…

  25. Tony on the 1st September

    I’m currently about 156 days from quitting my job. My wife will work but we’ll still be a few hundred bucks short each month. We’ve saved and gotten rid of most debt so we can draw from savings to make up for the deficit. I will focus on setting up income streams while running my blog (which will hopefully lead to income opportunities also.) It scares the crap out of me but what’s the worst that can really happen? I rather be broke, bankrupt and happy rather than rich, chained to a job and miserable. I also think that taking a leap of faith and trusting myself will create the momentum I need to make a living while having an impact on the world. Besides, I’ll have more time to spend with my wife and two kids. Nothing beats that.

  26. Andy on the 4th September

    I have just come accross this page and read the comments. I come from one of the post-communist European countries. I found your view quite interesting and know many people who share it. I have a 3 yrs old boy and we plan another kid soon. My wife took one year off and when she returned to work my mother took over and babysat our kid until he went to a kindergarten (quite recently). I agree with you guys that living on a single income (which we experienced when my wife stayed home) is quite challenging and makes you look for alternatives, substitutes or whatever you call it. Now we are both working and this make-sure-we-paid-all-the-bills squeeze is not that painful. The only thing I find a little disturbing in your comments is this firm belief that kids whose mothers stay home get this very much love, care and attention. I just wanted to say that some people have limited choice and need to have their kids looked after by daycares, kindergartens, etc. This however, does not necessarily mean that they do not raise their kids.

  27. Jessi on the 2nd October

    Hi Bob,

    My husband and I decided about 2 years ago that I would stay home with our children (my son was then a newborn and my daughter was 3). We both had state jobs at the time, which, granted, does not bring in truck loads of money. We figured we didn’t need to be wealthy anyway.

    I was a theatre teacher. It encompassed huge amounts of my time so that summers were more of a recovery period to do it all over again than anything else. I felt I was raising everyone else’s children only to leave my own out in the cold.

    We thought that we could make things work if I tried my hand doing some work-at-home types of deals. That’s how I began writing.

    We had no idea that that would be the very year that our state stopped giving pay raises to state employees. My husband, actually, now makes less income than he did when he first began his job as a correctional officer four years ago. And, just this year, his insurance benefits went way down while the prices went way up. Plus, he has a disorder which requires he have what was about $200 a month in medications…now this has almost doubled.

    We are pushing the limit tremendously, and are struggling. The bottom line to us is that we want desperately to have a ‘mother-at-home’ type of lifestyle. As a result, we are planning a huge move from the coast of the Carolina’s to Tennessee.

    My husband can actually make more money there than here and the cost of living is lower. We are downgrading our housing as much as is necessary to make our ends meet. We’re both driving used cars – and only when we must. We have far less of practically everything, and our biggest extravagance is Netflix.

    And this is what we are finding – it’s worth it. It’s worth all of the sacrifice 100% and then some. We both are of a mind that the economy is getting worse, rather than better anyway. We are going to be well educated in ‘getting by’ when many others are going to take it far worse.

    I would rather be where I can see my children and raise them the way that I want them to be raised than to be able to dine out and shop around the clock. The problem is that now it’s more of a ‘are we going to make the bills, groceries, gas’ than giving up simple pleasures.

    I’d appreciate any pointers, tips and advice you might offer. I loved the article and the comments; although I never wish to see anyone else struggle, it is comforting to know that there are those who have gone successfully before us.

    Best,

    Jessi

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