My Frugal Simcha | Bat Mitzvah on a Budget

The Bat Mitzah girl (in red) and her extended family

Last month, my family attended the Bat Mitzvah of our dear friends the Perets from Houston (soon to be Israel). Lucky for me, Abbi – of You Get What You Get blogging fame – agreed to write this guest post on pulling off a meaningful — and gorgeous — weekend affair for just under her budget of $8,000.

Somehow, my eldest daughter is turning 12 – which is surprising, as I am only 19 years old (in my head, anyway) – which means that Bat Mitzvah season is upon us. Lior is the oldest of five children, [including one with special needs], so we were well aware that what we do now sets the precedent for the rest of the brood.

We have the advantage of a daughter with a late birthday, so we got to see what the other girls in her class did. From attending those events, we knew we wanted printed invitations (rather than evites), rsvps by email (rather than stamped, self-addressed response cards), no band or DJ, and a celebration that put the emphasis on family, friends, and sharing.

[Quick sidebar: One of my daughter’s good friends used Paperless Post for her invitations, and I have to say they were lovely, and they made perfect sense for her family (her father is the rabbi of a huge conservative shul, and they had to invite several hundred people). I think electronic invitations are a perfectly valid choice that can save you a fortune – and they will only become more standard and acceptable with time. In fact, based on my experience, I am seriously considering them for our next daughter’s simcha.]

We ultimately decided on a Kiddush open to all shul members and much of our community following davening, cooked by good friends rather than catered, and a catered Sunday morning brunch for a smaller set of people. We also planned to host Friday night dinner (cooked by me) at our home for out of town family and friends.

Ordering invitations took us a long time. Turns out we should have put that time to better use by, oh, say, finalizing our guest list. This may seem obvious to many of you, but I had no idea what I was doing, and just estimated how many invitations I would need. This means I have a good 25 or so left over. OUCH. I also estimated the number of people I would invite to the brunch, so DOUBLE OUCH. I cannot stress enough that you must start making your list early. Decide exactly who is invited to what so that you know how many invitations you need to order. I probably could have saved $200 if I had been a little more careful.

The invitations we ordered were from Invitations Online. We liked that their invitations included Hebrew printing, and we were able to get a return address printed on the outer envelopes for free.  They were beautiful, and I am thrilled with the quality. We did not pay extra for lined envelopes. It’s an ENVELOPE. People throw it away.

Another thing to bear in mind when you choose your invitations is what postage will ultimately cost you. If you go with a more standard size envelope, you can save a lot of money. A LOT. That’s another thing I didn’t think about at all, and that lack of knowledge probably cost me about $75.

Of course, once you have all those invitations, you have to address them. I spent about $15 on clear adhesive labels and printed them out. In contrast, my parents paid about $1/envelope back in the day to have my Bat Mitzvah invitations hand calligraphed. (In fact, I think that for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, I was the person who earned that money!) I did not even consider doing this.

With the invitations out of the way – at a total cost of about $750, including postage – it was time to begin planning the actual event.

We took our kids shopping for clothes before Pesach. Since Mara had graciously invited us allowed us to invite ourselves to her home for all of Pesach, I told my younger daughter and my sons that they could wear their Pesach clothes for the Bat Mitzvah in Houston and no one would be the wiser. We hit up a lot of clearance racks, and I spent a couple hours trolling thrift stores. I got my Friday night outfit for $10 at a thrift shop. My husband got one new shirt and tie. My daughter got one pricey dress, and everything else came from the clearance racks. I did make one last minute purchase for myself – I found a pair of shoes that perfectly matched my dress, on sale for $15, and I grabbed them the Thursday before the Bat Mitzvah. They are awesome. Our clothes budget, for 7 people, was about $300. Not bad.

We invited our out of town friends and family to our home for Friday night dinner. That was about 30 people, including children. Here was the menu:

  • Sushi/poached salmon
  • Challah rolls
  • Brisket
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Roasted potatoes
  • Noodle kugel
  • Spinach kugel
  • Cranberry crunch
  • Salad
  • Fruit platter
  • Chocolate peanut butter balls
  • Lemon squares
  • Chocolate chip cookies

I kept an eye out for marked down brisket at my grocery store and got the 12 pounds of brisket I ultimately made for 30% off. So yes, it’s a splurge, but I saved a lot, too – and I feel that this is an appropriate occasion for serving brisket.

I don’t have dishes for 30, so I ordered paper goods. Now, I could have easily spent hours – if not days – poring over sites and comparing prices and items. That’s not time I have. So I hired a virtual assistant and paid her about $20 to narrow down the choices for me. Trust me, that was money well spent – she found great stuff, and I could click and order. I got all my paper goods – including hand towels for the bathrooms – for $60. They were gorgeous.

I also ordered the sushi trays from my grocery and picked them up on Friday afternoon. They would have cost $100, but my father picked them up and paid for them, despite the fact that I gave him my credit card to use. Thanks, Dad!

Most of the rest of the food was prepped and frozen ahead of time; obviously the potatoes and veggies were roasted that day. The desserts were courtesy of my dear friend Marcy, who also made all the welcome baskets for my out of town guests AND sent flowers on my behalf to all my host families in town. I HIGHLY recommend getting a friend like Marcy if you are planning a simcha of any sort – or even if you’re not. Marcy is AWESOME.

I didn’t track every dollar I spent on Friday night dinner, but it was probably in the neighborhood of $400, all told. Obviously, that’s significantly more than I normally spend on Shabbat dinner, but this was a special occasion with a lot of people – and I used the leftovers to feed my guests all week long.

OH – and that money includes an extra $40 for my cleaning lady to come back Friday night at 8pm and wash dishes and put my kitchen back in order after that meal. That was a really smart $40 – it made me so much more relaxed and happy for the evening.

On to Shabbat. We spoke to a friend and shul member who had coordinated the Bat Mitzvah of another friend. She graciously agreed to help us as well. This meant that we paid for all the food for the Kiddush and made a donation to the shul; our friend did not charge us for her services. The total cost came out to about $2500 – and that includes a $1000 donation to the shul and a $500 tent rental (this is Houston, peeps, and it is HOT in the sun).

The Kiddush looked spectacular. Obviously, I don’t have pictures, but the menu was fantastic: cholent, burrekas, Chinese chicken salad, sesame noodles, regular salad, deli roll, cupcakes, candies, drinks, chips, and spreads. We also had rolls available for those who wanted to wash and make this their meal, although we did not set up for a sit-down luncheon. It was delicious, the decorations (all included in that budget number) were stunning, and people had a great time.

Later in the afternoon I put out platters of deli, fruit, and leftovers from dinner at my home for my out-of-towners to enjoy for seudah slishit.

Then came Sunday morning, and the brunch at our home. We looked at several local caterers, and eventually chose one. She is not the cheapest, but she handles everything – personalized napkins, decorations, set-up – everything. We had about 120 guests, and we had an omelet bar, waffles, salad, fruit, pastries, amazing chocolate fudge lollipops, coffee, tea, water, and candies, and the total cost was $4000. Yes, we could have planned an event for less money, but remember: I have five children, and one has special needs, and I am also moving to Israel in another month. There is no way I was going to cook, clean, serve, and run a brunch at my home for 120 people by myself. I had to pay someone to do it, and I chose to go with a caterer who would also handle decorations and event planning. My sanity is definitely worth the price we paid.

Like Mara always says, we create margin in our budgets so that we can spend on the things we want to spend on. We wanted to make a lovely affair that would celebrate this special time in our daughter’s life, that would serve as our farewell to the community where we have lived for the last five and a half years, and that would be fun for us to attend.

So let’s do the math:

Invitations and postage – $750

Clothes – $300

Friday night dinner – $400

Kiddush (incl. donation) – $2500

Brunch – $4000

Total – $7950, including a $1000 donation to our shul

So, Mara’s readers, how do you think I did?


  1. Mazel tov and wonderful wishes for your move! We have a bar mitzvah coming up and it will be VERY much less costly, but I think yours was frugal for you and here’s why: Having a gorgeous “blowout” was very meaningful to your family, and it is something you will remember forever. It was also a great farewell, and a gift to your guests and shul. And , as the mom of a child with special needs myself, I will emphatically support the need ( not luxury) of doing things to make things a bit easier when possible. We will be doing a very low key bar mitvah but that is consistent with our situation. However, we spend BIG bucks on Jewish summer camp because it gives our children an outlet they absolutely wouldn’t have otherwise. To me, that is also frugal!

    • Kathy – I concur with your comments. I think for what they did, she did great. And I love that she includes EVERYTHING in her breakdown from postage to dresses to seudat shlishit at her house.

  2. Gator Pam says

    My only child is special needs. His bar mitzvah was back in 2006, and we kept it extremely low key and brought it in for under $3K. But, things like decorations were unimportant to us; being a lad on the autism spectrum, such things meant very little to him.

    I blogged about our experience; you will find the first post of the blog here:
    The other posts are accessible via the menu on the sidebar.

    I can only say I totally agree with you about starting early and making tons of lists. It was the only way we could have pulled this off.

  3. We just made our daughter’s bat mitzvah. We live in a fancy, frum area in NY ( that’s another story for another time). Anyway, I wasn’t even planning to make a bat mitzvah but I caved in to social pressure. We wanted to make a nice party but on a budget. I have dealt with some of the caterers in our area before and I didn’t really want to deal with them again. Some of the caterers don’t want to do small parties for 75-100 ppl and if they agree to cater the party it’s at a synagogue. where they are the exclusive caterers and you have to pay the shul a fee anywhere between $750-$1000 and 10% of the caterer bill. We didn’t want to go that route so here’s what we did. We booked our bat mitzvah at a Jewish Special Needs School – $750 and used a local kosher retaurant as the caterer and made a lavish flesig buffet for $15 per person. We didn’t want the buffet to be a big mess with all the kids so we hired 2 waitress from the restaurant to man the buffet for $300. We set up the place up ourselves with our friends and bought some beautiful satin tableclothes online to make the place look pretty $260. Many of our decorations were from the dollar store for about $100.
    We also had a dj and a game show for $ 2100 and bought desserts and soda from costco and local supermarkets. We were very happy and made our party from start to finish for 120 guests for less than $6000.
    Including invites, clothes, food and entertainment.


    • Love this idea – and thanks for sharing your breakdown of costs. What was the feedback from your social group? I ask b/c a lot of readers responded to my original post on Bar & Bat Mitzvahs (a few months ago) that social pressures force them to spend a lot more money than they want/can afford. I wonder if people simply standing up and saying “no more” will start to change that attitude?

  4. How did you find a virtual assistant for only $20?

    • Hopefully Abbi will pop in here soon to answer your question, AwwRite.

    • Here I am! I use oDesk A LOT to hire help when I need it. (In fact, I completely forgot to mention in this post that I also found someone on oDesk to make the Bat Mitzvah Photo Montage Video for $70 — saving me UNTOLD HOURS OF AGONY. But that money is included in the total budget for the brunch, where we showed the video.)

      Anyway, — you can find all kinds of help there. My current VA charges about $12/hr. I use other people to help me on writing/design/whatever projects and pay anywhere from $10 to $50/hr, depending on what I need. I also get some work through oDesk sometimes, if things are slow with my regular clients.

  5. That’s such a great tip, thanks!

  6. I’m stunned that someone thinks $8K for ANYTHING is a bargain. Seriously, we’ve come to a point where a bare bones simcha is $8K? God help us.

    • Hi Chava,

      A few things. First, please remember that tone matters, even on the Internet, so please be kind to my guest posters. I’ve had to develop a thicker skin through blogging here, but I think we should hold ourselves to a gentler standard for my GP. I’d hate to think that someone would be afraid to share on my blog.

      Now, if you can do this for a few hundred or thousand dollars, I think that’s amazing and to be lauded. I am hearing, anecdotally that the national average is between $15K and $30K. So, while $8K may sound like a lot, I fully recognize that there is modesty in this affair, especially in comparison to other affairs that this family has been to in the last year alone.

      Also, while I have no idea what Abbi and her husband earn each year, I do know – without a doubt – that my husband and I earn a lot less than many of my readers. Some of you probably choke on the fact that we “only” are spending $450 this month on groceries. And yet, there is a lot of room in this big tent called KOAB for shared stories about cutting costs and living a lifestyle that is more within your (personal) means.

      If you would like to write a guest post on how your family does Bar and Bat Mitzvahs on a Budget, I would love to host you! The more perspectives we can share, the more we can all learn that there are many ways to be frugal – and hopefully these will become more and more normative in our communities.

      • I acknowledge that tone is difficulty on the internet. I’m going to say from the get-go that my comment wasn’t personal, certainly not directed to the poster, but more a communal comment.

        And all apologies to the poster. I’m not attacking you in the least and I totally understand that there are different norms for different communities, etc. I just want to reiterate that my issue is that making even minor simchas that cost $10K and upward has become “the norm” in so many places that we think of $8K as “a bargain”. While I don’t know anyone’s income but my own, that’s a year’s kindergarten (full-price-no-scholarship!) tuition in many places. Remember the previous posts about the tuition crisis and the “sacred cow” of day school? What does this say about us as a community? Maybe we should be having kichel and a lechaim for a bar mitzvah like our fathers did and keep more money in our schools and community institutions? Where are our communal financial priorities? Of course no one can get away with kichel and a lechaim anymore b/c, well, no one wants to look like a nebach when “the norm” is, well, the norm.

        • Thanks for explaining! I guess I was just feeling protective of my friend and guest poster!

          I totally agree with you on many accounts. Especially the fact that, ironically, the juxtaposition of this discussion and the sacred cow discussion sure does speak to a lot of priority issues in our communities!

        • I totally get it, Chaya, no worries! Really, I debated skipping the brunch and just doing the kiddush at shul. But in the end, we made the choice we did for many reasons, including the fact that Lior, in particular, sacrifices an enormous amount because of her brother. There are so many times we have to say no to her, and we really wanted this to be a yes occasion, within our means. And Lior was extremely involved in the planning of the event — every detail.

  7. BTW – so far we have made 2 bar mitzvas and 3 bas mitzvah and spent nowhere near this.

    • Hey Chava, I was waiting for someone to leave that comment, so thanks! Yep, I’m sure A LOT of people are thinking what you said. Let’s not forget that $1000 of my cost was a donation to our shul, which is small and desperately needs the money. So my actual Bat Mitzvah costs were $7000 — still a lot of money, to be sure — but money that we SAVED and were able to pay for. We CHOSE to spend money on this rather than on something else. And I don’t know where you live or what the custom is there. I can tell you that here, MANY people spend more than we did — about twice as much, actually. I can also tell you that some people spent less, but they did a lot more of the work themselves. My big expense was the catered brunch. It was important to me to have an event where we could take pictures, have family and friends from outside of our walking distance people, and I am not capable of doing all the work involved in a brunch on my own. I guess you’re either a lot more capable than I am, or you threw a wildly different simcha than I did. Why don’t you tell us what you did, and what it cost?

  8. I just wanna comment on the point you made about not paying for extra lining in the envelopes cuz people just throw them out! So true… while I appreciate nice things (who doesn’t) it always irks me to get a super fancy invitation in the mail when all I do is jot down the date and throw it out. There are ways to have nice invitations without spending so much money…

  9. How we made a simcha for under $1K isn’t a very interesting story. I will say that we have always chosen to live in very low-key areas that don’t have $20K bar mitzvah expectations and we have done much ourself.

    • Well – I may have to bug you for details in 5 years, when I am planning my first Bar Mitzvah!

    • Chava, I really would like to get your tips about keeping expenses very low, as my son’s bar mitzvah is next year. Please think about sharing?

  10. edit – read that “ourselves” (my husband and I!).

  11. Jennifer S says


    Sounds like you had a lovely affair! I have 3 girls and the oldest is 10 1/2, so I’m starting to think about Bat Mitzvah plans. I loved reading your post. From the photo, your brunch looked AMAZING!

    This isn’t budget related, but I’m wondering if your DD gave a d’var Torah or anything like that. I know many girls do a chessed project for their Bat Mitzvah, and that’s great, but I feel that there should be some kind of learning component, like the boys have. One girl in our shul learned mishnah with her father for a year before her Bat Mitzvah, and then they made a siyyum–she gave a d’var Torah about what she had learned, and the father made the brachot for the siyyum. But that’s far more the exception than the rule; many Bat Mitzvahs in my community are more like glorified birthday parties.

    It seems like making a Bat Mitzvah is both easier and harder than a Bar Mitzvah because there’s not as much of a set format. Easier to be creative but harder to know what’s “done.” Of course as I’ve never made a Bar Mitzvah, I’m sure that’s difficult, too!

    Wishing you lots of hatzlacha in your move to Israel.

    • My daughter is learning sefer kohelet in preparation for her bat mitzvah. She will give a dvar torah for the entire shul on Shabbat chol hamoed Sukkot, and we will sponsor a nice kiddish. I think there is something to be said for having to do something challenging like standing up before the congregation and teaching Torah.

    • We were very fortunate to have participated in the fantastic MaTaN program — google it, it’s from Israel — a 10-week bat mitzvah program for mothers and daughters. Our group of about 5 mother-daughter pairs learned with great teachers from our community, about women from throughout Jewish history, from Devorah to Nechama Leibowitz. I loved it, and my daughter did, too.

      She also learned some Pirkei Avot with my husband, although not as much as I would have liked. She did a lot of independent research on the parsha and wrote a great speech, which she gave after davening, and she donated a portion of what she received to HASC, where her brother attends camp.

  12. OK, now that I’ve thought about it, we have done some interesting things. Our last bas mitzvah, we had a brunch for mothers and daughters. Short thumbnail sketch – We hired a local artist who does fused glass classes to come make fused glass mezuzahs with the girls while the moms schmoozed. We catered/set up the brunch ourselves with the help of a few items bought from a caterer on a per item basis. I can’t give you a breakdown for everything, but the artist cost under $300 (and each girl produced her own unique mezuzah that we were able to give to them a few days later after the kiln), rental of the room was around $75. I’m not sure about the food prices (my husband did the shopping), but we got eggs and homefries from the caterer , made our own salads and trays of lox (Sam’s Club), tomato and onion. OJ and coffee purchased in the large “to go” from Starbucks rounded it out. Voila, well under $1K. We seem to actually have started a local trend. The next two bas mitzvahs after hers, the parents found someone to come do an art project with the girls.

    Oh, I can tell you that the bas mitzvah girl found her outfit on clearance at Macy’s for $15 🙂

    One of my sons wanted more of a “party” type of bar mitzvah. We found a small waterpark that is in a more rural area owned by an area municipality. You can rent it out for the evening for $500. We did that, bought sub sandwiches (the long, 6 ft kind that you slice), chips and soda, invited men and boys for an evening out on a hot July night. Trust me, no one minded the 30 minute drive. “Kosher” entertainment is hard to come by when you live “out of town” and we actually got a lot of comments that we had provided a community service. Since we spent more on the party, we had a smaller “shul kiddush” on the shabbos of his aliyah and then had family home for lunch. I was enormously pregnant at the time, so we relied more on purchased food made by others, so this one cost a bit more, but between the waterpark party and kiddush, we were still under $1.5K.

    One of my daughters had a melavah malka in our home. My friends and I made all the food and we splurged on a chocolate fountain and had fondue (bas mitzvah girls request). The night of the party, the girls made t-shirts. I don’t have any hard numbers on this one (other than the chocolate fountain cost $35 and the t-shirts cost $1.50/each on sale at Michaels. I owned the craft supplied we used.) but this one was very nice and VERY much on the cheap.

    Honestly, I think the things we did were memorable and fun but certainly not obligatory. Had we just sponsored a kiddush or just made a brunch in our home, no one would have said or thought a thing. If you want to do something more original, thinking out of the box is important. Also, get feedback from your kids. Most of my ideas came from what they wanted to do.

  13. Chava, it seems that part of the difference is that your b’nai mitzvah were mostly one event each. Abbi hosted a large Shabbat dinner, Shabbat cholent kiddush for the whole community, seudah shlishit for family and close friends, and the huge brunch on Sunday. Her events weren’t limited to just girls and Moms, which also makes a difference in terms of scale. And the whole weekend was absolutely wonderful. (I might be the slightest bit biased, since I’m Abbi’s sister…!)

  14. Okay, a few comments:

    1. I agree with Marni about the “scope” of the weekend – and I appreciate that Abbi did such a thorough job of breaking down all her costs. Often times, people talk about the expense of the wedding and leave out the dress or the honeymoon or whatever. It’s a package deal – and I’m glad Abbi showed us that.

    2. I hope Abbi doesn’t feel the need to justify her choices to my readers! I’m glad she shared the background she did, but we all have to remember that everyone’s lives are different. We live in different communities, we have different considerations, we earn different incomes, etc. etc. What is right for me isn’t right for you – and vice versa.

    3. I think if nothing else, this post has really showed that there are a variety of ways to share smachot with our families and communities that are lovely, meaningful and don’t go over the top. Ultimately, our challenge with all of these life-cycle type events, I believe, is to create moments that are reflective of our greater values, and those we want to model for our children. One of those values is modesty. Another is “affordability” / “frugality”. But these aren’t the only values. If we create margin in our budget to splurge a little more in one area, I’m totally good with that – as long as we are being mindful of the ramifications. (And I know Abbi was ;-).)

  15. Marnie – again, it was a communal comment and not one pointing a finger. I was not comparing, just answering the question of what we had done. To me it doesn’t really matter what the scope is, but protesting the “norm” of spending in the range of a year’s day school tuition or more.

    [I’d love to hear what Orthonomics has to say on the topic]

  16. Just one further comment – I hear comments often of “but you CAN’T do anything for less than $____”. Fill in the blank with something in the thousands of dollar range. Actually, yes you can.

  17. I came across your blog as I was wondering what the size of my donation to the Shul should be. I’m in a different situation as my son is 27, a disabled Navy Vet and made this decision on his own in Arizona and we are from Chicago. After reading the comments I am inspired to use a chunk of my donation as a scholarship fund at ASU for Hewish students studying international affairs. I will be providing a formal dinner Sat night for all the friends and family who attend (about 30) and a luncheon following the service. I will be placing my son in charge of reading scholarship applications and selecting the annual recipient at ASU. Thank you all for sharing here. I wish you all years of delight.

  18. We’re very fortunate in that we have a community model of modest b’nei mitzvah celebrations: kiddush lunch in the shul social hall as the main social event, with the main difference from one to another being the lavishness of the spread. Because it’s a kiddush lunch, it’s totally acceptable to serve bagels with platters of sliced things, tea, fruit and pastry. Seeing others do this makes me much less anxious about hosting my own sons’ bar mitzvahs (IY”H) — I know that the state of our finances can determine lox or no lox, but the basic format will be similar.

    I just want to comment that for families with the financial means to host a lavish affair: you might consider hosting a smaller simcha anyway (and donating the difference to the shul if you wish). Your restraint (with good taste) makes it easier for other families to do the same when their time comes.

  19. Judy Resnick says

    I made very cheap Bar Mitzvahs for my three sons. I think my husband and I had very little interest in making an elaborate Bar Mitzvah. Not only the money part of it, but by the time my oldest son turned Bar Mitzvah, both my parents and my husband’s mother were gone. What kind of a celebration is it really without the beloved grandparents?

    For the youngest of the three boys, we rented a shul basement for 200, got a local glatt kosher restaurant to do a hot dishes buffet setup for 600, and purchased paper goods and sodas for 200. So it came to 1000 dollars for 60 people. No photographer (except our own cameras), and no band (except our own boom box). Oh, and the invitations? I went to a Kinko’s copy shop, did some digital manipulation with a picture of a pair of Tefillin (taken from someone else’s invitation) onto a creamy foldable card stock (they had free choice of any papers), along with Word Perfect for the invitation wording, and voila, I made myself the invitations for the cost of some computer time and photocopying. Probably that’s too cheap for most people, but as I said above, I just had no heart along with no funds to make a grandiose gala.

    I have a very good friend who spent over $40,000 on her son’s Bar Mitzvah. She isn’t even that kind of person who wants to outdo the crowd; in fact, I think she was just trying to do what “everyone else does.” So my friend booked the hall “that everyone takes,” at $100 a plate for 200 people; and took the “house band,” along with the DJ, videographer and photographer that “everyone else uses.”

    Your son is just as Bar Mitzvah with a 1000 dollar Bar Mitzvah as with a 40,000 dollar Bar Mitzvah.

  20. Early mazal tov on ur next years first bar mitzvah! But u c I know this crazy but we are on a budget on my daughters bat mitzvah
    Of only $400 yes I know it’s cheap but she want it to be very exciting like her friends so what should I do

  21. Hi,
    Thanks for the breakdown. We had a stunning bat mitzvah with dancers venue chabad house two meals one shabbat day 120 people meat meal Sunday brunch salads n bar. With gorfous gowns and decorations and hand made benchers souvenirs 3500 total.

    So there are ways to make it beautiful under less.

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