It's the last episode of Motley Fool Answers (but don't worry, we're just moving to Motley Fool Money every Tuesday). We'll reminisce on our biggest lessons learned over the last seven years and answer your questions — some financial, some festive.
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This video was recorded on Dec. 21, 2021.
Alison Southwick: Here we go one last time. This is Motley Fool Answers. I'm Alison Southwick, joined as always by Robert Brokamp, personal finance expert and all-around good sport here at The Motley Fool. Hey, Bro.
Robert Brokamp: Well, hello, Alison.
Alison Southwick: This week is our last episode of Motley Fool Answers as we're making the move to the new Motley Fool Money Podcast starting in January. Today, we are going to recount our lessons learned over the last seven years of the show. We'll read some of your emails and answer a few questions you submitted, some financial, some not. All that, and probably some reminiscing on this week's episode of Motley Fool Answers. If you were paying attention last episode, you'll remember I told you how Answers will now become a part of the new daily Motley Fool Money Podcasts coming in January. This is essentially our last episode of Answers as you know it. Coming in January, you'll find us every Tuesday on The Motley Fool Money Podcast, so head over there to subscribe. The seven years flies by when you're having fun, and while I admit I do tune Bro out a bit when he starts talking about RMDs, I have learned a lot from him and our guests over the years. We thought we would share our top three lessons. Bro, do you want to go first?
Robert Brokamp: Sure. I'll go first. Of course, mine are going to be probably a little bit more financial plan-ery than yours. But my first lesson is basically, curb your predictions. Now, I, like probably many people my age, I'm in the early fifties. I came of age as an investor during the dot-com crash and then the Great Recession. During those times of great exuberance, Robert Shiller of Yale came out with a book called Irrational Exuberance, saying that stocks were priced too high based on the cyclically adjusted price to earnings ratio, which is the P/E. But using one-year earnings, it's previous 10-years earnings adjusted for inflation. He said it's at an all-time high, stocks probably not going to do well over the next decade, but boy, was he right. Stocks crash, dot-com crash, recovered. Then again, the cape got high again in 2007, stocks crashed again. People like me have been looking at the cape and basically saying like, “Hey, it's high, and probably you should expect that stocks will not do well over the next several years.”
In fact, I've been saying that pretty much since the first episode of our podcasts. Well, what has happened while stocks have done fabulously, fabulously. Vanguard recently came out with a report basically saying the same thing. We thought stocks were not going to do so well. They've done very well. What's the reason for the air? It's basically that investors just have become very exuberant about stocks, again, we don't know yet whether it's overly exuberant. But the fact of the matter is, every Wall Street firm expected stocks to provide below-average returns pretty much over the last seven years, yet they have provided exceptional returns.
What's the takeaway from this? Well, as a long-term investor, it doesn't really matter so much. But it's just another example of how predictions, really, it's very difficult to predict what's going to happen in the future. The other one I will point out too as well is that when the show started, the 10-year treasury was at 2.1 percent, and everyone, I mean everyone, expected interest rates to go up. Of course, they haven't. They dropped to 2.5 percent last year, they're at about 1.4 percent today. Again, the lesson is, try to ignore predictions. Investing to a certain degree involves some amount of predictions, but barely, it's about investing your long-term money and living alone for as long as you can.
Alison Southwick: My first lesson is that I am so lucky. It was on this show that I first heard you, Bro, tell the story of the ovarian lottery. Quite a name, but you should tell it, you tell it better.
Robert Brokamp: Whilst not my idea, of course, it comes from Warren Buffett, and he said it several speeches over the years, often to college students. He really is pointing out how lucky they are and they say basically like, here's something you could do. You could continue your current life living as a college student in the United States, or you could basically reach into a barrel of seven billion marbles and pull out a different marble. That marble will be determine whether you're American or Zimbabwean, male, female, rich, poor, above-averaged intelligence, below average intelligence. You're basically trying it all over again. Now, you only have a five in a hundred chance of being American again. Everything else is about 50-50. If you were to give that option to most Americans, they wouldn't do it because they're already so lucky. They're already living in a country that is by far a better place to live in terms of wealth, health, utilities, electricity, water in so many ways. Buffett's overall lesson is, we're all very lucky to be living the lives that were living.
Alison Southwick: I've tried throughout the show to call attention to inequalities in these country, such as wage gaps, wealth gaps, gender gaps. It's not like I want our listeners to feel bad about their wealth, but it is easy for me personally to forget just how privileged I am. I do hope that we can all have a little bit more grace, a little bit more understanding for the struggles of others. Money doesn't solve all your problems. But it does pave the road and make it easier to follow the path you want for yourself. Some of us had easier roads than others, so I hope this podcast reinforced that idea for you as it did for me. Bro, what's your second lesson?
Robert Brokamp: Well, it's never a piffy, it's about as financial plan-ery as it comes. But basically, say 15 to 25 percent of your income and work as long as you can or even for just a few years. I say that because the rule of thumb used to be that for retirement, you should save 10 percent of your income, and you could retire maybe 63 to 65, which is the average retirement age these days in America. But over the course of the last seven years, We've either talked about studies, where we've had guests on the show to talk about studies, that have found really you should be saving these days about 15 percent of your income for retirement, and that includes your match. Here at The Motley Fool, if you save nine percent in our 401(k), you get six percent match and you hit that 15 percent. But that's just for retirement. You have other goals; buying a car, buying house, saving for your kids college education. You really should be aiming to save 15 to 25 percent of your income. The bottom line really is that, when it comes to money, a high savings rates solves a lot of problems.
So if you can live well below your means, you're going to do pretty well. Then the work as long as you can is, as a country, most people have not saved enough, and just working three or so more years is going to do wonders for your finances. Over the last couple of years, in particularly we've talked on this show about the emerging evidence that retirement actually may not be very good for you, depending on your situation. If you have a very physically demanding job, maybe it is good to retire. But for most people, that's not the case. Putting in a few more years has other benefits like social interaction, intellectual stimulation, as well as all the financial benefits. Now, if you don't like that idea, you, of course, can do something else that we've talked on the show, and that is the Financial Independence Retire Early movement. Save an awful lot of your money, 50, 60 percent of your income, and retire early. Someone we've had on the show a few times, is Sean Gates, a financial planner with Motley Fool Wealth Management, he's the ripe old age of 36 and he is retiring next January.
Alison Southwick: Is he? I didn't know that.
Robert Brokamp: It is. I figured this might be news to some folks.
Alison Southwick: Yeah, OK.
Robert Brokamp: Sean is retiring next January. I actually hired him at the Fool back in 2014, I think. He arrived at the Fool with a car and a single-box of possessions, and he was saving 70 percent of his income. Is he going to stay retired forever? He's got a young daughter. He wants to spend as much time with her as possible. But the point being is, if you don't want to work for the rest of your life, there are other ways to do it. But I think for most of us, saving 15 to 25 percent of our income and planning to work into our sixties is probably the best strategy.
Alison Southwick: So my second lesson and we did that, compare notes beforehand, so there's probably going to be some overlap here. But my second lesson is that the secret to being wealthy is to want less. For this one, I want to thank Morgan Housel. We had him on the show so many times. He never turned us down, which I appreciate. He said a lot of pretty things on our show, but this one is my favorite. Rick, can you roll the clip?
When most people say they want to be a millionaire, what they actually mean is, I want to spend a million dollars, which is the opposite of being a millionaire. If you see someone driving a $100,000 car, the only thing you know about their financial situation is that they have a 100,000 fewer dollars than they did before they bought the car. That's the only thing you know about it. You don't see their bank account, you don't see the brokerages statement, you don't see their wealth. It's not visible. Wealth is savings that you have not spent.
Alison Southwick: The point here is that, when you see someone has a new car or a huge house or whatever fancy thing here, what you don't see is the fancy things came out an expense or what void that fancy thing is trying to fill. So while someone might look Rich and happy, they could in fact be having a rough go of it. Don't try to keep up with the Joneses. On the show, Bro has also shared many stories of people who didn't make a ton of money, but we're able to save and invest, and leave millions of dollars to help others. Bro, one lady in particular comes to mind that you told us about.
Robert Brokamp: Yeah. We did a series called The Philanthropist Next Door, a few years ago, and highlighted a few people who script and save, saved a lot of money and did a lot of good in the world. One was Sylvia Bloom who worked as a secretary at a Wall Street firm for 67 years. She and her husband, who was a firefighter and a teacher live modestly in a rent controlled apartment, but a nice, decent life. She was the secretary at a time where you basically ran your boss's lives, so when the bosses wanted to play, a stock trade she'd do that, but then she'd buy some stock of her own. Then when Sylvia died in 2016 at the age of 96, her portfolio was worth more than nine million dollars. She left all of it to charity, so much of the Henry Street Settlement for disadvantaged students, some to her Alma mater Hunter College, others ways to help disadvantage kids improve their SATs and visit college, is really a remarkable story.
Alison Southwick: All right, Bro. What's your third and final lesson you wanted to share?
Robert Brokamp: Well, I've thought about something in terms of, what are some of the mistakes I've made over the last several years, and maybe things that I wish I would've talked more about over the show. That is something that for me personally as a chronic, chronic procrastinator, it is that when I look back at some of my biggest financial mistakes, they almost always come down to basically putting things off right investments. I put off making accounts. I delayed opening cash that came into my checking account and then I felt like I should do something with that, but then I didn't other than maybe I spent it and wasted it. I'm not as bad as I was 15-20 years ago and boy, anyone who is an editor for my newsletter could tell you horror stories about my difficulties with deadlines 15-20 years ago. First of all, I'll just pass along some of the books that really helped me, in terms of becoming more productive, especially if that's on your new year's resolution list, the one that's a big fan favorite here at The Motley Fool is Getting Things Done by David Allen.
A lot of people know about that one, a lesser-known book that a spin-off of that is Take Back Your Life by Sally McGhee, who really applies getting things done principles to Microsoft Outlook, like how to actually implement the system. But even if you don't use Outlook, it's a great book that summarizes lots of productivity principles. My all-time favorite really is a book called Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy. Then another is Atomic Habits by James Clear. James Clear appeared on the Rule Breaker Investing podcast on April first of 2020. If you want to hear great discussion with James and David Gardner. Bottom line is there so many things that will help our finances, that for some reason we put it on the to-do list and we just don't get it done. If you can find ways to get them done, you'll feel much better and it's crucial to remember that it does not have to be perfect. You don't have to find the perfect investment to start investing. You don't have to decide on the absolute best choice between Roth and traditional accounts to start saving for retirement. You don't have to determine the exact amount you need in life insurance to get some life insurance. Doing something, getting it done is good enough in most situations.
Alison Southwick: My third and final lesson from the last seven years is to paraphrase Chris Rock. Money is about having options, so make the most of yours. Well, yes, I just told you to be wealthy, you have to spend less. But what is the point of amassing all that wealth unless you get some joy out of spending it? Find out what brings you the most joy and then spend accordingly. Maybe your dream is to swim all Scrooge McDuck and your vault of gold grade than horrid away. But otherwise, make the most of what you have while you can. Over the last few years, we all on this show had to deal with the loss of a family member or a close friend. Was a rough couple of years. Don't wait for retirement to live the life you want, start now.
Well, last week, we told you that you could go ahead and ask us anything and we would answer it on the podcast. It turns out most of what you wanted to ask us was still financial questions. I'll try not to take it personally that you don't actually want to know much about us as people. Today, we're going to do a lightning round of financial questions and then also a couple of the more, off the wall questions that you all asked us. Our first question comes from John. “I've gained enough confidence in my investing that I decided to sell out of my managed mutual fund IRA and consolidated my retirement account into a self-managed IRA. Now with about 150,000 in IRA cash to invest and with the market near all-time highs, might this be a good time to pick 15-20 stocks and invest most of it now? Or might it be wiser to pick couple of stocks per month over the next year to buy into? I'm about 60 years old, but love my work and plan to work for another decade, God-willing.”
Robert Brokamp: Well, John, that's a really good question. You're going to be working for another decade and once you get within five years of retirement, you should certainly start building up your cash income cushion. You do have at least five years to invest historically, over five-year periods, stock market makes money about 83-85 percent at the time. Historical evidence would suggest that investing all at once is probably the better bet. But Vanguard did a study on this found that at about two-thirds of historical periods, it's better to invest all at once rather than space it out over 12 months.
Now, I talked earlier about market valuations and how that often has made me nervous in the past. That's certainly the case. Again, Vanguard's recent report predicts that they think that the US stock market were 33.3 percent a year over the next decade. But as I said, who knows what's going to happen and how much did you even pay attention to this prediction? As long as you have the risk tolerance and the time-frame, it's probably OK to invest all at once. But if it makes you feel more comfortable, you can invest in thirds, which is something we talk about at the Fool often. Invest one-third now, another third later and another third as you feel more comfortable.
Alison Southwick: Next question comes from Pam. “I was wondering if the Roth contribution limits included all Roth accounts. Can I max-out a Roth and a 401(k) and max-out a Roth IRA in the same year?”
Robert Brokamp: Yes. Those are totally separate limits and the 401(k) limit is going up in 2022. It's 20,500 with another 6,500. If you'll be 50 or better. Roths are staying the same, 6,000 with another thousand for over 50 and older crowd. But they are totally separate limits. Since I get this question often, even in-house here at The Motley Fool, those limits when it comes to 401(k)s, only applies to your contributions, has nothing to do with the employer match. You don't have to try to offset the match with your contributions. That $20,500 limit applies just to your contributions.
Alison Southwick: Next question comes from Andrew. “Hello, I started listening to The Motley Fool Answers podcasts recently and I have a question, is there an online tool you recommend for personal finances? I'm looking for something where I can plug in retirement savings, bank accounts, etc and play with assumptions to see when I can retire or make other important decisions.”
Robert Brokamp: Andrew, good news. Now, you are a new listener, so you probably did not hear our episode from March 16th when we talked about some of the more common popular tools and I'll just list those out. That was Money in Excel through Microsoft, Mint Personal Capital, You Need to budget Quicken and Tiller. You can go back and listen to that episode. This gives me the opportunity to point out that currently, our plan is to keep our feeds alive for the next six months for anyone who wants to go back to listen to any of our past episodes, you have at least six months to go back and live the good old days of Alison and Bro talking for 30-45 minutes.
Alison Southwick: Next question comes from Christopher, “My partner and I have had a trading account with individual stocks for over a decade. Honestly, I'm tired of stock-picking and was intending on just doing S&P 500 and S&P 600 index funds for our IRAs. But I heard, I think on your show, that it makes more sense to have individual stocks or things you might be trading in an IRA and your index funds in taxable brokerage accounts.”
Robert Brokamp: This is a topic called asset location, and I strongly encourage you to do more research on it. But the basic premise is this, you list your investments or investment strategies according to tax efficiency. At the top, you put your most tax-inefficient investments. Those could be like if you're an active day trader, if you have an actively managed mutual fund that has high turnover, high yield bond fund, a fund that invested in real estate investment trusts, those are very tax-inefficient, so you would put them in your tax advantage retirement accounts and then you move down the list. Now, again, if you're an active trader of individual stocks, then yes, you put that probably in an IRA. But individual stocks on their own can be very tax-efficient. If you buy a stock that doesn't pay a dividend and you hold onto it for decades, that's very tax efficient. It might be better to keep that in your regular old taxable brokerage account. It does take a little bit more research, but I think you are on the right track because yes, index funds are considered to be relatively tax efficient. If you don't have room to put them in your IRAs or if you have something else, that's a matter of tax-inefficient that should be in there, it's probably OK to keep them outside of your IRAs.
Alison Southwick: Next question comes from Ann, “inspired by your recent episode on Real Estate Investment Trust, I bought my two sons the Read ETF at Vanguard ticker, VNQ. They're both young, single college graduates and not yet buying homes or other real estate, so I thought it might be good to start them in this sector. My question is, I know that REITs must distribute profits back to investors, but why? Can this be changed with the stroke of a government pen?”
Robert Brokamp: Well, so it is according to law that REITs if they distribute, I believe it is 85 percent of their income, they get some significant tax advantages. They do that, which is why REITs, in general have higher yields than the overall stock market. Can this be changed at the stroke of a government pen? Absolutely. Does that make REITs unattractive? Not necessarily because then maybe companies that manage these REITs will keep more of their cash and they'll be able to invest that in a way that increases the value of the company. I wouldn't be too worried about that. I think it's a great idea that you're investing in REITs for your kids over the long term, since the 70s, REITs have actually outperformed the S&P500 and they have a slightly different up and down pattern to the stock market, so it adds some diversification to your portfolio. I will say you mentioned something about how your kids don't yet have homes and I will often hear people say, “Well, I own a home, so I don't need to invest in REITs.” That's not necessarily true because it's a big difference between your domestic house, your own personal residents, and commercial real estate. If you look at that Vanguard ETF that invests in offices, in malls, in hospitals, in storage units, in cell towers, so very different types of investments.
Alison Southwick: Our next question comes from Benjamin, and it's just in time for the holidays. “I'm a proud uncle of a darling niece and nephew. This year for Christmas, I was trying to set up custodial accounts for them so that I could give them specific stocks. But I found the process at Fidelity rather complicated. It seems rather easy to open a custodial account for a minor, but then if anyone other than the account's custodian wants to give a specific stock, their only option is to transfer the cash into the account, and then ask the account's custodian to make the purchase of the specific stock. That's OK, I guess, but my brother is the person most likely to end up being custodian of the accounts, and he is not too keen on investing. I worry that my brother would see it as a bit of a chore and would be more likely to just put all the money gifted into a mutual or index fund or worse, just let the money sit there. I want get my niece and nephew excited about investing in specific companies, but I also want to preserve family harmony and not give my brother more work to do. What would you suggest is the easiest, most hassle-free way to give specific stocks to minors?”
Robert Brokamp: Well, first of all, aren't you a wonderful uncle for doing that. I'm not sure if you spoke with someone at Fidelity about the custodian issue, but as far as I can tell and I actually called Fidelity to get the answer, the parents don't have to be the custodian so you can open the custodial account for the kids and still serve as the custodian, at least based on my research. That's a good thing. I will point out though, that it could get a little complicated because if the kids do particularly well in these accounts, there will be some tax issues that could affect your brother. Probably not they would have to do very well, but it's something to consider. Also, once you give the money to the kids, it's their money, it's a custodian account, and then they can take it over when they're adults. It will count as their assets if they apply for financial aid for college and any asset that is owned by the kids will have a bigger effect on financial aid eligibility.
There's a couple of consideration. What it's an alternative? Alternative could be that you just open up two brokerage accounts on your own, in your name, you buy the stocks, you tell your niece and nephew, “These are your accounts. I'm going to give you these accounts when you're old enough,” and you decide the age or whatever it is. But then you control it. You can show them the statements, you could ask their help in picking the stocks. Your brother doesn't get involved, it doesn't make things more complicated with him. Then when you feel it's appropriate, you just give them the stocks. It's very easy to do that. Your cost basis generally becomes their cost basis and that way you have much more control over when they get it because it may turn out that one or both of them really aren't ready to get the money once they reach adulthood and it might be better for you to have control over those accounts for a little bit longer. It does mean though, that the investments will show up on your tax return, so just be aware of that.
Alison Southwick: All right. Now, for the more anything questions of the Ask Me Anything, in the spirit of the season, we are going to go with somewhat holiday-related questions. Our first one comes from Steve in New Jersey. “Bro, what's your favorite Christmas movie and why?”
Robert Brokamp: Oh man that's almost impossible. It's like choosing your favorite children. I'm not going to choose, I'm going to say the classics. The old ones of course, It's a Wonderful Life. I'm a huge fan of Holiday Inn, which came out in 1942 and that's where the song White Christmas first appeared. The movie White Christmas didn't show up until 12 years later. As a kid who grew up in the '70s. Love the ranking and bass stuff and all the goofball characters, Heat Miser, Cold Miser, Burgermeister Meisterburger, all of them. Of more modern movies, it's got to be Elf. I'm just a huge elf fan. You, Alison?
Alison Southwick: I'm not really a big holiday movie buff, I can tell you, a hate Love Actually with an absolute fiery passion for lots of reasons.
Robert Brokamp: I don't hate it with a passion but I don't understand the people who love it.
Alison Southwick: I don't know, I don't even understand the people who wrote it. They're like, that is some serious narcissist garbage going on there. Narcissism, misogyny, it's just all in Love Actually, all the worst. But I do movie Scrooge, which is also pretty awful because it came out in the '80s but Bill Murray is just so funny in that movie. I would have to say my favorite is probably Scrooge, and just try to just roll your eyes at the parts that are so '80s and cringe-worthy these days. Rick. But I also want to hear, what's your favorite Christmas movie or holiday movie?
Rick Engdahl: Alison, I will double down on Scrooge. I think that's a really good choice. Carol Kane, especially is excellent in that movie. Bobcat Goldthwait.
Alison Southwick: I know. Right?
Rick Engdahl: Yeah. But these days everybody loves Christmas movies the aren't Christmas movies. Die Hard, of course, is the classic. Is it a Christmas movie is it? I don't have an answer to that, but if people want to watch a Christmas movie, that's not really a Christmas movie that takes place during Christmas than screw Die Hard. I say watch The Lion in Winter with Katharine Hepburn and Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton and all kinds of people in that movie. It's all about Henry II and his incredibly dysfunctional family. Katharine Hepburn in the tower and the let her out for Christmas and then everybody fights with each other and it's all knives. It's really great movie. Takes place during Christmas other than that has nothing to do with Christmas, but better than Die Hard. There you go.
Alison Southwick: Wow, deep cut. Okay. [laughs] The next question, we're going to stay on the holiday theme. Jeanette and Andy who've been listening since Day 1, want to know what is the best dessert?
Robert Brokamp: Well, I got to go with grasshopper pie, which has an Oreo pie crust with this Minty marshmallow mousse filling. Absolutely love it.
Alison Southwick: Rick, how about you?
Rick Engdahl: I'm not big dessert person. I tend to like things that are really rich dark chocolate things but only a very small portion. Chocolate raspberry combination is good. I like pie better than cake. I don't have a good answer for you.
Alison Southwick: My answer is going to be a pavlova. Everybody had a pavlova?
Robert Brokamp: I have never have.
Alison Southwick: Meringue with like a passion fruit curd and with cream and berries and it's chewy and crunchy and sweet and sour. I could go for a pavlova right about now. Rick, before we go here, do you have a lesson from seven years of doing this podcast?
Rick Engdahl: Yeah, I've learned a lot of things. Some of them financial, like sweat the big stuff, and automate everything. Some of them like life stuff like if you don't want to deal with finance that you have to then just get a job where you get to hang out with really smart and kind people who know about the stuff. It will just fall into place it's great. But most importantly, the thing I learned is that Bro and Alison and half speed sound drawn. [laughs]
Alison Southwick: This is Motley Fool Answers. I'm Alison Southwick and I'm joined as always, by Robert Brokamp, personal finance expert here at The Motley Fool and Advisor in The Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement Newsletter, get some.
Robert Brokamp: Absolutely. [laughs] Bye, everybody. Of course, is that I've never been drunk so if you want to hear it, that's the only way to hear it.
Alison Southwick: Thank you to everyone who wrote in with your questions, and also those of you who wrote it and reminisced on your favorite moments such as Bro and Alison at half speed or at the time I accused New Hampshire of drinking like 500 gallons of whiskey a year. Thank you for enjoying the different episodes and series that we did. Thank you everyone for sending your kind words. Also, many thanks to all of our faithful listeners out there like PT and John from Queens and Calvin Rich Bob, Joseph and so many more of you out there who have stuck around with us for all these years. Bro, do you have parting words?
Robert Brokamp: Just a lot of gratitude. Rick just talked about how being here at The Motley Fool's being surrounded by kind and smart people, which is true. I remember when I joined the Fool 1999, I will just marveled to be a part of a group of people of really super bright but super good, hearted people. But I really feel that the Fool is that way and it reflects our audience. I feel so fortunate to have been able to read hundreds of maybe actually thousands at this point of emails from you all where you tell us your life story, share your finances, and you're basically trusting us to give you a good answer. If there's one thing I feel bad about it is that I was not able to answer everyone's questions or respond to everyone's Christmas traditions or everyone's nice comments. I just feel very fortunate and we wouldn't have this great job in this great company if it weren't for all of you who tuned into listen or read our articles or subscribed to our services. Truly, thank you so much, and the good news is it's not over. We will continue just in a different form at Motley Fool Money starting in January.
Alison Southwick: One last time. That's the show it's edited finally, by Rick Engdahl. Don't forget to subscribe to Motley Fool Money because you'll find us there every Tuesday starting in January. Our email will continue to be email@example.com. For Robert Brokamp, I'm Alison Southwick. Stay Foolish, everybody.
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