May 2021 Early Retirement Update

It was another busy month here in the Root of Good household. We have been busy with final preparations for our seven week road trip across the USA. I think we are ready to go. Two of our kids are completely done with school for the year. Our third kid will be logging into class from the road for a few days (if the cell signal holds up!)

This May brought us the best North Carolina weather I can remember in a long time. Very mild days, with some chilly temps mixed in. We got to enjoy the outdoors in comfort! The humidity just showed up in the past couple of days, so that’s a sign it’s time for us to head out of town for the summer. 

Before we hit the road, here is a look at our finances over the past month. Net worth continued its upward climb with a $46,000 increase in May. Our net worth ended the month at $2,713,000. Income during the month totaled $2,290, which was slightly lower than our $2,418 spending during the month. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

Income

Investment income totaled $85 in May. Our equity index funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December. As a result, we had a relatively modest month of investment income last month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income totaled $1,056 for the month which was lower than my average blog income. Lower income is the price of posting less frequently I guess. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) dropped to $297 for May after a record breaking $2,000+ month in April. This slower pace is fine with me since we were pretty busy in May and we will be even busier in June and July! 

Tradeline sales income was $475 in May. I ramped up my tradeline sales last year and discussed it in a bit more detail in my October 2020 monthly post

The “deposit income” totaled $109 in May. I received $67 from the Ibotta app (accumulated over the past several months). I also received $31 from a Google Pay promotion. 

The other $11 in “deposit income” came from cash back and incentive bonuses from the Rakuten.com and Mrrebates.com online shopping portals (some of which was earned from you readers signing up through these links). 

If you sign up for Rakuten through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Rakuten, you’ll get a $10 sign up bonus

I managed to sell another old video game on Ebay and net $22. I bought this game used for $15 back in 1999, played it a ton, then managed to flip it for a small profit 22 years later. 

My Youtube earnings totaled $244 last month. Here is the channel for the curious. It’s random travel videos, birds, kids, and a couple of DIY videos. Somehow through the magic of the internet hundreds of thousands of people watch the vids and we get paid for it. 

 

 

If you’re interested in tracking your income and expenses like I do, then check out Personal Capital (it’s free!). All of our savings and spending accounts (including checking, money market, and five credit cards) are all linked and updated in real time through Personal Capital. We have accounts all over the place, and Personal Capital makes it really easy to check on everything at one time.

Personal Capital is also a solid tool for investment management. Keeping track of our entire investment portfolio takes two clicks. If you haven’t signed up for the free Personal Capital service, check it out today (review here).

Tracking spending was one of the critical steps I took that allowed me to retire at 33. And it’s now easier than ever with Personal Capital.

 

Two aspiring chefs making their own lunch

 

 

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at May expenses:


 

In total, we spent $2,418 during May which is about $900 less than our regularly budgeted $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Insurance and clothing/shoes topped the spending categories in May.

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

 

Insurance – $955:

Our annual home insurance premium was $671 and our six month auto policy premium was $259. We also pay $25 per year for membership in Farm Bureau which lets us get these cheap insurance rates. 

 

Clothing/Shoes – $479:

Inflation? Tariffs on overseas goods? Or deferred clothes-buying because we weren’t going anywhere the past 16 months? Who knows. We went on a shopping spree for “summer trip” and “back to school” clothes. And picked up a couple pairs of shoes too. 

 

Groceries – $436:

Grocery expenses of $436 are a little lower than our $500-600 average grocery spend. We had to buy some supplies for our trip but have otherwise been cleaning out the fridge and freezer so we can leave them mostly empty while we’re gone this summer. 

 

Homemade empanadas. Pizza, shredded chicken, and egg roll fillings.

 

Al fresco dining – better than at the restaurant!

 

Mi goreng noodles, bok choy, steak, plus mixed tofu/vegetable/steak stir fry

 

Our homemade pho. Better than what we got at the street food stall in Saigon.

 

General Merchandise – $301:

We bought a new queen size mattress for our daughter for $285. It’s working well so far! She calls it a “tofu mattress” because it is big and soft. 

 

Unrolling the mattress in a box

 

The other $16 in general merchandise spending was bird food. 

 

Utilities – $198:

We paid $93 for the water/sewer/trash bill. Our electricity bill was $70 for the month. The natural gas bill, which covers our heating and hot water, was $36 in May (although we didn’t use the heat much at all).

 

Making music on the outdoor instruments at the elementary school.

 

 

Restaurants – $44:

The biggest part of restaurant spending was a $50 Domino’s Pizza gift card that cost $42.50. We’ll probably get pizza several times during our summer road trip and this will cover that cost. 

I also spent another $1.50 on a few orders from local places using coupons that resulted in our food order being mostly free. 

 

Healthcare/Medical/Dental – $5:

Initially, our 2021 healthcare premiums were $135 per month thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we received due to our low ~$45,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. The benefit of being “poor” on our tax return. 

But wait, it gets better! The “American Rescue Plan” passed in March 2021 makes the Affordable Care Act premiums even cheaper. Households with modified adjusted gross incomes (MAGI) below 150% of the federal poverty level get some silver-level health insurance plans completely free. We opted for a slightly more expensive silver plan that comes with $1,000 in cash back incentive rewards. Our total cost is just over $1 per month now! 

We prepaid the health insurance for the entire summer which totaled $5. 

 

Travel – $2:

Our summer trip was pretty much already booked during April, with a lot of hotel reservations set up as “pay when you check in”. 

We also booked 18 nights in hotels for free using 243,500 hotel points spread across the Choice Privileges, Marriott, and Hilton loyalty programs. 

If you want to get in on the travel hacking points and miles game, and you have a small business you can get $750+ in cash back bonus or travel with a new Chase Ink business card. No business? You can still get a Chase Freedom personal card with $200 in cash back when you spend $500

The $2 in travel spending for the month of May came from booking a timed entry ticket to the Bear Lake hiking trail and the Rocky Mountain National Park. This year, they have capacity limits to control severe overcrowding. I feel like $2 is a very fair price to pay to eliminate the hordes of tourists that pack into some of these parks. Assuming I’m always able to get the time slots I want! 

 

Cable/Satellite – $0:

We generally pay $18 per month for a local reduced rate package due to having a lower income and having kids. 30 mbit/s download, 4 mbit/s upload. Right now the cost of the internet service is temporarily reduced to $0 due to the “Emergency Broadband Benefit”. 

 

Gas – $0:

No gas for another month! We did fill up in early June so that we can leave for our road trip with a full tank. And we will be spending quite a bit more on gas in June and July to cover the 7,000+ mile journey to the west coast and back. 

 

Lots of wildlife sightings in May. Deer on the lake.

 

So many rabbits running around the yard.

 

A woodpecker on the bird feeder.

 

It’s springtime so of course we have a family of goslings living in our back yard!

 

 

Total Spending for 2021 – Year to Date

 

Our spending totaled $9,877 for the first five months of the year. This is almost $7,000 less than the $16,667 we budgeted for five months of spending in our $40,000 annual early retirement budget.

We are on track to finish the year well under our $40,000 year budget. However we’ll have a good bit of spending coming up. In June and July, we’ll have a lot of dining out expenses, gas, and over $1,000 in lodging expenses for our summer road trip. 

In the intermediate term over the next 6 to 24 months, we’ll have to buy a second car and start paying for college. It’s looking like college bills won’t be so bad due to a combo of financial aid and kids doing AP classes, college transfer classes, and community college for a year before university. Some more thoughts on college spending here

 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2021:

 

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

 

So this happened. They are building a new sewer line along the lake through our neighbors’ yards. And they had to demolish the neighbor’s shed in the process!

 

 

Net Worth: $2,713,000 (+$46,000)

This stock market is pretty crazy. Does it only go up? Thanks to generous market gains, we added another $46,000 to our net worth, bringing the total to $2,713,000. 

We are up more than a million dollars from the March 2020 lows. I don’t think anyone thought we would see this strong of a recovery this fast. It’s just another reminder that the market is smarter than you and timing the market is incredibly hard. 

 

 

 

Life update

What can I say? Life is good! The stock market is on fire, we had a great month financially (and otherwise), and we’re about to set out on yet another “trip of a lifetime” after a 2020 travel hiatus. 

It feels like life is getting back to normal. At the end of May I attended CampFI Midatlantic in Virginia (about 2.5 hours north of Raleigh). Pretty much everyone was fully vaccinated, so nobody wore masks and it really felt “normal” and safe. Modern science, medicine, and technology is pretty great if you ask me! 

 

Talking Affordable Care Act subsidies with 35 new friends (and a few old friends)

 

I’m hoping this feeling of normality extends to our summer trip across 20+ states. All the stats and policies I’ve seen look pretty decent so far. I took a quick poll of the breakfast options at the four Marriott-branded hotels we’re staying at on the first leg of the trip out to Colorado. Three of the four hotels have returned to serving hot breakfasts!

And I’ve heard Costco and Sam’s Club are back to serving free samples (or will be very very soon).

Feels like normal is back, right?

Let’s hope so.

I think we are all ready to get back to normal as much as possible. For us, that means taking a long summer trip somewhere interesting. In the fall it means all the kids go back to school in person. Us parents get our 8:30 am to 2:30 pm daily quiet time back. It means more time to hang out with family and friends. And going out more without restrictions. 

Normal is good. We’ll never take normal for granted again.

 

Sunset in the back yard

 

And with that, I wish a safe and happy summer to you all. See you in a month when we’ll be thousands of miles away from home somewhere on the west coast! 

 

How are your summer plans shaping up?

 

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52 comments

  1. Nice!
    Just a tip. On some national parks now they are only letting you in if you have a reservation. This is completely absurd. I wasted my trip to Yosemite and Muir. Flew to SFCO and drove all the way there inly to find out I couldn’t get in.
    Just don’t make the same mistake I made of wasting 80k UR points for nothing!!

    Enjoy the Summer

    1. Ouch. Yes – great advice! We have some good dumb luck and my phone happened to show me an article on this issue literally the day the Yosemite ticket reservations opened up for us, so fortunately I booked the exact time slot we needed. It’s great news for us since the park will be capacity limited. But absolutely horrible for folks like you that missed out. I definitely wouldn’t have checked this ahead of time to be able to buy tickets!! Just random luck that Google algorithms knew I was interested in Yosemite and other national parks. πŸ™‚ Very glad they were spying on me in this case!

    2. Looking good! You have to spend quality time with family when you can. The years go by so fast.

      I actually booked a trip and was able to use 3800 points to upgrade my seats. They website let me do this after I booked a cheaper seat and then gave me the option to upgrade for cheaper too!

      Have a good summer.

  2. Good luck on your summer road trip! We are taking a short trip next weekend and then visiting the beach in about a month. We may sneak in a domestic flight somewhere in the August timeframe but TBD. Glad things are getting back to normal!

  3. $46K for the month is really nice, given that the S&P stayed flat for the month – thanks for sharing your networth status every month. It’s inspiring, and good to have a benchmark to emulate.

    I’m always on a lookout of different food. Are Mi goreng noodles like nongshim? Good to eat once in a while, but not as a staple?

    1. I didn’t look closely but I have a lot of non-SP500 stuff in the portfolio that probably outperformed. Emerging markets, small cap, value etc.

      As far as mi goreng, yes, it is instant noodle type stuff like ramen or nongshim. I think you are right that it’s not something you want to eat every day but good occasionally. Probably very high in sodium if that’s a concern. We use it as a side dish with stir fry or meat and veggies.

  4. Sounds like another great month! I’m looking forward to hearing about the road trip this summer!
    I was reading some of your old posts from the early 2010’s over on the early-retirement.org forum as I’m now on a similar stage of life on my FI journey. Its amazing how pessimistic others were of your plans to retire at 35 with 3 kids and you ended up proving them wrong by retiring two years sooner with twice the net worth today. What a difference a decade makes!

    1. Time heals all wounds (and makes all portfolios go up!).

      Yes, I guess I’m an eternal optimist but also view myself as flexible enough to adapt. In hindsight we have WAY more than we need based on current spending but it’s a nice buffer to either absorb stock market losses or provide more spending power later in life.

      1. Funny how some of the things that people worried about back then seem like a blip on the radar today. Such as the Government shutdown, repealing obama care, etc. Heck we even just had a once in a hundred year’s (hopefully) pandemic and most FI people weathered the storm just fine.

  5. Fantastic May! Thanks for the update. Your food photos are always inspirational; I handle dinner 80%+ of the time in our household, but part of my motivation for FIRE is to have more time to make even better meals.
    You mention leaving the fridge and freezer ‘mostly empty’ and that twigged something in the back of my mind: consider leaving jugs of water in the refrigerator and lots of ice (or ice packs) in the freezer. The thermal mass helps maintain temperature so your compressor doesn’t cycle as much as it would trying to keep empty air cool; it’ll cost a bit less in electricity and likely prolong the life of your appliance. And then I realized you’re an engineer and probably already know this stuff. πŸ™‚

    1. Good reminder on the fridge πŸ™‚ We do leave some stuff in the fridge and freezer so there will be that nice thermal mass in there. I was a civil engineer so not thinking the mechanical/thermo stuff through as much!

  6. Hey Justin! Great update for y’all! What a great summer trip! We did 6 weeks and 7,300 miles out west last summer and it was fantastic. You’ll love it!

    When you are thinking college, visit modernstates.org. If you have ever heard of them, they specialize in CLEP testing and it is a-w-e-s-o-m-e! Their schtick? First year of college free. Here’s the deal – they will give you vouchers to take free CLEP exams AND if you pass the exam then they will reimburse the test center fee as well! I’d suggest that as your kids go through high school courses that match the CLEP exam topics, register and take the Modern States tutorial at the end then schedule and take the CLEP exam soon thereafter. My daughter has passed the Pre-Calculus and Biology exams after using them, which earned her 11 semester hours, for free, that directly apply to her nursing degree! If they pass the exam and the college they go to grants credit, then they are done with that class. I just wish we had started them sooner rather than having her take dual enrollment classes.

    We did take a similar path. After homeschooling through high school, our daughter received a full tuition scholarship to community college, which she accepted and has completed the first year. Next spring she will graduate with her associate’s degree in nursing, which makes her eligible to sit for the RN licensing exam. She will only have a year left to complete her BS degree, which she will take fully online, and we have already mapped that out with the university to which she is transferring. Just a little planning and intentionality and college becomes very affordable.

    1. The Modern States/CLEP exam route is exactly what we’re planning on. In fact, the oldest will be taking the Economics lectures through MS this summer then hopefully do the CLEP before back to school in August. Looks like we can get credit at State U for Economics, Sociology, and a few history classes (if the AP exams don’t work out for full credit). Don’t think State U would give credit for the biology, chemistry, physics, etc. But those can all be taken at the community college for direct transfer to State U (where tuition is 1/10th the price of State U).

  7. What a great month. It does seem like the market keeps going up and up… at some point there has to be a correction. However, trying to time the market is a sure fire way to look like a fool, so we just keep investing as always.

    I hope you and your family have a great road trip! A return to some level of normalcy will certainly be nice. Rocky Mountain National park is on our 1-2 year plan list, so look forward to all the pictures. Safe travels.

    1. Rocky Mtn park looks amazing! We weren’t even planning on visiting there initially then after looking at the pics online we decided we had to make it happen πŸ™‚

  8. Enjoy the summer travels. We personally tend to spend the summer months at home or traveling to sites here in TN, leaving the high season to those who work and have kids in school. Costs drop a lot for those of us who are retired and can travel during the offseason, so why not take advantage of it. And yes, the markets have been something for some time now, although traders have had the opportunity to do better than investors. That might change sometime in the not too distant future, but for now I will continue to take what the market will give me in shorter-term trades, and smile all the way to the bank.

    Glad you are going to go to Rocky Mtn National Park. I lived in Boulder for most of the 70s and was an avid winter climber and camper. Did some of the most hellacious weather while there during those cold months and trying to reach the peak at over 14K feet (think 100 mph winds combined with the set temps to reach -60 to -70 below. Without good equipment your face would freeze in short order). Good memories. Don’t worry; you’ll have great weather there during the June-July timeframe, but watch for any storms that might be coming in. Again, best wishes to you and your family on a great adventure.

    1. Off season travel is nice πŸ™‚ We do that just my wife and I. But with kids it’s Christmas, Spring Break, and summertime. Prices haven’t been too bad in general because we’re good at finding deals and price mistakes, such as one cruises. But the national park lodging (even outside the park) was kind of ridiculous this year. I’m cheap so it kills me to pay $100+ for a not-nice place way far away from national parks but it’s 1000% worth it because (a) we have plenty of $ and (b) these parks are amazing.

  9. It might be early due to your travel, but your expenses look very low for the year thus far. It looks like it may even be on pace to be a record. Maybe you have room to front-load that other car to balance the budget. Or maybe the travel ends up bringing back to the yearly average.

    My experience is that life is very much back to normal. I still want vaccines for the younger kids, but we can do a lot outside during summer.

    1. Everything tends to balance itself out. If we end up paying for the car then that will solve our “problem” right there! We’ll also be on the hook for college textbooks and lab fees (though that appears to be a manageable <$300 so far and paid out of 529). And travel will make an impact but it's looking pretty modest 2 days into the trip so far. Free hotels with free breakfast help a lot!

      1. Thank you, Justin. Looking at the breakdown of your expenses and comparing them to ours, I can’t miss a few items. Appreciate, if you could clarify how do you avoid paying for them:

        1. House Property Taxes
        2. Car insurance
        3. Car maintenance
        4. You said your gas bill was $0 for the month. You don’t drive at all for the errands?
        5. ACA does not cover dental/vision and may require co-pay/deductible. Do you account for all that or you get it all for free?
        5. Mobile phone(s) service
        6. Subscriptions for education and entertainment

        Thank you, Jim

  10. Hi Justin!
    I’ve been following you for a while & checked out your YouTube. So many people have such horrible financial habits that ruins their life!
    You have the best!

    Have you thought about a TikTok or YouTube channel dedicated to financial habits?

    It would be so cool & maybe you could write a book and give workshops/classes to help people!

  11. wow. 7 weeks road trip sounds amazing. Revenge Travel season has begun. Don’t forget to pack them rice cooker πŸ™‚

    If you guys happen to visit Seattle area, let me know Justin. it’d be great to meet in person.

    btw, does your monthly net worth figure include the home equity value? is the home paid off – i didn’t see a line item for housing? how do you recommend we factor home value equity in the net worth calculation (should we just park that lumpsum it the back burner – for most that can be a big portion of our wealth)?

    1. Rice cooker is packed! We even borrowed the cute little 4 cup Tiger rice cooker from my wife’s mom so it’s more portable (it’s her mom’s “temple rice cooker” she takes to the buddhist temple!)

      No Seattle on this trip. We had to cut out the northern California and Oregon leg just because we don’t want to have to rush, and so of course Washington didn’t make the cut either πŸ™‚ That’ll be a separate trip in the future!

      I include home equity in my NW number. It’s kind of “dead weight” in one sense – doesn’t contribute to the whole 4% rule amount you’re withdrawing from. But it does play a key role in finances for me. It drops my housing costs to very little (tax+insurance+maintenance is $500/month for us vs $1800 rent)

  12. You should be aware of the effects of inflation, the 15 dollar from 1999 are today 24.04$ worth. Therefore, selling it for 22$ today nets you a lost of 2.04$ πŸ™‚

    1. Oh no!! Well in economic theory terms I received at least $20 of value from playing it back in 1999 so I’m still ahead πŸ™‚

      And even if I’m not ahead, selling something for $22 that I was going to throw out makes me $22 richer (in 2021 dollars) than I would have been!

  13. I don’t think I’ve seen a breakdown of your itinerary, where are you going on the west coast?

    Congrats on another great month! Things are really rockin for you guys, but that’s good because those college fees are going to start rolling in soon! πŸ˜‰

    For now, I’m trying to not get too attached to these big stock market gains. They could all disappear in a whiff of interest rate increases. Poof, and it’s gone!

    1. Driving cross country to Colorado with a few stops along the way. Currently in Kentucky but we’ll be in St Louis tonight. Once we get to Colorado, then we go to Utah, AZ, NV, California, then back through Nevada and Utah to Yellowstone. Then the long drive back home (over the course of six days with some rest stops and to do lists like MT Rushmore, Badlands, Sioux Falls, Air Force Museum in Dayton, etc).

      1. The Air Musem at Hill AirForce Base north of Salt Lake City is absolutely worth visiting if you are into that kind of stuff. Its free(IIRC) and its right off I-15 on the way up to Yellowstone from Nevada. Should budget about 2 hours but it could probably be done at a brisk pace if you are in a hurry. They have an SR-71 Blackbird in there just like the one at The Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Dulles extension of the National Air and Space museum just outside Washington DC (they have a space shuttle though).

    1. London Broil (top round), pan-seared to rare, sliced with $4 kiwi brand made in Thailand knife from Asian store, kept sharp with $1 sharpening stone from dollar tree. The knife is better than any $100+ knife I’ve used but that is personal preference.

      1. I have never pan-seared a London Broil…only broiled or BBQ’d…I think I will try to pan sear it. I will look up your $4 Kiwi brand Thailand knives. Thanks for responding.

  14. Do you believe there’s value in a traditional four-year college education? I mean the standard bachelor’s degree at a public or private institution where students immerse themselves in campus life and activities. Many wealthy people make lifelong connections (spouses, business associates) in college (you did). Do you believe it’s more important to test out of as many classes as possible for the cheapest/fastest route through community college and state school? You can easily afford college so I’m wondering if you don’t like the higher education system itself. Are you honestly taking your daughter’s preferences into account?

    1. Yes, of course there is value. From the educational aspects to the social connections. I’m not clear on what you are suggesting but it is my intent to send my kids to traditional 4 year university (and a very highly rated one at that!) where they can “immerse themselves in campus life and activities”. They will potentially finish the 4 year degree in 2 years (plus a year in community college). Whereas I spent 3 years in university and “immersed myself in campus life and activities” while there. Whether it’s 2 years or 4 years or 6 or 7 like some folks take, it seems there is value either way. I knew my eventual spouse from high school, not college, so the magic there was attending a regular high school. My college buddies are all a year or two ahead of me in terms of age because that is the cohort I was with while passing through the engineering program. And I only spend time with one of those college buddies on a regular basis today, so the value is there but not lifechanging. You tend to make friends and associates wherever you go, right?

  15. Justin,
    Where’s the recipe for that awesome Pho? If you are in Denver, you need to check out the Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican places here.

  16. The dividend income you mentioned… is that actually paid out to you or is it income on paper only? I’m wondering how to get dividends paid out. I have a ton of money in Vanguard funds but am ignorant about what I can do with it. Right now I think dividends are set to “reinvest”. Is it just a matter of getting them to send me checks for that?

    1. If they are set for reinvestment, you will have to contact them to turn off that option. The cash will then build in the account. The type of account will determine how and when you can access that cash.

  17. I just love reading your monthly updates! I’m curious about what your portfolio looks like in terms of which funds you’re invested in etc. Is that something you ever share?

  18. Fantastic share as usual. Can you create a separate post on insurance premium and how you pay less than $100 per annum insurance for a family of 5? This will be helpful for aspiring fire planners like us

  19. Your blog has always stood out to me as one of the most unique in the FIRE community. Your openness about your finances and general down-to-earth nature is one that I don’t think exists a lot in the FIRE movement. Look forward to more of your future posts!

  20. I see you your insurance is for home and auto. Do you have any other insurance such as life insurance, umbrella policy or valuable property insurance (for wedding rings, etc…) I find these expenses adding up for my budget. Sounds like the summer road trip will be amazing!

    1. No life insurance – just SS survivor’s benefits plus a couple million dollars in the bank πŸ™‚

      No umbrella but very high limits on home/auto.

      No valuable property insurance because no valuable property (there are wedding/engagement rings somewhere in the house but they aren’t worth a ton)

    1. I’m selfish – I did it to protect me! But you are welcome for the 2nd order effects of preventing/limiting spread of disease to others πŸ™‚

  21. Sell shares from taxable account if I need cash. Have 10+ years worth of spending $ in there so it’s pretty trivial to access more funds as needed.

  22. Hi Justin,

    Can you please share your homemade pho recipe? We love pho but they are so expensive at the restaurants 😭

    Thank you!

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