Published April 16, 2013
I had had only two drinks (OK, maybe three) when an old college friend and I climbed in a cab to our next destination. I paid the fare, put my credit card back in my wallet and then, apparently, totally missed my purse and flung my wallet straight onto the floor of the cab.
I discovered my mistake less than two minutes later as I stared down a steaming slice of pizza, eagerly digging into my purse … and came up with nothing but a tube of lipstick. By that time the cab was gone forever, and so was my wallet. My first reaction was deep disappointment. No pizza for me. My second reaction was low-level panic. What comes next?
It’s rare, but sometimes people do manage to get their wallets, laptops, and a priceless Stradivarius cello back from taxis. This is not one of those stories. I called, they checked, it never turned up. This is a story about how ill-prepared I was for this to happen.
No matter how careful (or even sober) you are, lost and stolen wallets happen. Strangely, I can’t find any statistics on how many people have lost a wallet or had it stolen. But according to the U.S. Department of Justice, 20% of people who have had their identity stolen believed the information came from a wayward wallet or checkbook.
I did do a couple of things right: I didn’t have my Social Security card or checkbook with me. But I could have done much better. Please. Save yourself the money, time and frustration, and equip yourself for the inevitable with these life lessons I learned.
1. Don’t lose your wallet late at night, on a weekend. Did you know that large corporate websites are often updated in the middle of the night on a weekend? I found that out when I was repeatedly blocked from logging into my credit card account from my phone. “I only had three drinks! I KNOW MY PASSWORD,” I told my friend as she watched my rising panic with bemusement.
When I called a representative to ask for help, she told me she couldn’t access my account until the morning. I imagined someone finding my wallet and moseying over to the 24-hour Apple store to pick out a shiny new Macbook before I could get my card shut down. (My credit card company would probably not hold me liable, but I’m looking out for their bottom line, you know?)
Another downside of losing your wallet on a Saturday night? Because the lovely folks at the bank are in bed (as they should be), and then are off the next day, I couldn’t walk into my bank branch and beg them for money from my account.
When I did reach someone the next morning to request a new credit and debit card, I was told it would be two to three business days, and Sunday wouldn’t count. That was with the cards being expedited, which cost me $15 each.
2. Don’t bring your whole wallet with you if you won’t be totally sober. On a scale of one to wasted, I was probably only a four. But it was enough for me to do something dumb. And what do you know? I did the same thing with my keys a few weeks ago. I am a slow learner.
This cost me hours of frustration, $15 in cash, and another $20—the cost of duplicating my fancy-pants apartment key when I did it a second time.
Now, when I go out, I just take out sundry things essential to being out for for five hours at night, and put them in the zippered pocket of my purse. Which, by the way, is a cross-body-strap purse that doesn’t leave my side.
3. Do include some means for people to reach you if they find your wallet. Maybe someone did find my wallet. And then she realized she couldn’t contact me, and kept it for herself. I had no email address inside. If she had looked me up on Facebook, her message would have ended up in the “other” folder, which I never look at. (Fun task: Check out your “other” folder on Facebook.) Of course, that’s assuming that the good samaritan who found your wallet is going to go to the heroic means of hunting you down on social media. Just stuff a business card in instead.
4. Do keep another credit card and cash at home. I was, for all intents and purposes, penniless when I woke up on Sunday. Well, that’s not true: I had some pennies in the catch-all mason jar by the front door. But I had no credit cards, no debit card and no cash.
My roommate graciously lent me 60 bucks. But if I had been living by myself, I would have had to call up all my friends to see who could lend me money—and also meet me near my apartment because I had no means to do anything but walk.
A better plan? If you have two credit cards, keep one at home. I now have a second credit card that I use for recurring payments like my charitable donations, which I pay off at the end of each month. My mother always told me to also keep emergency cash in the car. I don’t have a car, so now I keep $20 in … well, I’m not telling you where, but it’s somewhere in my apartment.
5. Don’t keep gift cards in your wallet.
I don’t usually do this, but I made a trip to IKEA the day before to return a chair, and they gave me store credit, but it turns out I could have just thrown the chair in the dumpster and saved myself the trip.
That’s $30 I could have used for some new, low-quality kitchen utensils. Instead, take your gift cards out and put them by the front door for when you know you’ll be shopping. Or be even lazier, and use them online.
6. Do memorize your credit card number.
More advice from my mother I didn’t heed: That lovely lady from the credit card company who said she couldn’t help me until the morning? She could have, if I had been able to give her my credit card number.
Don’t be like me: Memorize your credit card number.
7. Don’t keep your out-of-state driver’s license. I moved to New York from Maryland four years ago. I don’t intend to go back. (Sorry, Annapolis. It’s not personal. I’ve found someone more fun.) I was too lazy to get a new license, even though I knew it was set to expire in a month.
I tried to fix the problem when I was already in Maryland for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but the DMV shut down before and after both holidays. So for three months I carried around my passport, which is also a really bad idea.
Because the DMV requires you to physically surrender your old license, once I lost mine, things got very complicated. I’m no expert on licensing rules, but what it came down to was my booking a round trip train ticket to Maryland so I could go to that godforsaken land of the DMV, lie, and say I still live with my parents to get my license renewed. I think I might have also committed voter fraud in the process by re-registering to vote in Maryland.
At some point soon, I really should buck up and go into the New York DMV and get another license. I really, really, really should. Especially since the train ticket set me back yet another $120 I didn’t have.
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