You reach into your pocket to grab your wallet. You feel around. Your stomach drops. It's not there!
Hopefully you will never have to go through this scenario that millions of people have had to deal with. Only one in five lost wallets makes it way back to its owner, so it is very important to be prepared for the worst case scenario if your wallet goes missing.
I never carry more than about $40 in my wallet at any given time. Nonetheless, it totally sucks to lose cash, because you will most likely never get it back. You just have to deal with the realities on this one. If you are part of the 20% who do get your wallet back, there are good chances that the cash will already be gone.
Credit Cards and Debit Cards
To prepare for a lost wallet, I suggest one of a few ways to keep track of everything. The important numbers to have quickly are the card number, expiration date, 3-4 digit security code, and customer service phone number.
- Make a photocopy of every card, front and back. Keep the copy in a safe place at home.
- Take digital photos of the front and back of each card. Store the photos in a Dropbox for easy access.
- Make a spreadsheet using Google Docs with the needed information for easy access anywhere.
As soon as you know your wallet is really gone, call the credit card companies right away to shut down the cards. Your bank will mail you a replacement right away. In an emergency, you can get one overnight or, in some emergency situations, the same day. You are not liable for fraud on your account, but you may be liable for charges made if you know the card is missing but you don't report it.
For debit cards, getting the card shut down is even more urgent. With a credit card, you can get the charges cleared within the next month and you don't have to pay anything out of pocket. With a debit card, someone may be able to take money right from your checking account. It could take months to get the funds credited back to your account.
The card that is the most inconvenient to lose is an ID. To get a replacement driver's license, you will likely have to bring other forms of accessible identification (like a passport and birth certificate) to the DMV during their business hours to get a new one. While you are waiting, it is a good idea to carry a passport for photo ID.
Insurance cards and cards from companies like AAA should be easy to replace. You can often print a temporary health insurance card on their website. Both would happily mail you a new card if you call to let them know yours is lost.
I've already said that I don't think you should carry customer loyalty cards in your wallet. You can keep those in your car or on your phone. If you lose those, you are out of luck, but it's not a huge loss. You just have to start over your ten sandwich journey for your next free one.
Only Carry What You Need
To make the process much easier for you, only carry what you need. I love having a minimalist wallet. It is a great, simple lifehack to save you a little clutter every day.
Originally published December 1, 2008. Updated June 28, 2013. Image by 401(K) 2013 / flickr
14 thoughts on “Be Prepared to Lose Your Wallet”
I’v lost my wallet once at a gas station and I was lucky enough to go back and find my wallet waiting for me on the counter. It was only $2 short; guess that was the finders fee. I’m just happy I got it back!
That’s not a bad cost for getting your wallet back. I pretty much consider the cash written off, and would be happy to get it back with my ID and credit cards all there.
I had my wallet stolen once! The worst part was replacing the various ID cards (inc. driver’s license). Cancelling or report lost credit cards are relatively simple compared to what you have to go through to replace your ID cards.
I hear you. The banks have an interest in helping you shut down and replace a card quickly and easily, but the DMV is just a nightmare.
This is so true. Great post Eric. I learned my lesson the hard way. I did a wallet detox about a month ago when I lost my wallet and all I carry now is three cards and I try not to carry any cash with me. You’ll be surprise to see what kind of unnecessary junk you carry with you everywhere.
It is always tough learning lessons the hard way, but it sounds like you are much happier with your current wallet situation. I often don’t have a dollar in cash, but I try to keep $20-$40 just in case.
This is fantastic advice! I have that sinking feeling every time I reach for the back pocket and it is not there.
How many times has that happened? Sounds like more than once?
I took a trip to Europe a couple of years ago and put everything into a front pocket wallet to help guard against pickpockets. I never changed back, I always feel safer now.
I de-cluttered my wallet right after college. I started to use one of the smaller front pocket wallets. They force me to only carry a few choice items.
That’s what I do. I have a small front pocket wallet I got just before a trip to Europe to protect against pickpockets.
I have lost mine more times than I can count and now generally carry money in one place and cards in another if I travel, or at least one card somewhere else. Losing cash is the least annoying, having to replace license and cards is a real pain.
Oh no! That’s gotta be tough. Have you ever changed how you carry your wallet to avoid losing it again in the future?
I currently keep my social security card in my wallet. This article has made me rethink that idea 🙂
Great tips, it would probably take me quite some time to cancel everything since I don’t have a list. I’ll have to get started with that.
People need their social security cards so rarely that I suggest people keep them locked away somewhere safe at home, or, if you live right near the bank, in a safe deposit box. That number is important to safeguard, and keeping it with you when it isn’t needed just opens you up to identity theft.
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