Living with credit, Protecting yourself

I lost my wallet, panicked – and figured out what to do next

Erica Sandberg

As I do every year, my daughter Lili and I attended the San Francisco Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.” This time my friend joined, and my mood was perfect; buoyant. Until …

Well, it started at intermission. I gave Lili my wallet to buy snacks. Soon the bells softly rang, indicating it was time to return for the second act. In a rush, she slid in with a bag of cookies in one hand. My wallet was in the other, and I watched as she placed it on her lap.

“I’d better put that in my handbag now,” I thought, so I reached over, took my wallet, and dropped it safely in my handbag.

Yet during the ride home, my handbag felt oddly light. I dug deep. Lipstick, hairbrush, keys. That was all. I felt for the familiar smooth leather, the heaviness of too many coins.

It took a long minute before I was absolutely certain that my wallet was absolutely not in my handbag. Still, I groped around the seat, hoping it slipped out. Lili and my friend were oblivious, happily chatting away, and I interrupted them with a scream: “My wallet is gone! I need to go back!”

The rest of the night was spent outside the lost and found of the deserted venue. Security staff kindly scoured around the seats, while I sat there, alone, mentally reviewing the contents. Driver’s license. Debit card. Two credit cards for sure. What else?

The more I thought about it, the less I could picture what was in my wallet. It was late and my emotions were growing dark and strange:

  • Self loathing: How could I have lost my wallet? I am a careless idiot.
  • Denial: It must be here. It’s just got to be. There is no way it’s not.
  • Sadness at humanity: Someone must have picked it up. What terrible person would steal, especially right before Christmas? How low.
  • Fear: Were crooks already using or duplicating my cards? Stealing my identity and opening new accounts? I need to stop them.
  • Panic: OK, so if it’s gone, what am I going to do next? I have gifts to purchase, groceries to buy. How quickly can I recoup? How much time will it take to make the necessary calls to cancel and have new cards sent to me? I’ve got work to do, deadlines to meet, how am I going to do all this?
  • Shame: Me! The person who gives advice on sound money and credit management has made a rookie mistake, and now I have to admit to doing something stupid.

And finally and most pronounced: the sense of something vital being severed from my being. It’s just a wallet, and everything in it is replaceable.

Identification and bank and credit cards are part of a person, though. They are the keys to who you are and what you can do. Suddenly without my wallet and its contents, I felt disconnected and depressed. I was lost.

I’m not alone in this. When I admitted everything on social media, friends who’ve had their wallets lost or stolen responded with similar feelings, including that peculiar sense of amputation.

Odds are you’ll be parted from your wallet one day. However it happens, when you discover the loss, you’ll go through many of the same emotions I experienced.

These feelings are totally normal, and you’ll soon realize what’s important. You will determine what can be replaced and what can’t, and just how much in life you can really control.

You will need to alert your financial institutions so a crook can’t use your cards. If you’re too late, you’ll have to deal with fraud by contacting credit reporting agencies, banks and the police. (See my story: Why you should file a police report for card fraud.)

Making these calls is a time-consuming pain in the neck.

If you have a payment app on your phone, you can still buy things, but if you don’t have a mobile wallet and you need food or gas, what will you do? I’ll tell you.

You’ll go to your local bank branch and withdraw good old-fashioned cash. Ask for a temporary debit card, but know that you won’t be able to use it everywhere. (I was turned away at the Adidas store, since the retailer doesn’t accept cards that aren’t imprinted with a name.)

As for me, I realized that my psychological attachment to a thing and all that was in it was exaggerated. I vowed to carry less, and only what’s necessary.

Then I found a battered old wallet and put the money from my bank in that, along with an expired ID and a few business cards. It made me feel a bit more normal, like a real adult with all appendages intact. Silly, but true.

Erica Sandberg lost her wallet at "The Nutcracker," but it was returned in the mail with this note.

Erica Sandberg lost her wallet at “The Nutcracker,” but it was returned in the mail with this note.

Oh, and a week later a package arrived in the mail. It contained my wallet and a note.

“Hi. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas. We found your wallet at “The Nutcracker,” but we could not find Lost and Found to return it.

Sorry, but we took your seven dollars to pay for shipping.

Have a great Holly Days.”

My faith in humanity was restored, and with my wallet back I feel whole again.

See related: What to do if you lost your wallet checklist, Lost your credit card? Your credit report can help, Found your lost purse? Don’t use those canceled cards

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