Adventure, Camino de Santiago, Money, Obsession, Travel

What Does Your Wallet Say About You?

What's in your wallet, and what does it reveal?

What’s in your wallet, and why?

Around ten years ago, at a networking event for life coaches and those curious about the field, the facilitator asked us to exchange wallets with a partner.  Then he instructed us to, after a brief inspection, share our intuitions and insights about each other. Whether the wallet was the finest grosgrain leather, a synthetic knockoff stuffed to the gills, or a paper-clipped wad of crumpled bills, it had a story to tell.

I attended out of curiosity and was shocked to be asked to hand my wallet to a stranger.  Would she open it up or just look at it?  As I recall, she asked me permission to peek inside and I said I preferred that she didn’t.  There was nothing odd or salacious lurking within but, at the time, having someone examine my billfold felt more intrusive than going through my medicine cabinet or dirty laundry.  Still, after simply holding it in the palm of her hand, she had this to say:

“You carry too much responsibility.”

The packed wallet held separate bank cards for my art business, a personal account, and a joint real estate investment, plus a few credit cards (each with its own rewards), frequent flyer cards and other pieces of plastic that either asserted I was a member somewhere, entitled to a discount somewhere else, or a combination of the two.  While I didn’t have cards in every color of the rainbow, they formed a dense stack more than an inch thick.

Did I really need all of them?

Over time, I trimmed the collection, either by closing accounts, terminating memberships or using up air miles.  When I moved to Colorado, I replaced my supermarket, AAA, health insurance, driver’s license and library cards, so the quantity held constant.  And then the pile started to grow again.  A few times, I was offered enough of an inducement to open department store accounts, which I might have used only twice more.  I joined the Botanic Gardens and Denver Parks and Recreation; each offered savings based on repeat visits.  IKEA opened, I bought a few things and acquired their bright orange card.

On the Camino de Santiago, I carried just three plastic rectangles: an ATM and two credit cards, in case one of them didn’t work.  Mainly, I paid cash. Choices were few and, with the exception of by-donation hostels, prices fixed.  No one offered lures for loyalty or suggested I round up my purchase to donate to charity.  Since I couldn’t buy more than I could carry, quantity discounts at Spanish markets and bakeries didn’t influence my purchases.  That these transactions were straightforward was refreshing and freeing.  Upon returning, I was struck by the density of my regular wallet. It took more than a week before I grudgingly started to carry it and my purse again. They felt like dead weight.  Still, old habits die hard. Back in Denver, on a spontaneous and fruitful expedition to Goodwill, the employee offered me an instant discount to join “Club Blue”.  Instinctively, I accepted, and stuck that card in my wallet.  Ditto for a group of local restaurants that serve Middle Eastern food; why not get rewarded for eating there, which I did anyway?

The other day, as I struggled to locate and extract the correct rewards card at a nearby supermarket, I wondered if the supposed “savings” was worth the hassle since I don’t particularly enjoy shopping there.  Were the promises of money to be saved or points earned driving my choices as to where and even what to purchase, rather than my needs or desires?  Was I a consumer marionette, allowing someone else to yank my purse strings and dictate my movements?  It occurred to me that some of the more pleasant places to buy groceries (or clothing) don’t offer such cards…they don’t have to.

I have nothing against being prudent, or taking advantage of promotions and coupons on favorite items.  It’s a matter of degree.  It’s one thing to delight in an unexpected windfall, and another to obsessively hunt for deals or beat oneself up for missing a sale or not squeezing the most out of a dollar or awards points.  There are people for whom never paying full price is part of their identity and a source of pride.  For others, shopping is a competitive sport; they even talk about “scoring” a deal.  I’ve certainly done my share of bragging about how little I’ve paid for things, and I’ve also dedicated hours in hot pursuit of the lowest price possible, hours that might have been more profitably spent choosing better investments or kicking back with a book.

Recently, I spread out my deck of cards to see what I could eliminate.  Each piece of plastic, like a condemned inmate, tried to justify its survival and avoid demise by shredder.  Some ATM cards are getting a stay of execution until I finish consolidating sundry accounts, a task I had been avoiding.  Others, like a Safeway card I’ve used only twice, will soon meet its end, as will the department store cards.  It’s possible I’ll forgo a perk or two, but I’d rather travel more lightly and with fewer puppet strings.  Keeping things simple is, as the credit card companies like to say, priceless.

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About ilona fried

Writer, Feldenkrais champion, Aikidoka and explorer of internal and external landscapes.

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