Ten Things You Should Never Leave Home Without: #9: What’s In Your Wallet

What is it: A wallet is usually made out of leather, and is designed to fit into pocket or purse.  It serves to carry your money, credit cards, identification and other important documents.  I’m calling this entry “What’s in your wallet” rather than just “wallet” as what’s important here is not the wallet itself, but what is in it.  In order to be Living Prepared™, you need to have three things in your wallet, which you carry with you at all times.

These three things are:

  • Photo ID: Driver’s license or other official government-issued ID card showing your face, name and address.
  • Proof of Insurance: Originals or photocopies of health & auto insurance cards
  • Means of payment: Credit Cards, $100 Cash & ATM/Bank Cards

That’s it.  Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?  The hardest thing for me is to maintain a minimum balance of cash in your wallet.

Utility on a Daily Basis: A wallet is like your keys – it’s pretty essential all the time.  If you find yourself leaving home without it – you usually turn right around to go get it.  It’s just impossible to get through a day without identification, money or credit cards these days.

Personal Report – Is Mark Living Prepared? Usually.  But not as much as I should be.  Putting my wallet in my pocket is a part of getting dressed.  But keeping cash in the wallet is harder.  At the moment, I have no cash in my wallet.  None.  I gave it all up to our babysitter, who we pay on Friday’s and I didn’t get the opportunity to get to the ATM beforehand.  It’s now Monday night, and I have been able to survive through the weekend on credit cards and my wife’s cash on hand.  I’ll stop by the bank tomorrow, I hope.

Keeping a minimum balance of cash in one’s wallet is hard hard hard.  Even if your hide a few 20s somewhere in the wallet – you always know it’s there – so it’s always easy to use rather than stopping at the ATM when your time is tight.  This is something that takes time and patience and dedication to accomplish.  I am still working on it.  And this is something to revisit in a few months.

So, just for kicks – here’s what I found in my wallet today:

  • New York State Driver’s License
  • Credit Cards
  • NYC MTA Metrocard with $$ on it
  • Costco Membership Card
  • 3 Doctor’s appointment cards for appointments since past
  • AAA New York Membership Card
  • Hertz #1 Club Membership Card
  • Bank ATM Cards
  • 2 Starbucks Cards both with $$ on them
  • Expired auto insurance identification card
  • Current auto insurance identification card
  • Health Insurance Card
  • 2 Staples Reward Card (same account)
  • Voter Registration Card
  • 4 local merchant purchase club cards (e.g. grocery stores)
  • 4 wallet sized photos of my kids
  • No cash

Not bad.  Only had to weed out the doctor’s appointment cards, expired auto insurance card and extra Staples Reward card; the rest stayed.  Usually, it is also stuffed with receipts but I recently went through and shredded most of those.  Now I need to get to the bank for some cash.

Criticality after a disaster: If your wallet carrying all of your essential papers and documentation and means of payment, you are Living Prepared for the next disaster.

Identification is essential to have with you at all times and that means a government-issued photo ID – such as a driver’s license.  This serves as proof of identify and your residence address, which you might need in order to gain access to your property after a disaster.  If you drive, you have a driver’s license and it serves this purpose.  If you don’t drive, get a state issued picture ID card that will serve the same purpose.

I don’t recommend carrying your passport with you wherever you go out as you should only need this in a real worst case scenario, and it’s just not healthy mentally to live that way.  The exception to this would be if you live close to the Canadian or Mexican (or other international) border where evacuation across the border might be more foreseeable.

Proof of insurance for yourself (health) and your vehicle (auto) is something you do not want to be caught without.  Keep any medical (health/dental/vision) insurance cards in your wallet (with two-sided color photocopies in your go-bag and household emergency kit).  Also carry copies of any insurance information for your children if the information differs from your own.

I also recommend not leaving your auto insurance cards in your vehicle only – make a copy if necessary and keep one in the glove box of your vehicle and put one in your wallet.  Your auto insurance insures not only your car but you, and if you find yourself driving someone else’s car, you will want to have your proof of insurance with you in case you are in an accident.

Means of Payment: Credit cards can be used to purchase most anything these days.  Even for small purchases at fast food restaurants and grocery stores.  I recommend, if you can both a Mastercard or Visa and an American Express card – all three if possible.  All have no annual fee versions for those who qualify.  You will find that there are places that don’t take American Express (not just the Olympics) and others that only take American Express.   I think there are even a few that only take the DiscoverCard – but not as many.  But you will find that network outages do occur – especially following disasters, and it may not be possible for a merchant to accept a certain card.  So you are best off with three or four different ones – and all issued by different banks.  (It doesn’t do you any good to have a Chase Mastercard and a Chase Visa if Chase’s network is down – neither will be useable). So diversify.

Of course, you will likely find that after a disaster that cash is most useful.  It requires no electricity or telecommunications or computer networks to use.  That is why I strongly recommend an ample supply of cash being available to you at all times.  I store cash in waterproof pouches in a couple of different locations (go-bag, household emergency supplies, in fireproof safe) where I can get to it in an emergency.  But you never want to be caught out of your house and out of cash.  This is why I recommend keeping a minimum balance of $100 in your wallet.  This is a good amount – enough to get you out of a jam, buy supplies, take a taxi a long-way across or out of town, maybe get you on a bus or feed you and your family for a few days.

Finally, ATM/Bank Cards will help you get more cash when they are working and you can get to them, but you should not count on ATMs working in the immediate aftermath of a disaster due to likely failures in power and telecommunications.

You might also consider carrying a blank check in your wallet, which is another means by which a merchant can extend you credit if they trust that you can cover it; but after a disaster, I wouldn’t expect to find a personal check to be universally accepted.

So unless you want to start sewing gold coins into the linings of your clothes, which I don’t recommend, a combination of different credit cards issued by different banks, a minimum balance of cash, and ATM/Bank cards will give you pretty redundant and diversified means of payment in your wallet.  And that’s what you are looking for.


The Living Prepared Scorecard:  What’s in your Wallet

  • Easily Carried: YES
  • Not too heavy: YES
  • Practical Purpose on a Daily basis: YES
  • Critical Purpose when Disaster Strikes: YES


So, carry a wallet with you with ID, proof of insurance, and diverse means of payment.  If you do, you will be Living Prepared.