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Senior Correspondent

Oops, I had been outed.

I had been living a lie.

I say I honor money, have a healthy relationship with it, and yet my bills are in a favorite leather bill holder that is ripping. My credit cards are in a utilitarian black flat case. And my change is in a snack-size Ziploc® bag that tosses around the bottom of my huge designer bag and gets replaced every couple of months when it starts looking grungy.

The bill holder has a story. (Doesn’t everything?) After my French aunt Elisabeth died and I was clearing out her apartment in Nice, I found this lovely, thin money envelope, with just three places to put bills. (The center slot is perfect for the three crisp $100 bills I have carried for decades, for use when cash is needed.) Beautiful cognac-colored leather, lined in silk. But life in the 1950s, when it was probably made, was a lot gentler than the 21st century and it is looking sad and worn.

When I adopted it, I had also thought of the fact that Elisabeth, who had started with nothing, had accumulated a sizable financial cushion. She was a farm-girl from near Lyon, France, who had left for Paris as soon as she could. She had met a charming American officer in the merchant marine (my uncle) who was celebrating the end of World War II, married him and went on to aggressively build their nest egg with his inheritance from my grandfather … to be sure she never again “went without.” So maybe the bill holder also carried some good money karma.

The black credit card case has a story too. I take identity theft seriously. While I only carry three credit cards (after all, how many do you really need?), I wanted to keep them safe. So when RFID protection became available in wallets, I went online to see what I could find. (Wikipedia says that “Radio-frequency identification—RFID—is the wireless non-contact use of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data.” In simpler terms, that’s what’s on those cards you just swipe across a reader. But if that reader can read them, so can powerful scanners. And those have shown up more and more in public places—like airports—where your cards can be read without you even knowing it.)

At the time, wallets with RFID protection were pretty boring so I settled for a simple black leather credit card and passport holder.

Now, if you use a flat bill holder and a flat credit card holder, where do you put your loose coins? My temporary solution of using a Ziploc® bag had become all too permanent.

And where do you put business cards, receipts, airline and other loyalty cards? Well, I found an ugly Samsonite zip-around travel pouch that did the trick: it held all that, plus the bill holder and card holder.

It was all temporary, right? Until I could find the ideal wallet that fulfilled all the roles I wanted it to. But temporary becomes permanent if we’re not watching.

What Your Wallet Says About You

Whether you’re listening to Suze Orman, your feng shui expert or your favorite Law of Attraction resource, I can tell you that I can almost always predict how one of my clients handles her money after looking at her wallet. It’s like sneaking a peek at her secret money life.

A wallet cluttered with old receipts, phone numbers scribbled on the backs of business cards and dry cleaning stubs reflects a financial life that lacks control and order. An old, worn out wallet shows weariness and fatigue over life and the role of money in it. A cheap plastic wallet symbolizes how we treat ourselves: either penny-pinching to an extreme or minimal self-respect … certainly a lack of abundant thinking.

Crumpled bills jammed into any compartment of a wallet mirror a lack of respect for money itself. A wallet holding just a couple of dollar bills is usually owned by the person asking you if she can borrow a couple of bucks to pay for her coffee … the same one who has trouble making it to payday.

And then you have the woman who says, “Who needs a wallet? I pay everything with mobile apps on my smartphone.” Today technology has further distanced us from our money. That shift may sound progressive and convenient, but the less we’re connected to money itself, the easier it is to overspend. We no longer equate those expenditures with the effort that went into earning that money; it all becomes fictitious digital dollars in our minds. Even using credit cards is a little better, especially those that still require a signature on a receipt and not just the wave of a hand.

There’s an expression that says, “How you do money is how you do everything.” So, whether you’re a believer or not, take out your wallet and look honestly at how you’re relating to your money. What does your wallet say about you?

If you don’t like what you see, invest in a new wallet. Find one that reflects the role you want money to play in your life. Put your most important credit cards in it, along with only your most frequently used loyalty cards. Keep some cash, neatly organized, along with a backup of whatever amount makes you feel safe and comfortable … whether that’s $50, $100 or more. Set up a system for receipts, taking them out regularly and filing them for preparing taxes or expenses reports. In short, make taking out your wallet a gesture that pleases you … for what it says about you.

P.S. I went online tonight and found a bright red leather RFID clutch that will fit my bills, coins, travel cards, credit cards, passport, few business cards and recent receipts … without bulging or straining. Now that aspect of my finances will be aligned with what I’ve put so much effort into creating for myself … a life of true financial control and peace of mind.

Let me know in the Comments section below what you found when you looked honestly at your wallet.

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