TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter July 2013

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Ditch Your Costanza Wallet

Poor George Costanza. The hapless Seinfeld character portrayed by Jason Alexander carried a wallet crammed so full of junk, it caused him to sit on a slant... until he stuffed a wad of napkins into his other back pocket to even things out. His buddy Jerry meanwhile suffered from back pain until he saw the light and slimmed down his wallet. George on the other hand, continued to accumulate more and more receipts, coupons, cards, and bits of this and that, until one day his wallet achieved critical mass and exploded on a street corner, spewing its contents into the wind.

It’s a funny bit because many of us (particularly guys) can relate to fat wallet syndrome. Over time, our wallets slowly grow as we amass a variety of items that we carry because, “Hey, you never know, I might need that.” However, the vast majority of what’s in there right now doesn't need to be. Whole legions of men (and women) have embraced minimalism and radically slimmed down what they carry in their pockets and bags. You can too.

It's not a good look!

Your dad and grandpa most likely carried around a fat wallet in his back pocket. It's what men did. Aside from the nostalgia of it, there's very little reason for you to do the same. If you're a back-pocket/fat-wallet kinda guy, you might not be aware of how bad it looks to go around with that asymmetrical lump back there. But, while you might not be aware, other people (particularly women) certainly are. Doesn't matter whether jeans or dress pants, it's never a good look. So, what are you going to do about this?

Start by performing a Wallet Autopsy. Empty out its entire contents on a desk and triage what you find. Group your credit/debit/ATM cards, membership cards, insurance cards, and the like. Separate out the other essentials, like your driver’s license, building pass, Metrocard, etc. You'll very likely have various receipts, notes, punch cards, and whatnot that can and should be jettisoned. Purging all the non-essentials will certainly help slim things down. But don’t be in a hurry to stuff the rest back in there.

 

There are very few things you actually need to carry

This is the short list:

  • Driver's license or equivalent official ID
  • Health insurance card
  • Transit/Metrocard
  • Building pass
  • ATM card (preferably combined with a debit card if you use one)
  • One credit card, and maybe a backup card
  • Two or three of your business cards
  • Some folding money

Your next step is to perform a Wallet Audit

Whatever you do decide to carry needs to be inventoried for safe-keeping. Step-by-step instructions are here. Loss and theft are ever-present dangers, and knowing exactly what you had on you makes life infinitely easier when trying to recover. (See Your Wallet is Gone for the list of eight things you must do quickly when it goes missing.)

Key ring card tags aren't the solution

This is not a good look on you either

Loading up your key ring with card tags is not the way to go, unless you want to look like a coupon-clipping suburban mall-dweller. Fortunately, there's a much better alternative if you carry a smartphone. You can dramatically lighten your load by using an app to store and display the majority of your membership and discount cards. There are two proven and trusted apps I use and can recommend to you.

Key Ring

KeyRingKey Ring is a free app for iPhones and Android. Basically, you can scan or enter all your non-mag-strip-type cards (store loyalty programs, gym membership cards, and the like), and then quickly call them up on the screen when needed. Most of the time, the displayed bar code can be scanned just like the physical card. As a fall-back, the clerk just keys in your card number. I've been using it for several years and have very rarely encountered a problem. Key Ring has reduced the number of cards I carry to a reasonable minimum.

The app has additional features that I've never used, such as the ability to join new loyalty programs, and to receive "exclusive offers" when you're in a store. That's part of their business model and it keeps the service free. There are no nag screens or emails.

Lemon Wallet

Lemon Wallet runs on iPhone, Android and Windows Phone. Some of its functionality overlaps Key Ring but the main utility of Lemon Wallet is to capture your credit cards and serve as a backup/reference (more so than a replacement for them). The app uses your phone's camera to capture an image of the front and rear of each card. After that, all the info is backed up to the cloud but readily available to you by entering a PIN. Of course, you can't do the all important card swipe in a store, but the info is there for online and phone orders, etc. It may therefore allow you to reduce the number of cards you need to physically carry with you and that is valuable.

The free version is highly functional but there is an paid version too. Lemon Wallet Plus costs $4.99/month or $39.99/year and provides a lost wallet service as well as account monitoring and card expiration alerts. It'll nag you to upgrade until you unsubscribe from the reminders. After that, it (thankfully) stays quiet.

Carrying what's left

Once you've pared down to the essentials, how do you carry what's left? Fortunately, there are lots of great options. They fall into a number of categories: mini/thin wallets, front-pocket-only designs, pocket vaults, money clips, bands, and phone accessory storage. I've been a happy Big Skinny user for many years but have begun to explore other options recently.

Wallet Alternatives

Big Skinny Metro Bifold Wallet

$19.95 (many other models available)

If you've removed all the non-essentials, but still want to carry what's left in a somewhat regular wallet format, consider one of Big Skinny's offerings. They're engineered for thinness and lightness. Mainly because they're not made of thick leather. (In my opinion, leather belongs on the cow, not in your pocket).

A far cry from those horrible Velcro "hippie wallets" of yesteryear, Big Skinny's wallets are made of a nylon micro-fiber material that looks good and really holds up.

Mini Mighty Wallet

$12.00

("Black Leather" shown but comes in a variety of fun patterns and colors)

Mini Mighty

If the idea of a thin wallet is appealing, but you want to go even further down the thinness road, consider the Mini Mighty. It's constructed of a single sheet of Tyvek®, yet holds multiple cards and bills in 8 separate pockets. Only weighs a third of an ounce empty.

Front Pocket Wallet

$24.99

In black, green or silver gray

Front PocketJust a quarter of an inch thick when empty, this wallet is shaped specifically to fit in your front pocket (although the other wallets mentioned above can go either in front or back). Aside from the aesthetic advantages of front-pocket carrying, that location makes it harder for pickpockets to ply their trade. This model also has shielding to prevent "electronic pickpocketing" of some newer credit cards which carry your information embedded in a RFID chip.

FP Wallet Open

Flipside 2X Wallet

$39.95

Available in six colors

Flipside WalletBilled as a "Portable Vault for Your Pocket", the Flipside is a locking, spring-assisted-opening, secure container for your cards and cash. It also features RFID shielding. Holds 7 cards in 3 slots plus 12 bills in the cash slot. Also features a detachable external clip for holding business cards and receipts and such. Intended for front-pocket carrying only. If the 2X is still too big, then consider the smaller Flipside Strata which can still carry 5 cards and has a money clip.

ConsoliWallet

$25.00

In glossy blue, red, yellow, or hunter green now. Others finishes/colors available soon.

William WalletSimple in design but elegant in execution, the ConsoliWallet is constructed from two 6061-T6 aluminum panels held together by a shock cord. The beauty of this design is that it expands to hold whatever thickness stack of cards and bills you need to carry. RFID blocking is inherent. Plates are powder coated (not painted) for durability, and feature a corner cutout to facilitate opening and loading the wallet.

Hu Mn Mini Wallet

$76 in aluminum or $140 in carbon fiber.

20 plate colors / materials and 4 strap colors

HuMn WalletThe Hu Mn wallet began as a Kickstarter project and quickly exceeded its funding goal. Now available in 3 configurations on the Hu Mn retail site. As reflected in the not-cheap price, this is a premium option for a minimalist wallet design. RFID proof. Carbon Fiber option is extra lightweight and futuristic. (As a bonus, after buying one, you'll have fewer dollar bills to carry around in it.)

Dash Wallet

$15.00

Multiple colors

Dash WalletAlso a Kickstarter project, Dash 1.0 is now available on the dashwallets.com site while Dash 2.0 is available for pre order. Both versions feature an ingenious quick draw slot that allows you to extend the magnetic strip of a credit card or access card and swipe it without removing it from the wallet.

Card Clip

$5.99

Various prices, versions, quality levels

Card ClipSome men swear by the card clip design, which combines a credit card holder and money clip. I'm not a big fan. They're available on eBay for just a few dollars but be aware the cheap ones have rough edges that will definitely scratch your cell phone screen if you carry it in the same pocket. Also, you should know that whipping out a "money clip" containing a wad of bills strikes many people as déclassé.

Human Republic Slim Clip

$50

In brushed or shiny finish

 

Human Republic Slim ClipIn my opinion, if you're going to go the money clip route, carry something that departs from the traditional. The HR Slim Clip is made from a single piece of folded steel. Its two outer folds carry a pair of credit cards each, while the inner slot will secure your bills. Corner cuts make card extraction easy.

Keylet

$55 ?

Human Republic Slim ClipAnother Kickstarter project, I'm afraid this one may have failed to make it to production. Still, I wanted to include it here because it's such an intriguing design. Carrying keys is another lumpy annoyance for men and I was hoping this would provide a better alternative. However, the stumbling block (as I see it) involves car keys with their bulky remote control fobs. I hope somebody takes up this cause and delivers a good solution.

Money Band

$3.99 ($7.98 for a 3-pack)

Money BandSome men dispense with a clip altogether and just wrap their bills around their license and credit card with an ordinary rubber band. I'm not a fan of this technique. However, if you're going to carry stuff this way, at least upgrade the rubber band. I'll leave it up to you to decide if it's worth four bucks but the Money Band is sized exactly right to fit around the card stack and is a lot more durable than an office rubber band. Plus, it says "Money Band" right on it.

Grand Band

$84.95 in sterling silver

Grand BandIf the band idea is appealing and you desire to travel first class, then the Grand Band might be just the thing. Its patented sterling sliver sleeve can be monogrammed and makes it easier to insert and remove the band's contents.

X-Band

$8.99

XbandIn my personal quest for minimalism, I admit the band concept is appealing. However, I desire a bit more "technology" than a strip of rubber to secure my items. That's where the Xband fits, and why I'm currently using one. The Xband's unique shape and silicone interior tightly grips its contents yet releases them easily. Holds up to 15 cards (if necessary), plus bills. No RFID shielding of course, but that's not yet a personal concern of mine. Video (1:12)

Incipio Stowaway

$34.99

Multiple colors available

Incipio StowawayNow we cross over into the cell phone-related category. Since you're already carrying a phone, why not get a case that doubles as a card carrier? The Incipio Stowaway case has a semi-hidden rear compartment that can hold up to 3 credit cards or their equivalent. Available now only for the iPhone 4 or 4S and soon for the Samsung Galaxy S4.

Remora iPhone Clip

$17.00

In six colors

Remora Clip If you've got an iPhone 4 or 4S and only need to carry two cards and are seeking a minimalist solution, the Remora might be for you. Very sharp, engineered design has a hidden, snap feature that positively secures your cards with a satisfying click. Video (0:21)

Fat wallet be gone

So there you have it, a strategy to banish your Costanza Wallet once and for all. George may have had a special relationship with his wallet but that's his issue, not yours!

It's not an organizer, a secretary, or a friend. Sorry George.

Jerry Seinfeld: "Your back hurts because of your wallet. It's huge."

George Costanza: "This isn't just my wallet. It's an organizer, a memory and an old friend."

Jerry Seinfeld: "Well, your friend is morbidly obese."

George Costanza: "Well, at least I don't carry a purse."

Jerry Seinfeld: "It's not a purse, it's European."

-V-

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