You, of course, are not a financial novice, butyou are a busy person. And it's possible, it'sjust possible, that if you were to open yourwallet right now and examine its contents,there would be some small amount of evidence thatwould point to financial novicehood. So, just in case,let's go through the contents of your wallet, one step ata time. Pull it out right now, and let's have a look.
• How much is there, and in what denominations?Some folks like to carry around a high-denominationbill, thinking that they are less likely to break it for a frivolouspurchase. Is that true for you? Does it work foryou, or does it interfere with your ability to function?
• What amount do you need to have available tomake those purchases that you can't make with a creditcard? Most people carry around what they think theywill need before they can obtain more cash, either froma bank or an ATM. However, you probably really doknow how much you spend each day or week. Then youhave to ask yourself, "Is what I spend reasonable?"
• Where did you get your cash? If you got it from anATM, what are the fees? Multiply the number of timesyou use an ATM in a week by the amount of the feeseach time. Is the cost reasonable for the service, or wouldit be better to drop by a bank every week or two and getthe cash out of your account at no charge?
• What unexpected needs are there for cash? If youget hit with requests from coworkers for birthday presents,baby shower gifts, etc, you don't want to be caughtwith only $20 bills in your wallet. You'll probably wantto carry around some smaller bills.
• How many do you have? How many do you need?There may be a correlation between how many cardsyou have and a tendency to overcharge and overspend.
• What kind of perks do you get from your cards?Frequent flyer miles? Money toward your next car purchase?If you're not getting perks, why not?
• What is the total balance on your cards? Howmuch interest do you pay each month? What could youdo with the money you normally pay in interest? If youcould decrease all that interest with a tax-deductiblehome equity loan, why haven't you done it?
At this point, let's look at the items that are notdirectly money related. Your life is not all about money,and you may have noticed that the editors of this magazinewant you to be well-rounded. Where better to lookfor well-roundedness than in what you carry aroundwith you every day, all day? Let's face it, your wallet iswho you are. If we look thoroughly through your wallet,what does it say about you?
• Driver's license. By the way, when does it need tobe renewed?
• Voter registration card. You do have one, right?If you don't vote, then you let the people who do votemake the rules you have to live by. Are you happywith those rules?
• Library card. Great, it shows you like to read,and reading is the major way most of us get to understandthe world around us.
• AAA card. Something that you hope you won'thave to use, but you need to have it on you just in case.
• Medical license and pharmacy cards. I don't knowwhy you need to carry these around, but they alwaysissue wallet-size copies, so I suppose they want us tocarry them with us.
Professional Organization Cards
• AMA. Excellent, it shows you care about your colleaguesin other specialties.
• Specialty organization. Good, it shows you're aresponsible OB/GYN physician who cares about thelarger picture of what is happening in your specialty.
Nonprofessional Organization Cards
• Clubs. This shows you have an enjoyable life outsideof medicine.
• Interest groups. This shows that your intellectualpursuits extend beyond medicine. You may find thatthere are fields of knowledge that will enhance your abilityto be a good doctor.
• A picture is worth a thousand words. When someoneasks about your family, you can pull out a recentphoto and give them the rundown. By the way, does thishappen to you enough? Are you asking your colleaguesabout their families?
• Health. When was your last physical exam? Doyou have your most current insurance card? You wouldnot want to be one of those patients who show up at adoctor's office without your insurance information.You'd be making life difficult for your colleague, whichis a bad precedent.
• Dental. When is the last time you used this? If it'sbeen over a year, why not make an appointment soon?An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
• A couple of your own are a good idea. If you runinto a patient who asks a medical question, you canalways hand them a card and tell them to call the office,or get the answer to their question on your Web site, ifyou have one. That could get you out of an extended,and gratis, discussion.
• If you find yourself talking to a colleague you justmet, get their card, and jot down on the card how theywish to communicate with other doctors. Is it okay tocall them at home? Do they like to use e-mail? You cansave yourself a lot of time if you use the opportunity toestablish communication channels.
• You'll probably have cards of other people inyour wallet, some of which you took out of courtesythat you have no intention of ever using. This is anexcellent time to get them out of your wallet and makespace for something more important. If you thinkyou'll call these contacts, shouldn't their phone numbersbe in your palm pilot or address book?
• Receipts and rebate forms. Get them out of yourwallet and taken care of.
• Blank prescriptions. How many times do youhave to go looking for a prescription pad? When you'renot in your office, you can never count on finding a prescriptionpad. Isn't it a good idea to carry a couple ofblank scripts in your wallet?
Congratulations, you've just cleaned out yourwallet and taken the first step toward being a financialprofessional. From now on, every time you findyourself waiting around with nothing to do, pull outyour wallet and check it out. You may be surprised atwhat you find.
Louis L. Constan, a family practice physician inSaginaw, Mich, is the editor of the Saginaw CountyMedical Society Bulletin and Michigan FamilyPractice. He welcomes questions or comments at3350 Shattuck Road, Saginaw, MI 48603; 989-792-1899; or email@example.com.