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Monday, July 15, 2024

When In Trouble, Remember FULL BENEFIT! A Passport Debacle

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You know that panicky, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize you’re in deep trouble? You’re so SOL that you don’t know what to do.

It’s Sam’s wife Sydney here, and I recently found myself in a bind.

Right after I booked flights to Japan, I realized my passport was missing. I haven’t felt this much despair and stress in years, which I’ll get into below.

In the midst of my grief and anxiety, however, Sam taught me a phenomenal mind shift exercise used by Navy Seals known as Full Benefit.

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What Does The Navy Seals Saying “Full Benefit” Mean?

When I first heard the expression “full benefit” I was a little perplexed. But it’s really quite simple. This saying comes from the thought process that every challenge we face is a chance to get better.

Not only that, the harder a challenge is, the more value it holds.

When we face adversity, it makes us better IF we accept it. Hard challenges and disappointments may make us feel completely overwhelmed, but they give us the “full benefit.”

Think back to the most difficult or frustrating times in your life that are seared into your mind forever. Now think about how much you learned from them. Not only that, you are stronger today because you were able to overcome those adversities.

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Examples Of Problems And Full Benefits

  • 20-page term paper vanishing in a power outage? Enjoy the full benefit of re-writing a better paper and getting a better grade.
  • Getting rejected from all 10 colleges you applied to? Enjoy the full benefit of saving money by going to community college for two years and then transferring.
  • Getting rejected from six preschools you applied to? Enjoy the full benefit by homeschooling your child for one year, building a stronger relationship, and saving money.
  • New refrigerator you’ve waited 6 months for doesn’t fit through your door? Enjoy the full benefit of finding a cheaper, longer-lasting model and becoming a wiser home remodeler.
  • Getting to the checkout counter after a 45 minute queue and realizing you forgot your wallet? Enjoy the full benefit of creating a reminder system before you leave the house.
  • Snapping your ankle the one time you forget to wear your ankle brace? Enjoy the full benefit of forcing you to rest your shoulder for a month since you can no longer move.

Shifting focus away from the stress at hand and onto the full benefit instead is a great way to shift your mindset. And when it comes to building wealth, having a strong money mindset is paramount!

My Recent Debacle Turned Full Benefit

For those of you with aging parents, you know all too well how difficult it can be to juggle your own life and theirs. I’m experiencing this now to some degree with my mom.

Anyway, one of my many recent tasks for her has been arranging a trip to Japan. Her sister passed and there are many unsettled tasks she has to attend to. My mother originally had plans to go alone, but that’s not feasible anymore due to some unforeseen health issues.

Thus, I had to reschedule her solo trip in May to a time when both my sister and I can accompany her. My sister will take our mom there for the first half of the trip, I’ll do the latter half, and we’ll overlap briefly in the middle.

After a lot of back and forth, we finally got dates and flights sorted out. But right after I booked my non-refundable flights, I went to go grab my passport and realized it was no where to be found. What?!

Where The Hell Is My Passport?!

Hadn’t I just I successfully renewed it in 4Q2022? My memory quality is pretty frayed around the edges due to poor sleep due to our daughter. So when I couldn’t find my passport it where it should have been, I started to panic. I was so caught off guard that my memory went completely blank.

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Did I even receive it after submitting my renewing in the first place? If I got it, did I keep it in the envelope? Or did I take it out and hide it? If so, which place did I put it? And wth isn’t it there?!

Over the next several hours, I started to remember a few things. I remembered getting it in the mail and showing it to Sam. “Hey check this out. This is what the newest passports look like.” But what I did after that still remains a blur.

After frantically searching the house top to bottom for three days, I finally accepted it was gone for good. I concluded that I either put it back in the priority mail envelope it came in and somehow it was inadvertently discarded.

Or I did tuck it away, but one of the 6-7 repair workers who came through our house during the winter poked around and took it when I wasn’t looking.

Whatever the case may be, it was gone and I couldn’t get it back.

Now What?

I was so distraught and felt like the village idiot for being so careless. But, I couldn’t afford to stay stuck in pity city. With expensive non-refundable flights to Japan already booked for all three of us, I needed to act fast.

First, I looked at a calendar to see how many weeks I had in play. Twelve at the absolute maximum. Hmm, not too bad I thought, but still dicey. Passport processing time for routine service is around 10-13 weeks right now. And expedited service is not significantly faster at 7-9 weeks. But a couple weeks could make a big difference for me!

Then I learned that because my passport was lost/stolen, I would have to re-apply in person just like someone applying for the very first time. I started searching all the SF post office locations for an appointment. But every location was fully booked for the next 4+ weeks! My pulse jumped.

Oh man, I thought. I really could be screwed. Fortunately, my sister gave me a tip that some post offices take walk-in appointments. There wasn’t any info posted online about current walk-in locations, so I started dialing every post office in the city.

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring…oh no, does anyone at the post office ever pick up the phone?!

Passport Demand Is Up, Postal Employment Is Down

Turns out very few post offices in San Francisco will answer the phone no matter what time of day you call. My guess is they are either too busy to pick up the phone, or are too unmotivated and disengaged. Luckily, however, I finally did get ahold of one person at the Noe Valley branch.

Although that location does not take walk-ins, she informed me that the main branch at 1300 Evans Ave does. The challenge she said is the office opens at 7:30 am, but people start lining up at 5 am. There are a limited number of walk-in slots, so showing up early doesn’t even guarantee you can get seen.

Then she said the wait time could be an additional 5-6 hours after the office opens. Lastly, she guided me that Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays are the busiest. Oh boy.

I felt rather defeated already, but still held onto a ray of hope that I could be one of the lucky ones. Operation early bird, ie my Plan A, was hatched.

Plan B, C, and D

Still feeling unsettled since there was no guarantee I could get a walk-in appointment, I came up with a Plan B, C, and D.

I researched passport expeditor service providers, but that could cost $700. Sheesh! Not only that, the reviews were horrific and it didn’t seem like using one would help me that much anyway because I would still need to appear in person. I scrapped that idea.

Next, I pinged our son’s school grade parent’s network to see if anyone had any tips from prior experience. It was worth a shot since many fellow parents have relatives overseas and travel internationally for family and work.

To my delight, I got some instant tips including fast service in Mill Valley and Sausalito (about a 30 minute drive north) and using same-day service at the Civic Center passport office with proof of urgent travel.

I immediately looked for appointments in Mill Valley and Sausalito. I got one! But it was three weeks out, meaning I’d be super down the the wire on my departure. At least my plan B was in place even if it wasn’t great.

Then I formulated a plan C, which would entail calling the National Passport Information Center to try and get an appointment for urgent travel within 14 days of my departure.

And lastly, my plan D would be to call and try to get a super urgent appointment if I executed Plan A but was still stuck waiting for my new passport within 5 days of departure.

Plan A: Full Benefit

So what ended up happening? The thought of me waking up at 4:30 am to go get in line at 5 am in the cold was gloomy. I already get very little sleep as it is. But the night before I planned to go, I remembered there are people available for hire on TaskRabbit to wait in line. Genius!

I quickly submitted a task request and connected with a highly rated Elite tasker. Although he hadn’t waited for a passport appointment before, he was quick to respond and seemed reliable.

Now I just needed to finish all of my paperwork and arrive by 7:15 the next day to take his spot in line before the passport office opened at 7:30.

The next morning, I connected with my Tasker. He got there early and was the first one in line. Looking good! A family of four arrived behind him a little while later as I was getting my things ready to leave.

Unexpected Variables

Then out of the blue, my Tasker texted me at 6:50 am saying the office opened early and to get there ASAP. What?!

Even though the office didn’t officially open until 7:30 am, there was an agent onsite who was ready to see walk-ins early due to the high demand. I had not accounted for this.

My Tasker had to let the family go first since I wasn’t on-site yet. But since there were a unit of four, hopefully I would arrive just as they were finishing.

After I was rushed out the door, I stopped to check my bag one last time. Ok, I had both of my forms, a check to the DOS, my drivers license, photo copies of my IDs, but WAIT!! Where was my expired passport?! I needed it to prove citizenship. ACK!

I quickly remembered I left it on our printer the night before when I was making photocopies. I dashed to grab it and then rushed across town. OMG I felt like such a mess.

Thankfully, the family of four finished one minute before I ran in the door and I was able to be seen right when I arrived. PHEW!

Another unexpected variable was the agent didn’t like the fact that my printed forms were “too small.” Even though I printed them to the max scale my printer could handle without chopping off the edges, she didn’t want to process them that way.

Rushing Leads To Careless Mistakes

So, I had to re-write all the fields of my DS-11 application on one of the blank DS-11 forms they had onsite. Thankfully, she didn’t send me to the back of the line. She was able to get other things ready while I rewrote everything.

There were also a few boxes I forgot to checkmark when I redid the form, which she fortunately caught and corrected.

I also wasn’t able to confirm with my father what his birthplace was before I submitted the form. This was a stupid mistake I could have avoided if I looked through the form more thoroughly several days before. When I saw the parental information fields initially, I thought that was just for minor applicants. I was wrong!

I took my best guess, but when I talked to my dad later in the day he told me I was wrong. Ugh. At least I input the neighboring city, so I was pretty close. Hopefully my application won’t get stalled because of that.

Takeaways: From Despair To Full Benefit

Lesson learned? Always lock up your valuables straight away. And tell your spouse, siblings, or trusted friend where you locked them up in case you forget! I was proud enough to show Sam my new passport when it came, but dumb enough not to put it in a super secure place immediately afterward.

At least I got the full benefit of this snafu! Now I just have to sit back, wait, and hope for the best on the tail end. After I confirm my priority mail express envelope made it to the processing center, I can use the passport application status checker in about three weeks.

If it hasn’t arrived in eight weeks, I’ll need to jump on the phone to see what’s going on. Whatever else happens, hopefully in twelve weeks I’ll be on my flight to Japan with my passport. And yes, I will double check my new passport is in my bag before I get in the car!

Full Benefit Comes With Positive Outcomes

In addition to learning a lot out of this experience, there were some other positives as well. Because of my three-day hunt for my passport, I simultaneously benefited from:

  • Decluttering the house
  • Organizing closets, cabinets, and drawers
  • Filling up two bags of toys and clothes to donate or sell
  • Finding several random things I’d misplaced earlier
  • Learning more about passport applications and processing
  • Getting to write this post to share about my crazy experience

Plus, I didn’t end up having to wait 5-6 hours at the post office. I actually had zero wait time thanks to my Tasker. And I also used this time to help my mother renew her passport as well. That was quite a painful process in and of itself for many reasons, but now it’s done too.

How Much Did I End Up Spending Due To A Misplaced Passport?

Here’s how much this wild misadventure cost:

  • Report passport stolen $0
  • New passport photo $18.46
  • New passport book $130
  • In-person execution fee $35
  • Priority Mail Express from SF to DoS $28.75
  • Expedited processing by the DoS $60
  • 1-2 Day delivery from DoS to SF $19.53
  • Tasker fees for 2.5 hours, and tip $134
  • Rideshare transportation, fees, and tip $48.88

Total = $474.62

Ouch, my carelessness in losing my passport (or not locking it up when people came into the house) cost me almost five hundred dollars and hours of stress and anxiety. Yes, I certainly could have saved money by waiting in line myself from 5 am, borrowing a car, and not paying for the various expedited fees.

But, paying extra allowed me to get some much needed extra sleep, didn’t impact Sam’s morning work schedule, didn’t hinder our kids getting to school on time (we only have one car), and gave me more peace of mind that I should have my new passport several weeks before my trip.

Full Benefit Pays Off

I’m happy to report that two months after I wrote this post, my new passport arrived in the mail. Phew! So the estimated expedited processing time of 7-9 weeks did hold true.

The first thing I did was tell Sam exactly where I put it! Of course I still have to remember to bring it with me to the airport on my day of departure and not lose it during my trip. But, I do plan to be extra cautious.

Fun Facts About Passports

And to close, here are some interesting tid bits about passports that you may not have known.

  • The demand for US passports exploded in 2022 with a record 22 million processed up from 15.5 million in 2021. Demand in 2023 is on pace to break last year’s record.
  • More than 40 million travel documents and passports have been lost or stolen since 2002.
  • Red is the most common passport cover color worldwide. In the US they’re blue.
  • Australia is the most expensive country to get a passport, about 3x the cost in the US.

Reader Questions And Recommendations

Readers, have you ever lost your passport or had it stolen? Did you experience the full benefit in your journey to replace it? What are some challenges you’ve overcome in your life when you experienced the full benefit of facing and overcoming adversity?

Listen and subscribe to The Financial Samurai podcast on Apple or Spotify. I interview experts in their respective fields and discuss some of the most interesting topics on this site. Please share, rate, and review!

For more nuanced personal finance content, join 60,000+ others and sign up for the free Financial Samurai newsletter and posts via e-mail. Financial Samurai is one of the largest independently-owned personal finance sites that started in 2009.

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