My wallet officially became embarrassing a few weeks ago, when I opened it up to pay for a coffee. Out spilled ATM receipts (showing my dismal balance), slips of motivational notes to myself (“Go to the gym today!”), my sister’s library card, and lots of coins, which dropped and rolled in all directions on the floor Picking them up, I noticed they were Mexican pesos. Don’t ask.
When your wallet starts bursting, it’s time to take a hard look at what you’re carrying around and why. So I reached out to my favorite personal finance guru, Carmen Wong Ulrich. Carmen, the author of the new book The Real Cost of Living: Making the Best Choices for You, Your Life, and Your Money gave me some great tips for taming my out-of-control wallet.
What do we really need in our wallets?
CWU: I would never leave home without legal ID, an ATM/debit card and at least one credit card. These days, with so much available online and with apps, there’s little reason to have a wallet jammed full of retail cards and loyalty cards and anything else—other than cute photos of our loved ones!
I recommend carrying at least two credit cards on a daily basis, and this is not including your debit card (though, if you don’t have a lot of credit, your debit may count as one). Why two? Because many places accept either Amex or MasterCard/Visa, not both.
As for retail loyalty cards, there are great apps that let you have them all in one place: your phone! Download loyalty card apps and chuck all that plastic.
My wallet is full of ATM receipts. Should we even print them?
CWU: Nah, save the trees! Paper ATM receipts are remnants of a time when we didn’t bank online. Today, you can go straight from the ATM to seeing a record of the transaction on your phone or at home. It’s VERY rare for something to go wrong at the ATM but it can happen. So, always count how much money you’ve actually received vs. what you asked for and—should that not add up—head directly to a teller or make sure you get a receipt and check your balance. But, assuming the amount matches and everything looks right on screen, no need for a paper receipt.
How is your wallet organized?
CWU: Last year, I resolved to fix my overstuffed wallet! I did this by buying one of those hard-backed folding-envelope style wallets, which only allow a certain number of cards as well as cash and change. It means I have to dump out change and receipts on a regular basis or I can’t close my wallet! I highly recommend it for anyone who keeps receipts like I do for reimbursement or tax deductions.