Updated on 03.01.07

What’s In Your Wallet? How I Organize The Finances In My Pocket

Trent Hamm

Every time I see a CapitalOne commercial chirping their promotional “What’s in your wallet?” line, I actually think of my own wallet and what’s inside of it. So, in the interest of openness (and because there are a few interesting things going on), here’s what I keep in my wallet.

Minimal identification The only photo ID I keep is my driver’s license; everything else stays at home. I know people who keep their voter registration card, their Social Security card, and so on in their wallet “just in case,” but I see no good reason to carry that stuff most of the time and if your wallet gets stolen, you’re pretty much guaranteed a war with identity theft.

Credit cards I keep one credit card in my wallet, period. That way, if my wallet gets stolen, I have only one card to report missing. This card has a substantial credit limit, so it could be used in most emergency situations.

No ATM cards I do not actively keep an ATM/check card in my wallet. There is very little fraud protection on these cards, plus they are temptations to withdraw cash that I don’t really need to withdraw. I do pack it when traveling, but when I’m local, I don’t carry one.

Lots of membership cards I sign up for any free buyer rewards program if I think there’s any chance I will return to the store. I have a special email address I use for these buyer reward mailings, which I check every once in a while. One example of a stellar free buyer rewards program is the one offered at Borders, which I discussed earlier.

Cash However, I do keep a minimum of $30 in cash in my wallet, though I generally try to avoid using it. I save it for events where cash is really the only feasible option for payment, such as at a farmer’s market or a tip or at one particular wonderful local diner.

Coupons I generally have a small number of coupons in my wallet, because I’ll cut out things I see in flyers and such. I merge these in with my other coupons when I prepare my grocery list and coupons for shopping on Friday or Saturday.

Receipts I immediately place all receipts into my wallet and clean these out two or three evenings a week so I can keep careful track of my expenditures. Thus, these are temporary inclusions in my wallet that rotate rapidly.

Three laminated photographs Rather than having a “photo packet” like some have, I keep three laminated photos in my wallet that meet my needs for showing others who want to see my child and giving me something to look at for homesickness purposes when on long trips.

Basically, the items in my wallet focus on security and saving money, but not necessarily convenience, because I only carry one credit card and minimize my personal info. It can be a very interesting exercise to dig through your wallet and ask yourself why those items are in there.

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  1. Bryan says:

    Here is a cool site to consolidate all your Membership cards and avoid a “costanza wallet”



  2. Anne says:

    I use a Filofax as my wallet, which offers lots of storage, but I still try to keep it as light as possible. The rewards cards are a killer. What I did was to dedicate one piece of paper in my Filofax to writing down all those numbers. I have my Borders Rewards number, my REI membership number, my frequent flyer numbers and hotel rewards numbers, etc., all in one place and it takes up next to no space. You could do the same on a credit card-size sheet of paper, and laminate it. At the checkout when they ask for your card, just read off the number.

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  4. plonkee says:

    Well, I’ve dug through my wallet and I’ve got a credit card, 2 debit cards and about £20 in cash.

    The driving licence is there in case I go to the pub and someone doesn’t believe I’m old enough to drink.

    The 2 debit cards are there because I’m in the process of switching between current accounts and I’m not sure at any given moment which is the one with the cash in as not all the payments have switched over.

    The credit card is there because I use it to shop for clothes and household items regularly and also for emergencies as its got the biggest limit. Its also the card that is automatically paid off in full every month.

  5. Citoahc says:

    Personally I would recommend at least two forms of photo ID. I use my drivers license and my old college ID. There have been a few times where that second photo ID on hand has saved some trouble.

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  7. MattG says:

    Carrying only one credit card is risky. I once made a major online purchase (TV) and they shut off my account, suspecting fraud. I found out when my card was declined at the gas station (and my tank empty). Another time (the same card, from a major bank) was shut off because our hotel in Mexico charged the card a few days after we returned to the US. Again, they suspected fraud.

    In both cases, it would have been a major inconvenience to not make the purchase or to call them from the store to clear things up. The risk that I’ll have to cancel two cards is worth it.

  8. I keep my driver’s license (photo ID), any membership cards I expect to use in the near future, a spare key to my vehicle (this has helped a few times when the keys get locked in the house or the vehicle), my insurance card (since certain aspects of my insurance cover me in vehicles other than my own), $20 emergency cab fare (which I haven’t used for going on 6 or 7 years and would probably not get me where I’m going anymore), my insurance card (you never know when you’ll get hit by car), 1 credit card, a half dozen business cards, whatever cash I have, a $2 bill that I always carry, and whatever receipts I haven’t cleared out yet. Other credit cards and ATM card only go in the wallet when I know I’ll use them.

    That’s quite a bit, but it is still fairly slim.

  9. Ali says:

    What do you use for everyday purchases, like gas or that one thing at the grocery store you need for tonight’s dinner? If it cost more than $30 cash would you use your credit card even if it wasn’t an emergency?

  10. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I use the credit card for most everyday purchases. It has a high credit limit so I don’t have to worry about emergencies, like a car accident in Sanduskie.

  11. Kelly says:

    Great post. You mention something in it that I just had to comment on. You said you do grocery shopping on Friday or Saturday. Since this is a sight about smart finance I thought you’d like to know that most grocery stores have great prices on goods on Sundays and Mondays. These are the days that the old stock is leaving and the new stock is coming in. I can generally find some great two for one deals on freezer items and lots of fruits and vegetables on sale too.

    My husband and I spend the most money on food every month so I’ve found that shopping on Sunday or Monday helps us cut back on the expense.

  12. cisco says:

    i carry only two things: my license and a diners club mastercard with a limit that could buy(if needed) a fleet of quality pre-owned autos. In this country almost everyone takes plastic and those who don’t well…. Since most of us now carry cell fones, on my ifone are ics of my family, all my frequent flier numbers, etc. as well as my cc and dl number.

  13. Rev says:

    Mine is pretty close to yours I keep 80-100 in cash and no debit card. I carry 2 credit cards though in case somewhere doesn’t take my Amex.

    Other than that I am the same except I carry my insurance cards I was always told you should carry these. What do you all think? insurance cards needed or can they be left at home?

  14. charlies says:

    there’s another site out there, that manages your loyalty membership stuff, and all your gift cards too. I hate losing my gift cards and losing track of them. DOWN with the wallets. I want one thing that keeps track of everything. this is the closet thing i found. http://www.leveragecard.com

  15. I posted on my blog what’s in my wallet.. this is an interesting exercise, i’m always curious what others have in their wallets.

  16. lulugal11 says:

    I keep one credit card, my insurance card, work ID and maybe $1 in my wallet.

    I do not use cash at all so the $1 is ridiculous.

  17. lulugal11 says:

    oh yeah and my license. I forgot to add that one in.

  18. Josh Moore says:

    I tend to go between two wallets.

    The first is a normal wallet stuffed full of all the usual goodies. This is useful when I need a lot of my cards and information for various ‘occasional’ tasks.

    The second is more like a two card holder that seems to be designed for business cards. I have my two-three cards, some cash and that’s it in this one. It really feels liberating not to have to carry so much around.

    For receipts and coins I put them in my pockets and load them up in my car, which I then put in my house when they begin to build up.

  19. Mike says:

    I carry both my car and my medical insurance cards in my wallet. Also if AmEx is your primary CC (as it is mine) a backup is sometimes needed as not all placed accept AmEx. Also have my gym membership card, DL, SCCA membership and all the loyalty/discount/punch cards, library card, and a wallet sized phone list (for work).

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