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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
What's In Your Wallet (That SHOULD Be)?

Are you carrying around security ID badges from three jobs ago? Ticket stubs from 1983? Diner register receipts so faded that you can only guess what you purchased from the color of the faded food stain (ketchup? strawberry jam?)?

Last week, we talked about all the things you shouldn't be keeping in your wallet, and why you don't want to emulate George Costanza by having an overstuffed wallet that gives you sciatica from sitting upon it or a hunch from it weighing down your purse. We reviewed the first two of Paper Doll's Wallet Organizing Rules:

Rule #1: Keep your wallet under lock and key!
Rule #2: Jettison the Junk, Save Your Sanity (and Scuttle Sciatica)!

This week, let's talk about what SHOULD be in your wallet, and soon we'll make sure that you're properly protecting it.

Paper Doll Wallet Organizing Rule #3:
Maintain the essentials (and ONLY the essentials)!

  1. Driver's License or photo ID -- Even though you may not write checks at points of purchase anymore, even though Visa and Mastercard aren't allowed to ask you for another form of ID, even if you're an "excellent driver"and are sure you'll never be pulled over, you should still be prepared to furnish your driver's license upon request. Your license, or the alternative, a valid photo ID, are best kept behind the little plastic "window" in many modern wallets. It allows you to show your ID without taking it out and temporarily relinquishing it--the less often you remove something from your wallet, the less likely you'll be to lose it.
  2. AAA or auto club card--Paper Doll is a big fan of AAA, as it pays for itself with all of the other benefits of membership, including excellent free maps and travel guides. However, whether you use or Joe's Auto Club and Pizza Parlor, be sure to carry the card in your wallet, preferably right behind your license so that you will be able to access roadside help immediately without worrying that your card is sitting in a desk drawer at home where nobody except Scruffy the Goldfish can hear your voice on the answering machine begging "Pick up, pick UP, PICK UP!" (Free with a AAA card is a bail bond certificate. I don't imagine many Paper Doll readers are likely to end up in jail, but if you are a AAA member, there's no harm in carrying this insurance policy.)
  3. Auto and home insurance card--In case of an accident on the road, or if a natural disaster or fire displaces you from your home, you need to be able to contact your insurance agent and the folks at the toll-free number quickly. (While it's helpful to have your agent's number and the toll-free number programmed into your cell phone, anything from a dead battery to accidental smushing could prevent it from being used.) As with your auto club card, keep your insurance card close to your license. Remember to organize your wallet thematically--keeping like with like.
  4. Currency--Nowadays, more and more people are depending on their ATM/debit cards in lieu of cash. Considering the scary talk out there about how dirty and germy cash can be, Paper Doll can't fault you if you fall into this category. But do at least keep a little pin money or mad money tucked in for emergencies, or for when you want to impress a client (or a date) by tipping the maitre d'. If you do normally carry cash, consider taking a moment after each purchase to put your money in numerical order: $1s, $5s, $10s, $20s. It may seem a little obsessive, but this helps you stay on budget, keeps you aware of how much cash you are carrying, and ensures your teenager isn't purloining money from your wallet to buy the next Wii game without your knowledge.
  5. ATM/Debit Card--These can be used in more places than checks, you can get cash back from purchases, and you can trade germy cash for germy ATM keypads. However, if you keep a low balance in your checking account, stay aware of how close you are to your limit, in order to avoid overdraft charges. Do NOT keep your ATM passcode in your wallet. Ever. Really.
  6. Credit Cards--These bits of plastic can be a boon or bane to your financial existence. Recent studies show that people spend more when they use plastic vs. cash, so be cautious. Moreover, just because you are a multiple-card cardholder doesn't mean you need to carry all of your cards with you. Two major credit cards should suffice (e.g., one for personal expenses, one for business, or one for normal expenses and one for travel and/or emergency expenses). You never need to carry your store charge cards with you; with proof of ID, the cashier will look up your account. Finally, make sure any credit cards you carry are signed and have not yet expired.
  7. Library Card--Back in March and April, we were talking about keeping our book collections organized. There is no better way to keep unread books from piling up around than taking advantage of your (or your neighbor's) tax dollars at work. Personal finance blogger Jennifer Derrick recently had a superb post, 27 Free Things at the Library, that should convince you of the value of carrying this card.
  8. Rewards cards used frequently--We talked last week about how to deal with the rewards cards you rarely use, but if you use your Joltin' Java or Guzzlin' Gas rewards card weekly or more often, keep it in your wallet to save $$$.
  9. Medical alert cards--Even if you have a Medical Alert bracelet for a health condition, be sure to carry a card in your wallet, too, in case the bracelet is damaged or lost. First responders know where to look, but make it easy for them by putting your card in a visible "front" slot of the wallet, near your license. If you don't have a medical alert card, you can create your own.
  10. Medical Insurance cards--You never know when you might become injured or ill. Be sure to have your medical, dental and prescription cards with you at all times.
  11. Emergency contact--Even if you carry a medical alert card, first responders need to know how to reach your emergency contacts. In addition to having an ICE number programmed into your cell phone, keep a small card in your wallet that says who to call, text or email in case of an emergency.
  12. Today's receipts -- Seriously, folks, a few seconds of focus will vastly improve your financial life. Make sure the cashier hands you your receipt (rather than putting it in the bag) and tuck it in your wallet, behind your cash. Each evening, empty your wallet of all receipts. Toss the ones for cash (unless you're creating a budget) and file the credit card and ATM deposit/withdrawal receipts until you can check them against online banking or monthly statements.
  13. Comfort Item--In general, wallets are utilitarian ways to keep our money and proofs of identity close. But if you're ever unexpectedly stranded in traffic or a waiting room, having one thing (a photo of a loved one, a prayer card, a folded love letter, a copy of your impressive S.A.T. scores) might help keep your blood pressure from rising. Just be sure to limit your wallet clutter to one comfort item.

Once you've jettisoned the junk and pared down to just the essentials...and you know what's actually in your wallet...it's time to protect yourself.

Next week, we'll review the three main methods for preventing sticky fingers and klutzy wallet owners from making a stolen or lost wallet such a painful experience. We'll review wallet protection services, the popular DIY photocopy machine method and how to create your own Financial Emergency Response spreadsheet).

Until then, reread last week's post and today's, and get your wallet in shape. Make sure you can answer the question: "What's in your wallet?"

posted on: 7/22/2008 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Discuss This Post

by coupons on 11/15/2011 12:42:27 AM:

I am impressed to read such a powerful story about Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles: What's In Your Wallet (That SHOULD Be)? -- www.OnlineOrganizing.com. I will post a link on my coupon site to this blog post. I will be back to read more.

by Julie Bestry (Paper Doll) on 11/15/2011 1:41:12 AM:

Thanks. This is a pretty old post, but part of a popular series. Thanks for posting.

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

by Julie Bestry

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Julie Bestry, President of Best Results Organizing in Chattanooga, TN, is a Certified Professional Organizer®, speaker and author. Julie helps overwhelmed individuals and businesses save time and money, reduce stress and increase productivity through new organizational skills and systems.

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