If you're carrying around a tattered, old wallet filled with crumpled receipts, credit cards, rewards cards, spare keys, and whatever else you can fit in it, you shouldn't be surprised if you're having some trouble getting a handle on your finances.
"The way you treat the wallet, and the money in your wallet, sends a direct message about what you're saying about yourself," says New York-based financial advisor Stacy Francis, founder of Savvy Ladies, a non-profit financial education organization. "If you pay more attention to your money and the way it's organized, you'll be more organized, more responsible and more on top of your finances."
A messy wallet doesn't necessarily mean you're not dealing well with money issues, says financial advisor Carolyn McClanahan, founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida. But there is a correlation. "In general, people who are more organized do a better job of tracking expenses and keeping records neat for tax purposes," she adds. "This in turn can save a lot of money."
Here are 5 ways to get your wallet—and finances—into shape.
Clean out your wallet at least once a month and, preferably, once a week. Keep your receipts and review them when you clean your wallet. Francis says she puts hers into a plastic file organized by various expenses (medical, transportation, big-ticket items) then purges that file every three months after she's had time to return items or check warranties, if needed.
Limit the identification cards you carry to your driver's license (or photo ID), health insurance and other medical cards (blood or organ donor cards), and car insurance card. "Pay attention to see if car insurance cards will expire soon," says financial planner Lazetta Braxton Rainey of Financial Fountains in Baltimore, Md. "That can be a good reminder to shop around for better rates."
Keep your Social Security card at home and memorize the number to avoid putting yourself at greater risk for identity theft if the wallet is lost or stolen.
Keep only a debit card and a maximum of two credit cards in your wallet. "Put the one on top that has the lowest interest and best rewards points or rebate system." says Francis. Get rid of store credit cards. The annual percentage rate on retail cards is over 23 percent on average, compared to 10 percent for the average low rate card and 15 percent for the average cash-back or rewards card, according to a CreditCards.com analysis. If you carry a balance month-to-month, even a great introductory offer on a store card will likely not make up for the amount of extra interest you'll incur over time.
In this day and age of cashless purchases, there are some items or stores that still require cash. If you don't have it and go to an ATM that's outside of your network, you could pay as much as $2.50 or $3 for each transaction. Always keep some cash in a variety of bills and coins in your wallet. To keep your spending in check, give yourself a weekly allowance for cash or debit card purchases and stick to it.
Once you've streamlined your wallet, it's important to back it all up. Make copies of your credit and debit card information, driver's license and health insurance cards and keep them separate from your wallet. You can make paper copies to keep in a file for your personal finances. Or cut down on paper and take photos of your IDs and receipts that you want to keep and email them to an email address that you set up specifically for your finances. Create folders in your email to keep your information and expenses organized.
"It's important to have a good tracking system for what goes into and out of your wallet, especially if you travel and have to track expenses for work," says McClanahan. "My overall experience is that organized people rule the roost in saving money and time."