What’s in Your Wallet? 5 Dos and Don’ts

Published on: 7/8/2008. Revised on: 2/27/2014.

kitty with wallet

The lowest point in the career of the wallet might have come at the hands of George Costanza. The Seinfeld star, famous for his idiosyncrasies and stubbornness, laid claim to a wallet the size of a small Manhattan apartment—a wallet that was obese to the point of actually causing George physical discomfort. No wonder, considering the random curio crammed inside of it.

“Irish money?” Jerry asked, thumbing through George’s wallet. “I might go there,” George said.

The wallet was literally bursting at the seams with credit cards, receipts, dollar bills, and even hard candy. It had essentially become a pocket-sized file cabinet…or a booster seat.

Costanza is not the only man with wallet woes. A good portion of the country is loaded up and lopsided when it comes to the universal money pouch. Pockets bulge, seams stretch, and rear ends jut out all in the name of bank cards, grocery cards, and family albums. To quote Costanza: “(My wallet) is an organizer, a secretary, and a friend.”

The solution to the giant wallet is a rather simple exercise in discretion, but like most financial virtues, the implementation of the practice is far harder. Costanza’s back pain would agree.
Slimming down a wallet is akin to slimming down a body: a good diet is a great place to start.

There are really on a few necessities that every wallet needs to have.

  1. Cash. The wallet originated as a cache for cash, and that purpose remains an important use today. How much cash you should carry will probably depend on how much of a tycoon you are. For most people, a couple 20-dollar bills would be fine; for big spenders, a wad of C-notes might be necessary. Either way, cash is a must-have wallet ingredient.
  2. Credit Card. Everyone has one, which may be more a condemnation of society than a tribute to fiscal flexibility and technological advance. Wallets are engineered to tote the plastics of American Express, Visa, and MasterCard, so take no shame in taking advantage. However, use temperance. The slippery slope of wallet stuffing begins with credit cards. Only put in the one you use most often.
  3. Bank card. Most people have a bank card (debit card) in addition to their credit card, and chances are good that the bank card gets just as much use. When paying at convenience stores or restaurants, keying in a PIN number is often faster and more convenient than a credit payment. Plus, a bank card is necessary to pull cash from the ATM.
  4. Driver’s license. No matter how bad the picture is, a driver’s license is a wallet necessity. Unless you are way too into lanyards, the wallet is the best (and virtually only) place to carry around the most common form of ID. Most wallets have a see-through pocket specifically designed to hold the license. Those with bad pictures might want to find a different style.
  5. Medical insurance card. Cleaning out your wallet takes a backseat to personal health and safety. An insurance card might not get much use, but you will certainly be thankful you kept it in your wallet when the EMTs need to stitch up your chest cavity.

“But what about the following items?” a desperate packrat might ask. Leaving them out is the only way to cut back on bulbous billfolds.

  1. Photos. The wallet is not the family photo Louvre. If someone wants to see a picture of your kids, you should invite them over to the house rather than open up the accordion file in your back pocket.
  2. Pennies. Nothing adds to wallet girth faster than loose change. Pennies in particular are a nasty culprit because you have to carry around at least four of them to make it worth your time. At the most, you should only carry a single quarter and a single dime. You should not need any more than that.
  3. Receipts. Save a tree and save a hip injury by cutting back on receipts. The beauty of online banking and credit card statements is that you have an automated way of accounting for purchases. Get with the future.
  4. Business cards. Some people’s wallets resemble mini-rolodexes with business cards rivaling an Office Depot aisle. Keep cards in an actual rolodex or in a file at your desk. Input the phone numbers into your cell phone. Take the burden off your back pocket.
  5. Punch cards. Good intentions are the mortal enemy of wallet efficiency. People pack in punch cards certain of the fact that they will, sooner or later, eat a dozen foot-long subs to get half-price off a sub of their choice. Does it ever happen? Rarely. Take the punch cards out and stick them in your glove compartment. Intentions may be good, but follow-through seldom is.

The dos and don’ts of wallet contents can sometimes only go so far. Fortunately, there are a couple of other options that might help weed out the rest of the wallet burdens.

For starters, get a smaller wallet. Department stores have all sorts of different styles and designs. A money clip-wallet hybrid is one of the more popular alternatives. The design leaves virtually no choice but to cut back on extra cards and receipts.

If a smaller wallet is not an option, try consolidating your membership cards. One great solution is keeping one card with the ID numbers of several cards printed onto it. That way, when you are at any particular store, you can read off your account number rather than fumbling for the proper piece of plastic.

Following these tips should help diminish the burden of a hefty wallet. A little prudence here and some tough decisions there could make a big difference in back pockets and purses everywhere. Wallets come out of their packaging thin, and they have the potential to remain that way.
George Costanza was a martyr for progress. Don’t let his back example die in vain.

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