What You Should (and Shouldn't) Carry in Your Wallet

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The contents of an average wallet range from the essentials to the frivolous; that's why your wallet can not only expose you to a lot of risk should it fall into the wrong hands, it can also reveal a good deal about who you are and what you prioritize in your life.

Although we might carry certain items with us at all times, what's actually essential to keep on your person and what's better left at home? Here are a few tips that maximize utility and minimize risk.

4 Items You Should Always Keep in Your Wallet

Memberships. Loyalty programs at stores and pharmacies such as Rite Aid, Target and CVS can actually make a difference at checkout, depending on the store's policy. Memberships also include your swipe-in cards at the gym. Keep these handy to get the most out of your monthly membership dues.

It's recommended, however, to review all the terms of a loyalty program before signing up, as some come with up-front costs that could negate the benefits of membership or necessitate the use of branded, high-interest credit cards. And perhaps steer clear of memberships to grocery stores specifically. The Wall Street Journal found that in five comparisons of grocery stores that offered loyalty programs and local counterparts that didn't, all the stores that lacked a program offered lower prices -- in one case resulting in 29 percent savings.

Receipts and Coupons. Saving receipts can help consumers dispute false charges, track spending and -- in the event of a return -- are often the only way to get money back. As a best practice, save receipts until the transaction appears on your bank statement, if charged, and until you know with certainty that you won't have to return the item. Additionally, make sure to save any receipts you'll need when filing taxes.

There are few things more annoying than spending money at a store and receiving a coupon with your receipt for the next time you come back to shop -- which are usually only valid for a select period of days. However, organizing your wallet to house coupons with your cash can help keep your available discounts in your line of sight to use when available.

Coverage. Life will throw an unexpected curve ball at us every once in a while (usually, more often than we'd wish). That's why carrying everything from medical cards to insurance documents might be worth the hassle.

Keeping your medical cards, as well as information for services such as AAA, in your wallet can help you cut down on the paperwork of filing claims. A good rule of thumb is to keep insurance cards in your wallet and car insurance in your glove compartment, as an unexpected accident or traffic violation will require proof of your coverage.

The Essentials. Though Apple Pay and digital wallets might be the future, you should still keep a variety of payment forms on you. It's important to balance variety, however, with risk.

Consider carrying one or two credit cards with different credit limits to cover both large and small expenses. A debit card can also come in handy if you're pressed for cash -- credit cards will charge hefty cash advance fees.

Consider the possibility of losing your wallet when assessing how much cash and how many cards you should carry. Would you be OK opening yourself up to the potential loss of $60 and one credit card? What about $300, two credit cards and a debit card? This can help you pare down an overabundance of credit cards and minimize risk -- even improve your spending habits.

6 Items Better Left at Home

Having asked various money experts what they carry in their wallets for some time now, GOBankingRates has also gained insights into what you should never carry in your wallet. You're better off leaving these six items at home:
  • Social Security card.
  • Medicare card (as the owner's Social Security number is printed on it).
  • Anything, notes or cards, that reveal PINs or passwords.
  • Voter registration card.
  • Passport if not traveling.
  • Checks (which reveal bank account information).
Depending on your spending habits, however, your budget might benefit from bringing fewer credit and debit cards with you when shopping, handicapping your ability to splurge. Or go all the way and consider a cash-only policy, like the one practiced by personal finance author Rachel Cruze, who never carries a credit card.
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