So I wrote a few weeks ago that I planned to tidy up my travel hacking stuff – I didn’t forget! I resolved to tackle one area at a time, Marie Kondo style, so I dedicated a few minutes a day to organizing my credit cards physically and virtually. I finished just before we left for Japan, which seemed timely given the inspiration. Anyway, here’s how I decided to organize everything – would love to hear other thoughts and ideas on how to organize your credit cards that those who are more organized might have!
Here are the steps that I took, although if I were to do it again I might have dealt with all the physical cards first and then deal with my spreadsheets.
Step 1: Clean up spreadsheet by moving all canceled cards out
So the first thing I decided to do was to clean up my virtual spreadsheet that I keep on Google Sheets. My sheet has multiple tabs but the main tabs I worked with here were my “active” and “cancelled” credit card tabs. Here’s the information I keep in both tabs:
I recognize that’s a little small, if you can’t read it, I record Bank, Card, Date Opened, Date to cancel, Autopay, Owner, Fee, Credit limit, Last 4 digits, and Notes. All of these are pretty self explanatory – I noted the last 4 so I can keep track of different cards, especially the ones I haven’t taken out in awhile. “+1” on owner means I added an authorized user, though I’ve stopped doing that (thanks for nothing, Chase).
When I cancel a card I strikethrough the entire line and note the cancellation date, but I had to clean up by moving some cards over to my “cancelled” tab. I also did a look through and make sure that I recognized all the cards on my list, though more on that later.
The big thing I had to do here was add last 4 digits for a bunch of cards. Sometimes I sign up in bunches and get lazy, part of my tidying up resolution is to put all the right information in as soon as I receive the cards.
Step 2: Remove all credit cards from my credit card holder, organize by bank
The next thing I decided to tackle was my super messy credit card holder. I use one of those folders with plastic sleeves, a gift from my wife a few years ago. When I first received the book to hold my cards, I decided to organize the cards by date opened. That turned out to be a mistake, cancelled cards would leave empty sleeves, which would require moving all my credit cards “up” a slot. Eventually, I stopped taking out my cancelled cards altogether, or when I received new cards (like when banks would replace cards that expired or what not) I would leave the old ones in. Needless to say, my credit card “organizer” was a hot mess.
So I decided to organize my credit cards by category. I took them all out of the sleeve and also grabbed all the cards that I left in my desk (the “sometimes I’ll use it” cards). I stacked them all by bank and got rid of any cancelled cards. This got me ready to re-organize my cards in the now empty credit card holder. I also took this opportunity to cancel a few credit cards that no longer sparked joy.
Step 3: Dispose of old cards
In the process of organizing my physical cards, I found a bunch of cards that had already expired but I hadn’t gotten rid of. I also cancelled a few credit cards whose annual fees I could no longer justify paying. (Those, frankly, should have been cancelled long ago). So I cut up all these cards which made for a great picture:
This probably doesn’t make a difference, but I always dispose of my cut credit cards over two trash cycles. Or, if I’m feeling extra paranoid, I dispose of one half of the cut card at home and one half at work. Seems silly, but I’m a silly guy.
Step 4: Organize credit card holder by bank
After I organized my credit cards by bank, I had stacks of credit cards like this:
That made it very simple to put cards back into my credit card holder. Of course, cards that I use regularly went back to my wallet.
My theory is this will make it much easier to keep my credit cards organized. Now, when I cancel a card, like a Chase card for example, I just free up a slot in the “Chase” section of my holder. This should be way less annoying than when I had my credit cards organized by date.
Step 5: Reconcile my credit card holder with my spreadsheet
The last thing I did was to reconcile the newly organized cards in my credit card holder with my spreadsheet. That meant double checking that things like expiration dates made sense given the date I thought I had opened the card (they should normally be around the same month +/- 1).
Embarrassingly, I found a credit card that I had never typed into my spreadsheet. So I’m glad I did this if for that reason alone! Once I was done, I had the last 4 digits for every single card which also should help quite a bit in the future.
At this point, I was done organizing my credit cards and it felt great.
Staying organized in the future
Like I said, organizing my credit cards by bank should help me keep organized in the future. I’ve also resolved to dedicate 15-20 minutes a week to making sure my credit card holder and spreadsheet are in order. Another thing I need to make sure to do is to be vigilant about updating my spreadsheet whenever I open/cancel a card. But I think now that I have things organized, these small maintenance tasks should be much more manageable.
Organizing my credit cards not only helped me to have a better track of where my credit cards were, it also helped me catch some mistakes that could have cost me money in the long run. I know I should have been better organized in the first place, but I wasn’t. Hopefully this will help me stay more organized in the future.
How do you all keep your credit cards organized, both physically and virtually? I’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions in the comments!
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Great post. I’ve definitely gleaned some organizational ideas from it. Thanks Joe. 😁👍🖖
Let me know if you come up with any ideas!
I’ve just started to using my.travelfreely.net because my “system” if you could call it that was lacking. I may get an organizer like you have. Right now they are in a box.
Interesting – what does that site do? Organize cards, or mileage programs, or all of the above?
It may do other things, but I am using it to track my current and former cards and timing for eligibility of bonuses.
How are you liking the Altitude Reserve? I’m thinking of picking it up as a keeper card. I currently use the Sapphire Reserve as dining is a major spending category for me, but overall my spending is less than $2k a month, so I think real time rewards would be much more useful for someone like me on small travel purchases.
If you can get yourself to use mobile pay for everything, it’s tough to beat 3X on everything. I think Frequent Miler has a good post about how to do that. I like the card, it’s simple, and I like 3x on all travel without having to think about it
I’ve been using an organizer for a few years that I picked up at Office Max. The organizer was intended for business cards, but holds credit cards also. I have four main sections – debit cards, credit cards, store cards, and gift cards. I’ll put the credit card with the matching debit card if it’s an issuer where I have only a single card (e.g. Huntington, Suntrust, a few CUs, USAA). I take out the cards I want to carry, but leave the spot in the organizer because my wallet may change. Once a card is cancelled, there is a drawer that they go into. The gift card section is saved for those situations where there’s one or two cards from a location. Once they’re spent, they go into the drawer, just in case.
It looks like the case you bought is the Wenger Diplomat? My old case was branded as “AvenuesUSA”, but it appears that the website for the company no longer exists.