If you like your wallet, by all means, hold onto it. But if you'd like to travel lighter and worry about one less thing to remember, you can replace most of your wallet's functionality with your phone. Here's how to switch over everything except your cash, and maybe one card.
Image via visualpun.ch.
There are already great, convenient things your phone can do to stand in for your wallet, but the future looks even better. Near Field Communication technology (NFC), built into at least one Android phone and more to come, will eventually allow your phone to handle wallet replacement even better. In the meantime, you can consolidate your membership cards, hold sensitive scraps of paper, carry photos of your loves ones, and even make money change hands, all from your phone. Here's how to slim down or entirely cast off your back-pocket leather shackles.
Discount, Club and Membership Cards
Some stores make their membership cards mandatory, or make items nearly unaffordable if you aren't using their member cards. Rather than stuff them in your wallet or clutter your key chain, load them into an app that recreates them on your screen.
We like Key Ring for this job (available for Android, iOS and WP7). Scan in your cards' barcodes, or type in the barcode number if the card is too weathered. Key Ring lists and quick-sorts your cards, which show up in a big way on your screen. You can also see coupons and discounts found for the store you're pulling up from another tab.
You might be put off by the idea of showing your phone to a clerk, or scanning it yourself. Having tried it a few times, in both (relatively old-school) Buffalo, New York, and (definitely more wired) Austin, Texas, it's not as awkward as you might think — or at least just as awkward as fumbling in your wallet and trying to forcibly pry a card from a snug pocket. The key is having your rewards screen pulled up before you're at the front of a line, just as you should do with a physical card.
Your Sensitive Data
A wallet isn't all that bad a place to keep some sensitive data — just ask security expert Bruce Schneier. If you're stashing PINs or other means of getting at your sensitive stuff, consider switching over to using secure apps on your phone instead.
We're big fans of LastPass as an all-systems, all-browsers password solution. Less known about LastPass is its "Secure Notes feature," which stores and encrypts anything you can type behind the same barrier as your passwords. You can stash bank account information, health insurance PINs and other data in their numerous mobile apps. Most of those apps require a (relatively cheap) premium subscription, but non-premium members can simply browse to the LastPass mobile site to quickly pull up something they need.
If you're not keen on moving into LastPass' system, there are good stand-alone mobile solutions, too. Wallet for Android (original post) protects your passwords and other sensitive data with damn-strong AES-256 encryption, and won't give up any goods even if your phone is lost or stolen. Another app for iPhone also with the Wallet offers similar encrypted storage for credit card information, passwords and other data you'd potentially keep in your actual wallet. In fact, it seems like searching out "wallet" and "encryption" on most any semi-smart-phone's app market should turn up an app that can give you a place to stash your secrets, provided you verify the app maker's identity.
This one's pretty easy, but it's mostly on you. If your wallet always has a quick-access photo of your wife, children or favourite animal, your phone can have the same. On iPhones, you'll set that photo as your "lock screen", under the Wallpaper section of your Settings. If you've got more than one photo you like to show off, create an album or folder, then head into the Photos tab of your device while it's connected and synced to iTunes. Photo by Bryan Gosline.
Phones can't dispense physical cash, so you'll still need that, plus at least one credit card. But if you're cool with a binder clip or something simple for carrying cash, you can still use your phone to pay your friends, perhaps for dinner tabs or wagers about, say, living without a wallet.
The best, most universal solution is PayPal's mobile app (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry), which allows users to "bump" phones together to exchange funds. But even when bumping doesn't work - or doesn't quite feel right - sending money to a recipient is almost too easy, once you have their email address. Wing them some cash drawn from a bank account or credit card, and you're no longer in pizza debt.
iPhone users have QuickPic as a mobile scanning solution. Still many users, on nearly any mobile OS, can turn to the ubiquitous capture application Evernote, you can use to grab pics of your receipts and sync them to a folder on your desktop or Evernote's website. It can even use Onscreen Character Recognition (OCR) technology to make text within the receipt searchable. Handy.
If you happen to be talking to another likeminded, wallet-ditching smartphone user, and you both have Bump installed (Android/iPhone), you can trade contact details and other data by tapping phones. If not, consider the low-fi solution that worked for me, and people I met, during SXSW this past week: simply ask for an email and tap out a quick "Hey" message.
No two wallets are packed with the same needs. Tell us how you've made your phone into your wallet, or why you can't leave your wallet behind, in the comments.