How Do You Make Sure Your Spouse Uses the Right Credit Card?

I recently shared what’s in my wallet and I clearly use a lot of different cards for different purposes in different situations.

To be sure there are a few cards that are pretty darned good if you’re only going to get and use one card but that’s not how I strategically deploy my cards. And I lay out the strategy for my wife, too.

When we were still dating she first let me choose the one card she would use. Then she broadened that out but said she would only ever manage up to 3 cards at a time. Now she ‘gets’ that different cards serve very different purposes — and it’s part of how we’ve been able to travel so well together for so many years.

I’m occasionally asked how I manage what cards to use for which purposes, where I’m at earning a card’s initial bonus, and what to use for different spend categories?

One of my favorite suggestions came from commenter Acker:

I have so many darn cards – active and not. With the exception of the cards I’m working at any given time, I keep them semi-organized in a small zip lock (actually it’s a quart-sized bag).

I use a black sharpie and write right on the cards “2x gas” “50k w/ 10k spend” …I can only imagine what waiters and clerks think, but who cares?

When I cancel a card, I write a cancel sign on the front of the card with the date cancelled. I even thought of making a …Halloween costume out of the 50+ cards.

…Oh, I have a zip lock for my husband’s cards too.

Reader Bill C. points to an even greater problem, how do you make sure your spouse — who isn’t as attuned to these things as you are — uses the right card every time? And he explains, “A buddy of mine was getting…[very unhappy] his wife was always using the wrong card in the wrong situation…So he made a quarterback wristband with the “plays” for her to refer to.”

My own strategy was just time. I also had to learn patience. I needed to gradually bring my wife into the hobby that matters so much to me, I couldn’t expect her to absorb my plans all at once — and I had to remember to tell her when I was changing my thinking! Actually come to think of it, credit card strategy has probably improved the communication in my marriage.

So how do you do it?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I print out a cheat sheet, cut it to credit card size, and laminate it at FedEx. Then she puts it in her wallet with the cards.

  2. “How Do You Make Sure Your Spouse Uses the Right Credit Card?”

    More like “How Do You Make Sure Your Spouse Does What You Want?”. It’s a question better left unspoken.

  3. She will only carry two cards, one primary and one backup. One must be a visa because of Costco.

    So whatever card I’m wirking the spend target on is the one she gets. And for big purchases, she asks if I want to buy it. Extra points aren’t worth extra marital discord.

  4. Cut-down Post-it notes stuck to front of her cards, specific use written with Sharpie. Easy to change when needed.

    To keep track of my spending on $200-500 V/MC/Amex debit cards from Officemax/Depot/Staples (5x!), I always try to carry a Sharpie and write the use directly on the card.

    To store credit/gift cards I am not current using, put them in a business card holder (perfect size) and keep in one specific drawer.

  5. @ Gary. — Above all, make sure the right cards for the big spend targets (annual thresholds and account-opening bonuses) are in SO’s wallet.. Then, casually mention which card should be used for this and that for when you won’t be present, but don’t expect compliance. After all, remaining married should be a goal for most. For larger purchases, my SO usually calls/texts me to ask which card to use at time of payment.

  6. I gave my wife the Amex Gold and said “grocery store and restaurants” and the Blue Business Plus and said “everything else.” And I took over putting gas in the cars, making our travel bookings and paying the household bills so I could steer them to the right card. Sometimes she forgets and we end up only getting 2 points for her lunch or something, but she’s gotten better since threatening to leave her if she charges the wrong card again 😉 jk.

  7. You all are forgetting the old days. I still have my label printer and just print a label for each card. Make it simple though. Everyday for the Freedom Unlimited. Change it each quarter for the basic Freedom card. Label the others as necessary.

  8. Gave her one card- Freedom Unlimited. She would get frustrated with constant changes. Get 1.5x on everything she buys, and I make most of the travel/dining/other bonus purchases. She only makes about 20% of the purchases, so not giving up too much by not optimizing that amount. She doesn’t have to think about it, I don’t have to hear complaints about a complicated system. She does make sure to send any large online purchases to me to make- she knows I will be working on a minimum spend or have a bonus option in mind.

  9. I use a Dymo labelwriter and put “Gas” or “restaurants” or whatever on each card. I make sure she has no more than three cards, and ensure that the label is visible even when the card is sitting in her wallet. I show her what I’m up to. And the result? It doesn’t work. She prefers the aesthetics of the Chase Reserve card, so that’s what she mostly uses. Not worth fighting about.

  10. I agree with what Robert F says–I like the idea of using a label maker much more than a sharpie, especially since categories can and do change, and labels are easier to remove than marker. One caveat though…make sure you don’t put the label on the portion of the card where the magnetic strip is (or the chip, for that matter). Haven’t had it happen, but I can imagine a label peeling off and causing havoc in a CC reader.

  11. @ DCJoe has it right. Do you like maximizing every single purchase, or do you like being married?

    Husband carries two cards: one earns 2x on everything, and the other 1.5x. Sometimes he uses them for purchases where I would earn 4x or 5x. Thus far no one has died, and we still have more miles than we have time to use.

  12. Keep it simple. Two cards in her purse.

    Chase Reserve for food and travel, Chase Unlimited for everything else. Having a QB playbook is too overbearing.

  13. I wait until we are sitting in first class sipping champagne and enjoying caviar. I look over and ask if she’s enjoying herself. Then I remind her in that moment which cards are for which purchases. I’ve found that that works quite well.

  14. Or you could manage your own credit, and let your spouse manage their own.

    The number of men on here explaining how many cards they “allow” in their wives’ wallets makes me think Gary’s dad jokes aren’t the only sign that we’ve traveled back in time.

  15. I read the label tip somewhere about a year ago and thought it was brilliant, so I labeled all my husband’s cards. I then realized I should label mine too, since I carry several more to optimize and was starting to lose track myself on which to use where. Yet, husband regularly mixes up the Chase Reserve with regular spend cards (all clearly labeled). Usually it’s a wash or close enough, but he recently spent $250 at Sam’s Club and used the Reserve instead of the Freedom (clearly labeled “Sam’s Club”). I’m still crying over the lost extra 4x points, but in the interest of marital harmony, decided not to point out his error:).

    I actually get a lot of clerks commenting positively on my labels and asking me to fan out the cards in my wallet. It’s kind of funny. At one hotel snack shop, the clerk ringing me up called over a coworker and said, “isn’t this clever?! She has all her cards labeled so she always earns the most points.” My public service for the day.

  16. @lynn and other labelers: what label device do you use that produces labels than are small enough, and can be slid in and out of cc machines without damage?

  17. A lot of people just don’t get it.
    At a restaurant family gathering when I brought up my favorite subject to my sister …she replied, “when are you going to stop that nonsense.”
    My wife has come around … just tell me what credit card you want me to use (this time).

  18. @Jeff W Haha, I’ve found that works quite well too. I remember one time where I said “the sign-up bonus from x cards is what let us get these seats…”

    But in all seriousness, to respond to what @James W said, I think that there are just as many women on here saying that they are the ones telling their husbands to do with the cards. And in our case, I would actually say that my wife is better at managing money, savings, and investments, but she just doesn’t care to think about bonus categories, etc. She knows to use EDP for Gas and Groceries, and the rest is a bit of a crap shoot. The blogosphere doesn’t talk much about store-cards, but a lot of her shopping is at Target, so it’s pretty much a no-brainer with the Red Card.

  19. Two card strategy as others have mentioned:
    1) AMEX Rose Gold – groceries and restaurants
    2) Chase Freedom Unlimited – everything else

  20. After my wife used her card I had labelled at a restaurant, the waiter came back and said, “Dining and Gas I understand – but what does ‘Things that break’ mean?” (Best extended warranty of course!)

  21. Dymo Labelmaker on each card in LARGE TYPE FONT.
    AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, each card has an ALERT programmed so I get a text when she uses it. If used at wrong purpose she gets a call.

  22. @bzv, I use a Brother P Touch Label Maker I bought years ago at Staples for about 10-20 bucks. The labels are super thin and I put them near the top right on the front of the card so they are away from the chip. Never ever had an issue with one causing trouble in either chip reader or swipe machine. Only issue I have is that the labels sometimes don’t peel off cleanly so I have a little scraping to do every quarter when I update the category bonuses on our Freedom cards, or the ones temporarily labeled “Everything else” when trying to meet a minimum spend (the regular “Everything else” cards get pulled out of our wallets and go temporarily into the sock drawer so there is no confusion). Not an issue at all on the permanently labeled cards.

  23. At first my wife thought I was a lunatic, and told me so. But after an IAD-HKG round trip in Lufthansa F (including use of the Frankfurt F terminal), a DFW-Bali round trip including Thai F from Europe (and an hour’s massage in the Thai F lounge in Bangkok), and an LAX-Singapore round trip in Singapore F (with use of the Private Room in Changi Airport), plus assorted C flights to South America, Europe, and the Middle East, she readily accepts the taped instructions I put on her cards and my change-out of her set of cards quarterly or when I get her or myself a new card. When she encounters a skeptical or derisive waiter, shop attendant, or friend, she asks them if they fly first class to Bali. Tends to stop them cold. But still I don’t ask her to carry more than 3 cards at a time; I take care of the unusual situations and use of the cards that are used only in limited situations.

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