Earning Points in Your Family’s Daily Life

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Sure, we all love the HUGE points and miles credit card sign-up bonuses, or huge promos like the recent Amex promo where people received 50,000 (and up!) Membership Rewards points for adding authorized users to their accounts, but daily point earning is where my family does much of our point and mile accumulation.  A couple of years ago we were still using credit cards just when we actually needed to use a credit card.  For example, if we were shopping online or making a large purchase that we wanted to pay off over time.  The thought of using a credit card to buy a Happy Meal or haircut sounded absurd.  That sort of behavior was reserved for people who are irresponsible with their money and can’t even afford their chicken nuggets, right?!  Sometimes I’m sure that is true, but maybe those “irresponsible” people that I saw using their cards at the drive-thru were actually WAY smarter than me.  Perhaps their chicken nuggets were doing their part to help obtain an airline ticket to Fiji!

About a year or two ago we started increasing our credit card usage.  Not because we could no longer afford our Happy Meals and haircuts out of pocket, but because we realized that we could be getting more out of purchases we were going to be making anyway.  It took some getting used to at first in terms of checking our account balance, budget, etc…but once we got used to our new system of paying bills and balancing our budget, we were amazed at how many miles and points our family could earn in a month simply by using credit cards instead of debit cards, cash, and checks.  Crazy!

Like most parents, I am crazy busy or exhausted 99.9% of the time, so I do not have time to mess with third party websites to do things like pay my mortgage for a fee.  Back when you could order coins from the mint, I didn’t have the time (or extra hands) to order dollar coins on my card and take them to the bank.  If it is too involved or complicated, I’m usually out.  I need things simple, quick, and straight forward.

With that in mind, here is a list of some of the things we put on our credit cards on a regular basis in order to earn miles (I promise all are simple, quick and straight forward!):

Daycare: This is a huge one!!  Good daycare is very expensive.  There’s just no two ways around that (unless you have a crazy giving family member that wants to watch your little one for free or massively reduced cost).  The good news is that our daycare center lets us use a credit card to pay for daycare each week.  In fact, they now only accept electronic payments!  This is a great way to haul in thousands of points each year for something you were going to have to pay for anyway.  If you are paying an individual or place that doesn’t accept credit cards, perhaps you could use Amazon Payments as a way to pay them for their services, but still earn points on your card.  (If you want more info on this, Million Mile Secrets did a great Amazon Payment write up here).

Medical: Perhaps we are unlucky, but it seems that someone in this household is always needing to go to the dentist, or doctor, or vet, or pharmacy.  We use a flexible spending account with pre-tax dollars to pay for many of our medical expenses throughout the year (too bad that doesn’t work at the vet!).  However, we typically charge the medical expenses to a credit card and then pay that off from the flexible spending account.  This is the best of both worlds – miles and points + pre-tax dollars!  Woohoo!

Household Utilities: I am not a fan of paying a fee to use a credit card.  Unless it is a one-time or short-term thing to hit the spending threshold for a sign-up bonus or something of that nature, it probably isn’t worth it.  We only pay the utilities that don’t charge an extra fee for using a card.  I’m sure this varies around the country and world, but we are able to pay for our home phone, cell phones, satellite tv, and satellite radio on our card for no fee.  Water, gas, and electricity all charge additional fees in my area to use a credit card, so we just pay out of our checking account for those…..but if we were ever tight on hitting the spend required for a sign-up bonus, this would be where I turned first!

Insurance:  It only recently dawned on me to switch our insurance payments to credit cards.  Our homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, etc… are all now charged to our credit cards.  This is literally thousands of miles a year!  In fact, I am a little scared to know exactly how many thousands.  🙂  Again, getting miles for something you were going to have to pay for anyway makes it a bit easier to swallow.

Homeowners Association Dues: If you have any homeowner’s association or condo dues, see if you can put those on a credit card.  We were able to do it with no problem.  Miles earned for a very annoying required fee, again makes me feel a bit better about it!

Professional Association/Club Dues: We have our service organization and alumni association dues charged on our cards.  Small amounts, but every little bit helps.

Travel Expenses:  Obviously all of our personal travel expenses go on a credit card (usually on one that offers 2x or 3x points on travel related charges), but my employer also has me pay for travel out of pocket and get reimbursed.  That business travel then also gets put on one of our personal credit cards.  While submitting travel expenses is never a fun task, it is pretty neat to earn points for charges that you are getting reimbursed for!

Gas/Groceries/Clothes/Diapers/Netflix/The Kitchen Sink: I am not going to list out every single daily purchase category that we put on a card, because it truly is virtually every purchase that we make.  If the vendor accepts credit cards and doesn’t charge an extra fee to use a card, then we charge it!

If you are just now starting to transition everyday purchases to credit cards, then I recommend starting with the big stuff (ie most expensive items) first.  Get used to that for a month or two and then start working your way to the smaller purchases.  It is a bit of an adjustment at first for most people.  Get a budgeting system in place so that you keep track of how much you are charging.  Most credit cards now let you view your pending transactions online, so you can see in “real time” what charges you have on which cards.  Come on Citibank, get with this technology!

For those of you who already put many charges on your card, it is easiest just to look at your bank statement to see what purchases/payments you still have going through your bank account.  Go through every transaction on your bank statement for an entire month or two and see if you could transition any of them to a credit card.  That is how I had my “light bulb moment” about paying for our insurance on a credit card!

I would be remiss to not mention that this method of paying for bills and everyday purchases is only “worth it” if you keep an eye on your spending and pay your credit card balances in full monthly.  If you start spending more than you can afford month-to-month by using this method of bill paying, then the interest you will end up paying on your cards will quickly negate your miles and points earnings.  I know you are all big boys and girls, and don’t need that reminder, but my conscience made me include it.  🙂

Having a family is expensive, but make the most of all of the things you have to pay for each month by getting as many points for them as you can.  We literally earn thousands of points each month just by doing this.  It takes no extra time, and honestly even saves time with all of the payments that we have set to auto-pay to our credit cards.  We do keep very close tabs on what has been paid and the amount, but we don’t have to sit down and mail checks out to 8 million different companies.  Ahem, Mom. 🙂 So, for us, it is a win-win situation to use credit cards to pay as many bills/purchases as possible!

What all does your family pay for with credit cards?  How do you keep track of it all?  Share your tips!

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  1. Another excellent post! This is somewhat off topic, but while I also L-O-V-E points and miles, there are some instances where an alternative is even better. For example, I have a Target store card which gives me a 5% discount off of everything that I spend at Target. Very few points/miles cards can beat 5%.

  2. For the last 8 years, I have been using mile/point-earning credit cards to pay for all purchases/payments that accept credit cards, with the exception of those that charge a “convenience fee”, like my gas and electric company. For those, I use auto debit. The few checks I write these days are to the gardener and to my son’s boy scout troop. I don’t even remember when was the last time I ordered checks. But I keep going to the bank to ask for more checkbook register. I will explain the reason below.

    To keep check of the cc purchases, I use the checkbook register to record the transactions, just like I would if I were to write a check. The spot where I used to write down the check number, I now use it to write down the credit card name,like AAVS for AA Visa. Yes, since I have a number of credit cards I use on regular basis, I have devised nicknames for all my credit cards. With this method, my check book always reflects a current balance, just like with using checks. When the statement closes, I pay online right away.
    My husband thinks I am crazy, but hey, we’ve never had any late payments, never paid any interest, but tons of miles for doing what I do anyway. Why not?

  3. A couple of years ago, our school district started accepting credit card for the kids’ shool lunches. They use a third party for processing. But it is a flat $1 per transaction. So I just pay for my 2 kids for the entire year as a single transaction. Haha – another daily expense that got put on the cc.

  4. I pay all our bills that accept credit card. We have a checking account designated the “Bill Acct”. I calculate the bills every 2 weeks and transfer money to that account. Then charge the card I need to use for miles/points at the moments and pay it as soon as the charges hit. Just a few clicks!

  5. I use the Hilton AMEX for all gas, dining and groceries as it offers 6 points per $1 spent. I buy my diapers on Amazon via Subscribe & Save, and use the Hawaiian Airlines portal to earn 2 miles per $1 spent on Amazon.

  6. I’ve been putting everything I can on credit cards for a long time. At first it was mainly because of the 20-50 day float. Later, I added the fact that I was earning enough HHonors points to stay in Hiltons around the world whenever I traveled.

    It is amazing how many things can be put on a credit card!

    Ike

  7. @Andrea, good luck with the insurance!
    @Marilynn, I shudder to think of how many miles that will earn (daycare/preschool is crazy enough!)
    @Evie, sounds like a great method to me!
    @Faith, good system!
    @Pearl, I LOVE Amazon subscribe and save for diapers, too!
    @Ike, it truly is amazing. Good job!
    @worldtraveller2, thanks and you are more than welcome.

  8. I keep an excel file with many tabs of spreadsheets in it. Each tab is a week of budgeting. Since bills are generally monthly, I figure all my bills for the month and all my income for the month then figure out what is leftover, divide by 4.3333 (approx weeks in a month) and that is what is allocated for the week. I carryover the leftover money from week to week. I get paid commission so if I’m ahead on commish then I add more money in, if behind then I’m subtracting. I also have the money divided out into 4 categories (groceries/eating out/gas/home supplies/etc… is 50% of our expendables), (home improvement / gifts / travel money / car repairs / baby gear) is 25%, and I allocate 12.5% to each my wife and I for our own personal spend-how-we-want money. It requires me updating it every couple weeks and going through my online CC bills and adding it all up. But this helps me acct for every $ spent, and I just keep a record of my few cash expenditures on my phone. Sounds like a lot of work, but it helps stay on track while using CC’s.

  9. Another great post! This is exactly what we do every month… Pretty much if we can’t charge it we don’t buy it 🙂 I’m able to put ALL of our utilities on our cards without any fees, pay for summer camp, and we also do the Flexible spending the same way as you do. I’m just glad to see that I’m not the only person who is doing this… sometimes I feel crazy but the rewards add up so fast that I think other people are CRAZY for not doing it. As you menitioned… if you can’t pay it off EVERY month then this method is NOT for you!!

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