04/01/2014 11:08 am ET Updated Jun 01, 2014

Milk Your Credit Card Rewards Without Spending a Dime

Collecting points, bonuses, and other rewards by using a rewards credit card can be exciting, fun, and addicting. However, there are many ways to rack up the points without making extra purchases, whether you're looking for cash back, travel miles, or other perks. The trick is in finding ways to turn normal, non-credit card expenses end up as point-earning purchases on the card. Here are a few ways to do it, but with a warning that some of the methods require discipline or could lead to added spending and bigger balances.

Do the unthinkable, but carefully
In general, it can be a very bad practice to charge consumable items like groceries, gas, and other regular purchases on rewards credit cards, unless those expenses are being paid in full each month. The problem isn't that charging groceries or paying the electric bill with a credit card is inherently worse than charging an emergency purchase or something similar. The issue lies in poor planning and overspending because the cash which would have been used for groceries or other consumables gets allocated elsewhere after those expenses get charged to the card.

With a good system, the money for the consumables gets paid toward the card each month. If you want to earn extra reward points on your credit card by putting regular budget items onto it, open a separate, free savings account just for those budget items. By setting a budget and limit each month, you'll know how much you can put on the card, and you'll have the money handy to pay off the expenses each month. You won't earn any real interest on the money, but you'll earn reward points, and having the account ready to cover the expenses will help you stay organized.

'Let me have the check!'

With this strategy, you pay for group purchases, such as a shared dinner bill, on your card, and everyone else hands over their cash to you. The money is dutifully applied toward the card's payment for the month, reward points were collected on the purchase, and no extra money was spent. Look for opportunities to make bigger purchases for friends who are paying cash for vacations, gadgets, home goods, lawnmowers, and the like. If you offer some kind of reward for their help (cooking dinner, helping around the house or with fixing things) you might be more likely to turn some of those friends into loyal helpers in your quest for rewards points.

Charge Peter to pay Paul
Another strategy to earn more credit card rewards points that can be dangerous is to use the card to pay off other credit card bills. Most often, this is done by using checks attached to the card, which are usually associated with the highest fees and are the last to have payments applied toward the principal. People tend to get into trouble by using one card to pay another because, often, they're doing it because they are already in or near financial distress, and they fail to catch up with the payments. However, if you are organized, disciplined, have ample income, and want to earn rewards points in a big way, then this strategy can be a winner, as long as using one card to pay another doesn't lead to more spending, less saving, and bigger balances growing on any of the credit cards.

Shirley Pulawski is a freelance journalist who frequently contributes to

The Worst And Best States For Credit