This “Sanity Savers” series is designed to explore the many ways that we frugalites avoid feeling deprived while we save up and pay down debt.
For me, one of the best ways to get out on a budget is mystery shopping. By and large, these shops don’t pay much. However, you can get reimbursed for a night out with a friend or partner. I’ve gotten free meals, movies, gaming centers and even stays in hotels.
But maybe you don’t feel like giving up potential debt snowflakes for a night of fun. You could argue that the money is better served going to debt now, rather than wait one to two months for reimbursement — which could then go to debt.
Mystery shopping can still be for you. You can get a lot of normal, necessary expenses partially (or fully) reimbursed. You can also get normal expenses reimbursed. There are oil change shops, vision shops (up to $100 off), vet visits and plenty others.
The one caveat here — as always — is that you have to be willing to fork over the cash upfront. It will take 1-2 months to get the money back. (Most companies process payments on the last day of the month following the one in which you shop. The one exception I’ve found: hotels. You use a credit card, and the charges are reversed once your shop form has been reviewed and accepted.) And if you don’t adhere to the rules, there is the risk of not being reimbursed at all.
But it’s not actually hard to get your money back. I’ve always gotten reimbursed. The important part is simply reading through the requirements several times to be sure you don’t miss anything.
So how do you do get started?
Volition.com is a terrific site for anyone interested in extra income. It has information on paid emails, paid surfing and, of course, mystery shopping. There is an extensive list — so extensive, in fact, that it has to be broken into several sections.
You can also read my mystery shopping company review post.
But those aren’t the only resource. There’s a board for up-and-coming shops. You can even search by geographic area, so you don’t have to wade through listings that are too far away. And there’s even a forum, where people report on their experiences with various companies. This is a great way to get a feel for which organizations you want to work with.
Now, usually I never recommend paying for mystery shopping company information. In fact, I counsel against it.
But this book isn’t just a list of companies. The author has been mystery shopping for more than 15 years. There’s also a lot of information about shopping, and she had some interesting information about panel studies and other hustles. She manages to get paid to try, evaluate and even keep products!
So despite being skeptical about paying for this kind of thing, I actually do recommend getting the book.(And yes, I’m an affiliate, so I suppose I have incentive to say that. But I’m only an affiliate for products I believe in.)
One way or another, you’ve gotten a good list of companies to apply with. What’s next?
First, get an auto-fill program. They’re free, and it’ll save you time/hand cramps.
Second, write about your most recent shopping experience. Be sure to mention things like eye contact, smiling, greeting, etc. Most applications will want a sample, and you don’t want to have to write something different for each company.
Third, start visiting those companies’ sites and applying. Free drinks, meals, movies, hotel stays and more lie in your future!
Have you ever mystery shopped before? What was your experience? Any fun shops you’ve gotten?