Part of my continued quest to “feast for a fraction” not only includes finding creative ways to make delicious food on a budget, it includes finding creative ways to make extra money or find ways to do things for free. I started performing mystery shops two years ago as a way to get free dinner every couple weeks. I started small by using one site to perform shops at local fast food restaurants. It was a quick and easy way to get reimbursed for my meal and make a couple dollars. It was in no way going to be a real income, but it made for free food. Now, I consistently get free oil changes, eat at restaurants that I would never go to otherwise because they would be too expensive, and even get reimbursed for hotel stays. I’ve shopped grocery stores and gas stations, been reimbursed for bowling, and even gotten free pairs of shoes.
The most important thing to note is that you should NEVER have to pay to perform mystery shops. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scam sites out there, so you’ll want to make sure that the site is reputable. I have included the sites that I use, but there is a really great resource at MSPA-NA in which you can find reputable companies. My favorites are:
Tips for Successful Mystery Shopping
- Make sure to discretely take notes during the shop. I have made the mistake of not writing down important details, and it has gotten me into trouble when it came to reporting the shop. You’ll need to make note of the names of employees and any other requirements spelled out in the shop description.
- Take pictures. You will definitely need to take a picture of your receipt in order to upload for your reimbursement, but it is also helpful to take pictures of the facility and even the quality and display of your food. You may not be required to upload the additional pictures, but it is better to be overly prepared, and they will help jog your memory when reporting the shop.
- Track your mileage. As a mystery shopper, you are considered an independent contractor. This means that you work for yourself, and your mileage is tax-deductible. Your expenses for each shop are tax-deductible, as well, so make sure to save your receipts for the year.
- Look for mystery shops to perform while you’re on vacation. Traveling can be expensive on its own. Why not schedule a mystery shop or two to help cut down on the food expenses. Each site will allow you to expand or change your search parameters.
- Last, but certainly not least, it is important to keep in mind that most mystery shop companies pay out and reimburse once a month. For example, any shops performed July 1-31 will be paid on Aug 15th. Other companies reimburse 30-45 days from the date the shop is accepted. When I perform more expensive shops such as hotel stays, I use a dedicated credit card so that my personal income is not tied up for an extended period of time.
I’d love to hear what mystery shops you have done? Leave a comment below with your favorite, or feel free to ask questions.
Until next time,