Make Extra Money with Mystery Shops

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:


Market Force Shopper



Tips for Successful Mystery Shopping

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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,


It’s Brooklyn’s Birthday

My daughter turns 9 this week, and I have made it my mission to make her birthday cake each year.  I set the bar a little too high, though, with her 4th birthday, and have been trying to top it every year since.

2nd Birthday: Funfetti Cake in Heart Shape with Conversation Hearts

4th Birthday: Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake with White Chocolate Buttercream

5th Birthday: Funfetti Cake Cut into Stars for Decorating with Kool-Aid flavored icing

7th Birthday: Zebra Print Cake with Strawberry Kool-Aid Icing

8th Birthday: Individual Fondant-Covered Chocolate Cakes and Oreo Cookie Cake Pops

This year, she has only asked that it be Red Velvet with Cream Cheese icing.  Aside from that, I have freedom to decorate as I wish.  And that’s where I’m hitting “decorator’s block.”  She chose to go bowling this year, so I was thinking that I would decorate in a bowling theme.  I’ve made my own marshmallow fondant and modeling chocolate before, so I don’t know why I am feeling particularly daunted by this cake.  What are some ideas that you have?  Leave a comment and keep ’em coming.  I have until Sunday to come up with something to beat all those that came before.




Ham and Cheese Crescent Ring

I’ll say it.  Sometimes you just have to make a meal you know your kids will love.  Nutritionally sound?  Could be better.  Organic?  Definitely not.  Quick, easy, and something they will actually eat?  Ding, ding.  We have a winner.  I’ve found it helps to make the food look cute.  My daughter couldn’t help but be nosy as I was putting this Ham and Cheese Crescent Ring together.  And isn’t that really the point of it all?  I don’t know about you, but I hate when I slave over a hot stove to make a magnificent feast just to have her stick up her nose.  Of course, I still mandate a “thank you” bite, but I would much rather prefer she enjoy what I put in front of her without fuss.

Aside from being kid-friendly, you can switch out the ingredients for a boatload of combinations.  Switch out the ham and cheese for chicken, bacon and colby jack cheese.  You can even spread on some ranch dressing before adding the filling.  Ooh, what about taco meat with cheese and salsa.  Ok, I’m totally doing that next time.

Alright, back to this one.  This no fuss meal will be on the table in less than 20 minutes, and I promise smiles from the kiddos.  Add a salad and some fruit for a complete meal.

Ham and Cheese Crescent Ring

Servings: 4

Total Time: 15-20 minutes


1 Package Crescent Rolls

8 Slices American Cheese, each slice folded in half and separated

16 Slices Deli Ham

2 Tbsp Melted Butter, optional

1 Tsp Pretzel Salt, optional



Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Unroll and separate Crescent Rolls

Arrange wide sides in a circle with thin ends pointing out

Layer a piece of sliced cheese on each section

Layer two slices of Deli Ham on each section

Layer remaining cheese on each section

Fold Crescent dough over to encase filling

*Optional: Brush top with Melted Butter and sprinkle with Pretzel Salt

Bake for 11-14 minutes until golden brown.