Guest post by Tanya at Little Life Improvements
I’m sure you’ve heard the ads that tell you how great mystery shopping can be: “Get paid to buy stuff and eat out!”
When I first heard about mystery shopping, I actually thought the whole idea sounded too good to be true — basically like a big scam. I decided to do some research because mystery shopping sounded like the perfect way to add a little extra money to our budget and I had to know for sure whether or not it was legit!
I did a lot of reading on the internet and found some legitimate companies who were actually paying people to shop for them.
What would you think if I told you that during my first two years of mystery shopping, I made over $10,000 (between paid compensation and being reimbursed for merchandise or food purchases that were required by the shops)?
My husband and I are living proof that it is possible to make a reasonable extra income through mystery shopping. It’s taken a lot of work and quite a bit of learning, but it’s been a worthwhile venture for us.
Before you start out on your own mystery shopping venture, I’d like to share some of what we’ve learned over the past 5+ years of mystery shopping:
1. Watch Out For Scams
I found this to be crucial when searching for companies to work with. You’ve probably heard about them and it’s true — there really are mystery shopping scams out there. A couple of things I’ve done to avoid the scammers are:
- Don’t pay anyone to become a mystery shopper. Would you pay the local retail store to hire you? Mystery shopping is a job and we don’t pay to get jobs anywhere else. If they’re asking for your money in order to allow you to shop with them, beware!
- Sign up with companies that offer a secure sign-up form. I have the policy that I will not sign up with a website whose registration form is not on a secure site. I figure that if they can’t go to the trouble to keep my information secure on the internet, they might not be the highest quality company to work for.
2. Prepare to Work
Like anything else in life, mystery shopping takes work. Each shop assignment will have specific instructions that need to be followed in order for the shop to be acceptable. And once the fun part of shopping is done, there is a report to complete. The effort that you put into the quality of your shops will help determine whether or not the company will assign you shops in the future.
3. Weigh the Costs
This point ties in with the previous one. When searching for mystery shopping assignments, carefully weigh the costs. Remember to take into account the time you will spend both completing the shop and filling out the report afterward. Remember to calculate your gas costs too — these days those can add up pretty quickly!
4. Save for Taxes
You’ll have to record your mystery shopping income as self-employment income when you file taxes each year. The amount of taxes that we have had taken out each year has varied. Sometimes we’ve saved too much and had a “bonus” at the end of the year. Other years, we haven’t set aside enough and have had to scrounge up more money to cover our self-employment taxes. I have found that setting aside 30-40% of my mystery shopping earnings to save toward paying taxes at the end of the year is a good amount.
5. Track Your Earnings
I keep a spreadsheet in Excel of all the shops that I complete, the company I complete them with, the shop fee amount, the amount I spend and will be reimbursed for my purchase and the date that I actually receive payment.
Most mystery shopping companies pay 30-60 days after the shop has been completed so it’s important to be able to know if you’re missing any payments or not. This spreadsheet is also key when it comes time to prepare our tax forms. I can tell at a quick glance how much we earned that year.
6. Know the Companies
As you work with different mystery shopping companies, you will find the ones that you like the best. Some are very strict with their requirements and will absolutely not pay you if any condition is unmet. Others are a bit more flexible and will try to work with your schedule and needs.
Some require lengthy survey forms to be completed after shops are completed, others only want a short description of your visit. Some companies specialize in upper class shops (like the Coach shop I completed or the $200 meal at an upscale restaurant), others are more ordinary (and less stressful — like gas stations and fast food chains).
Whichever mystery shopping companies you choose to go with, learn their requirements and strive to meet or exceed them. This will help you build a good reputation with that company and it improves your ability to receive future shops.
Is mystery shopping right for you?
I don’t think mystery shopping is a good fit for everyone. You have to decide how well it will fit into your own lifestyle.
My husband and I now have two little ones and we really don’t do a lot of mystery shopping these days because a lot of the shops require you to complete them alone, with no children in tow.
We have had to weigh how willing we are to give up the precious time that my husband has at home for me to go out and complete mystery shops while he watches the kids. We haven’t stopped mystery shopping altogether, we’ve just gotten more choosy about which shops we accept.
Tanya is the blessed wife of a very loving husband and mommy to two toddlers. She loves finding ways to improve the life of her family by budgeting, finding tips and tricks for around the house and looking for fun frugal ways to spend time together. You can check out her blog Little Life Improvements.
Interested in Becoming a Mystery Shopper?
If you’re interested in becoming a mystery shopper, be sure to check out the list Tanya has put together of her favorite companies to work for. In addition, check out my article on my experiences as a mystery shopper. -Crystal