Some days, being on a tight budget sucks. Sometimes it’s fun and I can see it as an adventure. One thing is for sure: it forces me to be creative! I want to share with ya’ll some fun ways I’ve found to save money. This is my current favorite.
I eat out at restaurants for free. Sometimes I even get paid to do it.
This is for real. I know, there are a lot of scams out there, I’ve been duped a few times by “work from home” opportunities. But I got smart! Now my family and I are eating out for free at least once a week. I’ve been doing it for several months now, and it’s easy.
We’ve had anything from anything from cheap burgers to fancy sushi. When I get home, I fill out a simple survey then a few weeks later I get reimbursed what I spent, plus sometimes a little extra. (So in that case, I am getting PAID to eat good food!)
I’ve also scored free food from a grocery store and a free oil change, and next week I’ll get free gas. Twice last month I spent about 20 minutes touring a day care with A.C. (my 1.5-year-old daughter) pretending like I was interested in sending her there, and got paid $50 for my time.
This is the magic of Mystery Shopping!
Let me tell you, I am seriously addicted! If you want to start, here are some tips.
1. Make Sure You Find a Good Company
Mystery Shopping gets a bad rep, probably because there are too many fake companies out there that will try to con you by asking you to send them a money order or something. Don’t do that.
Be smart. Make sure they are accredited with the Better Business Bureau. Do a simple search of the company’s name plus “scam” to see what comes up. There shouldn’t be a signup fee or anything. My general rule of thumb with any company is this: if the website looks like it was made when Angelfire and Geocities pages were a thing, don’t trust them.
One of my favorite money-saving blogs, The Penny Hoarder, has a great list of the best mystery shop companies to work for.
Like any job, you have to apply. Depending on the type of shop, you may need to read a manual and take a test to qualify. The first shop always takes the longest, but once you start it’s pretty simple.
2. Plan Ahead
For someone who is spontaneous, this is a challenge. But hey, FREE FOOD. Usually, this doesn’t work if you do it last-minute. So, every few days I log on the websites to see what new shops are up.
Next I pull out my calendar and coordinate. I look at other appointments to see where I’ll be in relation to the shops that need filling, and go from there. It’s a great chance to grab lunch after the chiropractor.
Just make sure you double-check your availability as most companies don’t like when you have to frequently reschedule or cancel.
3. It’s All In the Details
Before you do a mystery shop, make sure you read through all the paperwork and know what’s required of you. With fast food, some shops are drive-thru and some are dine-In. I’ve found drive-thrus are bit better to do when A.C. is teething and cranky.
Make sure you pay attention to small details like the name of the employee who serves you and whether or not there are fingerprint smudges on the windows. Memorize what you need to know ahead of time so you won’t be stressed and forget important things.
4. Be Normal!
Mystery shopping is fun because you get to feel like a secret agent! (Or maybe that is just me…) On that note, never let the employees know you are anything but a regular customer. Don’t bring the paperwork in, instead type notes on your phone discreetly. You’ll probably need to take pictures of your food, which is fine because everyone does it to post on Instagram.
5. Fill Out the Report ASAP
If I have time, I try to do the survey as soon as I get home so the details won’t be lost. Usually, you have to turn them in within 12 hours, and if my day has been particularly busy I end up staying up late trying to remember what happened. Sometimes when my husband is with me he’ll help me remember stuff.
Mystery shopping has changed my life!
I am a super nerd about saving money and I LOVE food. Mystery shopping has been amazing because I get to go out to eat without feeling guilty if it’s not in our budget. My husband and I have even incorporated some of the nicer restaurants into our date nights. We make a game out of noticing the details…. like we’re spies .;)
Also, it’s been amazing to do a side job with A.C. in tow. She USUALLY behaves. 😉
As a writer, it’s a great way to exercise my creativity and it’s fun to write details about the food and service. I love having the freedom to pick shops that work with my schedule when we’re tight on cash.
Do you mystery shop? Tell me all about it!