Whether you’re a new mystery shopper or you’ve been mystery shopping for years, we all want to pick and choose the assignments that make the most money. It can be tempting to look simply at the face value of an assignment and think a $5 or $10 assignment is just that. However, when you are a self-employed mystery shopper, there is much more that goes into your bottom line calculation than simply the face value of the assignment.
Bonus Pay. First, take a look at any additional compensation you will be receiving for your assignment. Let’s say the base pay of an assignment is $10, plus there is $5 bonus pay for completing the assignment quickly. Right there, you are up to $15 as compensation for your time and efforts.
Expense Reimbursement. Expense reimbursement can get tricky. Smart mystery shoppers are very careful about required purchases. Some assignments will reimburse you $5 for a purchase, when the cheapest item in the store is $10. If this is the case, you’ve lost $5 since you were only reimbursed $5 for a $10 purchase.
Smart mystery shoppers think about the items they could buy in the store with a required purchase. Let’s say you need to buy something in a retail store and are being reimbursed $5 for the purchase. If you purchase a needed item, something you had intended to buy anyway out of your personal budget, a $5 net loss doesn’t seem so bad. This is because you had intended to purchase the $10 item anyway, and instead only paid $5 for it. In effect, you have SAVED an additional $5 by completing this assignment. So let’s add this $5 to your $15 total compensation, making a total of $20 in compensation to you so far for this example assignment.
Paid To Drive. Perhaps one of the biggest areas that mystery shoppers can use to really get the most out of your paychecks is by writing off travel mileage. Taking this example assignment, let’s say you traveled 10 miles to the site location and 10 miles back, for a total of 20 miles traveled. With the current IRS mileage deduction at $0.55 per mile, you are able to make the first $11 of your compensation tax-free.
So far, we are up to $20 in total compensation, with $15 taxable income and $5 savings on a purchase you intended to make anyway. Let’s take a typical income tax rate of 20%. If you earned $15 in a normal, hourly job, you would pay $3 in taxes. As a mystery shopper, with the bonus of the benefit of the travel write-off, you only pay tax on $4 of this money. So you only need to pay $1.20 in taxes rather than $4 as with a traditional job.
If you had traveled just a little farther for this assignment, you can see that you would have paid no taxes on your income, and may have even been able to get a deduction towards other income you earn from a regular job or from other sources!
The bottom line for mystery shopping is that while mystery shopping may seem comparable in pay as working a traditional part-time job in a retail store, grocery store, or restaurant, this is not the case. With the benefits of bonus pay, expense reimbursement, and the tax write off for mileage, the bottom line for mystery shopping income can actually be significantly higher than with a traditional part-time job!