Finding the Value in Low-Paying Assignments

So many mystery shoppers today complain about the low level of compensation that many assignments pay. It’s hard to blame them because, after all, who wouldn’t be insulted at earning $15 or less for two hours of their time for travel, the site visit, and report writing, too. This barely meets the equivalent of minimum wage. Today many far less skilled jobs like bagging groceries and scooping fries in a fast food restaurant pay far more than minimum wage, so certainly a pay rate at that low level would be a slap in the face. Or is it?

The fact is that there is – in most cases anyway – far more value in an assignment than the base pay. Oftentimes, the base pay of an assignment, otherwise known as the “shop pay” isn’t even half of the total compensation. Here are some things to consider:

Expense Reimbursements. Take a look at the full assignment details, and you likely will see that there is an expense reimbursement included for a required purchase. Now, there are a few assignments that are purchase-and-return, which ask you to make two separate visits to the site for first purchasing and item and then returning it. Such assignments are generally a serious waste of time unless there is a huge base pay involved because there is twice as much time involved, no expense reimbursement, and often twice the reporting involved too. Other assignments, however, often will have an expense reimbursement equal to or greater than the shop pay, which means your total compensation likely doubles when you take into account the “free” goods you get.

Extras. Sometimes assignments have little perks added on, like bonus pay or travel pay. These are meant to entice a mystery shopper to do an assignment that has otherwise been passed up on for one reason or another. Often, the little bit of extra bonus pay or travel pay is enough to make the assignment worthwhile. However, if you come across an assignment that just doesn’t look like it’s being adequately compensated, you can certainly ask for a higher amount in the form of travel pay. You don’t want to just ask for more money, but you should instead offer your reasons for the request for more money.

Write-offs. One of the biggest benefits of mystery shopping in general is the tax write-offs, and the biggest of these for mystery shoppers is typically the write-off for your travel expenses. You can choose to write off actual costs for your travel expenses, but most mystery shoppers find it easier to keep a journal of their miles traveled for assignments. This may not sound like it would be worth it, but for each mile you drive, you basically get to write off 51 cents. So if you drive ten miles to an assignment and ten miles back home, you can write off $10.20. Considering a lot of the assignment pay isn’t much higher than that and many mystery shoppers travel farther than for assignments, you can see that a lot of your income as a mystery shopper can be tax-free.

Rather than look at each of these benefits separately (“Oh, gee, I got a free pair of socks today”), instead look at the benefits as a total package deal. That $15 assignment that has a $10 reimbursement plus $10 extra bonus pay is sure looking a lot better now that you can sock away $35 in total compensation for it – not to mention that a large part of that may be tax-free because of the mileage deduction. There is more value in many of the lower-paying assignments than what you see on the surface.