Mystery shopping isn’t always a money-making job. After all, when you combine travel expenses and required purchases with the low pay of some mystery shop assignments, it’s often hard to break even, much less come out ahead. There are some proactive measures you can take to ensure you make money as a mystery shopper, rather than lose money.
Check The Required Purchase. Many assignments require you to make a minimum purchase, often with only a small amount reimbursed. Mystery shoppers can get into a money trap when the cheapest item in a store is $10, but the assignment only reimburses $5.
First, on assignments such as these, ensure the store is selling something that you actually need and had already intended on buying. A good example of this is a typical grocery store assignment, where only $5 or $10 will be reimbursed, but you will be required to purchase ten items. Sure, you can buy ten candy bars or ten jars of baby food to break even. However, with a grocery store assignment, you can also purchase items that you “need”, such as toilet paper, milk, bread, and so on. While your $10 reimbursement won’t fully cover the cost of these items, you are being reimbursed on the cost of necessities rather than spending extra money buying something you don’t need and possibly don’t even want. Avoid the impulse to think only of “needs” as standard items you purchase on a regular basis. You may also “need” to buy your nephew a birthday present or a housewarming gift for your co-worker. Just make sure you planned to buy these gifts anyway.
Know When To Pass. There are some assignments that simply do not make sense for the mystery shopper to complete. Or an assignment may not make sense for one shopper, but may make sense for another shopper. For instance, take the mystery shop assignment of purchasing a high-end pair of sunglasses at a sunglass store with a minimum purchase of $75 and only $10 reimbursed. For many mystery shoppers, a high-end pair of sunglasses is not in their household budget this month, so this assignment would be a quick pass. After all, you would be out at least $65 after completing that assignment, although you’d have a nice pair of shades to show for it. However, if your sunglasses just broke and you aren’t the type of person who buys cheap sunglasses, this assignment might be the perfect answer for getting your sunglasses replaced at less cost to you.
Many assignments are not quite as clear cut as the sunglasses example. For some assignments, you need to have some insight before you accept the assignment as to what type of goods the store sells. If you see an assignment for Hal’s Jewelry with a $10 minimum purchase, you may want to check Hal’s website to ensure the store sells costume jewelry. The last thing you want to do is to walk into Hal’s and find out it’s a fine jewelry establishment where the cheapest thing you can purchase is $200! Every mystery shopper should absolutely take into account the required purchase when considering whether to accept an assignment or not.
Make Every Penny Count. For many mystery shoppers, writing off mileage means the difference to pay taxes on the majority of their mystery shopping income. The current mileage write-off is $0.55 per business-related mile traveled. This means every mile you travel from your home to the store, and back home again. So take a $10 assignment. If you travel just ten miles to get to that assignment, and then ten miles back home, your total mileage write-off would be $11 ($0.55 x 20 miles). This means that you can actually show a loss on your taxes for that assignment, making your pay tax-free! And the only thing you need to do to make that happen is to keep a mileage log!
Before you accept an assignment, simply do some quick math to ensure the required purchase and travel expenses won’t put you in the red on the assignment!