We’ve all heard about the gimmicks and scams online, offering to let you shop on someone else’s dime – but can you really ‘mystery shop’ and save? Marcy puts it to the test…
If you’re like my family, you’ve been challenged these last few years to do more on the same or less income. It can be hard to say “no” when friends want to go out to dinner or when dreams of romantic getaways – or even just a night away from the kids – are met with expensive price tags.
In an effort to continue and even increase nights without cooking minus having to hit up the nearest fast food chain, a little over a year ago our family began mystery shopping.
What is mystery shopping? By working as an independent contractor with a reputable company (see below for some of my favorites) you pick the dates and places that work for you (in the mystery shopping world these are called “shops”), you eat out or stay at a hotel according to the event description and report on your experience responding to questions you were given in advance. Completing a shop questionnaire can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 or 3 hours depending on the event and your writing style.
How mystery shopping can help you cut back…
Girls’ Weekends + Getaways: If you enjoy making trips with your girlfriends, sisters, or hubby, mystery shopping a hotel for a night is a great way to take a mini-vacation for free. For spring break this year I knew which dates my family would be in certain cities and we were able to mystery shop a nice hotel for a night in Chicago which cut $148 out of our trip expenses. Last summer my husband and I have also mystery shopped at a local hotel and got free dinner in addition to the hotel stay.
Family Dinners + Date Nights: After a long, hard day or week it can be overwhelming to think about making lunch or dinner for our families. Or if you’re looking for nice venues for a date night on a small budget, you might be surprised what opportunities are available. By mystery shopping my family has been able to try various restaurants that are often of a higher end than our budget, for free.
The fine print?
- Applying to be a mystery shopper can take up to an hour per company. The application is fairly simple but requires a writing sample. Don’t worry, they’re just checking that you can be objective and use proper punctuation.
- Some shops reimburse you via check about a month afterwards while others will give you a gift card to the location you shopped. All this information is shared up front so you never agree to a shop without first knowing the maximum dollar amount that will be reimbursed and the type of tender you will receive.
So, in the end, mystery shopping really did save us money this year. Could it help put the fun back in your family’s entertainment budget?