Monday, December 21

Mystery shopping as a route to saving

These days, a lot of the mystery shops I choose involve some form of spending. First of all, these shops tend to have better pay. Often, the most fun shops involve spending. Last week, Tim and I got to see a movie. We'll be reimbursed for one ticket (we used a pass for the other) plus the popcorn.

But there is a third benefit that I am only now realizing: savings.

When you get paid for a mystery shop, you're generally looking at a month to a month and a half lag. So, by the time you get it, it can easily feel like found money -- even when the payment includes a reimbursement for shop expenses.

So if the spending on a shop is relatively low -- that is, you feel comfortable taking it out of the bank account, rather than putting it on a card -- mystery shops can provide an excellent route to savings.

Let's face it, except in the most extreme cases, most of us will pick up a few unnecessary purchases. If you have plenty of money still in the account, it's easier to rationalize that bag of candy, a latte or some other small treat. The point is, you're likely to spend money on something that you barely remember a few days later.

But if that $10-20 is spent in the course of a mystery shop, you will probably forgo the indulgence. Then, when the payment comes to you, it's a heftier amount -- one that you're more likely to put against debt or into savings.

In this way, then, I'm starting to see mystery shopping as a route to bigger debt repayment.

Of course, this doesn't work when you have to put the expenses on a card. So restaurant shops, which can often run $30-50, may not be expenses you can take out of your account without feeling a pinch. Or perhaps you would take it as a challenge to be particularly careful for that period.

I suppose this method of savings could be applied even without the mystery shopping angle. For example, when I feel the urge to get a DQ Blizzard, I could exercise some willpower and just put the money aside. (And that would be good for both my wallet and my waistline.) Then, when Tim's unemployment check comes, I could redeposit the cash and put it toward the credit card payment.

Arguably, if I can exercise willpower more, I could simply stick to a stricter budget and skip these little psychological fake-outs. But when I know the money is sitting in the account, I find it too easy to indulge in small ways. Often the expense is small. I'll okay a bag of candy for Tim or myself (or both) at the grocery store, when I'd otherwise stick to the list. Still, those $2-3 can add up pretty quickly, as most of us know all too well.

So, at least for now, I need to use these little tricks. They help keep me aware of our spending, and they help me recreate the sense of urgency that sometimes gets lost when I'm burned out or have a craving. Whatever it takes to keep those extra funds going toward credit card debt, rather than to some sugary treat or some fast food.

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Blogger Cat said...

I'm finding that I kind of like the delayed payment aspect of mystery shops too. Most of what I've done so far has been grocery stores and bookstores, places I go anyway. And when I get paid 2 weeks later, I've already done the work, so it's like gravy! Sweet, sweet debt gravy.

December 22, 2009 at 7:16 PM

Anonymous Abby said...

Mmmm debt gravy.

But seriously, I do enjoy getting a nice belated payment -- so long as I haven't rationalized it to help cover extra expenses. It's easy to do on restaurant shops, where your bill may come to more than the reimbursement.

Still, grocery shops can be a great way to get a few free groceries!

December 22, 2009 at 7:19 PM


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