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Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping

Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery Shopping

During college, my mother accurately described me as someone who has “champagne taste on a beer budget.” For me, stumbling on mystery shopping was a happy accident. I had previously heard of mystery shopping (or secret shopping) in the past, but I dismissed it as a scam to get my credit card information and social security number. When I decided that it could potentially be something I pursued, I proceeded to scour the internet for reputable companies and tips for being a better shopper. Three years later, I am one of the many top secret shoppers in the Atlanta area. Though I have since graduated college, I continue to act as a mystery shopper.

Mystery shopping is a method of quality control for businesses. Any business involving customer service can benefit from secret shoppers. A secret shopping company is recruited by a business to monitor customer service through anonymous visits and evaluations. These secret shopper companies hire independent contractors to perform these evaluations. I have personally performed shops at hotels, bars, restaurants, concerts, movie theaters, gyms, and more.

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Almost anyone can become a secret shopper, but before beginning the application and shopping process, it is important to understand the following:

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  1. Most applications will require a brief logic test (basic math questions, spelling, etc.) as well as a short piece of narrative regarding a recent customer service experience.
  2. No matter what your age is, there is a secret shopper job for you. Certain shops cater to different age groups. For example, age compliance shops (I.D. verification) typically require shoppers between the ages of 21 and 29. Most shops require the shopper to be at least 18 years old. For those requiring the consumption of alcohol, shoppers must be 21 or older.
  3. You are not obligated to perform a minimum number of shops per month, although you can be capped at how many shops you can be signed up for at one time. As an independent contractor for the secret shopper company, you create your own schedule.
  4. You are not obligated to only shop in one area. I have frequently created entire vacations out of mystery shopping jobs. I will stay at a secret shopper hotel, eat at secret shopper restaurants, grab snacks at secret shopper grocery stores, etc. If you are traveling through an airport, there are often special shops that can only be completed by shoppers that are traveling.
  5. Mystery shopping is not a means to “get rich quick.” While you can make money performing shops, the majority of shops only include reimbursement. There have been times where I have gotten paid $25 just to visit a jewelry shop, where I was not required to purchase anything. Likewise, there have been times where I have not gotten paid to visit upscale restaurants. However, I am often fully reimbursed for meals that cost over $100 for two people. While you might not make money, you will have memorable experiences that would have otherwise been out of your budget.
  6. A reputable secret shopping company will NOT ask you to pay to register as a shopper. You should be able to sign up for shops without paying for access to the database. However, many secret shopper companies will require you to front the money for your expenditures. You will then be reimbursed in the form of a check at a later time.
  7. A list of reputable companies (as voted by registered independent contractors) can be found through the MSPA-NA (Mystery Shopping Providers Association of North America). Of the companies listed, A Closer Look is by far the best. The wide variety of shops and flexibility in scheduling make it a perfect choice for most people, from young professionals to retired folks and all of those in between. You can apply to be a shopper for their site here.

Like all things in life, becoming a successful secret shopper will take time. Read over the guidelines carefully. If you are uncertain about any aspect of the instructions, get in touch with the secret shopper scheduler for clarification.

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Failure to follow instructions can result in non-payment (though I have personally never had that happen). In the event an editor has a question, be sure to reply as soon as possible. Follow these tips and you will be well on your way to becoming a successful shopper in your area in no time!

Happy Shopping!

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Melissa Manson

Media Planner and Buyer

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Last Updated on June 26, 2020

25 Easy Tips on How to Save Money Fast

25 Easy Tips on How to Save Money Fast

“How to save money fast?” This is the question asked by all of us not in the top 1% of rich people.

If you are looking for ways to drastically reduce your expenses immediately, first look at what you need to spend money on every week. And I mean really need.

You don’t really need to order in food. You don’t really need to buy expensive perfume.

Building from that, you can work out how your regular expenses can be reduced.

As for irregular expenses, they can also be deceptively costly in the long run. Once-off buys can also be tackled with some prudent planning and a little extra research.

And remember: a budgeted lifestyle does not mean a bad or boring one!

But first, understand what budget you can cut down on daily:

  • Regular expenses for the average adult (can be trimmed but not eliminated):
    • food
    • rent/mortgage
    • cell phone
    • insurance
    • socializing/entertainment
    • transportation
    • hygiene products
    • household bills
  • Irregular expenses for the average adult (can be eliminated or cut down a lot):
    • travel
    • clothing
    • medication (*depends)
    • grooming (hair, nails etc.)
    • gifts

Now, let’s dive right into the 25 ways to save money fast:

Save Money on Food

1. Bring a stock of food to the office/work

Instead of popping out for an overpriced salad and a smoothie, leave a set of basic utensils at the office as well as a stock of non-perishable goods such as tinned fruit, tuna, rice crackers and so on (try to avoid the junk food and this can turn into a pretty great diet!).

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Stocking up means you won’t forget or say “I didn’t have the time” when you rushed out to work in the morning.

2. Buy the store-brand version

Many basic foods, such as bread and milk, will taste exactly the same as their branded alternatives. Go for stuff with minimal additives and preservatives. Meat in a tube is probably insanely unhealthy!

3. Eat cheaper cuts of meat

Learn how to tenderize and flavour cheaper meat and fish, and save on the (typically) most expensive item on your grocery bill.

4. Have group dinners

If 10 friends put $5 each in the kitty, it’s pretty easy to make a giant lasagne and get refreshments, as well as hang out with your favourite people.

Save Money in Transport

5. Get a bicycle

Save on gas money and bus/metro fares with this underrated mode of transport.

6. Use public transport and/or don’t get taxis

Some places can only be reached by car. But as a good practise, check your public transport website and see if any routes pass nearby where you need to get to. Walk as much as you can.

7. Find the cheapest gas

Regularly check out where the cheapest gas can be bought.

Save Money in General Shopping

8. Shop online

Not only will you save on the gas or transport fares from going to the shopping mall but you will also find better deals

9. Sell your old stuff

Get your unwanted belongings up on eBay ASAP and earn a few dollars.

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Here’re more ideas for you: 25 Things to Sell to Make a Lot of Money

10. Bulk buying stores

For regular non-perishable/slow perishable purchases such as toilet paper, cat food, pasta, washing powder and so on, do an epic stocking-up trip to a co-op or equivalent (my mum used to go to a place that restaurants buy from).

Be wary of supermarket “deals”, as some have been found to be fraudulent after working out a simple calculation.

11. Become a flea market/car boot sale/street market guru

You can find original gifts and develop good negotiation skills at these places.

12. Generic brand medication

More often than not, the generic version of paracetamol and other basics work the same as the branded version.

13. Choose deodorant, not perfume

It blows my mind when someone drops $70 on a bottle of spray. Stick with a nice deodorant, and not only will you smell just fine but you’ll be sweat-free as well!

Cut Down on Household Expenses

14. Printing

Ink is one of the most expensive substances in the office and coloured ink is doubly so. B

e more efficient and choose black and white, and if your printer doesn’t have a print-both-sides options, just print odd pages first, re-insert the paper and print even pages.

Expand the margins of what you are printing as often as you can to save on paper.

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15. Minimize SMS and phone calls

A combination of a free chat service such as WhatsApp and a free call service such as Skype can reduce your bill to nothing (so long as you have a decent Wifi connection).

16. Shop around for insurance

Most people don’t spend enough time searching for the best insurance deal.

Keep a watchful eye out for deals and new competitors in the market.

17. Try re-negotiating your rent/mortgage

If you have built up a good credit history or a good rapport with your landlord, then chances are a frank chat about needing to tighten your spending could result in lowering your payments. You’ve nothing to lose from trying.

18. Don’t get a TV

Invest in a computer/laptop and an internet-only package. You can watch more (and often better) entertainment on the web, and skip the advertisements as well.

19. Pool your internet bill with a neighbour

My apartment building is basically a big old house split into three apartments. There are five of us in total. We pool the internet bill, making it crazy cheap.

Save Money in Socializing, Entertainment And Travel

20. Have house parties

Instead of paying for overpriced drinks, set up a series of in-house get-togethers with your friends. Everyone takes a turn, so it’s not always your house that needs cleaning.

For sound insulation, hang heavy drapes on the walls and windows. For music, invest in a good second-hand set of speakers which you can connect to your computer. Let Spotify or Grooveshark playlists do the rest.

21. Open festivals, meetups and events

It never fails to surprise me how much underground stuff goes on around me for free or for very cheap. Find out who runs the blogs and websites that list all the less well-known cultural activities.

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22. Volunteer

If you can’t pay for a ticket, volunteer and get to be there anyway.

23. Housesit

There are multiple housesitting websites offering you the possibility to avoid paying hotels and skip the discomfort of crummy hostels.

Save Money on Hygiene and Beauty

24. DIY beauty

French manicures, pedicures, waxing, eyebrows… pretty much all of these can be achieved at home (and done well) with some practise. There are plenty excellent blogs and YouTube tutorials to help.

25. Fewer haircuts/volunteer at a trainee hairdresser

If you can’t bear the risk of a trainee touching your locks, learn more ways to manipulate your hair as it grows and get haircuts sparingly. Women’s haircuts are outrageously priced in many cities.

Bonus: Effective Money-Saving Tips for Everything

Here’s a summary of what you can generally do to save more money:

  • Share/pool resources. Organize a neighbourhood sharing scheme, common resources for your apartment block or with your friends. Not everybody needs an individual lawnmower.
  • Buy energy-saving everything. The easiest way to lower your bills – replace those lightbulbs!
  • Buy in bulk. Be sensible about it (i.e. make sure you have space!), and drastically reduce weekly expenditure.
  • DIY. Skill up using YouTube tutorials on plumbing and many other essential services so you never have to pay for simple problems again.
  • Research a lot before making a decision. Most money-wasting is the result of poor preparation and planning. Don’t shirk this part just because you don’t like it!
  • Use your network. Your network is full of resources that can ease the pain of budgeting. Ask for help.
  • Stop and think. Do I really need it?

Unfortunately, there are some things that require plain ol’ giving up for the time being. This can include high-cost sports such as skiing, the latest versions of some technologies, the finest brands of food/drinks, premier seats at the opera and most other indulgences.

What is important to remember during lean times is that when you look back on your life, it will be the experiences that stand out, not the extra comforts.

Living on a budget can teach you a lot about how much you can really get out of your paycheck. We only live one life, so make the most of every penny you earn!

More Tips for Personal Finance Management

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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