This is a time-intensive occupation, this mystery shopping thing. I remember in the early days spending hours looking for jobs on a hundred or more job boards, trying to see what I could cobble together into a worthwhile route, then more time sending emails asking for bonuses, then getting on the mapping software and figuring out how to get it done. And then, of course, doing the shops. I figure I was netting $5 an hour or less. But it was worthwhile at the time, because it added up to a lot of money.
But it was also a lot of time away from my “life” – home, family, friends, travel, hobbies – and yet, wasn’t this the reason I was shopping? To provide money to help me enjoy all the above? To make my home nice, to go to dinner or an outing with family or friends, to take a trip, to pay for my hobbies? The unceasing pursuit of the means to enjoy those things meant I had no TIME to enjoy them.
There are a lot of ways to achieve balance in our lives. Here are some of the things you might try if you’re having the same problem:
- Time the market. I found I was inclined to need a break after the end of month rush. So for a while I had a pattern of doing very little mystery shopping in the early days of the month, and then shopping for bonuses the last two weeks. That gave me a couple weeks to relax and enjoy life before starting up again.
- Set a budget. I have income from other sources; I got into this to try to plug a particular hole in my budget, and found myself making far more than that without even trying. Who can pass up some of these bonuses? But instead of setting a goal of “I need to make X amount each month” I tried to change my mental focus to “I ONLY need to make X amount each month.” It was okay to stop once I reached that.
- Raise your sights. There comes a time when you have to “just say no” to cheap shops, and let the newbies have them. The newbies need the $5 and $10 shops to prove themselves so they can get the $25 shops. With this strategy, I set a minimum of $15 or $20 for local shops; $30 to $50 minimum for distant shops if I was going there anyway. The pressure to build routes was lifted. I could make my target monthly amount without feeling the need to book out all my time and pick up every shop I was driving past. Now I’ll do a route if I feel like going for a drive and there’s at least $150 in bonuses on the way. And I no longer scoop up everything I’m driving past. I pick up a couple of plums and leave the flock of turkeys in the bushes. I finish the reports by 10 p.m., not midnight.
- Use the tools. The Presto shopping app is a fantastic tool, showing on a map where Sassie shops are. Click on the bubble, see what it is, what it pays, click through to the shop instructions, and apply on the spot. The MSJobboard is a similar tool for Shopmetrics jobs, showing them on a map. Those two tools alone can save me opening fifty job boards.
- Learn who has the good jobs and focus on them. I have a spreadsheet of every job I’ve ever done, who the MSC is, where it was, and what it paid. I can easily sort this on Amount and focus on checking those particular job boards with the most lucrative shops.
- Keep your eye on the prize. I try to remember WHY I am doing this. If I am shopping so I can travel – I need to book a trip now and then! If you keep saying, “I can’t go do that fun thing I want to do because mystery shopping is taking all my time” – what’s the point? And maybe your “prize” is just having enough to buy groceries. In that case, “reward” yourself by keeping a running total of how much of your grocery bill you covered. Hang it on the wall: Total groceries for May: $800 Groceries paid for by MS money: $600. Give yourself a way to SEE what you have accomplished, not just in monetary terms but in terms of what it got you that you needed or wanted.
- Decide what your time is worth. Newbies need to suck up some bottom-feeder jobs to learn the skills and/or prove they have them before those higher-priced jobs will materialize. But once you’re in the position where you are making the amount you NEED to make each month, it’s time to focus on making that same amount with fewer shops, less search time, less driving. You need to give yourself a “raise.” Decide what you need for travel bonus to cover the operating costs on your car. Never travel for less. Look at your other opportunities to make money, starting with flipping burgers for McDonald’s – if you can’t make that much mystery shopping on a per-hour basis – why aren’t you knocking on McDonald’s door asking for a job?
- Don’t take a shop just because you can. It’s easy to get flattered that the scheduler called you, told you how wonderful you were, and how much they appreciate your hard work – but when that flattery is accompanied by only a $5 bonus, it’s okay to say, “No. I won’t do that shop for less than $20 bonus.” And then stick to it. Don’t waffle if they say, “How about $15?” Otherwise next time they’ll be talking you down to $10.
- Set a schedule. Think about how much money you need to make from this. Figure out how many hours you will need to devote to it to make it. Say in point 7 you decided you want to make $15 an hour. Say in step 2 you decided you need to make $900 a month to support the prize you’re aiming at in step 6. Divide that by $15. You need to work 60 hours a month, 15 hours a week. Try to get your mystery shopping done in that many hours. Write it down on a calendar. “Punch in and punch out” when you are searching for jobs, doing jobs, doing reports. When you start recording the time you spend versus the money you make, you will automatically start to make minor adjustments to become more efficient.
- Look out for #1. You are not working to help the scheduler achieve her goals. While it’s fine to develop a mutually beneficial arrangement, focus on your own goals. If the scheduler wants to achieve HER goals, she needs to help you achieve YOURS. And if it stops working out for you – QUIT. Find something else to do. This isn’t for everyone.
Once you find the combination of these tips that enables you to control the time you invest in mystery shopping, you may find you have time to actually enjoy the fruits of those labors.
Find your balance. Don’t let mystery shopping become your life. It can be fun; but it’s not the same as sitting on your porch enjoying a sunset with someone you love. Make time for the sunsets.