Thursday, January 22, 2015

Side Hustlin'- Confessions of a Secret Shopper (and tips if you want to do it, too)

So I have approached this whole paying down debt thing the same way I would approach teaching a class, acting a role or directing a play- first I do a LOT of research. And so I have been combing the ol' interweb and WOW are there a lot of blogs about getting out of debt. WOW.
But even with all of this excess of information at my disposal, as far as I can tell it still comes to a list of 2 basic things I need to do-

1) Live frugally- spend less than I make with the extra going to debt
2) Increase my income- make more money with the extra going to debt. The Debt/Frugal living/Personal Finance bloggers seem to call this a Side Hustle.

the rest is gravy.

Okay. I can do this. I decided that in January I would do ONE thing to live more frugally and ONE thing to increase my income.

Frugal Living- Couponing! Brilliant! It was kind of a disaster. Which I will write about later. I swear. Because it's pretty hilarious if I do say so myself. Instead I will write about...

Increasing Income/Side Hustle- SECRET SHOPPING

Now to be fair, I had done this before. When I was a SAHM I had started doing this just as a means of making a little extra cash in an attempt to avoid using the credit card to make ends meet. (Spoiler alert: It didn't work.) But I had stepped away from doing it when I was 900 months pregnant with my 2nd son because frankly it felt like just a raindrop in a thunderstorm and the energy it took didn't feel worth it in my hormone induced pity party state. Then I got a full-time job and I figured I didn't need to do it anymore. But now I'm SIDE HUSTLIN' so it's back I go to my secret consumer life. This month I've done 4 shops and made $98 so far.

My husband likes to imagine that I dress in all black and have a code name like Natasha and slink around stores looking for my contact to get my Secret Shopping mission. I let him think that. But it's actually pretty boring. Here's how it goes:

1) I signed up with a few reputable Secret Shopping websites. I happen to like
Anne Michaels and Associates and Beyond Hello.  I tried a few others, but these two had the most opportunities, the clearest instructions and feedback formats and the best pay. In my opinion.

2) I filled out the extended profile for each.

3) I get sent emails daily that have titles like "Ann Michaels and Associates Mystery Shop Posting: Restaurant/Winery (Due 1-28-15)" Depending on the time of year I can get sent as few as 2 or as many as 25.

4) I then click on ones that have due dates that look doable based on my schedule. When I click on it there is general information about the type of shop (Clothing, Restaurant, etc.) & the location (City only). Then if it still looks like it might be a good fit, I click on a link that takes me to a page where I can apply for the shop. 

5) On the application page there is information about the pay, times and any special qualifications or restrictions. While the name of the store is never mentioned, often an address is given and a quick google search can often reveal where you would be shopping. If it all still looks good, I apply. Just type in my email and password for the site. Done.

6) Then I wait to see if I get picked. It's kind of like gym class all over again, but with significantly less stress. And less dodge ball. I get an email notifying me either way.

 7) If I am selected, I get my "mission". These actually can be kind of overwhelming if you haven't done one before. There is often a LOT of information, including what you are to be shopping for, things you need to be looking for, questions that need to be asked and in some cases photos that will need to be taken. When I first started doing these I would study my "mission" info and take notes. (To be fair, I was also kind of bored and overcompensating.) But the more I did, the more comfortable I became and the better I got at remembering what needed to be done.
Tom Cruise, not me

8) Shopping Day comes and off I go. When I started and my son was about 18 months I would try to only do shops where I could take my kid (if it doesn't specify "no kids" my understanding is that you can bring them) so I didn't have to get a sitter or take up family time. Now that I have an overactive 3 1/2 year old and an infant, I try to do them solo. Family time- schmamly time. My sanity can only take so much.

9) Then I fill out a report on my experience. Some are more extensive than others, but pay is usually compensated accordingly.  The reports for the two places I use are online and very easy to fill out. I can also save them and return to them which is great when dealing with previously mentioned tiny people living in my house.

10) I submit and hear back in a few weeks what my "rating" was (they grade you. Again like gym class. But again significantly less stress and physical exertion) and that the shop is complete. I get paid in the month following the shop directly to my Pay Pal account.

Done and Done. Secret Shopping in 10 Easy Steps. Not as sexy or exciting as my husband's fantasy about how it plays out, but still a pretty great way to make some extra cash. Or to go out to eat for free.

If you think this sounds fun or at least not horrible, here are a few pro-tips (and I use the term "pro" loosely) as you get started.

1) If you can, use an email that is designated for this kind of thing. You will sometimes get A LOT of emails and it is much easier to keep track of it all (new postings, submissions, shops due, etc.) if it's all in one place and not cluttering up your personal or professional email inbox.

2) If you don't already have a Pay Pal account, sign up for a Pay Pal account so you can get paid with Pay Pal.  Pay Pal Pay Pal Pay Pal. Can't stop saying it. Makes things MUCH easier. Seriously.

3) The first few times you do it, give yourself WAY more time than you need. Meaning, don't have somewhere you need to be immediately following or right before. Once you get more comfortable with them, it does become something you can do on a lunch hour or while the kids are at hockey practice, but starting out give yourself a lot of buffer room.

4) Take photos of business cards and receipts needed as soon as you get in your car or in your house. It's so easy to lose those darn things and your shop will not be accepted with out them in most cases.

5) Don't get TOO creative or detailed, but go ahead and have fun. I may not put on an accent and give myself an alias (much to my husband's chagrin), but it can be kind of a stress release to pretend to be someone who IS buying something that you would never have the money, interest, desire to buy. Or out at a restaurant you would never go to.  It's a side hustle, not a second job. Hustlin' is a lot of work, but it can also be fun. So let it be. Find the joy in the hustle.

Well that's all I got.
Coming soon- Posts including  "Couponing for Dummies, But In This Case I'm the Dummy" and "My Sanity Saving Non-Emergency Fund."  Also "I Love Carbs. And They Love Me Back. So Why Do They Hurt Me So- A Dysfunctional Love Story"


  1. Dear Losing It Lightly,

    I am your number one fan! Hoping I can use this info to my benefit while looking for a "real" job. Thanks so much for sharing :)

    Unemployed in LA

    1. Dear Unemployed-
      I am YOUR #1 fan. Good luck with the Hustle. And with LA. You've got this!

    2. Also in all my researching I stumbled upon this
      She is a twenty something actress who blogs about budgeting and personal finance matters for young artists.