If you are like most people, you have debt: car notes, credit card debt, student loans and other debt. It all adds up and you may find that you have very little money left each month after paying all of your bills.
But what if you didn’t have any debt payments? Can you imagine not having to worry about paying the bills, and even having extra cash to put away for the future—a house, college for the kids, or your retirement?
Mystery shopping can help. You won’t get rich mystery shopping, and mystery shopping is not the only thing you have to do to get out of debt. But it can certainly be part of your get out of debt plan.
Having a plan is the first thing you need to do. I like the plan Dave Ramsey lays out in The Total Money Makeover. There are seven “baby steps” that take you from broke and in debt to wealthy. It is not magic and it doesn’t happen overnight. It is simple, but it is not easy. And it means working both smarter and harder.
Here is how mystery shopping can be a part of your get out of debt plan.
Focus on fee-only shops. It starts with your choice of mystery shopper assignments. Some mystery shops include a small fee and reimburse for a required purchase. Many pay only the reimbursement of the required purchase. And there are some that do not include any required purchase and pay a fee. Those are the ones you should go for first. Although many mystery shoppers like getting “free” stuff on a shop, if you are trying to get out of debt, you need to go after the cash. Shops that are fee-only may include banks, apartments, home builders, and retail shops that do not require a purchase.
Fill in with reimbursement shops that pay for something you actually need. There are secret shops that pay for everything from groceries to eye exams and glasses to cell phones. Getting reimbursed for something you have to buy is almost the same as getting paid a cash fee. Just be careful that you don’t overspend because of the reimbursement. Stay within the reimbursement limit and don’t act like you are spending “free money.”
Back when I was doing a lot of grocery shops, I knew shoppers who bought expensive bakery items and other things that they never would have purchased if they felt they were using their own money. Because they looked at getting reimbursed as free money, they bought things they didn’t need at prices they would not usually pay. Then they had to pay for groceries they needed out of their own pockets. Mistake! Use your reimbursement to buy what you need.
Make a route to save time and money. Instead of doing one shop where you get in the car, drive to the location, do the shop, drive home and do the report, do several shops in one trip. Plan the most efficient route to save time and gas.
Once you have a route, look for “fill-in” shops to earn a bit more. Once you know when and where you will be shopping, see if you can pick up a couple of simple shops along the way. One way to find a lot of available jobs is by searching at Jobslinger. Also look at some self-assign job boards or ask the schedulers you work with regularly if they have any fill-in shops for you. Consider taking a job or two that you wouldn’t want if you had to make a special trip, but are worthwhile as a stop on your route.
Take advantage of tax deductions. As a contract mystery shopper, you are an independent business person. Your mystery shopper income will be reported on your tax return on Schedule C where you list your gross income from mystery shopping, then deduct the reasonable and necessary expenses you incurred while running your business. Expenses for things that are used for both business and non-business purposes may be deductible on a percentage basis. For example, if you use your computer 40% of the time for business, you may be able to deduct 40% of your computer expenses.
Never spend money just to get a tax deduction, but take every legitimate deduction you can. By deducting the business portion of expenses you would incur anyway, you save money. You would have a car anyway, right? By deducting the business expenses related to owning and maintaining your car, you save money. The same principle may apply to things such as computers, Internet access, cell phones, etc.
Use mystery shopping to treat yourself once in a while. When you are focused on getting out of debt, you don’t have money to splurge on fun stuff, such as eating out in restaurants. Mystery shopping can allow you to have an occasional restaurant meal, movie night or bowling outing. Make sure that the reimbursement will cover all required purchases, and take care that your spending does not exceed the allowed reimbursement.
Dedicate all of your mystery shopping income to getting out of debt. Immediately (at least once a month) apply your mystery shopper pay to your debts. Ideally, these should be extra payments, above and beyond any minimum required payments. Depending on how much time you have to devote to mystery shopping, where you live (and the number of assignments available), your experience and other factors, you should be able to chunk anywhere from $100 to $500, $1000 or more from your debt each month using your mystery shopping earnings. (Note: Put aside 10 – 20% of your earnings to pay income taxes when due.)
Make mystery shopping just one of the methods you use to eliminate your debt. Reduce your expenses, stop using credit cards and acquiring more debt and look for more ways to increase your income. Each of these will help you pay off your debts and reach financial freedom!