Monday, March 17

Mystery Shopping for Luxury

A Free Hawaii Vacation?

Such was my reaction when I was offered the chance to audit a timeshare presentation.  On Wednesday we are flying to Hawaii for five nights.  We will be staying in high end properties.  All five nights are free of charge and most of my transportation charges, including airfare, are also covered.  I'm even paid a small fee.  All this for four hours of my time.  I have to covertly audio-record two timeshare sales presentations and fill out a quick survey covering my experience.

Later in April I am flying to New York to attend a shareholder's meeting.  My $426 hotel room is free to me, and I am provided a meal allowance to eat dinner wherever I choose outside the hotel.  Again, I will be paid for my time.

While you won't get rich indulging in high end mystery shopping, the opportunities to experience the finer things - and maybe even offset some costs you had planned to have anyway - are perfect excuses to try your hand at mystery shopping.  Usually, you must start by proving yourself to the mystery shopping companies by performing smaller shops.  You may have to shop restaurants before you are offered hotels, or hotels before cruises.  This is to mitigate everyone's risk:  you get to see whether mystery shopping is right for you, and the company you do the work for has a chance to evaluate your skills.

I have done more than 10,000 mystery shops.  Most of my work is more mundane and certainly not glamorous.  I specialize in gas stations but am willing to try anything if the money is good.  But from time to time I have been afforded the chance to receive expensive products or travel:

  • I've eaten at expensive restaurants including The Capital Grille and Fleming's.
  • I've taken a charter boat to Key West.
  • I've stayed in expensive hotels and resorts in Miami, the Smoky Mountains, Orlando and Atlanta.
  • I've been reimbursed for Pandora jewelry, had my carpets cleaned, toured famous attractions, and filled a shopping cart at a major retailer (reimbursed just to see if I was offered a credit card).
As a side income, mystery shopping is a great way to improve your standard of living.  What has been your favorite shopping experience?

Monday, March 10

I Joined Weight Watchers

Last Wednesday I joined Weight Watchers.  I was a member about 7 years ago and lost 30 pounds, but I gained it back when I stopped following the program.  I decided this time has to be different.  I am so good about meeting my financial goals, but when it comes to watching what I eat, I always fail miserably.  I've set weight loss goals on this blog for five years now and have failed every time.

Obviously the odds are stacked against me, but I'm off to a good start.  I've religiously tracked my food intake every day, which has caused me to make mindful choices about what I am eating.  I am also trying new recipes, as it didn't take long for me to realize that restaurant food is too unhealthy for my diet.  Today I am making my own hummus for the very first time.  Hopefully it tastes good because I could eat hummus all day.

On a different topic, mystery shopping has been slow this month.  I had some work early in the month and I also had several restaurant shops last week.  In my area, the quarterly shops have already been completed.  The good thing about this is I have more time for other things.  I finished my 2013 tax returns.  I've also been riding my bike some.

Wednesday, March 5

My Frugal Miser - February Income: $7,736


My February income was comparable to January.  All of my rental properties were occupied, and I finally received a small rent check from the management company for the two townhouses I rented at the start of the year.  I received rental income from all but one property last month.  My tenant in Townhouse #3, who is seriously behind on rent, did make a partial payment on March 1st, but he's going to have to do better or I will need to file eviction.  Mystery shopping income would be higher, but the company where I made the majority of my income, Maritz Research, has fallen behind on approving shops for payment.  That should mean better payouts in March.

February Income $7,736

$1,784 Mystery Shopping
$5,932 Rental Income
$20 Other Sources

Notes:.  
  • I don't include transactions in my retirement accounts.  This includes rental income, dividends and capital gains and losses.
  • I include merchandising and hospitality work in the mystery shopping category since the companies that I shop for provide this extra side work. 

Monday, March 3

My Frugal Miser - February Expenses: $1,665



In February my spending was in check.  I have a goal in 2014 of spending less than $20,000 this year, which is $1,667 per month.  I spent $2 less than my goal.

There are few areas where I can make further cuts.  Last month I spent $95 on a new kitchen faucet.  My auto insurance is only paid twice a year so I won't have that expense again until August.  The food category is the only place where we splurged, and spending $193 on two people isn't exactly ostentatious.

I will report higher expenses in March.  I booked two flights over the weekend:  one for the Berkshire Hathaway meeting in May and the other for the Biglari Holdings meeting in April.  I will also spend more on fuel.  I don't have any gas station audits lined up the rest of the month (no more free gas) and will be traveling to Orlando three days for a hospitality event I am staffing.  Finally, our mystery shopping Hawaii trip in coming up.  I will have added expenses for food and entertainment while there.

February Expenses:  $1,665


$267 Auto ($265 for 6 mos. insurance, $103 for fuel, $100 income from accident)
$0 Bank Fees
$0 Clothing
$0 Computer
$40 Entertainment (movies, gambling, alcohol)
$193 Food
$0 Gifts Given
$752 Household/Housing/Home Repair
$245 Health and Dental Insurance
$0 Investment Expenses
$0 Medical/Dental
$50 Miscellaneous
$14 Personal Care
$5 Subscriptions
$0 Taxes
$99 Utilities
$0 Vacation and Recreation