Monday, May 25

Taking a Quick, Free Getaway (Courtesy of Mystery Shopping)

Lifestyle mystery shopping refers to the shops you take to enhance your way of living.  Being a frugal miser, I look for ways to save money on entertainment and travel.  Today is one of those days:  we're taking an overnight trip to Sarasota.

We'll start with a quick stop in Tampa's Ybor City for lunch.  There's a $10 bonus (total fee:  $15, plus reimbursement) on a simple chicken restaurant.  Then in Bradenton I am being paid $25 to see if an associate at an electronics store offers me a credit card.  That doesn't necessarily enhance my life, but the shop is on our way and will only take 5 minutes.

We'll start off with a visit to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens.  Our membership at the Sunken Gardens (bought with a Groupon) includes reciprocal membership at other gardens, making admission free.  Then we will check into the hotel.  It is a business-class limited service property, which I like to shop because of the limited interactions (no valet, no bellman, no midnight-security interactions).  The hotel includes dinner with wine as well as complimentary breakfast, taking care of our food needs.  Finally, we'll spend a little time at the Ringling Museum (the circus family, of course, which is free on Mondays).  We can walk to it from the hotel.

On the way home tomorrow I am being paid $18 to cash a check and another $24 to make a deposit at a nearby bank.  Those two 5 minute shops were thrown in to supplement our budget.  I won't be getting rich doing this work:  the hotel includes a $45 fee, and the other 4 shops will pay $82, for a total of $127.  I have plenty of free gas for the car as well.

I've had a fair amount of success putting together cheap or free getaways.  Normally I start by finding a hotel, which determines our destination.  It's usually fairly easy to build the trip around the hotel.  We look for free places to explore and I'll find restaurant or other shops to justify our travel.

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