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Budget for your mystery shops

Mystery shopping is a resourceful way to make ends meet. It can be a practical supplement to a day job with a less-than-ideal salary, or it can ease the effects of unemployment while you look for other work. There's just one snag: you're required to spend money in order to shop. Payment for shopping assignments comes after the work is completed and a report submitted. In your initial days of shopping, you might not have a reserve built up for purchases. How are you to deal with this lack of funds? On the advice of Mystery Shopper Magazine, remember to start small. If you're patient, the rewards of mystery shopping can surpass the preliminary efforts. To set yourself up for future success, check out some tools of the savvy:

Work with your existing needs
You already allot a portion of your personal budget toward food, so a trip to the supermarket requires no overhead on your part. Instead of adding items to what's normally on your grocery list, try swapping out some of your staples for the things you've been asked to purchase. If secret shopping means your cart is also full of mystery - that is to say, ingredients unfamiliar to you - consider your excursion an opportunity to learn new recipes and become a more adventurous eater. You'll be paid not only in commission but in a new experience.

Verify terms of payment
It's easy to take for granted that payment for a job includes reimbursement for items. This isn't the case for every assignment, warned The Mystery Shopper's Manual. Unless the job promises reimbursement or a commission greater than the cost of an item, you'll want to wait for a different assignment.

Minimize your fuel costs
The Mystery Shop Maven advised incorporating your assignments into your personal errand schedule. If you find jobs near your existing to-do route, your gas costs won't be more than a few dollars. If all the lucrative mystery shops are nowhere near your usual shopping spots, find retail locations that are in close proximity to your assignment. If you can complete any of your regular errands at different stores, you'll get more for your mileage. Speaking of mileage: Ask your scheduler if you can add a gas station assignment to your day's activities. It's another great way to not spend extra money, since fill-ups are part of your personal budget.

Check that payment includes reimbursement
Once you have a small nest-egg to spend upfront, you'll have a greater pool of mystery shopping options. Dinner for two at an upscale restaurant is now on the table. Perhaps you want to check out a jewelry assignment or test out a pair of noise-canceling headphones. This new freedom is sure to protect you from a shopper's rut but don't get carried away. It's easy to take for granted that payment for a job will include reimbursement for items. Check payment terms prior to sallying forth with an assignment. Otherwise, you might lose gas costs and personal time when you need to return that pair of earrings.

The payoff of credit cards
Not all job providers ask you to use cash for your purchases. Believe it or not, there are times when plastic is prudent. If your credit card carries the benefit of a rewards program, consider racking up those points. Airline miles are just another way to get paid. Before you cash in, you should have a good idea of whether your payment for the assignment will come before the end of your credit card billing cycle. If you're compensated in time, you'll be able to pay your credit card bill before interest accrues on your assigned purchase.