Mystery Shopping for Newbies [Insider Tips for Success]

I've been a mystery shopper for several years.

Through this experience I've been able to make money to eat out, get my oil changed or eyes examined, buy clothes and toys for my children, stock my make-up bag, get gifts for Christmas, see movies, bowl, golf, and evaluate service providers in a number of industries.

It's fun and it is fulfilling to know that my voice as an experienced consumer is being heard.

Need an easy way to earn extra cash? Try mystery shopping! Here is everything you need to know to get started and make some easy money.

I've mentioned mystery shopping on my blog as a way that I'm making extra money to meet my goal of saving a quarter of my income, and so far I've made $1,397.32 this year.

It's not enough to get rich on, but I'm not doing this full time (I average 2-4 shops per month) and it is certainly better to be paid for shopping than to spend my own money!

I got started, simply enough, by Googling “getting started in mystery shopping”. This led me to forums for mystery shoppers and gave me my first idea of what to expect when looking for mystery shopper jobs.

There I learned to never pay to get a job mystery shopping, as that's almost always a scam. I also learned to avoid shop invitations that ask you to cash a check. Again, a scam.

Legitimate companies will ask you to pay upfront at the store “on your shop” and you'll often be reimbursed (read the reimbursement and payment rates before signing up), but they will not ask you to pay them to get jobs. Getting a certification through Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) costs money and while it isn't necessary, it will help you to get better paying jobs.

Where do you find legitimate companies?

I like, an aggregator that allows you to search the big companies –, MSPA, companies using Sassie software (and there are a lot of them!) – all in one place. Signing up and searching is free; a paid service is available, but not necessary to get started.

What do you need to be a shopper?

  • A Paypal account,
  • access to the internet to sign up and complete your shops,
  • and a scanner to submit receipts.

A few extra accessories can be helpful, such as a digital camera for shops that require photos, a voice recorder if that is legal in your state, a stop watch that doesn't beep, and a watch with a seconds hand.

Once you sign up for a shop, read it thoroughly and be sure you understand the instructions. Not following directions means you will likely not be paid. You have to stay anonymous, of course.

Giving away your identity (unless it's a “reveal shop”) means you will not be paid. Turn in your reports on time, accurately, and spell checked. Some companies dock pay for late reports or reports that require a lot of editing.

Mystery shopping isn't a scam, but it is work.

You may get a free lunch once you're reimbursed (which can sometimes take between 30-90 days) but you will have to remember: details of everyone you spoke with, what they said (with accurate, sometimes to the second, timing), and you'll have to fill out an accurate report when you get home.

I'll keep up my job as a shopper, even though it's not the most relaxing shopping experience, because I genuinely enjoy it! I like giving a glowing report for a job well done, knowing that the boss will find out that an employee gave great service. I also like sharing when a job could be done better, knowing that someone is paying attention!

Penny Saver is a frugal mom making the most of meager means, saving her quarters to save a quarter of her income and blogging about it at The Saved Quarter.


  1. Kathy Doering says:

    As a mystery shopping provider, I thank you very much for this great post!!! Everything you mention is 100% correct!

  2. Think I just found my new weekend hobby.

  3. The Saved Quarter says:

    One thing I forgot to mention: set up a separate e-mail address that you use just for mystery shopping and check it daily for new assignments once you sign up for shops. The offers can flood your e-mail box and you don’t want to miss updates. Also, mark your accepted assignments in some way so it’s easy to get back to the shops you have due. It’s a good idea to keep a spreadsheet of jobs you’ve been assigned, have completed, and when you expect to be paid so that you don’t forget anything.