paymentThere are many reasons people mystery shop – and a good mystery shopper will find the ways to make it most profitable for them.

For just as we are not all scientists or all hair stylists, we all have ways of handling our money that make sense for each individual.

Most people do want to gain something of value from mystery shopping. Very few people do it ‘as a hobby’ where they only expect the excitement of the shop to be the reward, and the reimbursement or pay would not matter.

To most, it does matter – a lot.

So if you take a shop that is reimbursement ONLY – for a meal, an item, an experience – are you being ‘paid’?

And if the reimbursement doesn’t cover the entire cost of the meal, the item or the experience – aren’t you ‘paying’ money to make money?

The answer to both questions is yes… and, no.

Reimbursement ONLY? What about my time?

The question above is a common one. If you want me to ‘buy’ something and you are reimbursing me for the item, but I still have to go to the place of business, make my observations and then come home and enter my report – where is the compensation for that?

Some mystery companies will pay you a stipend of $10-$20 for the time it takes you to write up your report. But do not dismiss the shops that only offer reimbursement. Consider:

  • A meal paid for by someone else is a meal you do not have to pay for yourself. You’ve saved that amount of money from your regular expenses. (Same for an item you would buy for yourself or as a gift or the entrance fee to a movie or activity).
  • Consider the ‘value’ of what you are being reimbursed for as your ‘pay’ and you are likely being paid more than you would for many shops that you are ‘paid’ to conduct.
  • Reimbursements for expenses required to conduct the shop are not included in income on your W-4; payment is. So you will not be paying taxes on your reimbursements.

If the meal, retail item or experience is something you would have purchased anyway – you are way ahead of the game – and you won’t be taxed for it!

Reimbursement Limits – Why Do I Have to Pay the Difference?

If you are assigned a reimbursement shop with a ‘maximum’ reimbursement, but you pay more for the meal, item or experience – it may seem like you are ‘losing’ money.

Again, if it is a restaurant, amusement park or retail shop that you would have shopped in anyway – you are SAVING the difference between your total bill and what you will be reimbursed. And, check with your tax accountant to find out if you can actually write off the difference as an expense.

If you choose to take a shop for reimbursement at a place where you dislike the food, product or experience offered – then, yes, it could be that you are losing money.

Remember, however, that you are an independent contractor. You do not have to take every shop. Especially one where you believe you will ‘lose out’. In those cases, you would have to decline the meal or experience.

Reimbursement only shops can be very lucrative – and fun! Read the fine print, understand maximum reimbursements – and then go an enjoy ‘working’ while having your meal, trip or experience paid for.

What type of reimbursement only shops do you enjoy?