Alternative Income: Mystery Shopping

One of my alternative streams of income is mystery shopping. This is not a very lucrative job. Many of my mystery shops amount to little more than a free meal. I mainly do these mystery shops as a diversion not as a way to seriously make money.

As an example I did a mystery shop earlier this month that paid $11 but I had to pay about $7 for my meal out of the $11 leaving me with only about $4 actual profit. When you add in the time spent entering the report and faxing the receipt you’re really not making much money for the time invested. This is why I only do mystery shops at places that are close to me and where I would normally conduct business anyway. There are exceptions, I’ve been paid $100 for mystery shops but the high-paying shops are very rare.

If you are interested in doing mystery shops do not pay for information. The way I got started is by reading the mystery shop page at Look at their list of mystery shop companies and read their mystery shop forums and sign up with the companies that interest you. That is how I signed up with the 3 different mystery shopping companies that I do work for presently.

Alternative Streams of Income

Over at Lazy Man and Money he has a category on alternative income. His goal is to have his alternative streams of income match his expenses. This has also been a goal of mine for a long time so I’m going to start tracking my alternative income as well.

Since I don’t have a job right now my only sources of income are alternative streams of income. My income last month was $205.00 and my expenses were $839.12. That leaves me with a gap of $634.12 to go. Or to express it another way I’m at about 25% of my goa. I will post monthly on my progress.

My income should go up for this month but unfortunately my expenses willl probably go up as well. I plan to have several posts detailing the different things I do for alternative income.

Daylight Saving Time and Simple Living

There are many advantages of frugal living. One of them is apparent when making the switch to Daylight Saving Time. The only appliance I had to change the time on in my house was my alarm clock. I also had to set the time on my cell phone and car. My laptop updated automatically. My total time spent was probably about one minute.

I read an item in the paper about a guy who was complaining about having to change the time on many different appliances in his house. If he was living simply he wouldn’t have had that problem. That is just one example of how living simply has its advantages.

Dumpster Diving Lite

I received a mailer of coupons from Chick-fil-a in the mail yesterday. The coupons included ones for a free chicken sandwich and a free chicken biscuit. What made these a really good deal is that no purchase is necessary. I don’t have to spend any money to get my free sandwich.

This is where the dumpster diving comes in. Since this is such a good deal I wanted more coupons. There is a small trash can in front of my apartments mailboxes that people use to dump their junk mail. Digging through this trash can I found 5 more discarded mailers. It looks like I’ll be eating a lot of Chick-fil-a this month. I’ve dug through this trash can before to get Northwest Air coupons that I sold on eBay.

I call this dumpster diving lite because this trash can only contains discarded mail. That makes it pretty clean. I’ve never tried digging through the actual dumpster with people’s rotten food, dirty diapers, and such. It would probably take more than a free chicken sandwich to get me to dig through the garbage dumpster.

Borrowing Your Way Out of Debt

You can’t borrow your way out of debt. That saying is true but smart borrowing can speed up the debt repayment process. Moving your debt from a high interest rate to a lower interest rate will allow you to pay off the debt quicker and reduce the overall amount of interest you pay. Of course it isn’t as easy as some debt consolidation companies would like you to believe. There are pitfalls in this process to look out for.

Here is an example of how I switched high interest debt for low interest debt. I have a private student loan with an interest rate of 11.75%. The interest rate is variable so it could go up even more. I took out a Grad Plus loan at 8.25%(fixed) and applied the proceeds of that loan against the 11.75% loan.

The mistake I made in doing this was not immediately applying the new loan to the old loan. The new loan was for a total of $15,200 disbursable in two amounts of $7600 (one for fall semester and one for winter semester). After leaving this in my bank account for a couple months I realized that I had been spending my money too freely and had used part of the new loan proceeds for my current spending. I ended up using about $2000 of the new loan money for current expenses rather than for paying on the old loan. Luckily, I was able to make up the $2000 this semester but it left me with much less money to live on for this semester. Also since the old loan was larger than the new loan I still don’t have it completely paid off. I plan to do that over the summer.
This is possibly the biggest pitfall of trying to borrow your way out of debt. If you don’t use the new money to pay off the old debt you will just end up even deeper in debt. Paying off a credit card and charging it up again is basically the same thng. Another thing to look out for is that you don’t extend the payment term on the debt. If you end up paying the debt off over a much longer time period you could pay even more interest than before despite having a lower interest rate.

These are things to look for if you are thinking about borrowing money to help your debt repayment process. If you’re not sure that you have the discipline to avoid these pitfalls than you should probably not borrow any more money.