Thursday, August 27, 2009

How to Eat Out For Free

I eat out more now than I did when my husband's income was higher. Looking over the last couple of months, I've averaged eating out more than once a week.
How can I possibly afford to do this?
Mystery shopping.
Yeah, mystery shopping is real, and at one time I did it full time. I could easily do it full time again, because I know how. You have to sign up for a ton of companies, I've signed up for over 150. Most of these companies won't have jobs in your area, unless you live in New York or Los Angeles. Then you have to sort all the companies' job boards to see if any have jobs you actually want to do. This is what I call my "infrastructure."
With my infrastructure in place, I can mystery shop whenever I want. I can also stop doing it for as long as I want, since, believe it or not, I don't actually enjoy doing it. It's a fairly high stress job, where you pay money up front for a meal or item, submit a report and wait weeks, even months to be reimbursed and paid for your time. Occasionally, your report is rejected, and you've already paid. You won't be reimbursed.
Still, I use mystery shopping to eat out because my family likes it. It doesn't make a huge dent in our grocery budget, but it allows us to go out for a nice meal, or a burger and fries, on someone else's dime.
Most shops with food are not paid, just reimbursed, so you get a free meal, but not an income. As far as my budget is concerned, I consider this a $3.00 gain, since that is what it generally costs for me to make supper. But if the restaurant is out of town, I break even with whatever I pay in gas.
If this is something you're interested in, go to to see which companies are looking for shoppers in your area. And don't ever pay for a list of companies. That's a scam. The Mystery Shopping Provider's Association has a huge list of reputable companies.


Organizing Mommy said...

Wow! I need to read more.. You have a lot of great tips here in this blog. So good to meet you. I wonder if they would accomodate big families or do they just reimburse for one meal?

Thanks for coming to my blog.

Christena said...

why are you okay with your kids eating burgers and fries from a drive thru window and not okay with your kids eatting bread that contains two tablespoons of sugar? or honey? or agave nectar? your logic baffles me. You force your husband to drink fermented sugar water instead of soda, but you allow your kids to eat processed cheese product (american cheese) and low grade high fat ground beef.

Boysmom said...

I mystery shop as well and agree that it doesn't pay well. Unfortunately, as your family grows you won't be able to cover everyone's food with the reimbursement, unless you go on free/reduced kids meal nights. That's where I am in the process, my kids are 13, 11, 11 and 5 and eat a lot. And Organizing Mommy, yes, they reimburse generally a max of 2 meals, sometimes only one, but I try to avoid those shops as I feel that that's not a typical dining out experience and it gives me little value for my effort.

chicagochick said...

It's incorrect that unless you live in the New York or LA area you won't be able to mystery shop. Nearly every company is mystery shopped, therefore every city has mystery shopping opportunities. I've been a mystery shopper for ten years and have shopped everywhere from Dubuque, Iowa to Chicago, IL. Go to and check out all of the companies. You'll find every city and every state! I've done everything from fine dining to spa shops to crappy fast food shops. They're all out there. said...

I have had great luck with mystery shopping. Well, I did before I had 3 kids. :) When I still only had 2 kids, it was fairly easy to do mystery shopping. With three kids, it's nearly impossible (for me). But there are LOTS of legit companies out there and it's FUN to do sometimes! I remember going to Buffalo Wild Wings, or doing hotel shops. Those were my favorite.

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