Four Ways to Earn Extra Money: A Review

Posted by Ginkgo100 | 9:01 AM

Maybe you already have a job and would like a little extra cash, or maybe you are unable to take a regular job because of children, school obligations, or disability. There are a lot of alternative opportunities tantalizing people in your situation that promise a few extra dollars.

I have tried several of these, and here is a review of how well they worked for me, and whether I made any money at them.

1. Mystery shopping

Corporations need a way to find out whether their retail outlets are really following company policies, or just talking the talk. Enter the mystery shopper. It sounds sexy and exciting: a sophisticated, professional shopper who is also an undercover agent! You are promised up to $50-$100 for each "shop," and you usually are reimbursed for any merchandise you purchase, which you get to keep.

My experience was that most shops actually paid no more than $10-$15. I was assigned mostly cell phone stores and pet stores; other mystery shoppers I have talked to mostly got chain restaurants like Bennigan's. The rules are very strict as to what time of day you must come and who you can bring with you. If you are a mom, forget about being able to do this with your children in tow. You usually have to memorize a script, and remember a lot of details for your report. Of course, you cannot make any notes, or you will blow your cover, in which case you don't get paid.

The bottom line: The time spent traveling to and from the store, memorizing the script, conducting the shop, and completing the report make this opportunity not worth the trouble for most people.

2. Filling out surveys online

Market research is big business, and to motivate consumers to participate, many companies offer financial compensation. In return for filling out questionnaires, you get cash money.

I signed up with a company that was recommended to me (not one I found through a banner ad on some web site). My experience is that more often than not, I don't qualify for the surveys offered me. When I do, the compensation often works out to a pretty paltry hourly wage. On the other hand, the time I devote to the questionnaires is time I would otherwise most likely waste goofing off online, and it is kind of fun, at least for me. After about three months, I've made around $25.

The bottom line: If you spend a lot of time online anyway and you are not always 100% productive, it may be a nice way to make a few (very few) bucks. Otherwise, it is probably a waste of time.

3. Attending focus groups

Focus groups give market research companies the chance to gauge the reactions of real people to their efforts. You offer your opinions on some sort of presentation or discussion. You are paid on the spot with no deductions taken out, either by check or in cash.

A number of websites offer to hook you up with marketers looking for focus group participants. Individual opportunities can often be found on Craigslist, and once you get on the lists, they often call you when something is available. Participants provide their own transportation to the site. You may, for example, be asked your reaction to commercials that are still in production, or you may participate in a mock jury trial. You may have to agree not to disclose any details of your experience, especially for mock trials.

Sessions are often held during the day on weekdays, which may not be compatible with many schedules. Moms will still have to find child care, and you need transportation. If you can work around these issues, focus groups can be very lucrative, paying $50-$200 or more per session.

The bottom line: Definitely worth it if you can work around the logistics issues. They will never be frequent enough to provide more than pocket money, though.

4. "Work from home" programs.

The ads are everywhere, from banner ads to telephone poles. They promise riches enough to make you quit your day job, and you don't even have to leave your house. All you need is a computer with an Internet connection. It's supposed to be perfect for students and stay-at-home moms.

I learned what these are really about when I clicked a banner ad as a favor to someone, hoping to help that person get some advertising revenue from her site (most ads are pay-per-click). I should have just given her fifty cents and saved myself the aggravation.

These work-from-home schemes aren't exactly scams — that is, they don't lie to you, or take your money and run — but they are hardly what they are cracked up to be. Generally, they want you to set up a website (you have to pay for the domain name and hosting, usually around $100) to market some product. Your income is completely dependent on how many people visit your website, so you have to market it aggressively.

I didn't take any of these people up on the pitch. And yes, if you answer one ad, you will be called by about a dozen different organizations, all operating on the same basic business plan. I can't say whether you can really make worthwhile money on this, but doubt it works out for most people.

The bottom line: Smells very fishy. I would recommend giving "work from home" opportunities a wide berth.

Do you have any experiences with alternative ways to make money? Share them with in a comment!

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