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My girlfriend and her husband travelled to Paris last month as "mystery shoppers." In exchange for filling out 50 minutes of paperwork on their overall flying experience, they were reimbursed for half of their flight costs. A sweet savings for less than an hour of work.

David Lipton, president of Sensors Quality Management Inc., says how much you make or save depends on your assignment. If you're mystery shopping at a high-end steak house, you'll perhaps be reimbursed $150, but not paid a fee for the service. If you're shopping a car dealership or a bank, and not getting anything out of it, you may make $25 to $100, depending on what the inspection entails.

To start shopping, you first have to be accepted into a program. (An online search will pull up a list of companies to choose from. You can register with multiple sites if you like, just avoid any that require a fee.) Companies generally look at your reliability, attention to detail and grammar. Once accepted you can scroll through the plum assignments and select the ones right for you.

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Mr. Lipton recalls one couple who went to a Club Med as mystery shoppers. In return for their costs, they were required to fill out paperwork for an hour or two a day. If filling out forms for two hours so you can sit poolside the rest of the day seems too good to be true, Mr. Lipton emphasizes that it's still serious business. You have to be alert, focused on details and mindful of the whole experience while you're on assignment so you can create quality reports for the company you're evaluating. Passing out after your bottomless Bahama Mama and napping the day away may not cut it. Still, mystery shopping allows you to indulge in some of the things you may have cut from your spending plan. Dinners out, golf games and trips to the spa are now a fraction of the price or, even better, free.



Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies money group.

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