If you’ve found yourself needing some quick cash recently, you may have considered heading to a pawn shop. You’re not alone. The bad economy has prompted many people to visit a pawn shop for the first time. “We are seeing more people who have never been in a pawn shop before looking for short term solutions without having to sell the farm,” says Rick Harrison, whose family owns the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas and stars in The History Channel series Pawn Stars.
(Note: a pawn shop can also be a great place to find bargains, especially on stuff like electronics and jewelry.)
Did you get some gift cards for the holidays that you won’t be able to use? You’re in luck! Today is Gift Card Exchange Day! That means today is the day when you will get the best price for gift cards you want to sell. You won’t get full value for the card, but you will probably get a decent offer – in cash. And a little cash is certainly better than some plastic you never plan to use. And it’s better to sell them for a decent price now, before you throw them in a drawer somewhere and forget about them. (Statistics show that the average American household has $300 in unredeemed gift cards, and $60 billion in gift cards go unused every year.)
To find out how to sell your unwanted gift cards, visit GiftCardExchangeDay.com
I’ll be spotlighting specific work-from-home opportunities in future posts, but for now here are a few companies that have ongoing work-from-home opportunities. (Note: some of these hire people as regular full-time employees, but others hire on a freelance basis, meaning you’d be an independent contractor and wouldn’t get any benefits and would also be responsible for paying your own taxes.)
VIPDesk: Hires people to do various phone-related jobs, mainly involving customer service.
Arise: You work as an independent contractor providing customer service assistance.
VoiceLog: You work as an independent contractor and earn a minimum of $8.50 an hour.
Lots of people have heard stories about places that will pay you just to drive around with an ad on your car, but do these opportunities really exist? And, if so, how do you find them?
If you’ve spent much time online, you may have heard about “free car” programs or “get paid to drive” promotions. Are these programs really an easy way to make money – or too good to be true? The answer is, a little bit of both. These programs do exist, although they aren’t as plentiful as they once were. The key is knowing where to look and having qualities that make you an ideal advertising driver.
How It Works
Here’s the basic premise of the “paid to drive” concept: a company seeks people – meaning, just regular citizens, not professional drivers – who are willing to go about their normal routine as they usually do, only with a big ad plastered on their car. The ads are typically vinyl decals (also known as “auto wraps”) which almost seem to be painted on the vehicle, and which often cover a large portion of the car’s exterior surface. The car owner is then compensated – usually a few hundred dollars per month – which is essentially a “rental” payment for letting the company use that space. There was also a “free car” version of this concept, in which the company provided the driver with a new pre-wrapped car. In this situation, the drivers usually didn’t get any cash, as their payment was in the form of the free use of this new car. However, companies quickly discovered that giving away a bunch of free cars didn’t make economic sense, so few (if any) companies still take that approach.
What does the company get out of this type of ad strategy? Lots of exposure. The auto wraps tend to be colorful and eye-catching, and attract lots of attention. Plus, it’s a form of advertising with a captive audience, meaning people who are stuck in traffic and can’t avoid seeing the wrapped car alongside them. The companies usually select drivers who live in desirable locations such as high-traffic urban areas. A company’s ideal driver can vary depending upon the target demographic they want to reach. For example, a tech or electronics company may seek drivers who live on or near college campuses, so as to get lots of exposure among the college crowd.
(The vehicles in these programs are often equipped with GPS/tracking devices, so the companies can make sure the drivers spend sufficient time in the desired areas.)
If you love to shop, and wouldn’t mind earning a few extra bucks at the same time, working as a mystery shopper may be your true calling.
A mystery shopper – also known as a secret shopper – goes “undercover,” posing as a customer while evaluating the service at a bank, department store, movie theater or just about any other type of business. Companies hire mystery shoppers to determine how employees at specific locations are treating customers. Specifically, they will often check to see if workers are promoting certain specials and services.
Mystery shoppers get paid by the assignment, with typical rates around $10 to $20 per shop. Fees are usually higher for time-consuming assignments or those requiring more than one visit to a location. The busiest mystery shoppers tend to live in big cities where businesses (and therefore assignments) are plentiful. “Most of the time mystery shopping is a ‘spare time’ activity,” says Cathy Stucker, author of The Mystery Shopper’s Manual and a longtime mystery shopper. “However, there are shoppers who make a significant part-time or ever full-time income. One of the things about mystery shopping that is both wonderful and frustrating is that shoppers do not work a regular schedule. Most shoppers work for multiple companies and take the assignments that interest them from several companies each month.”
Finding legit opportunities
Mystery shopper ads are everywhere – but so are mystery shopping scams, so how do you find legitimate opportunities? A good place to start is the Mystery Shopping Providers Association. “The MSPA is like the BBB of Mystery Shopping,” says Sarah Goshman, quality control senior editor for AboutFace , a large mystery shopping company. “Not all of the legitimate shopping companies are listed there, but most are. They also offer two levels of certification for shoppers, which essentially makes a shopper look better to the shopping companies and often makes one eligible for shops or gives them first preference.”
Mystery shoppers are freelance workers and therefore aren’t entitled to benefits a regular employee might get. But that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy a few perks. For one thing, many assignments involve a purchase, for which you are later reimbursed. If this item happens to be something you would normally buy, or would like to buy, this can be like getting a cool freebie.
Stucker particularly likes doing restaurant assignments, since she and her husband love going out to eat. “We have done mystery shops in every kind of restaurant from fast food to fine dining, where the reimbursement and fee are as much as $200,” she says. She has also been reimbursed for car oil changes, haircuts, dry cleaning, eyeglasses, toys and more.
As independent contractors, mystery shoppers can also claim work-related expenses on their taxes and can take advantage of other tax breaks such as the home office deduction.
Details you will need to divulge
When applying for assignments, some would-be shoppers are surprised to be asked personal questions, which may include things like their age, credit score or dress size. “When they ask those questions, it is because they have clients that require shoppers with certain demographic characteristics,” Stucker says. In other words, the company wants to make sure you fit in with their typical clientele, so as not to stand out from the regular customers. One more thing: companies will usually request your social security number, which is needed for tax purposes. “Before divulging sensitive information, make sure the company is legitimate and you are on a secure Web site,” Stucker says.
Steering clear of scams
There are lots of mystery shopping scams out there – with new ones popping up every day – so it’s important to be careful when looking for assignments. Perhaps the most common scams these days involve bogus checks or money orders, which are often used in conjunction with a wire transfer transaction. “No one should ever cash a check and wire money to someone they do not know for any reason,” Stucker says. “When someone asks you to cash a check and wire some of the money to them it is a scam. Always. There is no mystery shopping company that will ever ask you to do this.”
You should also steer clear of companies that charge a fee to apply as a mystery shopper, or sites asking you to pay for a list of mystery shopping companies (this is information you can easily find online for free). The only expense you should ever incur as a mystery shopper is the cost of a required purchase, for which you will be later reimbursed.