How I Made a Little Extra Money

by Katy on February 12, 2015 · 47 comments

Consumer opinion Katy

You already know that my motto is “use it up wear it out, make it do or do without,” with a non-official motto of “crap out of the house, money in.” But you may not know that I also have a backup motto of “How can I make some extra money?”

Okay, okay, it’s not very catchy, but I’m a doctor not a coal miner I’m an RN, not a slogan wizard!

I’d casually signed up to do in-person consumer panels around a year ago. I’d kind of forgotten about it until I got an e-mail last month asking me to fill out a survey to see if I’d be a good fit for a panel. Apparently they liked what I wrote because they scheduled me to come in and share my valued (and exciting) opinions on thermal mugs for which I’d be compensated with a crisp $100 bill. And when they called to confirm a few details, the phone call ended with me being asked:

“If you could take a photo with anyone in the world dead or alive, who would it be?”

To which I answered:

“My secret evil identical twin.”

Because, yo . . . much better answer than Abraham Lincoln or Aristotle. Although possibly not as good an answer as Bruce Lee or young Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Where was I? Oh yeah . . . making money doing consumer panels.

The experience was vaguely enjoyable, plus there was free food! Sandwiches, cookies, chips, candy, sodas, bottled water, crappy coffee! I helped myself to a sandwich and some M&M’s and regretted not taking any cookies. If there’s a next time I’m showing up hungry and a few minutes early. Seriously. Umm . . . free food, people!

The time went by quickly and before you know it the six of us were in line for our envelopes of cash. (Very reminiscent of Tony Soprano.) I handed the blank envelope back with a suggestion to “use this again” and I tucked my hundred dollar bill into my wallet. (Was that smug and obnoxious? Probably at least a little bit.)

And when I went to the credit union to deposit the money this morning, I swept my hand under the coin counting machine and was rewarded with $2.60 in mostly quarters.

The extra money never ends!

I know that bigger markets than Portland, Oregon have better opportunities for consumer panels, (think New York City or Los Angeles) but us mid-range cities have them as well. Have you ever earned extra money from being part of a consumer panel? Or maybe you’re a secret shopper or some other random money earner? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen February 12, 2015 at 12:19 pm

I used to be a member of Pinecone Research, and it was at a time in my life when a little extra $5 here and there was a big deal. I squirreled most of it away into a savings account for Joshua and Lisey (who were my only two kids then!)


Katy February 12, 2015 at 12:24 pm

I tried to sign up with them, but my category was not needing any more people.


Maureen February 12, 2015 at 3:58 pm

I had to read this a couple of times… squirreling away money from Pinecone Research…. seemed to good to be true. (=


Sarah February 12, 2015 at 12:23 pm

I do product testing for a beverage company thatI’mneversupposedtoname! It’s right down the street from my office, takes about 15 minutes of my time and I’m rewarded with a $25 gift card to Home Depot or Target. I always choose the HD card and save them up for larger purchases. I’d buy just junk at Target.


Katy February 12, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Yes, the beverage company that is nevertobenamed was a big deal in Harry Potter. Right?


Diane February 12, 2015 at 1:02 pm

I’ve done mock juries….one paid $350 cash at the end of the day and online focus groups that pay well. But, now sadly, I am over the age demographic that most clients seek, so I get no more.


Rebecca February 12, 2015 at 1:12 pm

My kids and I did a panel for cell phone tones,easy $70 each.
They have been chosen for mock juries and received $100-$200 each depending whether it was a full or half day.
The local blood bank called me in for a customer service survey,catered dinner and gave $100 in gas cards.
I search craigslist all the time for the words:mock jury,research,survey,product testing.


ashley Casas February 12, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Where would one look to find market research opportunities? I’ve done it once and that was some person at the mall needing more people for one and I got $20.


Patti February 12, 2015 at 2:06 pm

I judge the displays at fairs for extra money. Since I have a Home Economics degree, I am in high demand for canning and food judging but they need people to judge the arts and crafts and other exhibits, too. I usually make $50 or more plus a lunch out. Since our fairs are all in the fall, I can do several in a month and make some good Christmas money.


marieann February 12, 2015 at 6:27 pm

I enter craft items in the county fair. Last year I made $180, and I get to bring home all my entries.
I also volunteer at the fair, usually 3-4 days…long days, but fun.

I’d love to be a judge,but then I wouldn’t be able to enter.


Jessica February 12, 2015 at 2:30 pm

A few years ago, a surgeon that I work with forwarded me a survey request for someone in my field to do a 60 minute phone survey for $150. Now I get weekly emails from this company to fill out surveys for them. The checks randomly show up and are always appreciated!


Chris February 12, 2015 at 2:35 pm

I did a market focus group last week – $125 for 2 hours – it was about financial investments. I passed on the sandwiches and bowl of chips that everyone just dug into with their bare hands (I’m a bit grossed out by that!) but did score a diet coke to bring home with me.

The best is when they overbook a group and send you home with the $$ in your pocket about 10 minutes after the group starts – this happened to me once – like winning the lottery!


Rb February 12, 2015 at 2:44 pm

I am 20 min from a Big Ten school and have been participating in Studies for the Psychology school since I was in college almost 20 yrs ago. They can pay very well to fill out forms or let them film u doing some random task. I have been doing one project for 17 yrs. every 3 months i do some paperwork and a two hr q and a and get $75. Love it


Nathalie February 12, 2015 at 3:00 pm

I’ve done some mystery shopping but since I live in a mostly rural area, the stores/restaurant are always the same and the questions I’m supposed to ask are always the same and since those are places where I shop frequently anyway, I got tired of the repetitiveness and stopped doing them. On top of that, it was very time consuming compared to the payout so it ended up being a hassle and not really worth the stress.

I did Pinecone last year for a little bit and made $21. Then I changed my settings to not receive survey invites every day and actually I stopped receiving emails altogether. I forgot about them until this month, emailed to enquire about getting surveys again but they said they’d closed my account due to unresponsiveness and didn’t give me an option to get back in. So I cashed out.

I used to do Houseparties a few years ago. I got Windows 7 premium for hubby before it was officially released, a cool Clone Wars party pack in time for my son’s birthday party, and various other brand items. I still use the Boca Burgers apron and oven mitt and the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! reusable shopping bags. I haven’t looked into them for a while, not sure if they’re still around.

I limit myself to Swagbucks these days. Love getting those Amazon gift cards.


Betty February 20, 2024 at 1:15 pm

I’ve done surveys, mystery shopping, and sitting around listening to a retirement lecture ( got a $25 gas card for the latter, plus at one a free steak dinner)


marie February 12, 2015 at 3:19 pm

At first I thought you were selling your cat!!! 🙂


Diane February 12, 2015 at 3:49 pm



Katy February 12, 2015 at 5:54 pm

Sorry, she’s a keeper! Although she’s super flatulent, so I might change my mind later on.


Susanne g February 12, 2015 at 4:03 pm

I’ve done consumer groups at the food innovation center when I lived in portland. Also food tasting there. One test involved following written directions on a microwave food box to see if you could understand how to heat it up. Great way to get a little cash. Live in small town, grown older, not as many opportunities.


Lilypad February 12, 2015 at 4:04 pm

I’ve done them a few times, the most I made was $200 which was much appreciated. There is a company in a nearby town that does studies sometimes where they go into your house and look in your cupboards, pantry, fridge etc. and pay $400+. I’ve signed up before but have never been chosen. Strong opinions—I got’s ’em. It’s so good to be paid for them! p.s. Hello, sweet kitty! ( I adore kitties.)


Katy February 12, 2015 at 5:53 pm

$400 to snoop in my house? C’mon in!!!


Megg February 12, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Years and years ago (in high school!) I went to one where we tried out little cameras that basically took tiny (like 2 inches) Polaroids. I think I got $20 for my time, but it was fun at the time. Not sure how far away it was or it was was worth $20 but at the time I could make $20 in a night of babysitting, so it was worth it to me!


K February 12, 2015 at 5:10 pm

My family has been doing this for years in Seattle. About once a year one of us will qualify. A few highlights: My teen son was on a panel for gummy candy and got paid $50 and lots of candy. Years ago I took a one-on-one IQ test that they were norming. I believe I got $200 for that one and it was interesting and fun.


lisa February 12, 2015 at 5:35 pm

If you like free magazines, for taking a survey…. try
My mailman has job security because of me! We get a quite eclectic lot.
Afterwards, I pass them to friends or donate to the library’s 25¢ magazine sale.


Amanda S @ Passionately Simple Life February 12, 2015 at 5:44 pm

I’m always doing small surveys online and they honestly pay off! A couple bucks here and there really add up to a lot of redeemed gift cards at the end of the month. And I’m usually doing them when catching up on a tv series or taking a break from housework so it doesn’t feel like I’m ever wasting time!


Jess February 12, 2015 at 7:03 pm

I have been doing Pinecone surveys for years and sometimes receive free products to go along with the surveys.


Gina February 12, 2015 at 8:15 pm

I have a friend who has small children and gets asked to do panels or test products all the time (snacks, baby products, toys). She makes a nice bit of $ each month and they are always easy and don’t take much of her time. I signed up with several companies she uses and I have declined all that have been offered…two this week: feed your dog this “secret” food for 12 weeks and video him each day as you put the food down, as he eats and after, keep a log of his behavior/health for $100 – came out to be about $1.19/day and I have no idea what I’m feeding my beloved pet – uh no thank you! Was just offered to use some “secret” hair color on myself every 4 weeks for several months – you have to go to their facility to use it and they video you coloring your own hair you must commit 2-3 hours for these color sessions with no mention of how much they will pay. Uh, I can’t show up to work with some hair color gone wrong for the next few months – no mention of compensation…no thank you! Give me some snack food or candy to test, a panel discussion, mock jury and I would happily sign up…but these seem a bit extreme. Plus I’m receiving a ton of spam and junk mail since signing up – I think they have shared my email.


Lisa February 12, 2015 at 8:34 pm

I tried Gigwalk, which is better for larger cities. Since I’m not in a large city, opportunities are few & far between. Last summer, they had a ton of jobs taking photos of businesses for Bing listings, but they were super-picky, and doing the 360 degree photos definitely had a learning curve. I didn’t mind when there were multiple businesses together that I could do for $5 each, but when they asked me to go back and re-take photos, and would allow 12 hours, that really didn’t work for me.


Bec February 13, 2015 at 3:14 am

Hey – I’ve been reading your blog for awhile but never commented before. This post made me laugh out loud. Then I thought I should say I really enjoy your blog and the different perspective you offer. I also occasionally cringe at your methods of saving money but really like how you are comfortable with who you are and what you are doing. Thanks, Bec.


Karen February 13, 2015 at 5:03 am

When I worked in a retail big-box store years ago, I was asked a location question for an area in the store by a mystery shopper. This shopper came to the Customer Service desk, I happened to be up there sorting returns for the Fashion Department. I received a commendation for answering the question correctly and multitasking.


Nancy from Mass February 13, 2015 at 5:12 am

I participate in focus groups from time to time. Most of them i have to drive close to Boston to participate, but one had someone come to my house for me to use their product and give my opinion. (that one paid 75 for 1/2 hr of work). another one gave me a $50 gift card for doing “online shopping” on their site and telling them how difficult it was to find the products they requested. I am paid an average of $100 for each, some more, some less. And yes, they always have sandwiches, soda, coffee, tea, chips, cookies, etc for their participants! i wish i had a focus group to participate in every week! (or, i’d be happy with monthly ones)


Seattle Nancy February 13, 2015 at 8:59 am

I’m in the Seattle are and I’ve done various focus groups, mock juries, and product testing. I went in for a focus group on health insurance I was selected for to find out they had too many people because they try and have extras b/c of no shows. So I got $100 and was sent on my way without doing anything but showing up! I got $125 for a mock jury which was fascinating. The best was two different product testing research groups for Phillips Sonicare. My 9 year old son tested a kids sonicare toothbrush for a month or so. He used it and then they asked him tons of questions about how he liked it. $150 in Amazon gift cards. I did a product testing for something not to be disclosed. There were maybe 20 visits to their office and I got $700 in Amazon gift cards plus a top of the line Sonicare toothbrush.

Microsoft does tons of focus groups but they pay in software or video games and middle aged stay at home mom isn’t the demographic they are looking for.


Jill February 13, 2015 at 1:39 pm

I earned extra money as part of a clinical trial last year. I have asthma, and this was for asthma medicine, so I got free meds AND $250. Score!

Also, your little black kitty reminds me of MY little black kitty. Do you ever want to wrap her in foil outfit to dress her up as a Hershey’s kiss at Halloween? With a little hat with the “kisses” flag on it? No? Just me then? Hmm …


Jill February 13, 2015 at 2:27 pm

Oh! And speaking of chocolate ^^^, I was very lucky this Valentine’s Day to find a pretty heart-shaped box that once held Valentine’s candy whilst cleaning out my cabinets. I filled it with heart-shaped soaps that I made, to give to my parents! No cost, as I already owned all the soap making stuff. I even scavenged little wax-coated cupcake liners from an Edible Arrangements box at work, so the soaps look like like Valentine’s cakes in the box. I am very pleased with myself about my “cleverness” with this gift, as I am any time I find a way to reuse and repurpose. I even devoted a post on my blog to it, because I have become a complete nerd about things like this.


Stacy February 13, 2015 at 9:20 pm

I’ve done paid focus groups in the DC area in the past. It was easier when I was single but it’s difficult to fit in now that I’m married with a daughter. I stay on their list and they still call once in awhile. Maybe one will work out sometime. I also participate in several online survey/test panels but I just can’t seem to find enough time to respond to them all. I still earn a small something for them. Better than none!


Isabelle February 14, 2015 at 4:20 am

In the past I did a few Pinecone (5$ per survey), a few restaurants evaluations, and right now I do surveys for Airmiles from time to time, but nothing else. I put more efforts and time in trying to save money than make money. I value my free time very much and I am not too tempted to “lose” it on demanding surveys that need me to drive around town.


Jennifer February 14, 2015 at 5:46 am

I do mystery shops for 5 guys burgers. Our family of 4 ends up being able to go out to dinner for about $7 after the payment, which is great for us. They only only reimburse for the person doing the shop plus an extra fee.

I also let my bosses know that I would be open to working remotely when we moved across the country 5 years ago. I’m still working for them a few hours each month, sometimes more, sometimes less. But since I offered I’ve made thousands of dollars that I wouldn’t have otherwise.


Isabelle February 14, 2015 at 6:02 am

** well, appart form going to work. But i work part time only, good hourly wage, and I am happy with it


elaine February 14, 2015 at 12:21 pm

When my son was 18 I signed him up with a medical research firm. They were doing a study on medications and wisdom teeth removal. He got two removed for free, plus they sent him a check for $300.


Marcia February 14, 2015 at 7:07 pm

I used to do a lot of online surveys. They resulted in me getting quite a number of products sent to me for testing, and required mostly another online survey after using the product for a certain amount of time. Most of the products included enough of whatever it was to last far beyond the trial period, so I had a good supply of the product to use for myself afterwards. Nothing I hated using, either. I’d like to get back into that but I haven’t had time time lately–and I may be getting too old for the demographics anyhow. The surveys I liked the most allowed me to acquire points that could be used for Amazon gift cards. I saved them up for Christmas shopping mostly.
When I was an adult college student part time and my kids were small, I did research for grad students in the library. That earned me some money along the way. I put an ad in the student newspaper and stated “I do not write papers.” Most of the calls were to write papers, which I REALLY didn’t do. Mostly I read literary periodical articles and summarized them for students in the department, so they could read the summaries and decide if they should read the articles for their research. With the right student, it saved them a lot of time, and I was an English major, so it didn’t harm me in any way to read the articles. I’m a fast reader and can outline well, so I was working on my strengths to earn a little extra. Going to school on one wage-earner’s salary when raising two kids makes for a tight budget and it really helped me out. I also got asked to do occasional other “busy work” things—like give simple psychological tests to kids, key punch (back in the day) and similar tasks. Once you get a job or two going, then word of mouth spreads among grad students. They have a certain amount of “grunt” work to do and that’s what I did.


Charli February 14, 2015 at 8:17 pm

I’m not terribly guilty of this, but the procedural unit where I am an RN has an on call roster. Sometimes people can’t be on call and an evening, day or weekend, even a week is up for grabs. My husband teaches music to local kids for a bit of extra money and with his musical knowledge has done well buying guitars etc off ebay and selling for a profit. He also plays gigs occasionally which brings in good money for a hobby.


Antonina Renner February 15, 2015 at 4:04 am

How do you find these panels. Are the like focus groups that ad agencies use?


Katy February 17, 2015 at 8:32 am

I’m not entirely sure, but I think I did a web search for paid consumer panels and my city.


Randi February 17, 2015 at 7:45 pm

I do a lot of mystery shopping( I’m in Los Angeles). Mostly restaurants with a few random drug store/oil changes/electronic stores thrown in for good measure. I’ve also done some phone inquiry shops( easy peasy). Its been good because we like eating out and trying new places and they are very plentiful here. My spouse did a market research panel regarding our electric vehicle( Nissan Leaf). She made 175.00 for about 1.5hrs.


Virginia Allain February 21, 2024 at 7:14 pm

I review products for the Amazon VINE program. It means I can select from hundreds of items that need reviewing and in a few days the product arrives. After trying it out, I post my review on Amazon. I get to keep the item.
Some items like supplements are completely free to the reviewer but most items have a taxable value (like you would pay if you won something on a quiz show). I’ve received items like covers for my patio furniture, sheets, office supplies, clothing, cleaning products, etc.
The program is by invitation only, so one cannot apply to participate.


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