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Side Hustle Series: I’m a Taste Tester

by J. Money on Thursday, November 7, 2013

fries mountain

[Guest post by fellow blogger, Mike Collins, as part of our Side Hustle Series]

When I was in college, my friends and I spent an extraordinary amount of time eating pizza and watching TV. We used to joke that if we could find a way to get paid for it we’d be set for life.

Well, I wouldn’t exactly say I’m set for life, but I have gotten paid for participating in focus groups. That’s right, I’ve gotten paid to eat pizza.

How I Got Started

Ever since my wife quit her job to stay home and raise our kids, we’ve constantly hunted for ways to make extra money and pad our bottom line. Our household income was cut almost in half when she stopped working, so we’ve had to do some serious hustling to help close the gap.

I worked a second job at Babies R Us for a while and started blogging, while my wife did some babysitting and direct selling through Party Lite.

One day my wife’s girlfriend stopped by and mentioned she had just come from a marketing research study where she got paid to taste coffee and share her opinion about the product.

My ears immediately perked up. Coffee and money are two of my favorite things!

She gave us the number of her contact at the research company and we gave them a call.  After a short conversation where we gave her some information about ourselves and our household, we were added into their database.  She promised we’d be contacted as soon as a relevant study came up.

A month or two went by and I honestly forgot all about it until the phone rang one night during dinner. I picked it up and was about to give the caller a piece of my mind, until I realized who it was. It was the recruiter we had spoken to and she said I fit the profile for an upcoming survey.

She asked a few questions to make sure I met all of the criteria, and booked me as part of a group that would get to taste French fries the following week.  Jackpot!

My appointment was in the evening after work and I got there early. I checked in at the front desk, filled out a short questionnaire and took a seat in the waiting room with a handful of other testers.

When they called us into the room I noticed a giant mirror running the length of the wall.  Obviously it was a two-way one that let the executives keep an eye on us while we shoved fries down our throats.

I took a seat and listened to the facilitator explain what was going to happen.  We were each given a glass of water, some saltine crackers (to cleanse the palette in between tastings) and a number 2 pencil.  Each time a batch of fries was served they’d give us a questionnaire to complete. It was one of those fill in the circle forms, like the SAT. We had to rank the fries in terms of taste, color, texture, saltiness and potatoiness (I totally just coined that word).

I was there for about an hour and a half and tasted six batches of fries. When I handed in my last questionnaire they handed me an envelope with three twenty dollar bills in it. Not bad for a night’s work.

How Much Can You Earn

In my first focus group I was paid $60 for about an hour and a half of my time, which equates to an hourly rate of $40.  Not bad for eating French fries!

I’ve gotten paid similar amounts to taste ice cream, pizza, and a few other foods. I have turned down a few when the payment wasn’t worth the trouble, but for the most part the hourly rate came out to be around $35 to $45.

The lowest payment I accepted was $30, but that was a simple one that I could do at home.  I picked up some mouthwash and tried it for a few days (it was nasty) and then dropped off my questionnaire when I was done.

The most I ever got paid was $200 for a two hour job. There was only eight of us in that group and we had to watch commercials for Verizon Wireless and share our thoughts. I guess they didn’t like our feedback because I never saw any of the commercials we watched on TV.

Benefits and Drawbacks

As with anything, participating in focus groups has its benefits and drawbacks.

Benefits

  • Easy money!  Seriously, all you have to do to get paid is taste food or try a new product and then tell them what you think about it.
  • You get to have a say in what new products will hit the market, and which ones end up in the scrap heap.
  • It’s a chance to meet new people.  Who knows?  Maybe you’ll meet the love of your life.

Drawbacks

  • You probably don’t know where to begin or how to get started. Don’t worry we’ll cover that in a minute.
  • The payout is not always worth the effort.
  • You have to be willing to speak up and share your opinions. That can be difficult if you’re shy.
  • Scheduling can be tough if you have a day job. I missed out on a lot of focus groups because the timing didn’t work for me.

How to Get Started

If you’re lucky like us, you might already know someone who participates in focus groups.  Ask around because that could be an instant in.

If not, you’ll have to do a little bit of legwork to find one in your area. You can start by Googling “focus groups” + “your town” and see what pops up.

I did some searching myself and came across a site called Greenbook, which is a worldwide directory of market research companies.  The site seems more designed for companies that are looking for facilities to test their products, but it is just as useful for people looking to become paid participants.

You can search by location, and when you choose a state you’ll get a full listing of market research facilities in that state.  New Jersey alone has 17 different listings, and there are links to each company’s website where you can sign up to become a participant.

Check it out and see if there is one in your area.  And if you have participated in a focus group before, drop a comment below and let us all know how it went!

——
Mike Collins is a freelance writer and blogger who specializes in personal finance topics. He’s also a husband and father of three children who keep him very, very busy.  You can read more about his quest to achieve financial freedom for his family at WealthyTurtle.com.

*Have a hustle yourself you’d like to share with us? Let me know!

[Photo cred: EvelynGiggles]


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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alicia @ Financial Diffraction November 7, 2013 at 6:14 am

I used to do this on a regular basic before I moved to a more rural setting where there were fewer focus groups. The big ones we used to go to we’re for Subway, $40 for 45 minutes. And they would let both me and the fiancé go, so $80 between us for less than an hour. I have also done coffee, McCafe frozen coffees, weather patterns, and a few others that are escaping my mind. It was a nice sporadic way to pad the coffers.

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2 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:09 am

Rural areas probably won’t have as many opportunities, but you never know. I guess I’m fortunate to live in a heavily populated area.

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3 J. Money November 8, 2013 at 12:58 pm

You guys were rockin’ it! I love Subway!!

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4 FI Pilgrim November 7, 2013 at 6:40 am

That is incredible.. I never knew such things existed. I wonder if I can get into a BBQ taste testing circuit somehow?…

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5 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:10 am

If I did regular BBQ tastings I’d also have to test weight loss solutions…haha!

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6 Brian November 7, 2013 at 7:36 am

I probably do a focus group 2-4 times a year. The ones around here are pretty picky and if you have participated within a certain time frame you are ineligible. I did one where I had to give my opinion on lawn mowers for 2 hours and that one paid $150. The only one where I have ever gotten to taste anything was for pizza (it was totally for pizza hut but they wouldn’t confirm or deny that) and it paid around $50 for an hour or so.

My wife just did one about cord banking (she said it felt more like a sale pitch) but that one paid $100 for about 45 minutes.

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7 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:11 am

The money is good for the amount of time and effort required.

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8 J. Money November 8, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Lawn mowers??? Haha… I don’t even know I could talk about them for two MINUTES! :)

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9 Tara @ Streets Ahead Living November 7, 2013 at 8:07 am

my mom used to do this! She didn’t get paid much, usually like $20 per time but she loved doing it. For her though, she couldn’t do a taste test within a certain time frame of a previous taste test. She sometimes would miss out because she tasted something too recently for the next test (I think they wanted a 2 month break between taste testers).

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10 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:12 am

Hey Tara, I think that’s pretty standard. They probably want to make sure they’re getting a good mix of tasters and not the same ones again and again.

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11 Well Heeled Blog November 7, 2013 at 8:09 am

When I was in high school, I once got $80 to share my opinions on the phone about teenage civic engagement. I thought I was rich! Unfortunately an opportunity like that didn’t come around again until a couple years ago when I got $100 for trying out cell phones. Love opinion panels, but they are very difficult to fit in unless you have an extremely flexible schedule.

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12 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:13 am

Agreed. I had to pass on a lot of opportunities because they were scheduled during the day while I was working. A flexible schedule is a big plus.

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13 John S @ Frugal Rules November 7, 2013 at 8:16 am

That’s awesome Mike! We’ve done some work with focus groups, but on the other side of the equation with a few of our clients. They’ve never been as fun as tasting food though. ;)

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14 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:14 am

John, that sounds cool…you have experience from the opposite point of view. What kind of products were you involved in?

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15 Holly@ClubThrifty November 7, 2013 at 8:22 am

That’s amazing! I would definitely eat French fries for $40 an hour. Good work!

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16 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:15 am

Thanks Holly! It’s a fun way to make extra money.

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17 Laurie @thefrugalfarmer November 7, 2013 at 8:35 am

These deals usually pay pretty well. We used to do a fair amount of them, but now that we’ve moved out to the country, the gas money to get there negates any cash we’d make. We miss you, taste test focus groups!

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18 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:19 am

You definitely want to factor in travel time and gas money. I haven’t done any focus groups lately since we recently moved and the location is no longer convenient. But I found one pretty close to our new home and I’m going to sign up with them.

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19 Ben @ The Wealth Gospel November 7, 2013 at 9:24 am

You are my hero! Now I just have to figure out a way to do that full time :) I’m totally looking up focus groups in my area!

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20 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:20 am

Thanks Ben! I can’t imagine being able to earn a full-time income tasting food, but it is definitely good for some extra spending cash.

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21 Brian@ Debt Discipline November 7, 2013 at 9:27 am

I did one as a kid, for soap and got paid $50 for using the product over a 4 week period.

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22 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:21 am

Fifty bucks for using soap is a good deal!

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23 Sarah November 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

Okay, that’s kind of awesome. Haha.

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24 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:21 am

Thanks Sarah…glad you liked it!

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25 Melinda Todd November 7, 2013 at 9:38 am

Should your title of this post be “Taste Tester” instead of “Taste Taster”? This would be a fun thing to do. So long as you get paid. I’ve done lots of mystery shopping and one legit company never paid me. So that always sucks. Thanks for the info. Need to look into this one :)

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26 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 11:24 am

We never tried mystery shopping but that sounds like a fun way to make extra money too!

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27 J. Money November 8, 2013 at 1:00 pm

YES! And I changed it too – good catch… I’m such a moron, haha… totally my fault, not Mike’s ;)

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28 Jen November 7, 2013 at 9:46 am

I used to do these market research surveys when I worked at Columbia U in NY. I remember sneaking out on my lunch hour to walk over to the business school and do a survey on how I responded to web designs or something – The flat rate was 35 an hour, but you could usually move quickly through them and get done in a half hour. I also did psychology testing over at the science building. Those were much more fun – color perception and taste, or someone’s experiment. They paid the same. And in CASH! Check out your local university to see if they are paying for external research subjects. It made me lunch money a few times a month.

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29 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Great advice! University science studies is something I never thought of.

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30 Connie @ Savvy With Saving November 7, 2013 at 10:11 am

That is amazing! The idea of getting paid to eat french fries sounds good to me! :) This is something I would definitely consider doing if I wasn’t stuck in a office all day.

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31 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Thanks Connie! Some of the studies were at night so I was able to do a decent number of them.

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32 T. Thema Martin November 7, 2013 at 10:25 am

Sometimes you can get invited to do focus groups through regular online product testing companies. I was paid $75 to watch 30 minutes of commercials. The focus group company got my name from them from Pinecone Research. At Pinecone, I review products online, which only pays $3 for 15 minutes, but you are put on a list for focus groups and some companies send you products to keep. I also do website reviewing via https://www.youeye.com/. It pays $12 for 20 minutes.

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33 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I used to do some Pinecone surveys too but they didn’t send me that many and the payout wasn’t that great. I just kind stopped applying for them.

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34 J. Money November 8, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Yeah, same here. I got one for like $200 for a survey through Pinecone on being a full-time blogger (which was sweet!) but then the rest was all crap… Then again I didn’t really pay attention much and could have let other winners slip through. Def. worth a test!

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35 This Life On Purpose November 7, 2013 at 10:32 am

That sounds like a sweet gig!
I’ve looked into being a mystery shopper, but in general it wasn’t worth my time, although you’d get free meals and items occasionally. I’ve been part of online communities that review different companies, doesn’t pay that well but it also doesn’t take much time, and it allows you to have a say in the market.

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36 T. Thema Martin November 7, 2013 at 10:41 am

I have found that mystery shopping works best if you are a Hotel Mystery Shopper, which is hard to come by. Therefore, even though you are NOT paid a lot, it can be a nice staycation to sleep and eat at the Ritz Carlton for free.

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37 J. Money November 8, 2013 at 1:03 pm

For a second there I thought you said “HOT” mystery shopper, haha.. I was like, ‘Why would your looks matter when you’re undercover???” ;)

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38 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 1:39 pm

Friends of ours once took us out for dinner in Manhattan…they were mystery shoppers assigned to rate the restaurant. That was a very nice meal and we ate for free.

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39 Broke Millennial November 7, 2013 at 11:16 am

Ummm, yes. Totally checking this out!

It reminds me of my “acting days” when I lived in Japan. I auditions for an infomercial promoting an aloe drink. It was so gross, but I had to act like it was delicious. Fortunately for me bank account, I got the gig. Unfortunately for me, I had to drink tons of that nasty aloe drink!

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40 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 1:41 pm

That reminds me of the old I Love Lucy episode where Lucy had to drink Vitameatavegamin for a TV commercial hahaha!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AZK2-Tfc84

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41 J. Money November 8, 2013 at 1:05 pm

YES!! I did some of those “acting” gigs too while in Korea myself! They needed all kinds of Americans for their commercials and probably paid us peanuts compared to hiring them the “right” way, haha… they’d literally approach me or my siblings on the street and then half the time my parents would shoo them away cuz you could never tell if they were shady or not. And once a friend of ours got kidnapped and that halted everything! (She was returned safely and all, but still – gotta watch out for those creepers!)

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42 Retire By 40 November 7, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I signed up with a taste test focus group, but never got the call. Maybe it’s time to sign up again. Focus groups is pretty cool, easy money!

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43 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Definitely give it another shot!

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44 Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) November 7, 2013 at 12:37 pm

This is awesome. Practically my husband’s dream job to taste test food haha!

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45 Mike Collins November 7, 2013 at 1:42 pm

Seriously! Getting paid to eat = awesome!

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46 eemusings November 7, 2013 at 3:27 pm

I’ve done this a few times! opportunities don’t come around all that often sadly, but the money’s good too – average like $40/60 an hour.

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47 Mike Collins November 8, 2013 at 8:12 am

Most definitely!

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48 Christine @ ThePursuitofGreen November 7, 2013 at 4:09 pm

sounds like good side job perfect for me! i write yelp reviews all the time so im already kind of doing this for free anyway. thanks for sharing! going to have to take a look at this.

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49 Mike Collins November 8, 2013 at 8:13 am

Good luck…hope you find one in your area.

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50 J. Money November 8, 2013 at 1:10 pm

Hah! Good way to think about it actually, Christine.

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51 Jack @ Enwealthen November 7, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Interesting!

Here in sunny Silicon Valley, it’s all about usability studies. Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, et al. all need people to try their new products and give feedback before they launch it into production. Unfortunately, being in the industry, I’m not eligible for most of them as I’m not representative of their typical user.

But I’ll have to check out the focus groups. Sounds like fun!

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52 Mike Collins November 8, 2013 at 8:14 am

That’s cool Jack…I think it would be fun to test out new apps or features before the public has a chance to see them.

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53 J. Money November 8, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I think I’d love that nerdier – usability – stuff a lot more than tasting food, haha…

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54 Micro November 7, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Dang, that definitely has me interested in giving looking around to see what I can find in my area. It seems like a good way to make some extra cash to speed up my student loan payments. :)

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55 Mike Collins November 8, 2013 at 8:15 am

Every extra dollar helps!

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56 Julia November 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm

I’ve helped with focus groups for my job, but not for anything as fun as taste testing. But it’s always kinda cool to be “behind the glass”! It can get super boring after a few groups (hearing the same comments you got 5 groups and 3 cities ago), but there’s usually enough amusing characters among the participants to make for good stories! Tip: companies usually recruit more people than they need, to account for no-shows (overbooking basically). As long as you get there when you’re supposed to, you’ll get paid even if they decide to send you home. If we have more people than we need, we let people go based on the mix of who was recruited/showed, so it’s nothing personal. Unless you look like a troublemaker, then you might get cut too, in which case I guess it is kinda personal! ;-) Tip #2: waving to the people behind the glass always makes me smile (and I wave back) so you should do that. :-)

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57 Mike Collins November 8, 2013 at 8:16 am

That’s a great tip Julia! Getting paid to do nothing is pretty sweet!

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58 J. Money November 8, 2013 at 1:12 pm

haha… guess you can never go wrong with waving, eh? :)

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59 Julia November 11, 2013 at 12:47 am

Hey a smile and a wave can do wonders sometimes!

Another source for finding focus group facilities is Quirks.com (founded by one Mr. Quirks!).

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60 KK @ Student Debt Survivor November 10, 2013 at 9:24 pm

How neat is that! Getting paid to test french fries is awesome! I’ve been a secret shopper before, but haven’t done any taste testing or marketing research. I’m going to head over to greenbook and see if there’s anything available in my area.

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61 J. Money November 11, 2013 at 10:53 am

I’ve always thought I’d be good at secret shopping. And, an undercover cop for that matter. I’m pretty good at adapting to situations, but even more so no one would ever suspect a dude with a mohawk! haha…

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62 zut November 12, 2014 at 9:29 am

For the Denver area folks, there is a taste test company called Ingather.

http://ingatherresearch.com/ Also follow updates on their twitter…this past week I tried out for their “pizza” taste test but I didn’t qualify for the focus group. Apparently I must be too old for frozen pizza or something. There’s a quick survey monkey form to see if you meet their focus group standards for each individual tasting session. Sounds like they pay around $50 a session.

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63 J. Money November 12, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Nice find man, thanks for sharing it with us.

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