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Are Online Surveys Worth Your Time?


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A while ago, I received a Gallup survey on travel in the mail. My first instinct was to throw it out, but I hesitated when I noticed along with the survey and brief instructional letter, the pollsters had included a crisp dollar bill for the five minutes of my time it would take to complete the survey.

Well then, time to reconsider!

A dollar for a five minute survey is the equivalent of $12 an hour–not too bad in today’s recession economy. The token compensation made me rethink my plan to throw it in the trash. And so it sat, along with that one dollar bill, for a couple of days on my coffee table. After all, I couldn’t very well keep their dollar and NOT fill out their survey, could I?

See how smart those Gallup people are? I’m sure most people would have been inclined to just ignore the request, but with a tangible reward included, people are more likely to fill out the survey and return it. Given the cost of creating and printing the survey, the mailing list and postage, plus the labor involved in compiling and reporting the results, the extra dollar to ensure increased response was probably well worth it for Gallup.

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But are paid surveys worth it for those who take the time to fill them out? Over at Surviving and Thriving, Donna Freedman recently blogged about when online surveys are worth it. Based on her experiences–as well as those of her readers–there are an awful lot of surveys that are “expecting too much and offering too little.”

One way to decide whether something is worth the time investment is to sit down and calculate exactly what your time is worth. Taking your total compensation (salary plus benefits) and dividing by 2,080 (52 weeks times 40 hours per week) can give you a starting point towards determining the value of your time. But what if you’re underpaid (in which case this methodology might be understating the true value of your time) or unemployed (in which case any amount of income might be a valuable use of your time)? For some, any extra cash might be enough of an incentive to trade one’s time; for others, spare time is much too valuable to waste on chump change.

Back to my Gallup survey: When I sat down and really looked at it, I found there were two pages with questions printed on the front and back (four pages of questions in all) for a total of 27 questions. There was also the time involved in putting it in its envelope and getting it to a mailbox to send back once completed. A quick calculation determined that the survey would more likely take ten minutes or more–which puts the dollar compensation at a mere six bucks an hour–less than California minimum wage.

In a follow-up postcard Gallup sent me as a “gentle reminder,” they as much admitted to the time involved, this time stating it would only take 5-10 minutes to take the survey. Suffice it to say, I decided it wasn’t worth my time. I pitched the survey. I pocketed the dollar.

How much is your time worth and how do you calculate its value?

Stella Louise is the editor of the personal finance blog and what free time she has is spent catching up with her DVR rather than filling out surveys.