I tried these TikTok money-saving tips. Here's what happened
There's some useful advice floating around TikTok, but also some shady practices.
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
is replete with how-to videos, everything from baking the best bread to learning the hot new dance to saving (and even making) money. This last is right in my wheelhouse, and I'll admit I've learned a few things I didn't know before. I've also encountered many videos, however, that seemed dubious at best. I selected a handful of them and investigated the advice myself, eager to see if the information presented was both legitimate and useful. Here's what I found out.
TikTok user @Brian__Chung promised the secret of "cheap first-class airline tickets every time" -- and revealed it in all of 10 seconds. His trick: Head to AwardHacker, a site I hadn't heard of before, and plug in your travel details. Specify the mileage-reward programs you use (including airline or credit-card), then choose first-class cabin.
After a minute, the site generates a list of the airlines that offer your route and the number of miles or points it'll cost you to score a first-class seat, with the lowest listed first.
The reality: AwardHacker is definitely a handy tool for locating award flights, economy and first-class alike. However, it's only showing you the lowest available "point cost" for those flights; you still have to have those points to redeem. So billing this as "cheap first-class airline tickets" is pretty misleading.
The promise: Cheaper airfare when you use a VPN
Need yet another reason to use a VPN? How about airfare discounts? Catarina Mello, aka @professionaltraveler, says that if you use a VPN to make it look like you're booking from a different country (even for flights that aren't in that country), you can save a bundle. (Never mind that airfare is already insanely cheap compared with before the pandemic.)
Using Google Flights, I looked at nonstop New York to Los Angeles and found several options at $237 and lots more at $297. Then I signed into my VPN, chose Romania as my country, opened an incognito window and checked the same flights. After figuring out how to get Google back to English and the prices back to US dollars, I found the prices were exactly the same. To the penny.
The reality: It's always a good idea to use your browser's incognito mode when checking airfares, but I didn't see any benefit to using a VPN as well.
The promise: Save 'huge money' on Amazon
An Amazon hack? I'm listening. TikTokker @danback90 shared the following: When you're looking at a product you want to buy, either now or in the future, scroll down the listing page and find its ASIN number. Copy it, then head to Keepa and run a search on that number. You'll get a graph showing its price history, which lets you know whether there's ever been a lower price. If there has, there's a good chance it'll be lower again.
The reality: Great advice, and very familiar -- I've been sharing that same tip for as long as I can remember, but CamelCamelCamel has always been my price-history research tool of choice. Keepa is good, too, and in fact it offers quite a bit more data -- so much, in fact, that for certain products it can be hard to parse. You can also set up alerts to get notified of price drops, same as with Camel.
The promise: 'Google will pay you $1 every 20 seconds'
TikTok user @hustleabove offers a free and easy way to make money: Install the Google Opinion Rewards app (available for both Android and iOS) and take surveys, for which Google will "pay you $1 for 20 seconds." Sounds great, right? If you spent just 10 minutes per day taking surveys, you'd potentially make $30.
This is two truths and a lie. Yes, there is such an app, and, yes, it will pay you for taking surveys. However, the rate is up to $1 per survey, and not all of them can be completed in 20 seconds; some take longer. What's more, Google doesn't offer an endless supply of surveys for you to take so you can rack up big bucks. In fact, after I installed the app, I found myself staring at this message: "No survey at this time. We'll notify you when a new survey is available." Eventually I received one; it took about a minute to complete, and I received exactly 30 cents for my time.
The reality: This very misleading Google hack was really @hustleabove's way of getting TikTok users to click his "How to make money on Amazon" link. Speaking of which, read on.
The promise: 'I made $735,000 selling on Amazon'
Many on TikTok love to show Amazon dashboards indicating hundreds of thousands of dollars in product sales -- very often the result of setting up a store and selling inexpensive items like T-shirts and mugs.
But, wait, if a video teaches you to do likewise, won't that just create considerably more competition that cuts into the poster's own sales? The end game here, at least for some TikTokkers, is to sell you on selling: These posts tease you with the promise of massive profits, then ask you to buy their "How to make money on Amazon" guide. (See above.)
User Michael Soltis (@michaelsoltiss), for example, introduces his "simple four-step framework" for finding the most profitable items to sell on Amazon. The advice is too rudimentary to be of any real value, and Soltis ends by steering you to the link in his bio -- where you can buy an Amazon FBA ("Fulfilled by Amazon") course for... wait for it... $497.
The reality: There's no such thing as easy money. There are free (and cheap) courses that will teach you to sell products on Amazon, but making any real money that way takes real work.
Have you found any TikTok videos offering legitimate, practical money-saving advice? Hit the comments and share what you learned!