Shaking the nickel bush is the act of making money with your own ingenuity, skills, and luck. The phrase comes from Ralph Moody’s excellent book of the same name. Here’s how we’ve shaken the nickel bush.
Monday night my wife and I went out for our seventh-anniversary dinner and, with tip, paid $16.50 out of our own pockets. “What cheapskates,” you say. Let me explain. We also used a handful of gift cards to settle our bill. Though each had “gift card” printed on it, the cards were not in fact gifts. I earned them.
I live in Corvallis, Oregon, which is also home to Oregon State University, a land-grant research school known for its engineering and science programs. Dr. Linus Pauling–winner of the 1954 Nobel Prize in chemistry and the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize–received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering at OSU.
Tucked away in Wiegand hall on the northwest corner of campus, the Sensory Science Laboratory provides (among other things) consumer testing services to food companies by enlisting members of the public to sample food and drink at the lab. Anyone, including me, can sign up to be a consumer panelist. Each week, the lab sends out emails for upcoming tests, and if you’re interested in sampling, you take a quick screening survey (demographics, allergies, availability, etc.). If you meet the selection criteria, you’re scheduled for a 15-30 minute in-lab test. Each test rewards you with $10 worth of gift cards from local businesses of your choosing (they usually have cards available from about 10 businesses).
In the the last couple of weeks I tasted several dishes: kimchi that made me gag with its untamed salinity and overpowering fish-oil flavor; rice-based cheese crackers that tried, and failed, to use extra crunch to compensate for their distinct lack of actual cheesy flavor; and unsweetened almond milk that was, dare I–the descendant of dairy-devouring Midwesterners–say, smoother and more refreshing than cow milk.
I chose all my gift cards for the restaurant where we got our anniversary on. So, Monday night, I paid for what we ate with what I was paid for eating. That’s the sweet taste of success.