These days you can get a lot more than a penny for your thoughts.

If you are interested in earning a little extra cash, why not consider getting paid for your opinion? Focus and research groups are a good place to start.

Companies will pay research companies to find out how consumers would respond to a particular product or service. Before spending millions of dollars to launch a new product, it's worth it for brands to find out if it will be well received by the public.

Focus groups cover everything from potato chips to computer chips and everything in between. Some focus groups have you come in the for review, others give you products to take home.

My interest in focus groups started many years ago when I was working as a consumer reporter for CBS News in San Francisco. I worked on a story to show viewers ways that they could earn a little extra cash. I spent a day at the offices of a local market research company as they held several focus groups.

The day I was there they tried milk shakes and granola. People tried the products and filled out forms offering their feedback. Some groups had discussions about things like taste and consistency. They all left with about $75 cash in hand after about an hour. Not bad I thought.

These focus groups consist of people from all walks of life, demographics and careers. Parents are often a popular category to be in because so many products are targeted at kids.

If you are of a particular career background such as a teacher, engineer or a nurse, you may qualify for higher paying, specialized focus groups.

You may have heard of the term "Mystery Shoppers" and thought that sounded like a job that would be too good to be true. Get paid to shop? It goes something like that. You may be assigned to go into a restaurant or retail store, then file a report back to the company discussing what your experience was. 

You can look for information by going to the Mystery Shopping Professionals Association website. You want to make sure you are working with legitimate companies.

Some ways to find groups in your area is through your local libraries and bookstores. You can also do an online search for companies in your area. As with any research online, you need to be very careful about who you respond to.

You should never pay any fees or pay for materials when signing up with a focus or research shopping group. You also do not want to give out any confidential personal information.

Before signing up, you can check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints against a particular mystery shopping or focus group company.

The Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Division has a section to help people learn more about mystery shopping and possible scams to be aware of.

If you are someone that likes to speak your mind, this might be a great way to get your opinions out there while making a little extra money.

About the author: Jeanette Pavini is a two-time Emmy Award winning consumer reporter and author of more than 10,000 money-saving stories. She is a columnist for TheStreet's Retirement Daily, and a contributor for various news outlets including The Today Show and Hallmark Channel's Home & Family. Since 2008, Jeanette has been the national spokesperson for Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal Weekend and USA Today. She was the chief consumer reporter for CBS 5 News in San Francisco where her money-saving segments became the backbone to her 30-minute consumer show.