I admit it, I am a sweepaholic. I have been entering sweepstakes and contests for as long as I can remember. The first contest I can remember winning was a cassette tape of Van Halen’s 1984 from a radio call in. I have won trips, gift cards, clothes, coupons. Useful items and not so useful. I have tried to always only enter for things I want to win because why in the world would I need a year supply of gerbil food if I don’t own gerbils. My friends who know I sweep either sigh with exasperation or squeal with delight depending on what I win. I have family members that always seem to complain “you’re so lucky, you always win things I want” but when questioned if they enter the same contest, the answer is always “no”. So, I have decided to share my routine and strategies for the contests I enter.
If you don’t enter a contest, you can’t win a contest. Don’t complain about people winning things if you’re not actively trying to win too. I spend about an hour each day entering sweepstakes. I have a pretty set routine and if you start entering contests, you will too. I have a website I use, Sweeps Advantage. They categorize the sweepstakes into daily, weekly, one time, instant, etc. I always enter my instant wins first then look at expiring one time entries. Why? I love that small rush I get when I get a winning screen on an instant win. Sometimes the prizes are nothing major other times, I am doing the happy dance. I have won a Wii U in an instant win, an Ipod Shuffle, gift baskets, gift cards and coupons. There is usually a grand prize category in instant wins that is like a drawing when the contest is over. I have won those too, a trip to the US Open one year was the grand prize from an instant win that I entered almost every day. Then, I move on to expiring one time entry contests. You are only allowed to enter one time so if you’re entering on the contests last day of entry, you know you at least go into the drawing. After those, I do a keyword search for contests that may have things I want to win. I scrapbook so I will search for scrapbooking, Tim Holtz, Copic markers or whatever I think may be a contest somewhere. I will also do a search for trips if I have time.
Learn the rules. Some contests allow you to enter just one time, others allow daily, weekly, monthly or even unlimited. READ THE RULES. Sweeps Advantage has great listings under each contest that show eligibility, which includes age and location. Some contests are for kids, most are for 18 and over. Some are for 21 and over depending on your state and there are several that are not allowed in NY and FL, READ THE RULES. Nothing is worse than being disqualified from a contest because it was a one time entry and you tried to enter every day. Once you start entering more contest, you learn how to scan the rules to what you need to know, typically eligibility rules. I always want to know when a sweepstake is going to end and how long after it ends will winners be notified. I received a stuffed bear I won last October in a People’s Choice Awards contest last week. The lesson on that one, usually 4-6 weeks AFTER a contest ends is when awards are usually sent.
Enter for things you want to win. I have seen people complain about winning gift cards to stores that aren’t in their state. Well, then why in the world did you enter that contest? Don’t waste your time or energy trying to win dinner at a restaurant that is 1500 miles away from where you live, unless of course you are going to be visiting that area or are wanting to try to sell or trade your award (read your rules, some awards are non transferable). I guess it tends to be a pet peeve of mine seeing people winning trips they have to turn down because they wont’ or can’t take them. I won’t enter to win a cruise because I personally don’t want to go on a cruise. That being said, things do come up and sometimes you can’t accept a win. A trip the coincides with something important or even a win that the taxes (more on taxes later) on would be too much but if you read the rules, sometimes it tells you when you have to travel. If it is for an event on certain days, there is no wiggle room and other times you have a year to take your trip, read the rules. I have won trips to Las Vegas that had to be done on certain dates to allow for the concerts I won. I have also won trips that I could take at my convenience within a year of winning. Bear all these things in mind when you’re entering contests.
More on taxes. Yes, on major wins, you are supposed to claim them on your taxes. Now, there is always an estimated value on your wins but if you do a bit of research at tax time, you will see that the estimated value and real value are sometimes far apart. I have had estimates for 2 plane tickets run $1000. I wasn’t flying first class or even business, the tickets would have cost at most around $600. So my trip value has now gone down $400. Look at the hotel rooms, again I know there are times when rooms cost more but $1500 for a 2-3 night stay when I can book them at $750 cuts my estimate down again. Your value of a $2500 trip win is now down to $1250. Make sure you document your findings in case you do get audited but definitely research your trip value before you claim the entire value the sponsor claims. Or, if you have an accountant, let them know about your wins and let them do the paperwork.
Thank your sponsors! A lot of contests are run by a company that does the distribution, legal stuff and running other than the sponsor. For instance, EPrize is a company that runs contests for several major companies. When I win a large prize, I always send an email to whoever sent me a prize and ask for it to be forwarded to the appropriate person or person who organized the contest. It doesn’t take up too much of your time and it reminds sponsors that their contests are important and worthwhile! When I won an Xbox, my son wrote the thank you because he knew it was going to be for him. Anytime that I have worked with sponsors, they have always been gracious and helpful, from organizing flights, rooms, car services to verifying my address. Thank them, it matters.
So, this is one of my hobbies. I am a sweep-o-holic and I admit it! Last week, I won a $15 visa gift card, a free coupon for Twix and got a stuffed bear in the mail. Not a lot but $15 more than I had when I started the week!