“Congratulations! You’ve just won ten million dollars!” Wouldn’t that be nice to hear? How about, “Congratulations! You’ve just won ten pairs of socks!” Well, it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but it’s always nice to win. If you like getting something for nothing (and who doesn’t?) maybe it’s time you won a sweepstakes. Of course sweepstakes winners are chosen at random like a lottery, so there’s no way to increase your chance of winning. Or is there?
- Find sweepstakes to enter. It’s not too hard to find sweepstakes. You can enter them at the grocery store, at the bank, at fundraisers, or on the internet. Heck, you probably even get invitations to enter sweepstakes in the mail. You probably want to enter most of these sweepstakes of course, but if you’re really serious about winning, you need to actively seek out sweepstakes. Start reading the newspaper and going through your mail more carefully. Carry a notepad and pen with you to jot down the details of any sweepstakes you might see on TV or hear on the radio. Search the internet— there are even internet databases, some free and some by subscription only, that can clue you in to hundreds or thousands of sweepstakes.
- Choose which sweepstakes to enter. Not all sweepstakes are created equal. For one thing, if you have to buy something to have a chance to win, don’t enter. If you have to complete some sort of program (which usually entails buying things) to enter—those annoying pop-ups for free iPods come to mind—don’t enter (unless it’s realistic to complete and free). There are plenty of chances to win without jumping through hoops or wasting your money. Beyond that, your decision to enter should be based on your own preferences. Here are a few things to consider.
- What can you win? Sweepstakes with a large sum of prize money are almost always worth entering, just because it’s so much money. Sweepstakes with smaller prizes can be great because you generally have a more realistic chance of winning. Don’t, however, waste your time entering a sweepstakes for a prize you don’t want and can’t easily sell for a good profit.
- What are your odds of winning? You usually don’t know what the exact odds of winning are because it will depend on the number of entries. You can, however, estimate the odds. If you get an entry form in the mail for a sweepstakes with a huge prize, you can be assured of a ridiculous number of entries. If you see a jar at a local restaurant for a free lunch, however, you know your odds of winning will be much greater–you may even be able to see how many entries are in the jar. The number of entries will generally depend on the size of the prize, the range of the target audience (local contests usually have better odds than national contests), the duration of the sweepstakes (a weekly drawing is better than a monthly drawing), and how well publicized the sweepstakes is. You’ll also want to consider how many prizes will be given away. A contest that receives hundreds of thousands of entries but offers a thousand prizes has odds of hundreds-to-one. That means you would likely need to enter hundreds of times in order to win even a single prize. Does this all mean that you shouldn’t bother with big contests? Maybe not, unless they’re offering big prizes or plentiful prizes.
- Will your privacy be protected? Unfortunately, the answer to this question is almost certainly “no”. Ask yourself: is a lifetime of junk mail, spam, or even sales calls worth the small chance of winning the prize? Probably not. Different sweepstakes offer different degrees of privacy, and they should disclose what they will do with your personal information. Read the fine print, and if you’re not comfortable with their use of your information, don’t enter. Keep in mind that, even companies who claim to respect your privacy will probably sell it anyway; this type of fraud, though illegal, is very common and very difficult to enforce against. This is an especially pervasive problem with online sweepstakes, as they’ll often sell your email address to spammers who will bombard you with unwanted emails. That said, keep in mind that you can’t really expect something for nothing, and sometimes you may decide that giving away some information is worth the chance of winning the prize.
- Read the rules carefully and follow them to the letter. You can’t expect to win if you don’t play by the rules. Go through the contest rules with a fine-tooth comb. Some are very simple, but others are not. If you don’t follow the rules exactly, your entry will be disqualified. The good news is that many people don’t follow the rules, a fact which increases your chances of winning. One rule that almost all sweepstakes have is an entry deadline. You’ve got to beat the deadline or you won’t win.
- Print legibly. Make sure that other people can read everything you write on your sweepstakes entries, particularly your contact information. If you have atrocious handwriting, consider typing your entries if the rules allow it.
- Provide the right answer. Some sweepstakes require that you answer a question correctly. There’s no point in entering these if you don’t have the right answer, so check and double-check the accuracy of your answer before sending in your entry.
- Enter as many times as possible. The more times you enter, the better your odds. It’s as simple as that. Before you send in a million entries, however, make sure you know how many entries the rules allow you. If you send in one too many, you’ll be disqualified. Additionally, rules may stipulate “one entry per day” or “one entry per envelope.” If you’re having to pay postage for each entry, consider your budget, and don’t get carried away, especially if the prize isn’t worth much.
- Bring entry forms home. If you can just drop your entries into a box, take some entry forms home with you so that you can fill out as many as the rules permit without feeling crunched for time.
- Space out your entries. Assuming that the number of times you can enter is constrained, either by the rules or by your budget, don’t send in or drop in all your entries at one time. Wait a few days or weeks (depending on the contest) between entries so that when the entries get mixed together you’ve got a better chance of one of your entries landing on top.
- Distinguish your entry. There isn’t much you can do to distinguish your entry online, but for paper entries it doesn’t hurt to give yourself a little competitive edge.
- Use a large envelope. Many mail-in sweepstakes simply drop the envelopes into a big bin and have someone pull one out. A bigger envelope has a better chance of being pulled. Many sweepstakes, however, have rules regarding the size of envelope or postcard you can use, so you can’t always use this trick.
- Decorate your entry. Sometimes the person picking the entry will be blindfolded, but many times they will not be. Set your entry apart by using a brightly colored envelope, applying stickers, or otherwise decorating the entry (within the rules, of course) so that it catches the eye.
- Fold your entry in a unique way. For drop-your-entry-in-the-box sweepstakes, fold each entry so that it’s attractive and bulky. An accordion-style folding job or some simple origami may make your entry more likely to be picked over all those entries that are simply folded down the middle.
- Follow the requirements to claim your prize. Once you’ve won, you’ve still got to make sure you get your prize, and that usually requires you filling out some affidavits, possibly notarized, or completing some kind of paperwork in a timely fashion. Follow through on claiming your prize, and make sure you meet any deadlines. Watch out for scams, though (see Warnings section below).
- If you’re going to enter online sweepstakes, consider getting a separate email account just to use for those entries. You’ll still have to sift through spam, but it won’t be in your personal email account.
- The more difficult a sweepstakes is to enter, the fewer qualified entries they will receive. If you have to answer a difficult question correctly, or if you have to spam a hundred of your closest friends, you’ll have better odds. Difficult sweepstakes are pure gold, but be sure to separate difficult from unrealistic (i.e. you have to spam 100 of your closest friends and they all have to enter their email addresses on a website).
- If you enter a lot of contests and sweepstakes you may have trouble keeping track of all the deadlines. It’s a good idea to prioritize them in a list or spreadsheet so you’ll make sure never to miss a deadline. Plan ahead. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re tempted to pay for overnight delivery for an entry.
- If you’re budget conscious, use postcards if the rules allow them. They’re cheaper to send than envelopes, so you can send more entries.
- Contests, which offer prizes based on some sort of merit, almost always have better odds than sweepstakes with similar prizes because contests require skill and time. This guide isn’t formulated for contests, but many of the same rules apply.
- Speaking of overnight delivery: it’s just not worth it. Like entering sweepstakes that require a purchase, paying exorbitant postage is a waste of money–money that could be spent buying stamps for a lot of other sweepstakes. If you’re entering a contest (a competition based on skill rather than luck), you may decide that special delivery is worthwhile if you’ve got a great entry.
- Don’t send in for a list of winners. If you won, you’ll know, as long as you haven’t moved and left no forwarding address.
- If the contest requires a certain sized postcard (most are 3×5 in.) then use that size! Do not use general index cards for it because they most likely won’t match the size requirements and your entry will be automatically disqualified.
- When you enter a sweepstakes, you run the risk of having your contact information sold to multiple mailing lists. This may be true even if the sweepstakes claims to respect your privacy, because mailing address information is not always considered “private information” such as your bank account number. Unfortunately, the truth is that there really is no such thing as a “free” when it comes to sweepstakes. In this case, you are paying for “free” prizes with your contact information, and though other profit generated by advertising. These kinds of contests are the bread-and-butter of spammers and the chances of winning anything valuable are remote. Even in cases where your privacy is supposedly guaranteed, it’s quite likely that your personal information will be sold to a mailing list collector somewhere. When you enter a sweepstakes, you can expect your volume of junk mail to increase dramatically. In addition to a “spamtrap” email address, you might consider using a mailbox drop or PO Box (PO Box is cheaper) if you plan to enter a lot of sweepstakes. However, note that many internet contests now recognize most of the freebie mail services, and disallow them. One way to get around that is to have your own domain, and use an address that is easily filtered. Some contests will disallow PO Boxes, but a mail-drop address (“Suite #, etc) is not as easily detectable.
- Beware of scams. There are plenty of sweepstakes scams that require money or a purchase upfront, but there are also scams where someone will call you and tell you you’ve won a prize but need to pay a fee or give them your bank account information in order to claim it. Don’t fall for these tricks. Legitimate sweepstakes will not require payment or personal financial information.
- Do a cost-benefit analysis. The cost of postage can really add up if you’re entering a lot of sweepstakes, as can the time you spend filling out entries. Think about how much time and money you’re spending on your sweepstakes hobby.
- Yes, it’s a sweepstakes hobby, not a job. You may be able to increase your chances of winning, and indeed if you enter enough sweepstakes you will most likely win sometimes, but the odds still range from poor to astronomical. Enter sweepstakes for the thrill of doing so, but don’t try to make luck your primary source of income.
- Are you ready to have your name and photo spread all over the news and in future advertising of the sweepstakes you are entering? Think of how many new “friends”, spam, and tax burdens you’ll get if you win.
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