12/7/2010 3:00 PM ET|
How to win contests and sweepstakes
A few more (sometimes conflicting) tips from the pros:
- Enter everything. Not having to "analyze every contest" means you can enter more of them, according to Troutt. You can always turn down a prize if you don't want it, she says. But there's another school of thought, which is . . .
- Be selective. Would you really ride that mountain bike or use that golf weekend? If not, then let someone else win. And there's another approach on this, too . . .
- Sell things you don't want/can't use. Some sweepers are horrified at the idea. Others suggest that the money you make could offset taxes, get you through lean times or help you build a stake.
- Check out Twitter. Sign on and search for the word "win." You'll get a bonanza. Or search by end date, e.g., "ends 12/10."
- Consider a newsletter or website. Some charge but may offer a free trial. Others, like SweepsGoat and Prizey, are free. Online-Sweepstakes.com has both free and premium sections.
- Multitask. Sweepstakes are relatively simple to enter, especially if you use software that fills in contact information. "I would die without Roboform," says Troutt, who enters at least 400 contests during each 10-hour overnight shift as a hotel reservations agent. (She works at home and uses a separate computer during quiet spells.) Click that Roboform while you're watching TV, or waiting for a friend to show up at the burger joint. Or, like Fleming, while you have your morning coffee.
- Prizes = presents. Remote-control cars, MP3 players and other items go well under the tree or at the many birthday parties your kids attend. The fisherman next door might appreciate the foam cooler. "There's nothing like walking up to somebody and just handing (something) to them," says Carol McLaughlin, who publishes This n' That Sweepstakes Stuff. Or you could . . .
- Donate your winnings. Toys for Tots always needs gifts. Family shelters and senior centers could make use of toiletries, robes and other small items. That spa gift basket would make a swell door prize at the next PTA meeting.
- Set a Google alert. Troutt uses "second-chance drawing," because these have decent odds.
- Bookmark local TV/radio sites. Troutt checks these once a week. In the past five years she's won 10 trips, theme park and concert tickets, jewelry and other items.
- Follow your faves. If you love Coca Cola or American Girl dolls, "like" their sites and watch for giveaways. Remember to follow local sites, too; twice in recent weeks I have won free meals at Harley's Old Thyme Café in Anchorage, Alaska -- just in time for my Christmas vacation. Sweep on!
- Don't forget about taxes. If you're lucky at contests, you'll need to claim the value of your winnings at tax time. If you're not sure how a big-ticket item will affect your filing, you should consult a tax professional, call the IRS at 800-829-1040 or visit the IRS "Help with tax questions" page. Contest sponsors usually send a 1099 for items worth $600 or more.
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