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At a recent family gathering, my sister asked my brother, "Did you win that grill in a contest?" as she pointed to a nice gas grill.
"No," he said, "I picked it up off a curb in our neighborhood."
We all laughed. My brother, Walter, has made a second career of saving money by winning contests, using coupons, accepting credit card special offers, finding curbside treasures, and more.
One of his first big wins was a trip for two to the Redskins Super Bowl in New Orleans in 1985. He had bought multiple scratch-off cards. First, he won a Redskins hat, then a Redskins jersey, and then he received a registered letter for the tickets. He took Dad as a belated Christmas present.
Later, he began to enter multiple sweepstakes multiple times by sending in 3x5 cards. The next big prize he won was a cruise to the Bahamas for four nights and three days for two for Mom, fulfilling one of her greatest wishes.
But, his best prize was winning a county housing lottery where he got the opportunity to buy his beautiful brick townhouse.
My brother has a full-time job, an hour commute and an extended family. From what I can tell, he enters sweepstakes he sees while out doing errands, on his cell phone during his bus commute, in magazines and newspapers, or online while watching television or during family gatherings.
I admire how Walter has incorporated saving money into his everyday thinking. Every conversation with him generally includes a tip on how to save money. Recently, he suggested I open a account with an online bank because their interest rates were better than most. Visit him at home and he will offer you a 2 for 1 restaurant coupon or something similar.
He briefly stopped entering sweepstakes until he saw an instant win sweeps online for a $100 Visa card in 2002. He won. He thought of giving the card to his wife until he saw a RoombaŽ, a flat vacuum robot, on Amazon for $125. He thought this would be a great gift to help his wife clean the dog hair from under the sofa. So, with a $25 first time buyer's credit and free shipping, he got the RoombaŽ for free.
At a family New Year's eve gathering in 2007, he entered multiple online sweepstakes that were closing and won a trip to Disney WorldŽ for his family.
Some of his other wins have included multiple liters of soda for everyone in the family, movie tickets, hats, shirts, and more.
My brother is a member of the $10,000 club at Sweepstakes.com. His philosophy for entering sweepstakes is to enter contests where the prize would change his life or to enter contests that have little interest.
He warns that there are dangers in entering online sweepstakes. Many sweepstakes sites are shams and others flood your mailbox with junk mail. He set up a separate email account for his sweepstakes entries.
Another way Walter wins prizes is to accept invitations to seminars. In addition to a free lunch, he has won an iPod and an iPad.
He uses multiple credit cards to get discounts and air travel miles. He, also, takes advantage of special credit card offers and prizes for opening new bank accounts.
Some of his other curbside finds include a large glass tabletop and a toilet for parts. He also likes to visit big box stores and food courts at lunchtime to get free samples.
He uses Freecycle.org, an international online service with local chapters, where posters list items they want to giveaway or items they want. One of his favorite finds was a collection of Dora the Explorer videos for his granddaughter.
And Ranger, his dog, came from a local animal shelter.
On a recent visit to my brother's, Walter, his daughter, and I went to the grocery store to pick up a few items for dinner. As we stood in line, I realized we had not brought our own bags and would be charged $.05 for each bag. Here comes my brother with a handful of plastic bags that he gives us as we reach the cashier. When we exited the store, I asked him where he got the bags; he had raided the plastic recycling bin.
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