A sweepstaking how-to

Sweepstaking: A Winning Hobby

by Susan Donahue

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Imagine... It was a very stressful day, traffic on the way home from food shopping was horrendous, and you almost hit the neighbor's cat while you were pulling into the driveway.

As you walk up the stairs to your front door, you notice a package over to the right. Your heart starts pounding and your palms are sweating. You open the note attached to the package, and you read the words you've been anxiously waiting to hear...

Dear Mrs. Donahue,
Congratulations! You have been selected as a second place winner...

Entering sweepstakes as a hobby has increased dramatically over the past 5 years. As it becomes increasingly difficult to make ends meet, sweepstaking is becoming increasingly more popular. It's not a get-rich-quick scheme. It's not like trying to win the lottery. It's a pastime enjoyed by many people that delivers satisfying, visible results.

While many of us dream about being that grand prize winner, the first, second, and third prize winners are receiving substantial prizes, too. This year alone, I have won an entertainment center ($3500), a mountain bike ($450), a vacuum cleaner ($200) and a Dirt-Devil ($50), an ice-tea maker ($35), four wins of $100 each, many T-shirts and music CDs, and a second-prize cash winning of $5000--all for sending in my name and address to a legitimate sweepstakes.

What is a legitimate sweepstakes?

Legitimate sweepstakes are those that ask you for no money whatsoever. No money to enter, no money to deliver your prize (shipping and handling), and no money for special processing fees to hold your prize for you. YOU have to enter legitimate sweepstakes--no one comes looking for you.

Legitimate sweepstakes are sponsored by companies whose products you buy every day: General Mills, Sony, Kellogg's, Family Circle, Vidal Sassoon, Johnson & Johnson, Quaker State, Tylenol, M&M Mars, and many others. These companies use sweepstakes as a way to promote their products. Through offering a sweepstakes with major prizes such as new cars, vacations, jet skis, money, PCs, entertainment systems, and cash prizes, these companies hope to attract your attention and hope you buy their products. How can they afford it? Holding a sweepstakes is included in the marketing and advertising budget. Even if the grand prize for a sweepstakes is $100,000, that's only a fraction of what some companies pay for a 30-second TV commercial during prime time hours.

Also, unlike playing a lottery, the prizes in a legitimate sweepstakes are GUARANTEED to be awarded. Sponsors rarely hold the sweepstakes themselves. They pay sweepstakes judging agencies to manage the promotion for them and to make sure that all prizes are awarded, and that they are awarded fairly--everyone has the same chance to win.

Related: Could You Earn $50 While Junior Naps?

How do I find sweepstakes to enter?

There are many places to find legitimate sweepstakes: grocery store and department store displays, Sunday newspaper inserts, the Internet, local radio stations, and so forth. There are also sweepstakes newsletters available that gather all of the legitimate sweepstakes for you and provide you with all of the information you need to enter them. Some of the better newsletters also provide you with hints and tips on how to win.

How do I enter a sweepstakes?

Each sweepstakes has its own set of official rules. The important information you need is the entry information (what the sponsors require), which is usually just your name and address entereed into an online form or hand printed on a 3x5 piece of paper or index card, the address to mail it, and the deadline date for the entry. There may be certain restrictions, such as age, residency (US and Canada mostly), or they may allow only one entry per person. All of this information can be found in the official rules. Sweepstakes newsletters also will publish all of this information for you.

Do I need any special supplies to enter?

No special supplies are necessary. Today, most sweepstakes can be entered online. Typical supplies for mailing in entries include plain white #10 envelopes, 3x5 index cards or plain paper, and postage. As you enter more sweepstakes, you might want to use colored envelopes or decorate them yourself, but this is not necessary. Most winners state that they won using plain envelopes and papers. In fact, there are some sweepstakes that require you to use only plain white envelopes-as another way to ensure that everyone has an equal chance!

Hints and tips on how to win...

Enter my inforamtion online or write my name and address on an index card, and mail it to the correct address. Other than cross my fingers, what else can I do?

Everyone has the same ODDS of winning, however, there are things that you can do to give yourself better CHANCE to win. Some of these include:

  • Have the kids help. My kids like to help decorate envelopes, and my oldest likes to help by writing out 3x5 cards in advance. When a sweepstakes is open for children only, we have plenty of hand-decorated envelopes done by the children!
  • Remember that local contests are great! The area is limited, and there are less entries. Look for them in grocery stores, department stores, drug stores, gas stations, on local radio stations, and so forth.
  • Enter the sweepstakes for which you are eligible that have restrictions for others. For example, if a sweepstakes is open to households with children under a certain age, we would enter that one more often (as long as we meet all of the requirements) than sweepstakes that are open to everyone. The odds decrease drastically.
  • Stagger your entries throughout the life of the sweepstakes. Many people flood the mail bags at the end of the sweepstakes, right before the deadline, trying to get in a few more entries before the sweepstakes ends. This means that your chance of getting picked from one of those last mailbags is greater. You have a much better chance of winning a sweepstakes if you enter throughout the life of the sweepstakes, getting your entries in as many mail bags as possible.
  • If you have an unlisted phone number, please state so when you fill out your 3x5 or postcard. The judging agency will disqualify you if you do not provide a phone number if one is specified. If you let them know your phone number is unlisted, they should not pass it on any further.
  • If you are on a budget for postage, for example, one roll of stamps a month, choose your sweepstakes wisely. That brand new car might be nice, but if it's the only prize offered in the sweepstakes, you might be better off entering the sweepstakes giving away a different grand prize with a few smaller prizes. Your chances of winning something would be greater.
  • Smaller wins make great Christmas or birthday presents. If a contest has a particularly uninviting grand prize and lots of smaller ones, we still send in a few entries. You can always decline the grand prize, and you'll still have a chance to win the smaller prizes.

Imagine how much simpler life could be if you were debt free. Now take the first step to getting there.


Sweepstaking is a very rewarding hobby. For a small investment of supplies, postage, and your time, the results can be very satisfying. Instead of dreading those bills and piles of junk mail, you now can look forward to the occasional prize notification.

It can help to make those special occasions even more special by providing things that you may not otherwise be able to afford to buy. For example, last Christmas was almost completely funded through prize winnings. Each family member received a large gift from a sweepstakes win: a portable CD player for our oldest daughter, a Little Tikes play house for our middle daughter, a bike for our son, a Toys "R" Us shopping spree for our youngest daughter, and an entertainment center for the whole family. We also won two round-trip tickets good for anywhere in the continental US, so Grandma and Grandpa could enjoy Christmas with our family last year.

We have had many other big wins, too. While we are still dreaming of someday winning those his-and-her minivans, the wins along the way are not only worthwhile, they're fun!

Updated March 2017

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