Sweeping up the Winnings [UPDATED]Published 7:33am Thursday, May 10, 2012 Updated 8:05am Thursday, May 10, 2012
About 12 years ago Patty was already an “extreme couponer” of sorts (long before reality television got ahold of this concept). Doing her best to save her family money by using coupons and paying attention to special offers, Patty entered a few sweepstakes and lo and behold, she won. She won a whitewater rafting trip in Idaho. “I was hooked!” Patty declares, and so it began. She keeps regular hours as a dental hygenist at Northern Lakes Dental, but additionally, she spends 1-2 hours every day diligently working at her hobby — entering sweepstakes, and, subsequently, answering the phone and opening emails and certified letters informing her what she has won and how it will arrive.
Winning a trip lit the initial fire, and since that first trip, she has won many more — a few she has declined (yes, you read that right), but 11 she has joyfully accepted. Many ecstatic family members and friends have been fortunate enough to share in the travels. These trips have included Disney World, Hawaii, and one of her favorites, Canyon Ranch Spa in Tucson, Arizona. Patty’s list of loot reads like a dream shopping list: trips, giftcards, electronics, jewelry, small appliances, gaming systems, coolers, ipods, jackets, books, cds and dvds, hats, t-shirts, shoes, scrapbooking kits, tote bags, a full size Juke Box, a sewing machine, and much more. Her husband’s favorite is a Masterbuilt electric smoker which he uses all the time. The day I talked with Patty, she was in town to pick up her latest prize — a bicycle worth $3000.
It is easy to see the thrill and joy this hobby brings Patty. While talking about her hobby, she sparkles — and I don’t just mean the beautiful jewelry she’s wearing (that she likely won!). She excitedly explains how someone would get started with this adventure. Patty says the first step, and the most important one, is to carve out 1 to 2 hours per day for sweeping. The great thing is that this can be before work, or even late at night. This is the “hardest” requirement — just taking that time and staying patient and consistent. She notes that many of her friends and family members have been excited when she has won, and been temporarily caught up in the momentum. Only two have endured — her sister and one friend in Prior Lake. That shouldn’t discourage anyone serious about trying this. The constraints are just time and patience. According to Patty, there are no disadvantages to this unique hobby, just plenty of only (eventual) winnings. She explains that sweepstakes come from a company’s advertising budget. They want consumers to use their products and services, and many times the exposure and advertising they get through offering a sweepstakes far outweighs the cost to them. Meanwhile, Patty reels in the goods.
If you want to take a whirl at sweeping, Patty suggests first setting up an email account just for the hobby. Then she advises going straight to her favorite website,
online-sweepstakes.com (there are other good ones, but this is her favorite). Register for a trial membership — it’s free. Once you register, you are privy to a plethora of sweepstakes — all of them “legit,” Patty reassures. The site helps to keep you organized and is easy to use. In addition, Patty says to pay attention to local sweepstakes (she recently won a flat screen television in a local sweepstakes — and also a trip to this year’s “Final Four,” worth upwards of $60,000. She declined that trip, though, and was hoping for a cell phone!) and those in the Sunday newspaper supplements. Facebook is also starting to offer more links to sweepstakes that Patty feels are legitimate. She also highly recommends the free trial of Roboform — an autofill tool which will make entering the sweepstakes much more efficient. Give yourself a few weeks, sticking to the 1 to 2 hour rule per day (spending more just follows the law of diminishing returns, says our pro). If you still think it’s for you after several weeks, then invest in the full membership on the website (still very reasonable) and the lifetime membership of Roboform (also very reasonable). Then sit back and wait (patiently) for your prize notifications to begin.
Smaller things usually just arrive: coupons for free products, books, tote bags, make-up. Other items will follow email, phone or certified letter notification: digital cameras, playstation systems, trips, mini-refrigerators, gps’s. Patty expects to win, sooner or later, and she says “It’s a numbers game.” Some of the sweepstakes are single entry only, but many others allow an entry per day, and some are unlimited. Patty makes sure she enters the ones she especially wants to win the maximum number of times. “There are dry spells,” she admits, but the constant surprise and thrill of finding out what she has won keeps her going.
Even though the formula for success isn’t complicated, there are a few “no-nos,” too. Patty warns to never give out much personal information. She says she gives her name, email, birthdate, address and phone number (if required). A red flag is having to give money to enter the sweepstakes or pay for shipping of a prize, or at any time give your credit card information.
Patty’s family and friends love seeing her win, too, and often reap the benefits themselves, as Patty gives a great percentage of her winnings away. “Birthdays and Christmas? I don’t buy presents — I win prizes,” she giggles. Her kids and grandkids are always excited to see the latest treasure. When she wins something she and her entourage don’t need, Patty happily donates.
When I spoke with the sweeps pro, she had just returned from a trip she won to the U.S. Virgin Islands. “When people spend money on trips, I just laugh,” she quips. Knowing she is very dedicated to her hobby, I wondered if she had kept up her daily entering while on the trip. “No, I couldn’t get on the internet,” she mused, and said, “I kept worrying about what I wasn’t winning!” Although her husband will go along if the grandkids do, he’s not big on traveling. They have a rule between them. “I don’t make him go,” she says, “and he doesn’t make me stay.” Patty has been able to take many of her family members on trips, undoubtedly making countless memories.
With 2,000-10,000 sweepstakes active sweepstakes going on at any given time, Patty plans to continue her hobby, and mentioned she has heard about an “extreme sweepstakes” show in the works. She’s not sure whether she would entertain the thought of being on the show or not. In the meantime, she will be clicking away every day, and seeing what she wins next. The one thing she hasn’t yet won and is hoping for? A vehicle. Patty entered a Cabela’s sweepstakes last year in which they gave away 100 Ford trucks. She didn’t win one (she won binoculars!), and so her quest continues.
As Thomas Jefferson once said, “I’m a firm believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it.” This is Patty’s mantra, and can be yours, too, if you are ready to give “sweeping” a try.