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Are you one of the millions who likes to dream about what you’d do if you won the lottery? I’ll confess, I have imagined how I’d divvy up my winnings, and I rarely ever even play. One reason is that your odds of winning a top prize aren’t good. In fact you’re more likely to be killed by a lightning strike than to win. And yet some people spend $10, $20, even $50 a week on lottery tickets. All that money could be put to better use saving for retirement, but some people can’t let go of the chance to “win big”. My recommendation? Online sweepstakes.
The Problem with the Lottery Habit
You might think there’s not much harm in playing the lottery, but you should think again. In 2014, Americans spent $70 billion on lottery games and the poorest third of households bought half of all lottery tickets sold. And while those lottery profits are helping states fund programs, they’re taking wealth away from all those players. If you invested $10 a week tax deferred over the 45 years you’re likely to be saving for retirement, with a 7% return you’d have over $150,000. While that may not provide a comfortable retirement, it definitely adds up to a good start.
But what about the potential winnings for all those years? It’s important to note that according to Bloomberg research, the average lottery player loses about $0.40 for every $1.00 in tickets purchased.
How Online Sweepstakes Can Help
So what’s a lottery daydreamer to do? Try online sweepstakes instead. My wife loves to play online sweepstakes, and although we haven’t “hit it big” yet, she did win a $1,000 Amazon gift card, a tailgating set, a Star Wars VR set (that we sold for $200), $50 in cash, free movie tickets, and some other miscellaneous items.
The major benefit of online sweeps is that they’re free. You still have the potential to win big, but without the financial cost. You can enter as few or as many as you want, and you select which ones you want to enter based on the prizes.
There are some drawbacks however. Both the lottery and online sweeps require an investment of time (although how much is up to you), and your time may be better spent on a side hustle with guaranteed income, or on ways to increase your primary source of income.
Also, some sweepstakes require you to watch video ads to enter (some let you move on to another window while it plays, others do not), while other sweeps require you to subscribe to their email list (you can unsubscribe at any time). There are plenty of sweepstakes that don’t require either of those, so it’s up to you and which ones you choose to enter.
My wife swears that it’s important to track which sweepstakes you’re entering and she uses a basic spreadsheet to do it. Not only does this help confirm the legitimacy of a sweepstakes win (as opposed to a scam where they try to get your personal information), but it helps to keep track of which sweepstakes you want to enter more than once, or share with friends.
It’s important to check that you’re in compliance with the Official Rules, and any legitimate sweepstakes will have a link to those. Pay special attention to how often you can enter. Some are daily, some weekly or monthly, while others you can enter only once. The tricky ones let you enter daily, but only up to a certain limit so you’ll need to keep track of how many times you entered. A number of the daily sweeps require you to wait at least 24 hours between entries, so you’ll want to keep track of what time you enter those.
Keep in mind that you are not required to buy anything or purchase a subscription to participate in sweepstakes, but some which require codes will list an alternate way to get them in the rules.
Which Ones to Enter
There are several things to keep in mind when you decide which online sweepstakes to enter. First, if you win you’ll be responsible for taxes, so be sure the prize is something you can afford, especially if you’re not winning any cash.
Speaking of the prize, make sure it’s something you want or something you can easily sell. Some prizes are non-transferable (especially trips) while others may be difficult to sell. That tailgating set I mentioned was a second prize and we figured we’d just sell it. We didn’t know that the canopy tent and camp chairs were bright pink and now they’re sitting packed away in one of our closets. 🙁
Some sweepstakes may mention a specific prize, but actually give you a check or gift card. Others may offer a specific prize, but give you the option to take a cash amount instead (usually lower in value than the prize). Check the rules for details.
Finally, you may want to shoot for the stars and enter contests for millions of dollars, but you’ll have a lot of competition with those. Entering sweeps for $5,000 or less means your odds are likely to be better.
How to Find Sweepstakes
For the granddaddy of all sweeps, try Publishers Clearing House. No longer do you have to fiddle with those little paper stamps and mail it away. You can play online everyday to win cash amounts big and small, as well as prizes. This site is especially good if you enjoy scratch-off cards and games.
Beyond that, there are quite a few sites that list new, open sweepstakes. A reliable one that my wife uses is this list from The Balance, updated daily.
Online sweepstakes may not make you wealthy, but if you enter consistently, you’re likely to see some results. Meanwhile you can take your lottery money and invest it for a rainy day.
Do you ever play the lottery? What about online sweepstakes? If you won the big prize, what’s the first thing you’d do with the money?