As a competition addict, I've won everything from a trip to Japan to magazine subscriptions, two box sets of Sex and the City, a coffee machine and a $1,000 Westfield shopping spree, as well as the chance to be a fashion show VIP, countless CDs, movie tickets and makeup items. I also scored a year's supply of toilet paper one time (delivered via a bewildered neighbour!).
It all began when I was a cash-strapped uni student. I was already working part-time, but barely making ends meet, so I decided to make my hobbies more profitable or at least have fun trying. My first win was a $200 Kookai clothing voucher, which was too thrilling for words when I could barely afford a pair of socks. I was officially hooked.
Since then, I've won tens of thousands of dollars' worth of prizes, not to mention the priceless experiences I've had along the way. I've done a Mini Minor stunt-driving course, a mobile phone scavenger hunt around Adelaide in honour of the launch of a new Mission Impossible movie, and a silly on-stage dance attempting to win a signed rugby top. Having no shame kind of comes with the territory.
These days, I challenge you to scroll through your Facebook or Instagram feed and not stumble across a contest of some sort. Stick to ones by companies you've heard of and if in doubt, Googling the name of the promotion with "scam" or similar should tell you whether it's legit. Elsewhere online, websites for magazines and radio stations can be handy places to hit up. The Australian Competitions Club site (compingclub.com) is fantastic – it's free to join, lists tons of promotions and has various forum threads to hang out with an online community of people who share the passion.
Unless you're diligent about keeping it in check, the trade-off of comping can be an inbox of truly terrifying proportions. Up until recently my Gmail contained 43,000 emails. I've since gone on a deleting and unsubscribing spree, trimming it down to a relatively respectable 27,000. Remember to tick the box to opt out of future marketing material when you can.
On the bright side, the hobby can make the drudgery of supermarket shopping a darn-sight more enticing. The lolly, chip, soft drink and breakfast cereal aisles are usually the most reliable spots to find competitions, or in special displays at the front of the store. While you don't want to be consuming these foods all the time, I'll often pick party snacks based on what I can win or if I'm struggling with meal planning and I see a specially marked promotional jar of Chicken Tonight, guess what's for dinner?
I keep a receipts folder to stow away proof I've purchased the required item for promotions where you need to "spend over $40 to enter" or "buy any marked pack". I can't recall ever needing to produce the receipt when I've won, but I keep them just in case there's any squabble. I'd hate to be told I've won a major prize only to be disqualified over losing a tiny piece of paper.
One of the best tricks I've learned for winning contests is to enter ones requiring a little more effort, such as solving a puzzle, taking a photo, or (my favourite) writing an entry in "25 words or less". Most people can't be bothered, resulting in fewer entries and a greater chance of winning. Keep it funny, unique and mention the prize and/or brand name for best results. I've found a funny little four-line poem generally goes down well with the judges.
Another trick is to look for competitions run by small local businesses. They're often poorly patronised and you stand a greater shot of walking away with a modest prize.
Many businesses are also willing to send freebies and samples to customers who take the time to interact with them. Emailing in feedback on the latest flavour release, new product suggestions, bald-faced requests for free stuff and even humorous complaints can net you some fun branded items like baseball caps and T-shirts, and your favourite products – everything from lipsticks to muesli bars.
With all this free gear up for grabs, I suggest you check your dignity at the door and start entering competitions today. What have you got to lose?