There are three things that it's not easy for me to admit to people. It's not that any of these things are secrets, it's just that they are not things that people suspect about me. People are usually surprised to learn that I am gay for example... so offering up that info is sometimes awkward, depending on the situation. People also do not expect me to be an atheist. This one is more esoteric I think, but when the topic comes up (and in this political environment it does quite a bit) and I come out of the godless closet no one ever says, "Cool!" I usually get, "Really? No. Do you mean agnostic? Atheist? Really?" Frankly, it's been easier telling people I'm gay than it has been to tell people I am an atheist. No one ever gives me grief about being gay, but they definitely will make it a point to let me know they are praying for me if I tell em I have no doubt that there is no God. So those two seem like they'd be pretty big announcements to make, at least initially. But the one that I have the hardest time with, the one that people tend to not know how to react to, the one that I am actually a little embarrassed to admit, is that I am a sweeper.
I enter sweepstakes. Lots and lots of them. At any given time I have a list of well over 100 that I try to enter daily, and those are just the internet ones. I have a second list that usually hovers around 40 that require a postal entry, but I do not get to them as often as I should. At my peak, I was spending about 30 hours a week, organizing, finding and entering sweepstakes and it has paid off. I win stuff all the time. Good stuff. I won $1000 in Amex Gift cards from the local newspaper one year, a trip to LA to attend the MTV Movie Awards, my iPod, my iPod Shuffle, my Senseo coffee maker, a Sony PSP, $1000 in credit on eBay with which I bought my TiVo, my Mac Mini and a cool cellphone, a $500 Kroger supermarket gift card, my Treo 650, two digital cameras, several DVD's, many smaller gift cards ($10 gas cards, $25 master cards, $5 iTunes cards), almost ALL of my iTunes downloads have been free, tons of snapfish prints, a professional copier/scanner/fax thing and bottles and bottles and bottles of 2 liter Coke products. My most recent win worth mentioning is a years membership in NetFlix. Yes, I also win a bunch of crap, posters and coasters and flip flops and baseball caps and t-shirts and beer coozies... not to mention the SPAM all this entering has generated but that's what trash cans and free email accounts are for.
I got started in this hobby about 6 years ago when on a whim I entered a mail in sweepstakes to win round trip airline tickets anywhere in the continental US that US AIRWAYS flies. I leared of this sweeps from a button ad on planetout.com. I sent in maybe 3 or 4 entries and forgot about them... about 3 months later I got a registered letter saying I was a winner! I flew me and my boyfriend at the time to NYC for the day on his birthday with that win.
With all my success you'd think that my hobby would get better reviews, but most people thend to get this look of pity or bemusement on their face when my secret comes out. Before they hear about my winnings they look at me like they know that sweepstakes are a rip off and a con and that no one wins, but I just haven't figured it out yet, and they don't want to ruin my fun by telling me. They seem to steer the conversation towards the dark side by asking "what's the catch?" or "but you have to pay all those TAXES!" To which I explain that the taxes aren't all that bad, and if there are catches then it probably IS a scam (I have turned down sweepstakes prizes due to both of those issues). Even when I share my winnings with them, they seem to accept the gifts with skepticism and doubt.
By the way, if you would like to try your hand at sweeping I'd be happy to offer some specific tips, but in the meantime here are three basic things to remember to get you started:
1) READ THE OFFICIAL RULES - any legitimate sweepstakes will have them
2) NEVER PAY TO ENTER OR WIN - if it's legitimate no one will ask you to pay anything
3) BE PERSISTENT - enter as often as the rules allow and for as long as they allow
I've tried to pass on this hobby to friends, but they all loose interest quickly. One friend lasted 4 months and she did pretty well. Won a digital camera and a watch, but she grew weary of the daily grind and now only enters the big ones like the HGTV Dream Home. I have online friends who share my enthusiasm, and we swap tips and links and success stories that keep us motivated when the inevitable slumps hit. For the most part though it's a solitary hobby that I keep to myself until someone asks where I got my cool phone or how I afforded to get my brother a PSP for his birthday or where all those coupons for 2 liter Cokes came from. Then I sheepishly admit to being a sweeper and prepare to assure them that I'm not foolish or ignorant.
There will come a time when UPS will deliver a life changing sweepstakes prize to my door, money or a car or a 50 inch flat screen (THIS NEW CONDO could use all three) and on that day all the embarrassment will have been worth it. On that day I'll stop being a godless, homosexual, sweeper and become a godless, homosexual, WINNER!!!
Next time: why is my AC still on?