On a cold winter day back in 2006 a large box showed up on my doorstep. I opened it to find the first season DVD of the TV show "Lost," a tote bag and a year's supply of microwave popcorn. I was a "winner!” This was my first real sweepstakes prize, and I've been hooked on sweeps since that day, winning prizes that include Target gift cards, a bag loaded with sample sizes of Oprah's "favorite things" and my largest win yet:  A trip to Orlando, Fla. to see a taping of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show!”

Let me first say that entering a sweepstakes isn't going to make you money or drastically change your life. It shouldn't be more than a casual hobby and should only take a minimal amount of time. But if there is one thing that a Krazy Coupon Lady knows, it's that free stuff is easily at our fingertips with a little time and effort. So just know that anyone can win and by being patient and sticking with it, I promise you will win!

I spend no more than 10 to 15 minutes each day entering sweepstakes. It's something I make time for nearly every day because I enjoy dreaming of the possibilities and the thrill that comes with being a “winner.” Entering (and winning) contests gives me that same rush as using coupons to achieve a nearly-free haul at the grocery store, but, of course, the payoff is often not immediate. You can't ever expect to win, but you can increase your chances of getting lucky!

Therefore, at the risk of lowering my own odds of winning (ha, ha), here are some basic tips from a sweepstakes veteran:

For Beginners

There are many websites providing contest/sweepstakes listings, but my personal favorite is contests.about.com. Sweeps are broken down by categories, and there’s lots of information to help those getting started. A forum lets people share tips, tricks and contest wins, providing motivation and proof that people are actually winning!

General Tips for Entries

  • Read the rules! Make sure to read the fine print to verify eligibility and to learn contest rules (such as how many times you can enter a contest). Don't get disqualified because of a lack of information!
  • Create a separate email that is only used for sweeps entries. It is likely extra junk mail will arrive via email once contact information is provided for various sweeps. Creating a separate account helps eliminate the junk mail from personal email accounts and makes it easier to see any win notifications.
  • Be selective with entries. There’s no need to enter every single contest out there. Limit entries to contests with prizes that are really wanted and can be realistically accepted. For example, we would all love to win the HGTV Dream Home, right? Well, unfortunately the odds aren't in our favor. And would you even be able to accept the home and the tax liability that comes along with it? As a rule, prizes over $600 are subject to taxes, meaning the winner gets a tax form from the sponsor and will be responsible for the taxes on the value of the prize.
  • Watch out for scams. You will never be asked to pay anything to receive a prize in a legitimate contest.

Additional Tips to Increase the Odds

  • Go local! The odds are so much better with local or regional contests versus national contests. Look for contests sponsored by local news stations, radio stations, newspapers, stores, etc. My trip to Orlando came from a contest sponsored by a local news station. My sister (Lady Luck) has won many things from her local news stations, including cash, theatre tickets and an all-expenses paid trip to Maui!
  • Use social media. Lots of companies have begun hosting contests and sweeps on their Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, blogs, etc. Again, the odds might be slightly better here since you often have to "like" their page or "follow" them to enter, limiting the pool of entrants to followers. In the past year I've won a couple things this way: Cetaphil sent me a free product of my choice just for commenting on their page, and Method sent me a collection of limited edition products after I was randomly selected in a promotion. Even these little "wins" can be fun. Before that box from Method arrived at my door, I didn't realize how excited I could get over (free) dish soap!
  • Look for contests that offer lots of prizes (and will therefore have lots of winners).
  • Enter as often and in as many ways as the contest allows. If a contest allows you to enter every day and with multiple email addresses, do it!
  • Finally, be patient and know that winning won't happen immediately (and maybe not very often). But it is all worthwhile when a fun surprise shows up at your doorstep!

This is a guest post by Kirsten from Utah
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How to Score Free Stuff Through Contests and Sweepstakes