Do You Know the Difference Between Sweepstakes and Contests?

Most people don’t realize there is a difference between sweepstakes and contests but there is a monumental difference. If you like to enter sweepstakes and contests, knowing this difference could save you a lot of heartache.

By its very definition, a sweepstakes is free to enter without a purchase of any kind. This includes those sweepstakes that require you to enter a code or UPC number in order to enter online. If you look closer by reading the official rules, you’ll see that you can still enter those sweepstakes by mail without purchasing the product with the code.

It works the same way when McDonalds plays Monopoly. While at first glance it seems like you have to buy a large drink or a large order of fries or whatever, in actuality you can get a free game piece by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) to the address listed in the official rules.

Some of the most reputable companies whose products we use every day sponsor sweepstakes. Among them are Kraft Foods and Proctor and Gamble who bring us products such as Cascade, Dawn, Mr. Clean and others. Many of the magazines we read sponsor regular sweepstakes as well. Woman’s Day, Redbook and Child magazine are some of those who regularly sponsor sweepstakes.

Most sweepstakes involve a random drawing but some involve collecting game pieces like the McDonald’s Monopoly game. Even when you enter a sweepstakes online, it usually involves a random drawing, albeit a computerized one. Some of the instant sweepstakes online involve pre-programmed “winning times”, meaning if you “spin the wheel” or enter the code at or immediately after the pre-programmed winning time, you will win the instant prize.

A contest, on the other hand, operates much differently. With a contest, you might indeed have to make a purchase. Most contests, however, are geared towards skill, such as the essay writing contest or the recipe contest. Some very reputable writing contests, such as the annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition require an entry fee. Don’t let this requirement scare you away from entering a legitimate contest. An entry fee is in no way akin to the scam artist sweepstakes scheme that asks you to pay before you can collect your prize.

You can find sweepstakes to enter everywhere you look. Some are in the coupon section of the Sunday newspaper. Another fun way to find sweepstakes is to open your pantry and look at the products you use everyday. All these companies or almost all of them have websites where they promote their products. This is where you will find a lot of sweepstakes.

There are also some really good sweepstakes sites I like to get leads from. is one I’ve been visiting for a couple of years and while they have a lot of sweepstakes from websites I’ve never heard of and don’t bother with, they also carry the sweepstakes information about a lot of brand-name companies. Once you start regularly entering sweepstakes, you’ll know where to find them.

As far as contests, I don’t find them as plentiful but then again I am partial to sweepstakes. Still, major companies often offer essay contests and you can find these at also. also has regular writing contests.

There are websites that will sell you a subscription to be let in on all the sweepstakes. Don’t fall for this one because you can get all this information for free. Also, don’t fall for the offer (for a price) to enter 200 or 2000 sweepstakes for you. One of the rules every sweepstakes stipulates is that automated entries will be disqualified. You can’t use any kind of automated form system.

Entering sweepstakes and contests can be a fun hobby. There are literally hundreds of companies who offer sweepstakes every day. Some of them give away huge prizes. Lifetime TV and HGTV are two networks that offer ongoing sweepstakes and have websites that allow you to enter online. HGTV gives away a dream home every year worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lifetime television regularly has a variety of sweepstakes.

The most important thing you can do regarding sweepstakes and contests is to read the rules. For one thing, the rules let you know how many times you can enter the sweepstakes or contest. Some sponsors will disqualify all your entries if you’re only supposed to enter once, but you enter multiple times. Some sweepstakes will only let you enter once online, but allow you to enter multiple times through the mail. Some sweepstakes are void in certain states. The rules will tell you this and many other things you need to know in order to successfully enter and enjoy sweepstakes as a hobby.

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