From £20,000 in cash to luxury weddings, five-star holidays to £10,000 in Tesco gift cards, MoneySavers have won it all. It's all about 'comping', a potentially profitable hobby.
This guide includes sourcing the right free online competitions, using web gadgets to form-fill at speed, free help with tie-breakers and much more.
Thanks to the Competition Time board’s users, especially comping queen VelvetGlove (see her comping guide for lots of the tips below). The aim of this guide is to complement the forum board. Hopefully it will mean more competitions posted, and more prizes for MoneySavers.
The art of comping
It’s possible, though not easy, to walk away with swanky gadgets, lavish holidays or thousands of pounds in cash – without spending a penny.
Success isn't guaranteed
It’s crucial to realise you won’t immediately be frolicking on a bed of £50 notes. Unlike other money-makers, such as Survey Sites, eBay Selling, Earning Cash Online and other ways to Boost Your Income, the rewards aren’t guaranteed.
"I won £20,000 AND my rent paid for 2 years!"
While we don’t want to give anyone the impression this is a sure-fire way to make cash, a little bit of inspiration may just help.
Join the MSE comping team
The site's Competitions Time forum board is full of the latest contests. There's a real community there, with hundreds of dedicated compers who love to share the competitions they find. They know it diminishes their chances of winning that contest, but sharing their research increases opportunities for everyone.
You gotta have a system
Don’t just pick at random, systematically work through the competitions on the board, so you don’t miss any beauties.
Keep track of what you’ve entered
Some promoters exclude people who enter multiple times. To keep track of completed contests, press the tick button at the bottom of the post. Next time you visit the board, it will show a green tick next to that comp. Alternatively, press X to skip one. You must register and log on to the forum to do this.
Set up a dedicated email address
Never use your normal email address. It'll be immediately flooded with spam. Instead, set up a dedicated email account. As a powerful free option, Gmail's among the best. See more stopping spam tips below.
Be picky about the competitions you enter
It may sound obvious, but focus your time on entering contests with goodies you actually want to win.
Extra effort comps may boost your chances
Lots of people are lazy, so anything involving a smidgen of extra effort attracts fewer contestants. Need to pen a poem, complete a tie-breaker or snap a photo? Try your luck – you might be the only entrant. You’ll also stand a better chance with highly localised competitions, such as a local paper offering tickets to a nearby theatre.
Pen witty tie-breakers
A host of competitions require tie-breaker slogans. If you’re a wordsmith, this can be an easy way to boost your chances.
Hunt for answers
The OneAcross site lets you search for answers to crosswords. It also has an anagram solver – plug in a word and it instantly generates hundreds of possibilities. For example, did you know that Martin Lewis is "Mini Wastrel"?
Of course, there’s also good old Google and Wikipedia for quiz questions.
Enter answers at speed
A free add-on for web browser Firefox, Split Panel lets you split browser windows in half, so you can see two web pages at once. This way, you can copy and paste answers at speed.
Clever tools for speedy entries
Next, take a technological grip so you can enter more contests, but spend far less time doing it. Many top compers enter 100 online competitions a day by exploiting tools and tricks to turbo-charge their competition entering.
Turbo-charge your form filling
While you can set browsers to remember basic information such as names and addresses, they aren’t that intelligent and often put the wrong info in fields.
Customise your keyboard
To get things done at top speed, there’s a way to customise your keyboard shortcuts.
Speedily open multiple links
Often competition board threads involve opening lots of links to different contests. Firefox users can open several threads at once with the free Snap Links Plus add-on. It lets you draw a box around a group of threads and open them all – just right-click and drag.
Quick email contest entry
For email entries, draft and save a template email with your name, email, address and telephone number, so you can fire it off quickly. Remember to leave a space for the answer.
Got a top tip we haven't listed? Feed back in the 40+ Comping Tips discussion.
Always enter TV premium rate comps for free
Never enter telly contests by calling a premium rate number. Companies must offer a free alternative, so many are available online free.
Boost postcard entries
Never pay for postcards. Cinemas and library tills always have plenty of freebies. Buy sticky labels and print them out with your details to speed up entries.
Count your winnings
Depending on end dates, you could be notified the next day or next year. The small print usually explains whether you will be contacted by email, phone or post. Often the postie will just turn up with a parcel (every door knock is exciting).
Don't forget to reply
Some promoters say you must reply within a certain amount of time or they'll withdraw the prize. Reply on time to avoid the heartbreaking scenario of missing out on a big prize.
Keep tabs on prizes
It’s worth keeping a list of prizes you’ve won, in case they don’t materialise. Usually promoters are not purposely withholding the goodies - they just need a little nudge now and again.
How to complain
If a prize doesn’t arrive or it does but it's faulty, first politely prompt the company (contact details should be in the terms and conditions).
Post your own finds
The competitions board is a community, and etiquette dictates you post your own finds, as well as looking at the ones already posted. It’s unscientifically believed that posting your own comps increases your chances of winning.
Where to hunt out comps
Comps are everywhere: magazines, newspapers, websites, shops, the telly. Scrutinise flyers in shops, supermarket shelves and websites. The more obscure the publication or product, the better chance of you being the first to post it on the forum.
Work out your potential return
While blind luck is out of your control, you do have control over the number of comps you enter. After some highly sophisticated number crunching, we came up the following surprising statistic: the more you enter, the bigger the chance of winning. So get that mouse clicking.
You don't have to pay tax
Just like betting on sport, your winnings in the UK are tax-free. The exception’s if your employer runs an incentive competition for staff, for example, the salesperson who sells the most cars wins a trip to Ibiza.
Don't pay for comps listings
When looking for comps, you may come across websites and magazines charging to view lists of contests. Never pay to register with a competitions site. Often they just focus on obvious contests, and can’t compete with the army of kindred spirit compers using this site's forum.
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Protect yourself from spam
There’s usually a way to choose not to get ‘further communications’ that should stop any bumf. Though be careful with the wording. Sometimes adjacent check-boxes mean different things – the first an ‘opt in’, the second an ‘opt out’. If there’s no way to opt out, consider whether you really want to enter.
Junk the junk
All members of the Direct Marketing Association agree to a code of practice not to send advertising mail to any individual who has indicated they don't want it.
Get a comping batphone
If you don’t want to give out your mobile number, consider getting a cheap pay-as-you-go Sim just for comping communications.
Check it's legit
If you have any suspicions about a competition, flag up your worries with seasoned compers on the Competitions forum board.
Be wary of 'free' holidays
A common timeshare company ruse is to say you've won a totally free, no-strings-attached holiday... but first you need to listen to a presentation. These are best avoided. For more on this, read Rose's Don't try to sell a timeshare to a MoneySaver blog.
Look for the competitions kitemark
There’s a voluntary stamp of approval for competitions provided by the Institute of Promotional Marketing.
Get free anti-virus software
Everyone needs protection software, especially compers, who may click on hundreds of new sites each day. Without up-to-date protection, if you're defrauded, banks could argue negligence, leaving you liable. A host of professional-level Free Antivirus Software is available, including crucial regular updates.
Avoid pay-to-enter contests
Most contests are for promotional purposes. Those that require fees are essentially lotteries and gambling. While the cost of a stamp's fine, beware this takes away from any winnings.
Guaranteed ways to boost your income
There are a host of new ways for canny MoneySavers to boost their income - without banking on Lady Luck. Small amounts quickly add up.
Try flogging old mobiles via the MobileValuer. Or earn from selling old junk for cash. See the Boost Your Income guide for over 60 money-makers.
Freebies, freebies, freebies!
Comping isn't the only way to grab quality stuff for nothing. Whether it's song downloads, free tea, Harry Potter bookmarks, or gym passes, if you know where to look, it's all available on the web.
Win via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest
Earn cash from your sofa
If you've a computer or smartphone, there's a host of small ways to boost your coffers, as well as comping. The internet's opened up new forms of online work, as firms need folks to do tasks such as crowdsourcing info, data entry and content writing. Our 30 Earn Cash Online Tips lists the top sites and apps that pay.