"Mum, I need a new pair of trainers please. I've outgrown these".
Familiar cries, if you're a mum or dad yourself. Yet a simple shopping expedition to buy new clothes can become a daunting experience if you've just lost your income through redundancy. Suddenly, "luxuries" like family holidays or a new car seem things of the past.
I understand that feeling only too well. It happened to me ten years ago. As if that wasn't enough, my husband was also made redundant at the same time and we lost our house too. Then a newspaper article changed my life...
The article featured ordinary people, like me and you. I read how they enjoyed holidays to exotic locations, drove gleaming new cars and showered their family and friends with exciting goodies - all for free. Intrigued, I read on. Thinking there must be a catch somewhere!
All these "compers" had one thing in common - they won prizes. Cars. Holidays. Landscaped gardens. Entertainment systems. Computers, toys and games for their kids. Luxury kitchens. Even a house. You name it. They won it.
Normally, I'd read an article and forget it. But with teenage daughter needing new trainers and time on my hands apart from seemingly endless job hunting, what had I to lose?
A prize crossword in a high street chain store caught my eye. Completed, I sent it on its way and forgot all about it. Three weeks later the postman brought me a long white envelope. "Congratulations...," I read, "you've won a £10 gift voucher".
At that moment I realized there wasn't a catch. Ordinary people like you and me could, and did, win competition prizes.
It was great fun spending the gift voucher as the kids needed books and things for school. After writing a thank you note to the competition promoter, I wondered if my win was a fluke! I decided to find out...
Wandering around the high street stores I discovered a competition in a free magazine in a bank to win one of 25 pair of trainers and an entry form in the menswear department of a clothing store.
Having never noticed competitions before it was like going on a treasure hunt. Sherlock Holmes would have been proud of me! An entry form collar on a bottle of wine. A prize draw on a bookmark in the local bookshop. Instead of bags of shopping I came back laden with entry forms, all shapes and sizes.
Sitting in the library, wading through an encyclopedia to answer some of the competition questions, I realized what a challenging and fun pastime I'd discovered. And one that was only as expensive as I wanted it to be.
Quickly discovering that prize draws were free to enter, all it cost was a postcard and stamp and not even that when you were allowed to drop your entry form into the free prize in-store posting box.
Those competitions where you were asked to complete a tiebreaker sentence, such as: "I want to win a car with store because..." usually asked you to attach a qualifying till receipt, I noted.
Avoiding expensive "qualifiers", it was easy to switch buying habits. For instance, instead of your normal brand of soap powder, you simply bought the brand which was running a competition. You kept your till receipt and enclosed it with your entry as proof of purchase or "qualifier" as it was known.
Thrilled was an understatement, when a store manager phoned to say I'd won first prize in their free to enter contest. A new wardrobe of clothes. My kids were delighted. Hubby and I took them to the store.
I could hardly believe it when, laden with jeans, trousers, T-shirts, fashionable shirts and trainers, the manager accompanied us to a check out. It was like meeting Santa Claus in a suit. He totted up the bill to the amount of our prize win, thanked us for entering their competition and smilingly escorted us to the door before waving us a cheery good-buy!
Although unsuccessful at finding new employment, despite scouring job advertisements and completing application forms, my new pastime of "comping" was keeping my brain active as well as changing our shopping and eating habits.
Instead of window shopping, knowing we couldn't afford to buy expensive goodies and luxuries, shopping became fun. Often the only thing I'd come back with from an afternoon of shopping, was a pile of entry forms!
The competition tasks were varied, challenging and fun as family general knowledge improved by leaps and bounds. The reference library became a second home.
Our diet changed according to qualifying till receipts.
"Tonight," I'd tell my family, "we're having pizza - to try and win an Italian holiday. Served with tomato salad - to win a holiday in the Canaries. Followed by apples - to win a healthy break in France. Oh, and as a treat, you can have a chocolate - to win a Valentine's cruise!"
"Just remember I need the wrapper!"
Within six months of discovering this new pastime, I won a family holiday in Devon, a TV, video recorder and lots of welcome runners-up prizes like bottles of wine, spirits, leather handbag, a watch, camera and shopping vouchers. Then came a worrying time followed by an exciting ten days.
On Christmas Eve my daughter was rushed to hospital with suspected appendicitis. Whilst in the ward we watched Del Boy and Rodney from "Only Fools and Horses" in The Everglades and wished we too, could take an airboat ride just like them.
The lady in the next bed passed her magazine to my daughter. Inside was a tiebreaker slogan competition to win a healthy weekend break.
A few weeks later, returning late at night from an interview, I opened an interesting looking letter. Tiredness disappeared as I read:
"Congratulations, you've won a health and country club weekend in the Lake District."
This was followed, a few days later, by a fantastic sur-prize - a family holiday for four to Miami, Florida, including hotel, flights, car hire AND tickets for an air boat ride in The Everglades. Wow!
Still on cloud nine, the next morning I answered the phone to a man who quizzed: "Do you remember entering a competition in your local supermarket recently?"
"Mmm, yes," I answered, trying to recall which competition he meant.
"Well", he continued, "you've won a brand new car!"
I was speechless! I accused him of being Jeremy Beadle. Assuring me he wasn't, he said a confirmation letter was in the post. An agonizing "have I dreamed it or not" weekend followed until a long white envelope arrived on Monday. It was true - I'd won a car! And all for identifying eight products and writing ten words.
And a new job? Well I gave up job hunting! You see, I remembered a childhood ambition to write a book - when I had the time - and now I had the time and the subject - how to Win Your Fortune in Prizes. And the rest, as they say, is history!
This feature was written by Lynne Suzanne in 2001.
Lynne has helped many people to win fantastic prizes through her newspaper columns and books, and herself has won thousands of pounds worth of prizes including two cars and worldwide holidays. Lynne shares her secrets of success in her latest books: Win Cars Holidays and Prizes is packed full of prize winning advice and anecdotes, whilst Punch Lines has over 4,000 puns and word play, ideal for journalists and advertisers to create catchy taglines, headlines and copywriting.Copyright © 1993-2020 Lynne Suzanne, freelance writer and author