You could probably retire on the prize money from many of the contests, challenges, lotteries, and sweepstakes on this list. If not retire, you'd enjoy a very sizeable windfall to help pay off your house, invest in a business, or otherwise make your life a little more comfortable. Maybe take a sabbatical or a mini-retirement.
The traditional way to make money is to offer a good or service, including your labor and expertise, and charge for it to make a profit. But there are also buried treasures on this planet worth a fortune that haven't yet been found, and competitions in nearly every line of human life with major cash prizes up in the millions of dollars.
Solving hard math problems, figuring out the clues to a hidden treasure poem, putting on a very entertaining magic act, writing a great piece of literature, or even winning video game tournaments could make you a millionaire on prize money alone.
But if any of that sounds beyond your reach at the moment, there are still millions in prize money up for grabs to anyone who simply enters for a chance to win it.
Here are 15 BIG cash prizes that are just waiting to be claimed.
15 The Fenn Treasure - Worth an Estimated $1 Million
If you are an adventurer worth your weight in sleuthing skills, and the plot of National Treasure had you thinking you'd have been an invaluable asset on Nicolas Cage's cadre of daring treasure hunters - excuse me, treasure protectors - then the Fenn Treasure might have your name on it.
Okay, literally it has Forrest Fenn's name on it, an eccentric author and art dealer who in 1988 filled a chest with treasure containing gold nuggets, rare coins, jewelry, and gemstones worth over $1 million USD. He then hid the treasure somewhere in the Rocky Mountains and publicized a poem with nine clues to help seekers find the prize. Many people have claimed they found the treasure, but no one has provided proof.
As of August 2016, Fenn says no one has yet found the treasure to his knowledge, but if you're interested in finding it yourself, better hurry, because Fenn says four of the nine clues have been solved and searchers have been within 200 feet of the treasure! But be careful. At least four people have been reported missing while hunting for the prize. One was later found alive and another was found dead a few months after going missing.
14 The Australian Skeptics $100K Prize For Paranormal Ability
If getting lost hunting for treasure doesn't sound like your jam, no worries. You could still snag yourself a cool, easy $100,000 from the Australian Skeptics magazine.
Now hold on before you get too excited, $100,000 Aussie dollars is about $75,000 USD, but still not a bad haul for something as easy and safe as demonstrating extra sensory perception (like being able to tell what's on a flashcard without seeing it), telepathy (sending thoughts directly from your mind into someone else's without any spoken or written communication), telekinesis (moving objects with your mind), clairvoyance (being able to predict the future through visions or some other form of supernatural divination), or sounding for water or metals (yes, some people claim the power to be able to supernaturally tell where water or precious mineral deposits are under the ground).
If you can prove you have a rare and unnatural ability through a mutually-agreed upon, scientifically-valid test, the magazine will award you a $75,000 USD cash prize! The test, however, must be designed to yield a definite yes or no answer, and the challenger must beat million to one odds or better against a chance result.
13 Nobel Prize - $1 Million
Now a lot of people don't know this, but the Nobel Prize is a cash prize. Did you know that? And it's in fact, a huge cash prize. It's about $1.2 million USD to each Nobel Prize recipient.
The prize was started a hundred years ago by the inventor of dynamite, Alfred Nobel. He became very wealthy through armament manufacturing, and when a paper erroneously published an obituary calling him a "merchant of death" and essentially wishing him good riddance, Nobel became worried about his legacy and established the prize to award people for advancements in science, medicine, literature, and world peace.
What do you have to do to earn a Nobel Prize? The Nobel Prize Committee has to nominate you for outstanding work in one of these fields, and through a process of consulting with experts in these fields and voting, the committee selects winners. But remember, it is customary to donate the winnings to some institution or charitable cause, though technically no one can stop you from keeping the money if you want to.
12 The Power Ball Lottery - $1.5 Billion
If you don't see yourself easily ascending to the very leading edge of specialized work in literature, science, or statecraft and making a contribution of historical significance, you can still make a bid for some big money by playing the lottery. In fact, all you need is $2.00 for a chance at winning the biggest cash prize on this list.
By January 2016, everybody lost their collective minds when the US Powerball Lottery (offered for $2 or $3 in gas stations, convenience stores, and liquor stores across 44 US states) produced the biggest lottery jackpot in history: over $1.5 Billion USD.
That's the kind of money you can describe with two words and the second word is "you." Yeah, it's that kind of money for real. Well on January 13, 2016, three different tickets had the winning numbers, so the $1.5 Billion cash prize was split three ways between winners in California, Florida, and Tennessee. As of January 2017, the Powerball jackpot is over $100 million dollars.
11 Millennium Prize Problems - $1 Million
If you've done the math and realize that the odds of winning the Powerball prize money are so infinitesimally low that you might as well throw your two dollars in the trash, then you might be a good candidate for the Millennium Prize Problems.
These are seven problems formulated by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000, and solving any of them will earn you a $1 million USD cash prize! So far only one of them has been solved, so six million bucks are still up for grabs. Interestingly enough, the guy who solved one of these problems, a Russian named Grigori Perelman, declined to accept the award or the money after posting his proofs.
He said: "Everybody understood that if the proof is correct, then no other recognition is needed. I'm not interested in money or fame. I don't want to be on display like an animal in a zoo. I'm not a hero of mathematics. I'm not even that successful; that is why I don't want to have everybody looking at me."
10 America's Got Talent - $1 Million
If you're not keen on taking another crack at the Sudoku puzzle on your coffee table much less a million dollar prize problem that has gone unsolved for 15 years by leading mathematicians, surely you have some other talent that you could bring to bear for some prize money and nationally televised fame.
America's Got Talent, the summer talent show competition on NBC, isn't just a way for talented amateurs and unknown performers to get their big break, it's a cash prize contest with $1 million USD up for grabs each season.
What kind of talents do you need to win? The contest's winners have included three singer-songwriters, two ventriloquists, an opera singer, a country music singer, a Jazz singer, a dog trick act, a martial arts dancer/mime, and a magician.
9 CrossFit Games Prize - $3 Million
Not much of a singer or ventriloquist, but very athletic or physically strong? CrossFit, the globally successful branded exercise regimen, fitness philosophy, and competitive sport with over 13,000 gyms worldwide, hosts annual games with big cash prizes for the superlatively physically fit.
With the help of Reebok, the title sponsor of the annual Reebok CrossFit Games, CrossFit offered a prize of $2.2 million USD in 2016, with a commitment from Reebok to increase the prize by $200K every year until it reaches $3 Million!
The Fittest Man and Woman overall each receive $275,000, with $90,000 going to the second place winners, and $60,000 going to third place.
8 Video Game Prize Pools Totaling Tens of Millions of Dollars
Hate math, no singing chops, and never going to win an athletic competition in your life? Well maybe you're awesome at video games. If you're awesome enough, you can make a handsome living playing video games in competitions with huge prizes. Not to mention, you can pile lucrative sponsorships and paid advertising on top of that by streaming your gameplay via Twitch or uploading video game walk throughs to YouTube.
The Dota 2 global prize pool alone is worth upwards of $93 million dollars. League of Legends has $37 million up for grabs. Counter Strike: Global Offensive is offering up $27 million to the world's best players. Star Craft has $21 million to award winners. That's just four big video games. It's to the point where these professional video game leagues are becoming like professional sports in terms of interest and value.
7 HGTV 2017 Dream House Sweepstakes - $1.4 Million
But if you can't do any of this stuff well enough to have a reasonable shot at these big cash prizes, not even video games, you can always enter the HGTV 2017 Dream House Sweepstakes.
They're giving away a lovingly-renovated, million dollar dream home on St. Simons Island, Georgia, as well as $250,000 in cash and a brand-new Honda Pilot! It's a very nice single level home with three beds, four baths, and a home gym (so you can start working toward that CrossFit prize money next!). Oh yeah, and a swimming pool with an indoor/outdoor lounge.
How do you enter? You've got to be 21 years of age or older, a US resident, and just submit an online entry form by February 17, 2017. Easy! (You're allowed to send multiple entries to increase your odds, limit of one per day.)
6 Marathon Cash Prizes Worth Millions
CrossFit isn't the only way to win big prize money for athleticism. Maybe you could never see yourself winning a competition involving weightlifting, but you've run a couple marathons and you're pretty good.
All you've got to do is train a little harder, run a couple more with a competitive drive fueled by an unbridled greed for some big cash prize money, and enter in a marathon with a cash prize pool. There are dozens of them!
The Asics Los Angeles Marathon had a total prize of $200,000 in 2014, with $25,000 going to each of the top finishers. The Chevron Houston Marathon has over $170,000 in prize money available to top finishers, including $40,000 for the first place male and female runners. The BMW Berlin Marathon hands out nearly half a million in prizes to winning runners.
5 PETA's $1 Million Test Tube Chicken Prize
Now here's one whose deadline has already passed (the contest went from 2008 until March 2014), but it was just too good to pass up on sharing with you.
Back in 2008 the People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced a $1 million cash prize for the first laboratory to use chicken cells to create commercially viable meat grown in a test tube. Researchers, including teams at the University of Missouri and the Netherlands’ University of Maastricht, have made enormous progress toward that result because of the competition.
It is truly our privilege to live in a time when our civilization has enough money to care enough that a non-profit can post a $1 million bounty for some lab grown chicken.
4 $25 Million Virgin Earth Challenge To Reduce Atmospheric CO2
Here's just one more that's no longer up for grabs, but the last three on this list are. The finalists for this contest were announced in 2011. We just couldn't look over this one because of the sheer scope of the project and the prize money being offered.
In 2007, English business magnate Sir Richard Branson and former US Vice President Al Gore announced a $25 million prize called the Virgin Earth Challenge for "a commercially viable design which achieves or appears capable of achieving the net removal of significant volumes of anthropogenic, atmospheric [greenhouse gases] each year for at least 10 years."
Technically this one could still be up for grabs because the small panel of judges including Gore and Branson retain the right to extend the contest if they don't believe the finalists have accomplished the challenge.
3 Bud Light 2017 Super Bowl Sweepstakes $166K Prize
Here's another easy one. All you've got to do is drink beer (and Instagram or Facebook it). But hurry, the sweepstakes ends on January 13, 2017. What's up for grabs? Free Super Bowl tickets for the winner's life (or 51 years, whichever elapses first) and $1000 cash.
If you're not interested in attending every Super Bowl for the rest of your life, winners can also opt for $30,000 cash, though the free Super Bowl tickets has an estimated cash value of $166 thousand dollars. You don't have to solve any math problems or reduce standing armies in war torn regions for this one.
Just buy those Bud Light packs with the specially marked gold cans, then take a picture of yourself holding one. You can either Tweet, Facebook, Instagram, or upload the picture to the sweepstakes website.
2 Starbucks for Life Sweepstakes - $1 Million Prize Pool
With a total prize pool just shy of $1 million USD, the Starbucks for Life Sweepstakes offers five grand prize winners $56,000 worth of free Starbucks over the course of 30 years. There's 25 first place prizes worth $1,825 USD in free Starbucks food and beverages. And the list goes all the way down to fifth place prizes and instant win prizes.
This one's another sweepstakes, so pretty much all you have to do for a chance at the winnings is just ask to be included in the drawing. Now to qualify, you do have to be a Starbucks rewards program member, which if you're eyeing 30 years worth of free Starbucks, chances are good you might be one already. If not, membership is free and comes with perks.
But hurry, the deadline for entry is January 15th!
1 The X Prize - Multi-Million Dollar Prizes For Science and Global Development
This one is an ongoing, mac-daddy-of-all-prize-contests prize contest. Started back in the 1990s, the X Prize foundation continues to offer prizes ranging from $1 million USD to $20 million USD. The money comes from major tech titans and media moguls.
The very first X Prize went to the first private company to successfully carry out a suborbital space flight. As a result of this contest, Mike Melville became the first commercial astronaut in outer space in 2004, and although his successful mission earned the $10 Million X Prize, over $100 million was invested in new technologies by private space programs in pursuit of the prize.
The next X Prize up for grabs is still in the works. It will be offered in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and will award the winner for creating a better diagnostic tool for tuberculosis.
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