"I have a worrying problem," writes M.S. Smith of Annandale.

"Our house is besieged with catalogs offering opportunities to win prizes. But some of the prizes I don't want at all.

"For example, take the Publishers Central Bureau contest. I'd gladly take any of the prizes -- cash or cars, Betamax, etc. -- except the second prize.

"I don't want a 10-day Caribbean cruise (I get seasick) or one week in Acapulco (my husband, a redhead, won't go near a beach because he sunburns).

"When I don't want a prize, I certainly don't want to have to pay part of its value to the IRS -- and prizes count as income.

"So what can I do? Enter the contest and hope I win anything but second prize? Refrain from entering and miss out on the chance for $25,000? Would it work to write a disclaimer on the entry form (e.g., 'I'll take anything but second prize')?

"It's a terrible problem. Can you help me solve it?"

Sure can, M.S. Get out your magnifying glass and take a close look at the fine print on all that promotional junk that keeps landing in your mailbox. You will discover that you can elect to take the cash value of a prize rather than the prize as it's listed.

Cash isn't always as much fun as warm climes. But I've never met a dollar bill that makes you seasick or sunburned.