This article is dedicated to future lottery winners. For an optimized reading experience, you are encouraged to hold a lottery ticket in your non-dominant hand while reading.
In 2002, Andrew had won $170.5 million playing the lottery, and donated parts of his earnings to support causes close to his heart.
Billie used his $31 million lottery winnings to pay bills, buy cars and homes for his family, and purchase close to 500 turkeys to feed the hungry.
Janite made good use of her $18 million lottery prize by donating to the Democratic National Committee, the Washington University, and political candidates that shared her left-wing ideals.
What do these 3 lottery winners have in common besides their generosity?
They are broke. And that’s truly unfortunate.
Filing for chapter 13 is not the American Dream portrayed on cheesy lottery TV ads, nor is it the outcome that lottery players envisioned when they handed their three hard-earned dollars over in exchange for that colorful piece of paper.
But here we are, being confronted with the reality that nearly one-third of US lottery winners have declared bankruptcy afterward. Even the wealthy – like the aforementioned Andrew who was worth a whopping $17 million prior to taking home the lottery prize – cannot escape this curse.
If a $17 million net worth does not shield a person from solemn talks with Insolvency Trustees, the chance of overcoming financial hardship following a lottery win seems rather bleak.
Ironic, isn’t it?
But wait, as your resident personal finance blogger slash self-proclaimed comedian, maybe I can help!
I mean, if someone can defy the non-existent odds of winning the lottery, then surely I can help them defy the odds of bankruptcy?
The content below consists of laughably terrible life hacks. Readers’ discretion is advised.
Tentative Solution #1: Create a New Squad
Have you heard of the saying that your net worth equals the average net worth of the five people closest to you?
I conquer that there’s validity to this statement.
So, from this moment on, only buddy up with hectomillionaires.
Join a country club. Attend political fundraisers in wine caves. Hang out at premium airport lounges and pass out friendship bracelets to unsuspecting passersby.
You might get a few side-eyes, but remember that this shameless befriending is a justifiable means to an end.
Once you cut down your degrees of separation to the Koch brothers from 6 to 2, you’re golden. No way your net worth will ever dip below 7-figures after that. Nuh-uh.
Tentative Solution #2: Cut Out the Greed
The second major obstacle to guarding your lottery wealth: other people!
The minute you cash that ginormous lottery cheque, you will be crowned The Rich Person Who Owes Me Money Because Reasons by everyone around you.
Your uncle. Your guitar-playing half-brother who didn’t want to admit knowing you in high school. Your sister-in-law who only calls to complain about her husband’s adoptive parrot. Your ex who is now engaged to an “inventor” but messages you on Facebook to “see how you’ve been.” Your third cousin once removed who, after going no contact for a few years, wants to “grab coffee and discuss a business opportunity.”
People will suddenly come out of the woodwork like those dancing zombies in the Thriller music video, chasing after your brain bankroll with reckless abandon.
And you will bear witness to the funniest reasons for needing money, world-class guilt trips, thinly veiled threats of animosity, and passive-aggressive swipes at “how lucky you are” until you throw your hands up in the air and your money at them in one desperate but swift motion.
You don’t need to buy their affections with money anymore. You got your squad of zillionaires now, remember? They will give you a discount on love and attention, I’m sure.
Better yet, before you even win the lottery, cut out from your life anyone you suspect might ask for money later on. That way, you’ll be guaranteed to keep your lottery winnings as well as fond memories to remember those folks by.
Ghosting your entire extended family might seem drastic. But you can never be too prepared, right?
The Real Solution: Build Your Own Lottery
All jokes aside, these post-lottery bankruptcies reveal larger social issues than my anecdotes let on.
Why do people buy lottery tickets?
1. Because it’s fun.
2. Because it’s easy.
3. Because for people whose financial future is dire and who believe that upward mobility has become nothing but an Arabian folk tale, winning the lottery may be their last and only hope of securing a comfortable retirement.
People buy lottery tickets because it’s fun and easy, but mostly because they see no other way out of their situation.
It’s not their fault for thinking that way. Our capitalist society is structured to keep the poor poor, the working class working forever, and the middle class in the middle of living paycheque to paycheque and fighting on behalf of the ultra-wealthy, longing for the day their wealth will finally trickle down (newsflash: it won’t).
Lottery is a form of regressive tax on low-income families, by exploiting their lack of financial education and desperation to change their family’s economic fate, by making them believe that their [Country] Dream is one lucky lottery win away.
As was mentioned earlier, even if, by miracle, someone does win the lottery, bankruptcy typically ensues, and they end up in even worse financial straits.
When you aren’t used to having choices, and are suddenly presented with all the choices, you’re bound to make a few bad ones.
Therefore, trying to win the lottery is a losing proposition any way you slice it.
The odds of winning the Powerball jackpot: 1 in 292,201,338.
The odds of avoiding bankruptcy post-winning: 2 in 3.
Multiplying those two numbers, the odds of becoming a lottery winner that stays rich is therefore 1 in 438,302,007, or basically zero.
You have a bigger chance of being injured by a hammock 5,500 times!
Luckily, there are better possibilities to hang your hopes and dreams on besides the lottery ticket that you’re holding in your hand.
1. Become financially literate.
Since you’re on a personal finance blog, I suspect that you already know this, at least on a subconscious level. And I want to applaud you for taking that crucial step, and encourage you to further your financial education if that tickles your fancy.
Investing is like buying a lottery ticket that only has 2 numbers on it instead of 49.
You’re probably not going to walk away with millions, but your odds of making money are far greater.
An average high-interest savings account will guarantee you 1%-3% interest on your savings a year. And it’s not unthinkable to net 5% to 10% a year in the stock market, as long as you know what you’re doing.
So please ditch that lottery ticket and the hollow aspiration that comes with it, and instead, invest the three dollars it cost you to purchase the ticket in something that has a reasonable rate of return.
If you do that every day, in 35 years, you’ll have $103,845.77 (based on 5% annual growth).
Granted, $103,845.77 cannot afford you a life of unparalleled luxury, but it could provide you everything else winning the lottery emptily promises:
- Financial security
- Peace of mind
- A starter retirement fund
And something a lottery win could never ever give you:
- The satisfaction of building your own fortune
As you stare at the $103,845.77 in your account, I have a feeling you will feel just as lucky as having won the lottery.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you become a successful lottery winner.
Well said! The lottery is similar to the casino in that both are rigged to benefit the issuer of the prizes. There are a couple of very lucky people who win big and are paraded around as bait for future suckers, but most people are just allowing what little wealth they have to be siphoned up by the super affluent.
You phrased it perfectly, Andrew! 🙂
there is great satisfaction in being a self made investor. even if you make a few mistakes when you start out your skills tend to get better.