Reader Request Week 2014 #5: Hitting the Lottery

Dan Miller posits an event:

You just hit the lottery big time – say $200M after taxes. You can now write exactly what you want for the rest of your life. What will you write? What will you not write? How much time will you spend writing (vs. goofing off, vs. managing the charitable foundation I suspect you’d set up…)?

This is a fairly unrealistic scenario involving me, as I don’t play the lottery, for the simple reason that I understand statistics well enough to know that lotteries are an extraordinarily poor investment. I also find the idea of preying on people who don’t understand statistics as a way to compensate for a sensible taxation scheme a bad way to run things. So the chances of me buying a lottery ticket are small; I think in the history of my life I’ve bought one. I did not win.

(I don’t count the local fundraising sort of lottery here, where the prize is, like, a homemade cake. But I don’t count on winning those, either.)

But let’s say for the sake of argument that I was gifted with a lottery ticket, which turns out to be the winner, and my net after taxes is $200 million. What will this mean for John Scalzi, the writer?

In one sense, it won’t change much. Dan suggests that having that much money will allow me to write whatever I like, but the fact is, I already do that. I write science fiction because I like writing science fiction. I write the occasional non-fiction book and have never had a problem selling those. I write here on the blog because it’s fun (and without the intent of making money from it, although that will sometimes happen). I don’t need to win the lottery to write what I want.

To be clear, there are other things I think about writing up — I’ve noted before I’d like to try a non-sf-related mystery or YA novel — but the thing keeping me from doing those is not money (or, more broadly, economic pressure) but time. I’m already a full-time writer by profession; $200 million won’t free me from the shackles of a day job. It won’t buy me any more time. What it might do is allow me to shift priorities, so I put something on my schedule in a different place in terms of production. But it doesn’t change what I want to write, or my ability to write it. So, again, in that respect, $200 million doesn’t change much in my life as a writer.

But let’s not be stupid: $200 million would be a life-changing amount of money for everyone who is not already a billionaire, and I am not a billionaire. I write what I want now, but I also write because it’s how I make my living, and $200 million would mean I would never have to worry about making a living again, ever. So the real question would be: Would I still write as much, or at all, if I had the financial wherewithal to do whatever I want?

My first blush answer would be “probably,” because I like writing and I get antsy when I don’t, and it’s not like I’m writing six books a year at the moment anyway; I’ve published twenty(ish) books in fourteen years, which is a pretty manageable schedule of production, even if one has otherwise given one’s life over to idle luxury. But I also have to admit that I don’t know. I admit to being lazy. $200 million purchases quite a lot of laziness. I might give it all up for lazing by the pool whilst servants peel my grapes for me.

There is one way to find out: Quick, someone give me $200 million!

No?

Hmph.

Actually (and here we go off mostly on a tangent to Dan’s question, but I can do that because I can write whatever I want, remember) I don’t think a sudden windfall of $200 million will do anyone, including me, much good. We all know the tales of people who have won the lottery who a few years later are dead broke and desperately unhappy, because they didn’t know how to handle the money and because they very quickly learned that money changes how people look at you and what they want from you, which makes it difficult to trust people, even those close to you. I would like to flatter myself by thinking that I could handle such a massive influx of money well, but alas, I am as susceptible to base human stupidity as anyone, so it’s entirely possible I would do something stupid. Again, the only way to tell is to get that money in my hands and see what I would do.

Since I don’t have that money, and I can therefore be fairly rational about it because it’s an entirely theoretical construct, here’s what I’d like to think I would do with $200 million if it dropped into my lap:

1. Take some portion of it and use it to set up a very comfortable annuity income. Off the top of my head, say, $1 million a year. If I and my family can’t live within a million dollars year, I suspect I am doing something very wrong with my life. I assume I will be crafty here and create the annuity so that it compensates for inflation, etc. But even if not, a million a year should go a long way likely for the rest of my lifetime.

2. Take another portion of it and set it up as a general trust fund for my extended family to encourage education and entrepreneurship, i.e., help pay for college and businesses they might create. No trust fund babies, but a leg up in getting a place in the world.

3. Take the largest portion of it — at least half — and use it to create a charitable organization to address issues that find important. Off the top of my head these would include local education and community infrastructure, arts, literacy and hunger.

There would be a point to doing things this way. One, to put that money to work on things I care about, right now. $200 million is more than I could use in one lifetime and no point waiting until I’m dead to make it useful. Two, to lock up the money so that anyone coming along to wheedle it out of me is going to be structurally stymied. It would be lovely to say “well, you could apply for a grant” to anyone who thinks I’m just going to pay for their new car because they imagine we’re pals or second cousins.

But — again — this is all theoretical. The chances I will see $200 million in this life are pretty slim, either from the lottery or by any other means. The good news is that even without that tidy little sum I’m still fortunate enough to write the things I want to write and to otherwise have a pretty decent life. That said, if someone does want to gift me with $200 million, post-tax, well. You know where you can find me.

(It’s not too late to get a request in for Reader Request Week — here’s how.)

70 thoughts on “Reader Request Week 2014 #5: Hitting the Lottery

  1. What, no mountain lairs or underwater castles of doom? No private islands where you hunt your fellow man for sport? Sheesh, I though you writer types were supposed to be creative.

  2. I buy one ticket when the jackpot gets big, I understand the odds but, having been struck by lightening, I also understand that odds are not individual results.

    All I want is the opportunity to prove great wealth would not change me for the worse!

  3. I won a couple of useless door prizes long ago. I don’t play the lottery, so I can’t win (there’s a famous joke about that). I’m retired now, so I don’t have to worry about not working as much. If I got hit with a couple of hundred mil, I’d probably do what you would, except we’d travel more (business class!) and eat at better restaurants on the infrequent occasions that we eat out. I’d probably replace the beater of a 2001 Honda Civic with a new one, but I may do that anyway.

  4. I completely agree with you regarding the lottery. I tell people that ask me, the only way I will when is if I find a ticket or someone gives me one (please don’t).

    I really wish they would quit taking advantage of people like this.

  5. My wife once bought a $1 lottery ticket to prove to the kids in the car that lotteries are just a way of throwing money away. The ticket won $5. So much for that lesson.

  6. I remember back about 25 years ago when the Florida lottery was something over $100 million, the local news program in San Diego ran a “what if?” segment. What they recommended was first and most importantly, pay yourself. Take a world tour, buy a new house, a new car, whatever. Get it out of your system. Then, assemble a team of savvy financial advisors to help you decide what to do with the rest of the money. If any advisor keeps saying that you need to do such and such and won’t budge from that stance, fire them and bring someone else in. Remember, it’s YOUR money, you have the final decision. While the team is deliberating, you lock up the money in a 6-month CD or some other investment that prevents “impulse spending”. Be prepared to say “No” a lot of times, because you’ll find family you didn’t know you had coming to you expecting their “cut”. Once you’ve decided on the final disposition of the windfall, put it away and live off the dividends, interest, whatever, or you can set up a trust fund for some organization, say left-handed, blue-eyed balding men who live in West Central Ohio…..(don’t point fingers at me, I wouldn’t be asking you for money – an autographed book, maybe, as long as I brought the book with me). Otherwise, you’re just going to have to be the major asshole that won’t “bail” your third cousin out of the $70,000 gambling debts he got himself into himself. Life’s tough, tougher when you’re stupid….
    Anyway, just my opinion…..

  7. @JJS: You missed the opportunity to teach them a valuable lesson about science! :) Buying a $1 lottery ticket every week for 3-4 months, carefully recording the results, and charting the data to show how an experiment must be repeatable and measurable to be valid might have been a good investment of $20. (And, odds being what they are, it’s unlikely you’ll come out ahead even with that small a sample size.)

  8. Good thinking about what to do with the $200M.

    But I can’t help wondering, are there any seriously expensive personal luxuries you would like to buy? Obviously, on an income of $1M a year things like clothing, cars, gadgets, and first-class travel are trivial. I’m thinking of a ranch, country estate, private island, luxury yacht, personal jet, or something of that nature.

    Anything?

  9. On the one hand, I recognize the odds of winning the lottery are so small as to be non-existent. On the other hand, I’m crushingly disappointed when I fail to win so much as another ticket. So I don’t buy tickets very often. Just when I need to complete the ritual of imagining winning.

    On the third hand, I wouldn’t have to pay taxes if I won. It’d be mine all mine.

  10. I’ve looked at the “you suddenly have $100 million (post-taxes), now what?” as a decent test of “what do you *really* want to do with your life?” question. Of course, once that question is answered the follow-up question is “Well, why aren’t you doing it right now?”

    It sounds to me like John has already asked that second question, answered it, and tried to direct his life accordingly – he wants to write for a living, and does. He wants to help family, friends, and the public where he can, and does. The money wouldn’t change that, but would enable more actions on a larger scale…

    – yeff

  11. Don’t take the lump sum. Cause that just allows lump spending. Get the 20 year payment plan, and then even if you go broke, you’ll get more money on the next payment.

    I don’t think I’d go too crazy spending money. I figure one shark with a laser beam is really enough and two is just twice the maintance cost with little added benefit. I mean, sharks don’t sleep, right?

  12. If I won $200m in the lottery I would take it over 30 years. The way I look at is that its less stress. I dont have to worry about making bad investments and wasting the money on crap because I have a new check coming next year. Most people spend more money as they make more m oney. So if I had $120m (after taxes) fall into my pocket, I could very well invest in stupid businesses and waste it.

    id see as a way to relieve stress. Its the forest gump model (when LT Dan invested in that fruit company and they didnt have to worry about money any more). So if I get a big check every year for 30 years (and I am 39). Im fine. Even if I waste all my money until year 25, I still have 5 more, $4m checks coming in and Ill be eligible for social security soon. I could start saving then.

    I think people look at money wrong. I see money as freedom. The more I make, the more I can save. My savings are my stress free fund. If something happens I won’t be destitute. Most people spend more money as they make more. Then are stressed out all the time about money and their job. I have seen or heard of lots of people making six figure incomes who are broke if they get laid off. There isn’t much I want to buy.

    What I would buy with my money. If i take that money over 30 years Im looking at about $4m/year after taxes. So…
    — I have a 1250 square foot town house. (northern virginia is very expensive). so Id probably get a bigger house. I wouldnt go over 3000 square feet. I live alone.
    — adjustable mechanical desk. been eying one for a while. So I can stand when I work. They run about $1000+.
    — personal chef to cook me healthy meals and leave in my fridge. Not a gourmet one. I don’t like to cook.
    — id buy cloths from target instead of kmart sometimes. Kmart is 2 miles from my house… target is a little further. so its a hassle to go farther. IT people tend to be cheap guys… its in our blood
    — Id get the NFL Sunday ticket. Big splurge for me.
    — I wouldnt tell anyone
    — id probably retire. IT work is stressful and I dont see a reason to deal with it if I dont need the money
    — get into hardcore shuffle board. Beat the hell out of the 75 year olds and spike the football.
    — possibly go for bikram yoga teacher training and teach yoga. One of my instructors retired as a air traffic controller after 30+ years and does that. Not alot of money, but he has his pension and I wouldnt need the money. I like the community.
    — Whenever I see someone on a left wing blog go nuts and be annoying. Ill donate some money to a cause he hates and internally laugh at him. John isn’t so bad. So it wouldn’t be John. I kind of like him.
    — possibly attend some sci-fi conventions for the first time and try not to drool when I meet Harriet Rigney. She saved the WoT after Robert Jordan died.

    Thats about it.

  13. I get that take on the lottery. But that is just because you are over thinking it. $1 on lottery tickets buys quite a bit of entertainment in that you spend a few hours believing it is possible to become filthy rich. A movie ticket costs at least $10, round of golf will cost you $50, $5 for a beer… It really is a pretty cheap deal for a small bit of entertainment if it does provide you with those few minutes of entertainment and the couple seconds of looking up the numbers the next day.

  14. one last thing. Iwould also will whatever I had left when I died to charity. No idea how that would work or where it would go. That would almost certanly be considerably (and probably far more than the $120m I would get after taxes since Im cheap and most of it would be invested in moderate risk investments).

  15. I totally look on lottery tickets as an entertainment expense. For years I spent a dollar a week. Lately, it’s probably about $10 a year, but it’s still fun; I get to figure out yet again what I’d do with it. Which looks a lot like what you’d do with it, actually; set up an annuity for security, settle any immediate big-ticket items (new house, car, trip to somewhere with dramatic scenery), set up a foundation. I like the idea of Heinlein’s Long Range Foundation.

  16. I sometimes buy a lottery ticket when the jackpot is large. Yes I know the expected payout is less than the ticket price, but it’s an entertainment expense, not an investment. I don’t buy more than one because the marginal entertainment value of the second ticket is essentially zero.

    It disturbs me that so many states claim that they spend lottery money on education. So far as I know, this tends to be untrue because they usually give the school less money from the general fund. Assuming for a moment that it was true, wouldn’t that be an incentive for schools to not teach people lottery math? Now Colorado wants to use marijuana excise tax for schools.

    I am as susceptible to base human stupidity as anyone, so it’s entirely possible I would do something stupid.

    As anyone? We are all capable of doing stupid things, but I suspect that capability to be greater in people less bright than you. You raise a good point about a change in how people see you. That will create some stress, even if you always act with perfect wisdom.

    BTW, what does it cost to buy a million a year in annuity income for someone John’s age in today’s financial environment?

  17. I’m pretty sure I’d replace my 11-year-old Saturn VUE. And probably replace the 12-year-old VUE which is primarily used by my sons. Hmmm. New carpet? Okay, seriously. I’d love a vacation home in northern Michigan. Boom. There. I’d also seriously consider setting up some sort of charity/trust whose job was to raise money and give it away to things that are important to me and my wife. So, yeah, we often joke, if we win the lottery, the Oxford Band programs will never have to fundraise again.

  18. Talisker:

    In terms of physical possessions, I can’t think of anything that I want that I don’t have at this point. I might buy a second home somewhere warmer (probably San Diego), but really, that’s about it. High-ticket items like luxury cars, yachts, etc don’t have much appeal to me.

  19. This is a fairly unrealistic scenario involving me, as I don’t play the lottery, for the simple reason that I understand statistics well enough to know that lotteries are an extraordinarily poor investment.

    Very much agree that lotteries are bad investments. But I think that most people who buy tickets aren’t looking for a return on their money. As previously noted by other commenters, some people are looking for amusement, and others buying a bit of hope and excitement. My Dad studied physics, was a research engineer, a finance director and, now retired, is one of his pension fund trustees. He has a pretty good handle on statistics, and he buys a lottery ticket every week anyway, because it entertains him*. So it’s not just poor statisticians that play the lottery.

    …and having said all that, some players are mathematically challenged and taxing people with poor statistical skills is a very poor way to fund things.

    * Mostly it entertains him by calling up every few months and saying “We’ve won the lottery! It’s £10, we’re having steak on Friday.”

  20. When I notice that The Big One is a hundred million I buy a ticket.
    It’s budgeted under Entertainment. That dollar could have bought ten minutes of a new movie, but wondering how I would get rid of that much money at all constructively (though I love the Batman scene with the Joker setting fire to a mountain of money and walking away without looking back) is a surer source of fun.

  21. We’ve been wrestling with some of these questions lately in real life. As in, “what do I do with this financial windfall?” Not on the $200 million scale (I wish!), but on a much smaller scale. Still, many of the questions are the same and some of the answers are unexpectedly vexing.

    For example, one of my New Years resolutions this year was to find a new charity and donate a set amount of money every week. It’s a bit more difficult than I imagined it would be. It makes me realize that running a charitable foundation with $100 million in it would be a huge job and not one I would necessarily want to take on. Of course I could just give it all to the Gates Foundation. They seem to be doing a pretty good job with their funds.

    As for how much to give to family members (or to allow yourself as personal income) I really like the Warren Buffet approach: give enough to do anything but not enough to do nothing.

  22. I don’t think a sudden windfall of $200 million will do anyone, including me, much good

    Here, here to only doing annuities for large winnings.

  23. My dad used to buy one lottery ticket a week, saying it was voluntary taxation, and if he ever won, that would be gravy. He never did win a dime that I ever heard of (well, maybe a few bucks now and then). I’d occasionally thought of doing the same, and then I heard of someone I knew having a serious gambling problem, and suddenly anything remotely approaching gambling was as dust and ashes in my mouth.

  24. I voted against the Lottery in Texas a long time back. Still have not purchased a lottery ticket. One Christmas my brother-in-law gave us all a bunch of scratch-off tickets. No winners naturally. A lottery windfall to me would be an opportunity to do a few nice things. I’d love to finance a new professorship chair at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, in the humanities and then occupy the chair until retirement. And first class transatlantic airfare, yes, just once I would like to fly to/from Edinburgh, Scotland first class. Other than that I would go the charitable foundation route. There are many people in real need on this orb in space and helping them live better lives would be delightful, especially if the help was of the nature, “learn to fish” instead of just giving them a few fish to eat. My firstborn son purchased a single lottery ticket on his eighteenth birthday. It did not win. I don’t think my secondborn son ever bothered to purchase one. They are both quite good at statistics. And the comment above about lottery money for Education is so true. In Texas they made that pitch to sell the lottery to the voters. They sent a bunch of lottery money to Education. Did they think we would not notice that they also cut back the general budget appropriation to Education by a like amount? They did and still do.

  25. Ditto on the house in San Diego. Well, more like Escondido or La Jolla or Oceanside. Definitely somewhere in San Diego County.

  26. “someone does want to gift me with $200 million, post-tax, well. You know where you can find me.”

    or if 200 million people want to gift you a $1, that would work too

  27. “what does it cost to buy a million a year in annuity income” Beats me, so I decided to do this: JMSSX is giving a yield of 1.42%. So invest 80,000,000 in that one, pay out the million and use the extra 136,000 for administration fees, thing I haven’t thought of, growing the principle, and a cushion for the inevitable bad decade.
    This is just an out-of-my, uh, hat example that /I/ see problems with, but it gives the idea.

  28. I already have a house (well, condo :) in San Diego. I am pretty happy with it…I’d agree it’s a nice place to live

    My dad sold out of his business and retired at 52, he got a pretty decent sum which allowed him to stop working. What the cash bought my parents was time together – he worked 6-7 days a week when I was growing up, and then stopped completely when he sold out. Mum basically took the view that she got 30 years of weeks (they married when she was 19) and then 30 years of weekends. They spend the time together, travel the world, and enjoy themselves. Fortunately, they get on really well, and are happy. Just got a picture from Barbados on the beach, they look super content. But, if they weren’t happy together before hand, having the time together wouldn’t be as much fun, so the freedom to stop working didn’t buy them happiness, just allowed them enjoy each other and spend more time together. Seems to have worked really well for them for the last 20 years.

    I’d take the lump sum, as I work in finance, but it is easy to end up with a small fortune from a large one. Houses in Barbados, Beaune and Melbourne would be some of it, then travelling.

    Or take the George Best approach: ‘I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.’

  29. I’ve generally thought of lotteries as something rather like insurance in a twisted kind of way. When you buy insurance you’re betting an amount you can afford to lose, with bad odds, in order to protect against the chance of sustaining a loss you can’t recover from. When you buy lottery tickets you’re betting an amount you can afford to lose, with bad odds (much worse than insurance, but still…), in order to have the chance to acquire a life-changing amount of money that you’re not going to get any other way. (The question of how one’s life might change is a separate one; some might handle it well and others, as the horror tales reveal, don’t.)

  30. “What would we do if we won the lottery” is a favorite game for long drives. Sometimes we play the “reality” version and sometimes we play the “fantasy” version.

    Like many of you, I’d welcome the opportunity to prove I could be very wise with a large amount of money.

  31. Winning the lottery is actually one of my recurring nightmares. It’s why I never buy a ticket. I have enough trouble managing our current, modest finances. I can’t even contemplate the horrors of many more zeroes without wanting to have a nice lie down.

  32. I rarely buy lottery tickets, even when the jackpots get big, but when I do it’s only a dollar or two. The odds are bad but I spend way more than that on soft drinks every week, and they’re far worse for my health and overall finances. So yeah, that’s some brilliant logic – they’re less stupid than my usual level of stupid.

    If I ever won, the first thing I’d do is quit my job. When this subject comes up at work, I always joke that my coworkers would just wonder whatever happened to me. It’s not so much that I hate or resent my job, it’s that there are so many things I’d like to do with the time it takes that don’t earn money to pay the bills.

    The second thing I’d do, as soon as the money was in the bank, would be to pay off my student loans. That’d probably be the most satisfying thing of all.

    Then, of course, take care of my family financially and have some fun. That’d probably mean a lot of travel. There are so many places I’d like to see with my wife and son. Also, we’d buy some land and design and build a dream home. Our house now is fine and it’s been home for a long time, but I’d like a little more room to spread out. Among all the traveling and building I’d probably get several more college degrees. See why I wouldn’t have time for a job?

    But the big thing would be to start and fund (as long as the money lasts) a foundation to anonymously pay medical bills for kids at our local children’s hospital. Find families struggling under medical debt from fighting for their kids’ lives, and bam. Done. No names, no credit. They just get a statement in the mail one day from the hospital that their bill’s been paid in full. No concern or judgment about whether the parents “deserve” it, whether or not they work or how much or little they’ve paid on their own. Paying off those balances would be a financial boost to the hospital while also directly helping patients’ families in a big way.

  33. I’d buy a Gibson Hummingbird, some decent luggage, and a bungalow in Belize. Then I’d sit on the beach every day and play my guitar and drink scotch and read books.

    Alas, I am a simple man with simple tastes.

  34. At one of my jobs long ago in a seriously dysfunctional place, a group of us used to buy a ticket together when the stakes got huge. We had great fun picturing a scenario where we all quit at once and walked out after winning, which unfortunately never happened. But the fantasy was definitely worth the investment.

  35. No lottery tickets for me. The lottery steals from the poor and/or ignorant to keep the rich and crafty from paying more in taxes. Yes, some play with open eyes but not most.

    If I suddenly acquired $200m I would first get some high priced advice about it’s legal and tax consequences. Long term, I would give away as much as possible. My house and car are already paid for and I like them as-is.

  36. One of the calculators at Immediateannuities.com shows that would take about $20,000,000 to purchase a joint lives annuity that would pay $80,000 per month (which roughly a million per year.

  37. Hmm… I would’ve guessed that the real answer is Krissy would get all the money and do super smart things with it.

    As for me, I’d spend the first year doing pretty much what I’m doing now – stay in my modest apartment, go to work, probably eat out at nice restaurants a lot more, buy the new car I’m already planning to buy except with cash. I’d also hire an architect to design my dream home. Then in the second year, find somewhere to build it, buy the land, build the house, hire people to keep it clean and maintained for me. Then go live there. :)

  38. I suspect if I won a lottery, I’d need to find some financial expert to act as my Wodehousian relative who controls my allowance. Obviously, I’d also need a Jeeves.

  39. The statistical argument against the lottery is a bit misapplied as it is that sort of argument is only relevant “in the long run” and no one will live long enough to play the lottery that often. As an example, rejigger the question to be about labor:

    Who here would spend an hour doing some non-arduous task for a 1-in-10 million chance at $100 million dollars? Would doing so be non-rational for people who make more than $10/hour?

    The better way to look at the lottery is that for most people you are spending $1 to raise your chance of being a multi-millionaire from no chance at all to a minuscule one. Or in other words, if you pay a dollar, you are infinitely more likely to become a millionaire than if you didn’t. This may make rational sense if you have a free dollar.

    The other trouble with the statistical argument is that value of money isn’t actually linear in the sense that possessing $100 million dollars gives you huge amounts of power just being all together in one place, and will have a dramatic effect on your life. On the other hand, a single extra dollar, for the average non-poor person, gives you essentially no extra power and for most people, will have no effect on their life at all. (I will likely die with more money in the bank than $1 + 40 years interest on that dollar.)

    Long story short: there are rational reasons to play the lottery once or twice, but the value rapidly vanishes after a ticket or two.

  40. Mr. Scalzi–You would not be subject to the ‘everybody wants something from me now that I’m a winner’ phenomenon. Ohio is one of six states with non-disclosure options. You can win, and not have to tell anyone. Well, of course the state will know (taxes and all), but if you choose, all the lottery people can say is where the ticket was purchased, and a general geographic identifier of the winner (in my state, it’s the county). So play away in freedom! (The other states with this rule: Kansas,Maryland, Delaware, Michigan, and North Dakota)

  41. @Scalzi: Fair enough. I’d want a few more houses, but that’s largely because I have family widely scattered around the world. And I might indulge myself in a medium-sized country retreat with some forest and/or seashore.

    Like I said, unless you want a different Lamborghini for every day of the week, cars are trivial on an annual income of $1M. You can get a seriously nice luxury car for about $150,000, and after that it’s significantly less to upgrade to the latest model every year.

  42. I play this game sometimes, to help me figure out what I really want. It takes making a living out of the equation and helps on focus on what one might really want.

    @Midwest Mom: I wish I knew why only 6 states allow non-disclosure. Telling the world you just won many millions is a guarantee of predation. I wonder if it’s possible to put the ticket in a trust so that while the trust is disclosed, the beneficiary is not.

    The thing I’d want most is a personal assistant. Someone to handle the details, following-up, and hassles of daily life. I could just be sloppy about bills but I’d rather the money go to a PA than someone who can’t get billing right.

    I would do a few things to my house (add a bedroom, all new windows, new trim, odds and ends) and – more importantly – hire a really good general contractor so I wouldn’t be bothered with the details.

    I’d hire someone to tidy my house in the morning – dishes, laundry, hang up clothes and make the bed, clean the kitchen, etc. – in addition to cleaning once a week.

    ‘d spend more money buying convenience. I’d buy only pastured meat products, and – the real luxury – just the cuts I wanted. Right now I buy in bulk (frex, 1/4 cow) then have to figure out what to do with the harder-to-use cuts. I

    I don’t know if I’d quit working. A different job – certainly. Maybe part time, so I’d have more time for life. Maybe nonpaying work such as being a full-time volunteer for any of the causes I care about; I have some neat ideas that I can’t act on till I’m retired because of the time they would take. Or maybe working in a store related to a beloved hobby, just for the joy of it.

  43. PS: almost forget, because for me it falls into “goes without saying” category. Give substantial sums to my preferred charities, write a really *good* will, dump some money on certain friends just because I could (most of my friends did not chose their careers on the basis of salary).

    Oh, just thought of another one. I could pay for my friends to visit me in addition to going to visit them.

    Thankfully I know how to find good legal and financial advice so I’m unlikely to fall victim to predators.

  44. @ Harimad—

    Colorado, Connecticut, and Vermont allow winners to set up an LLC or trust (I can’t remember which states use which vehicle right now) to allow them to distance the person from the winnings. Some forbid that kind of arrangement specifically, and mandate personal disclosure and publicity.

  45. @FTR Yes, seriously. I would strongly recommend against it, I found nothing about it enjoyable. I didn’t even end up with one of those cool lightning burn scars that luckier victims get. I vaguely remember a ‘buzzing’ but I don’t know what I was doing for several minutes before hand. I remember ‘waking up’ in the hospital & they tell me I was out in the yard about 20 minutes before a rain storm.

  46. I believe part of the reason behind lottery disclosure is to ensure that a real live person wins the money and not have the lottery commission just claim an anonymous person “won” it.

  47. Dude! A lotto ticket isn’t a good financial investment, but I’ve always found them to be very good investments in daydreaming. It’s fun to spend the money in your head before you have to come back down to earth when your numbers don’t match. I don’t buy many lotto tickets, but I’ve discovered that over the years I’ve more or less broken even- ten bucks from a scratch-off here, 100 bucks once, a dollar for one matching number there… harmless, clean, daydreamy fun.

  48. I think the scratch-off tickets are worse than the lottery drawings for the poor.

    One Sunday morning, I was at a gas station near the “bad” part of town for a coffee and doughnuts. I saw one person spend $50 or more on the scratch-off tickets. He kept buying one after another. If he had been drinking at a bar, the bartender would have cut him off. I stayed until he finished, watching out of the corner of my eye. I wanted the used tickets for an example in my math classes.

  49. “I understand statistics well enough to know that lotteries are an extraordinarily poor investment.”

    This sentiment is common, but I think it is also hogwash. The utility of $1 is not 1/200,000,000th of the utility of $200mln. $200mln is, as you say, a life-changing amount of money. $1 per week/month/whatever is not. There are things you could do with the former that you could not do with a lifetime of saving the latter

    That lifetime spending is roughly $4000 at $1/week for 78 years (less when you discount to net present value). Call it 1/50,000th of $200mln. You can’t buy 1/50,000th of independence from your day job. You can’t save for 1/50,000th of your children’s education (you can, but they might rightly ask you why you bothered… it is not exactly a useful thing to do).

  50. I did hit the lottery, in a sense. I began planning for retirement a dozen years before retiring. I am an aerospace engineer, and worked on absolutely dream projects which once were sci-fi. It was heaven 7 days a week for 40+ years.

    Now I’m retired & living comfortably, because I planned it that way. My days are still heaven, because I’m writing what I love. I’ve self-published six books so far.in ebook and “pbook” forms. Their popularity is growing, if at all, slowly. But I have a few fans who buy whatever I write & occasionally tell others about my books.

    When I finish the third volume of a trilogy in the series I’ll try for a trade publisher in the usual way. But if I fail at that, no matter. I’ve made my bed & wallow in it every day.

  51. I generally only buy lottery tickets as a form of insurance: if someone at work forms a syndicate I’ll join in, so that I’m not the only one left if the syndicate wins big ;-)

  52. Jim, that was my Mum’s reason for joining the syndicate at her work. (As a science teacher she had some statistical knowledge as well)

  53. My lottery fantasy is to take care of a list of friends and relatives with a nice monthly income for life, ditto for some charities I’m fond of. Being somewhat sophisticated in the knowledge that anyone can make money if they make a full time job out of making money (which bores me to tears) I would hire the financial advisors of the richest person in town. Then set it up so it was pretty much self sustaining, and generating sufficient income to take care of that list.

    My personal tastes are simple, so except for some first-class travel to a couple of places I have on my bucket list, extravagant houses, cars, etc. are right out. Truthfully, I was smart and a little lucky during my working career, was able to retire in my 50’s, and won’t be depending on Social Security for anything. So except for being able to take care of more people/charities, winning a couple hundred million wouldn’t really change anything except add hassles and security issues to my life.

  54. I’m with Sarah … money is harder to spend responsibly than you’d think.

    Back in 2009, I inherited a serious chunk of change. I had a good, intense job at the company that was best in my town at what I wanted to do so I just chucked the money at Fidelity and kept working. (I’m single, with no kids and no interest in kids, which I know is very different from most people.)

    Then I got laid off, and immediately started looking for another job. However, I was now too “qualified” for the kind of jobs that were open, and I had trouble finding anything.

    Then my cousin called and said, Why don’t we use that money to travel? So it paid for us to go to Asia for several months.

    Then I came back and thought, I should do what is most important. What’s the biggest threat facing this planet? Global warming. So I tried to figure out what I could do, myself, re global warming. Zip, zero, nada. (I did divest my portfolio of all oil and gas stocks, and if you own any, or any coal stocks, I’d recommend you do the same. They’re all valued on burning all known reserves, and if those reserves don’t get burnt they’re pretty much worthless. If those reserves do get burnt, humanity’s best case scenario is we all wind up as Smaug — sitting on a pile of gold in a scorched and barren landscape.)

    Feeling deeply ineffectual, then I tried to volunteer for the poor. So far, so good. Poor people need a lot of help, it turns out. The extent to which I’ve discovered that having an education and fluency in English can get you so much more in this country than you’d otherwise get astonishes me. While I get thanked a lot, doing good is not that different from any other job …everyone is on their own trip, it turns out, and just trying to help people is not too different from doing any other kind of work. Your customers will still get into disputes with you.

    So I’m still trying to figure it out. However, I can report that work of any kind — including full-time volunteer work — is preferable to any full-time vacation lifestyle you can think of.

  55. Large family (lots of siblings), so I figured I’d split the pot – half to me and then half the pot equally distributed amongst my sibs and that way they can distribute as needed to their own kids and leave me out of it. I’d build my dream cottage, a new computer, a pizza oven, and a kayak. I’d buy large print hardbacks…

    I always thought I’d establish a scholarship at my alma maters – one of those off the wall kind of things that students with unique challenges or gifts would find useful. I’d give a chunk of change to Planned Parenthood.

  56. Oh yes, the big Lotto win thing.

    Well, with even 1 million here in Australia, I’d want to spend about $500,000 of it on a house (which would hopefully get me a reasonable 3 or 4 bedroom house in a suburb relatively close to the city, with enough amenities in the district to be liveable – housing prices here in Western Australia are ridiculous). The other half would be spend on things like paying off our existing debts (about $10,000 worth, I think, maybe a bit more if I throw in my HECS debts), replacing our current car (which is getting on for 15 years old, and needs a bit of work – essentially we need to take the fuel cap into the dealers and say “could you replace everything else, please?”) with something a bit more up-to-date and capable of handling my partner’s length (he’s 6′ and it’s a Korean design), and probably updating the washing machine, because it’s heading on for about twelve years old now too, which means it’s reaching the end of its useful life. I’d also want to spend money on getting a good fruit and vegetable garden put in, as well as getting a rainwater tank installed on the house, plus solar panels, and getting any faults or problems with the house fixed up solidly – the aim being to set things up so we’re as self-sufficient as possible. That way, when the money runs out, we have a solid basis to fall back on, and we’re not in a position where we have to be making and scraping on rentals. It is possible to live on a low income here in Australia, but it definitely helps if you had a high one to start with, because that way you can set things up so you’re supported by a certain level of infrastructure before you run out of money.

    20 million? The house would be one of the last remaining ones on a big block in Victoria Park or South Perth (very close to the city centre), and my partner and I would probably set up some bits and pieces for nieces (mine) and nephew (his) so they can afford to purchase property when they reach an appropriate age (like I said, housing prices are getting ridiculous here). Even if it’s just something like agreeing to stand guarantor for home loans or similar. Oh, and we’d get a second car (probably a Prius or smart car or something like that) for me, so I’m not locked up at home all the time while Himself is out with the main car.

  57. Oh, and you’ll note there’s not much in there about the rest of our families. There’s a reason for this. We’re currently broke ourselves and making and scraping from day to day with welfare. I figure I’m okay with helping the next generation, but this one gets precisely as much help from us as they’ve offered.

    “Nobody knows you
    When you’re down and out
    In your pocket, you’ve not one penny
    And as for friends, you don’t have any
    But when you get back on your feet again
    Everybody wants to be your long-lost friend
    It’s mighty strange
    Without any doubt
    Nobody knows you when you’re down and out.”

    Yes, I am rather vindictive.

  58. I would write about myself explicitly and not fear the outcome-scrutiny, disfavor, judgement- because I’d have money to insulate me from the madness. In other words, people could talk about me to their hearts content, while I’m sailing the seas on my yacht.

  59. Some friends of mine are scathing about the lottery, on statistical grounds.

    But they’re missing the point- as was pointed out by various people, it’s a reasonable amount of entertainment (similar to playing poker for pennies) for an affordable stake.

    The key term here is “opportunity cost” – what would you do with that pound/dollar otherwise?

    in the UK, the tax is baked into the stake- if you win £100M, you get to keep it all.
    And they have to give you the option of anonymity. I’m not naive enough to think that no-one would know if I won a metric shitload of money – but at least it wouldn’t be every scam-artist and sob-story on the planet.

    I damn sure would move house (though not far; I’d not want to force my daughter to move school), take care of people close to me, and put most of it in robust trusts of various kinds.

    I think I’d “invest” a lot of it in non-traditional ways, like Kickstarter or Kiva

  60. @znepj

    Some friends of mine are scathing about the lottery, on statistical grounds.

    But they’re missing the point- as was pointed out by various people, it’s a reasonable amount of entertainment (similar to playing poker for pennies) for an affordable stake.

    The key there is that the stake be affordable. People who can afford to buy lottery tickets tend to buy a small number of them for fun, or shun them because they are a bad bet.

    The question I have is “what proportion of lottery tickets are bought by people who can’t afford to buy very many lottery tickets?”

    This article claims that households earning less than $13,000 per year spend 9% of their income on lottery tickets:

    http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/05/31/poor-people-spend-9-of-income-on-lottery-tickets-heres-why/

    If true, that’s somewhat tragic.

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