If you’ve followed the (non-political) news lately, you may have seen that the jackpots for two US lottery games had grown to ridiculous sizes. The Mega Millions jackpot passed into billion-dollar-territory, causing a challenge for the signs that display the value, since they only go up to $999M. A few days ago, someone from Michigan was the big winner of that jackpot, which was apparently only the third-largest in US history. At $731M, the recent Powerball jackpot, won by someone in Maryland, pales by comparison.
As the jackpots continued to grow, people lined up to buy tickets for their chance to win, and newscasters did human-interest stories, asking hopeful players what they would do with the winnings.
The answers were familiar:
- Buy a house
- Buy a house for all of my family members
- Get a new car
- Pay off my student loans
- Give it all away
I’ll admit, I was a little curious about the young woman whose only thought was to pay off her student loans. Just how expensive was her education?
I wonder how many of the players really had a concept about just how much money they could potentially win. Even for those who took the instant cash payout, those early spending plans wouldn’t put a dent in the winnings.
Lotteries are nothing new. There are signs as far back as the Chinese Han Dynasty that lotteries were used to help finance major government building projects. In England, the first official lottery was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, and at the end of the US Revolutionary War, various states used lotteries to raise needed funds for public projects.
I’m not a lottery player myself (have you seen the odds?), though my son and I have occasionally brainstormed what we would do if a big jackpot ever came our way. His theoretical plans have tended to be crowd-funding focused, with thoughts of helping friends and family members pay off loans, get houses or cars, or just plain sharing the winnings. My theoretical plans tend to focus on putting money aside for future needs first, and then looking at bigger picture options like setting up scholarships or some kind of foundation. Regardless of the path our daydreaming takes, figuring out what to do with a huge chunk of money hasn’t been as easy as expected.
In real life, figuring out what to do with huge jackpots isn’t as easy as winners might expecte either. Some don’t have the necessary financial acumen; some make bad decisions; and some, amazingly, wind up losing it all in short order.
It makes me think that I might just be better off dreaming of winnings but never actually buying tickets.
There have been a few television series over the years– like The Briefcase and The Millionaire— where people are given money and have to decide what to do with it. Coincidentally, when doing my “fresh start” this year, I came across the draft of a story I wrote years ago about four people who won a big lottery jackpot. I must have been going through an angsty-phase though, because it didn’t turn out well for any of them.
For fun, I’ve been thinking about what the characters in my current work-in-progress would do if they won a bit jackpot. It has been interesting to “see” the varied responses and has been a great way to learn more about their beliefs and desires.
So, what would you (or your characters) do with a big jackpot?