Elizabeth: What would you do?

“You pay your money, you take your chance.”

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?

8 thoughts on “Elizabeth: What would you do?

  1. The first thing I’d do is call my lawyer. Second, my accountant. Third, my financial planner. THEN I’d tell my husband we won. LOL.

    In all seriousness, if I won a lottery like that, I think I would gift my extended family a certain amount (in the form of paying off things for them, not giving them a ton of cash, because the goal is for them to not have a financial burden, NOT to spend it on wish-list items). I would donate money back to Clemson U, where I went to college, perhaps creating a scholarship for English majors. I’d give quite a bit to local charities. I’d like to create a writer’s retreat at some foreign location that people can attend gratis (travel included)…preferably in an old castle or something.

    But I know in my heart of hearts I’d be buying property. Someplace in London for sure, a place in the British countryside, a condo in Portugal, someplace in Australia or New Zealand. And I’d flit from place to place writing as I went. Of course, this is after my kids are out of high school. I’d spend the time between now and then acquiring these properties. My husband would probably want to use it to buy businesses, which is fine. I don’t think he’d stop working, and I don’t want to stop writing, so it’s a matter of making our money work for us to allow us to do those things we love.

    Oh, and I’d hire someone to do my laundry. It’s the domestic task I hate the most.

    • Calling the attorney or tax accountant (or both) would be top of my list too. Safety first.

      After that, I’m not sure. My tastes are pretty simple. There would definitely be travel in my plans. There are so many places I’d love to go to and see and, with enough money, I could keep myself busy for years.

  2. I know someone (not us, alas!) who won a sizeable sum on the lottery. Not crazy sums like the ones Elizabeth’s talking about, but enough to buy a nicer house, solve a couple of pressing family problems, and secure their kids’ future. I’ve been taking a great deal of vicarious pleasure from their good fortune and smart choices 🙂

    I’ve worked with a few super-wealthy people, and I have some ideas about how I’d handle a huge jackpot. I’d love to try! I’m sure there would be some self-indulgence. After helping family and friends we’d probably move house, though nowhere that would require live-in staff–I like my privacy. There would be travel (whenever we’re allowed to travel again). I’d buy some insanely expensive bedlinen, and I would definitely go completely OTT on illustrators for my covers and narrators for my audiobooks. After that I think it would be about grants, donations and scholarships. The 8 Ladies all benefited from the Nora Roberts Foundation’s generosity to McDaniel College. It would be wonderful to be able to do something like that.

    • I love the idea of being able to pay things forward, like Nora was able to do with the foundation and McDaniel.

      Frankly, at this point, if I won a jackpot one of the first things I would do would be to put a trusted contractor on speed-dial for fixing problems around the house (the current bane of my days). After that, I’m sure I could think of a few ways to put the remaining money to good use.

      One thing I’ve been thinking of, even without winning a jackpot, is funding a local robotic-team challenge to solve a problem that currently bugs me: trash on the roadsides. I don’t know if that is an issue where anyone else lives but here it is a definite problem (and offends my tidy-sensibilities) and it seems like there might be some good automated / robotic solutions to address it.

  3. I’d do what Justine and Jilly said—some combination of family help, donations, property, travel. I had a dream once about what I’d do if I won a million dollars, and in the dream, I realized a million wasn’t enough, and I bumped it to three. When I woke up, I was pretty amused.

    At one of my jobs at a largish company, we were doing an annual retreat sort of thing, and we got put at lunch tables with people who worked in different offices, people we didn’t know. Every lunch we were given a question we each had to answer to our peers and then somebody did a summary for the whole group. One day the question was, what would you do with the money if the company gave you $50K? I remember one response in particular: the guy started out by saying “$50K isn’t nearly enough,” and he outlined his plan to fund a music program K-12 for the entire San Jose, CA, public school district. He’d really thought it out. It was pretty awesome, and it gave us a much greater insight into this guy, who’d been pretty quiet in the sessions up until then. I wonder if he ever achieved his goal?

  4. My MC would use it to hire a defense attorney for her bad-decisions poster child younger sister, thus negating the need to sell her soul to Satan and thereby destroying my story.


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