The Lottery Fantasy vs. The Lottery Curse

DH = Dear Husband

Have you ever bought lottery tickets?

Have you ever bought a lottery ticket? Here’s a true confession: I have been chipping in with a group at work for a long time. Twice a year, about 24 of us fork over $20 for the privilege of membership in the lottery club. So far, we have won enough to buy extra tickets every once in a while. Is it worth it? Sure! It’s fun to “What would you do if . . . ?” with other members of the group. Besides, how would I feel if I suddenly stopped participating – and then our work group won? (Do not tell Dave Ramsey! It’s a big no-no to have anything to do with lottery tickets according to his Total Money Makeover plan – which I am following.)

DH has firmly maintained throughout our marriage that it would be disastrous for us to win the lottery. “We would fight about what to do with the money. We’d be lost. We’d be ruined.” I, on the other hand, have always said that it would be GREAT to win the lottery. How could it not be?

“Lottery curse”

“‘Lottery curse’ can disrupt lives” said a headline in a local newspaper yesterday. In 2006, 24-year-old Daniel Carley, “a small-time weed dealer”, won $5 million. He was given the advice that all winners are given: “Get a financial adviser . . . Then delist your phone and change the locks on your home.” Unfortunately, Carley did not follow this advice – at least not the bit about seeking professional guidance for his sudden wealth. “He blew more than half the money in the first three years, at a rate approaching $20,000 per week.” Yikes! How do you even do that?

Last week, Carley – now 35 years old – was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for dealing crack. A one-time sudden millionaire now lost and ruined – as per DH’s dire prediction.

“But we’re not like him,” I would say to DH. To begin with, we’re older. And we aren’t small-time weed dealers. We would keep our heads and make a plan.

“Edward Ugel, author of Money for Nothing: One Man’s Journey Through The Dark Side of Lottery Millions, has said that, of the thousands of winners he interviewed, a few were happy, ‘but you would be blown away to see how many winners wish they’d never won.'” Here are some other remarkably negative aspects of lottery wins:

  • It is estimated that 2/3 of lottery winners go broke within 7 years.
  • Sudden money disrupts lives and fundamentally changes people – for the worse.
  • Lottery wins negatively impact people’s outlooks on those close to them.
  • Lottery winners who quit work don’t know what to do with their time.
  • Those who keep working are often shunned for taking away a job that someone else – who actually needs the income – could fill.

Would I really like to win?

Daniel Carley’s unfortunate journey from lottery winner to convicted crack dealer gives me some pause for thought. If I had won millions several years ago – before I had my financial wake-up – I probably would have spent like crazy. Trips, home renovations (fun fact: American lottery winners buy new homes; Canadian lottery winners renovate their homes); major clothing shopping sprees for my daughters and myself; restaurants to infinity . . . And no doubt, I would have developed consumer tastes, appetites, and yearnings previously unknown to me – to keep the spending frenzy going. And DH and I . . . Well, with my out-of-control chaos and his out-of-control control and worry . . . It wouldn’t have been pretty.

But now? Now that we’re 4 years into our journey out of debt? Now that we have an awareness of our money-related flaws and have even overcome some of them? Wouldn’t we stand a chance to be among those “few were happy” lottery winners? Maybe not. As I wrote last week, the power of habit can be incredibly stubborn, and I still have some bad money behaviours that I’m very aware of – but that I haven’t got the better of yet. If I’m struggling to get the better of them now, how would I succeed with the temptation of millions at hand?

A shortcut to our debt-freedom moment?

DH and I sometimes imagine the day when we’ll be debt-free. The day we put that last payment against our mortgage. The day we walk with bare feet through our backyard. (That’s a Ramsey thing: “The grass under your feet will feel different when you own your home.”) I wouldn’t mind a short cut to that day, but I really do believe that there will be a more profound sense of satisfaction if we get there by our own intentional effort. And that’s a good thing – because the chance of my work group ever winning the lottery is about 1 in 14 million.

I still say it’s fun to imagine the win, but I’ll keep a healthy separation between my imagination and my reality. The odds for a lottery win are pretty hopeless, but the odds for overcoming self-sabotaging financial habits and gaining gradual victories over debt are actually quite high. And that’s the win I’m counting on.

Do you know anyone who has won a lottery? Do you ever buy tickets? How do you think a lottery win would impact your life? Your comments are welcome.

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44 comments on “The Lottery Fantasy vs. The Lottery Curse

  1. This makes me think of a girl I went to high school with. She came from divorced parents and her wealthy dad gave her a brand new Corvette as a high school graduation present. It was GORGEOUS. Medium blue, shiny and beautiful. Within two months it was ruined, smashed from weeks of reckless driving. There’s something about working for your money that makes one value it so much more. Plus, people from EVERYWHERE would be approaching you with threats and sob stories. No thank you. I’m with DH. No lottery for me.

    1. I bet that girl is kicking herself now! (Or maybe not. Maybe her dad just bought her another new car.) It IS so important to value what you have so that you don’t waste it. And that is a lesson that is way more effectively learned through the experience of intentional effort than lavish gifts or “wins”.

  2. We play at work and home when the prize is over $100 million. I have blogged about this topic before. I think it can be true for any amount of a windfall, how would you react with the money. Our pre-financial wake up would be a lot different than our post if we came into a bit of money. I would like to think we would handle it well. It is fun to dream a bit, but with a little hard work and planning with your money you can achieve similar goals and don’t need to leave it up to chance.

    1. “I would like to think we would handle it well.” Me too! I know someone who put far too much hope in winning the lottery, and when he didn’t (this one time in particular for some reason), he became extremely bitter. Much, much better to put our hope in the wisdom of planning and effort. Investing hope in things left “up to chance” is a dangerous thing. Having said all that, here’s to you getting the next $100 million jackpot, Brian!

    1. I definitely say that, but the thing is I also said it when I had my financial head in the sand. I’m willing to be put to the test to see how well I’d deal with it : )

  3. I know two people who won money on the lottery – a million dollars for one person on a Cash for Life scratch ticket and the other won $11 million in Lotto 649. They both were wise with their wins and still have the money plus, plus – they didn’t blow it but kept the same lifestyle and jobs they had previously.
    As a Christian I struggled with the lottery pool at work, resisting for years and finally caving in and asking to join, only to be told that it was a closed group – God has a sense of humour lol. But, God provides more wonderfully than a lottery can – we have been blessed with inheritances from our parents and a long-fought class action lawsuit with a drug company. And I have a defined benefit pension – that in itself is cash for life.

    1. Amazing that you know 2 people who had such significant wins! I heard that one person I know won $400,000, but that’s not even a sure thing. I’m glad the people you know are among the “few are happy” lottery winners. It is true that windfalls come in different forms, and I know that you will continue to deal with yours well (though I’m sorry your husband suffered from that drug company). And you are right, Nancy: What God provides is of infinite value. The real jackpot : )

  4. I know for sure if we’d come into a busload of money 20 years ago, it would have been blown through faster than you can say PINWHEEL. But that’s true of education too. You can’t give a kindergartener algebraic equations and expect them to know what to do with them. My favorite part about tithing is that there is always a harvest. Maybe not as soon as you’d like or from where you expect, but it always comes. And then you get to tithe off a much bigger sum. Then that helps so many PLUS you have an even greater harvest coming in the future. Then “lather, rinse and repeat”. Super post subject Ruth! I’m praying for your work group’s windfall! 🙂

    1. Good point about kindergarten : ) Your faith is remarkable, Kay. Even when you were so close to the edge, you tithed. I find that very admirable! I wouldn’t mind it one bit if my work group won big! But I am not putting any hope there – just a bit of dreaming : )

  5. We play the lottery when it gets “big” but then what is “big”. It reminds me of a Jeff Foxworthy bit about being behind someone in line that’s asking how much the lottery is up to. The cashier said, “$25 million”, and he replied, “Shoot, that’s all?! No thanks!” Foxworthy’s bit is, “Yeah, like $25 million isn’t enough to change your life?”

    We’ve discussed it, but the first is set up a corporation to accept the winnings on our behalf if we’re in a state that won’t let you remain anonymous. 🙂
    Then, we’d quit work and spend time with the kids and besides donating a lot of it to charities, and helping out our families, we’d travel more. Eventually, we’d most likely return to being homebodies just happy to be out of our previous small time, weed dealing lifestyle. Oh wait… 🙂 hahahaha

    1. Just remember, that weed dealer ended up graduating to crack dealing after he’d blown through his lottery winnings! I strongly suspect that would not be your fate : ) Sounds like you have really planned for the millions that would come your way with a win. I think your future holds something very similar to what you’ve described – minus the corporation. It will come with your steady FIRE effort. So close!

  6. I buy regular lottery tickets once in a while because of the dream. Having said that, I know a few people who won modest amounts. My husband won $1,000 twice with Encore. A group of 28 co-workers split a $333K jackpot. Another friend won $75,000 with a scratch ticket. Just enough to help with expenses, or buy a bit of luxury.

    Me, if I won a big jackpot, I have this fantasy that I would take a small portion to fund my dreams, and then endow a charitable foundation.

    1. Thanks for your comment, LPC. Interesting that you know so many people who have won some pretty decent amounts! I like your vision for “What if . . . ?” I don’t think there can be many things more satisfying in life than to endow a charitable foundation that means something to you. Here’s to your big win!

  7. Winning the lottery would have been bad news for us a few years ago, I’m not sure we would have used it wisely. A little while ago we were fantasizing about what we would do, and I have to admit I imagined feeling a bit disappointed about not being able to finish our debt repayment journey. As if we would be cheating by winning the lottery. Strange sentiment, right? Sure it wouldn’t have lasted too long 😉

    We would probably take what we need to stay independent and invest the rest to take care of our family and charity. Or buy a new Lamborghini for every month of the year and bathe in champagne each morning. Who is to say.

    1. Don’t do option #2! That sounds like a sure ticket to the whole “broke after seven years” phenomenon. I completely understand the feeling that you would be “disappointed about not being able to finish (y)our debt repayment journey.” Perhaps you can arrange to have your big win right after you’ve paid it all off? I’ll do the same : ) Thanks for your comment, Mrs. CTC.

  8. I have to admit I play once in a great while, usually when the jackpots are high and the odds of winning are low. Most of our “lottery playing” is done by my wife online with free entry contests. We haven’t won anything really big (at least not yet), but winning $50k or $100k would certainly be nice. Millions and millions probably not so much.

    1. I agree with you, Gary. I wish the lottery authorities would split those $55 million jackpots into 55 different 1 million dollar wins – or 550 $100,000 wins. Spread the joy a bit. And less money means less negative disruptive influence. If you start up a petition, I’ll sign it : )

  9. I personally do not buy lottery tickets (although I used to buy one on my birthday) because I never think about it.

    It would be nice to win, but, honestly, I don’t know if I would want to. Partially because I have no clue what I would do with so much money responsibly but mostly because of anonymity. I cherish being a non-celebrity.

    1. Good point, Josh. People’s names and photos are published when they win, and I suppose that’s why the advice to change locks and de-list phone numbers is given. It’s great that you never think about it. I wonder if you would think about it if a work group formed and someone asked you to join? As it is, you are putting your money to much better use : )

      1. I would donate a dollar here or dollar there to a pool. It’s sad that several people ruin their family finances by gambling, so I do not actively promote the lottery or gambling for these reasons.

        My version of the lottery lately is filling out the customer surveys at the bottom of receipts to win a gift card. I figure the odds are a little better and I need to spend the money on what I buy so why not invest a couple minutes of time (instead of more income) to enter a contest.

        1. That’s a safe version of the lottery : ) I respect your reasons for taking a stand and steering clear of any form of gambling – and lotteries do fall into that category. I know someone who is dealing with a gambling addiction, and it’s impacted his family. I hadn’t thought of the connection between “harmless” workplace lottery pools and gambling.

  10. I am in the lottery pool at work. I know the odds are poor but feel if I quit the pool they will win without me 🙂

    Back in the 80’s I worked at McDonalds. One of my coworkers was a lady that had won Lottario or Wintario (can’t remember which) twice. In total she had won about $75,000. This was a lot of money in the late 70’s. I worked with her in the late 80’s. By then the money was all gone. She and her husband still had a mortgage and were struggling financially. She said they had blown all the money on toys. It never occurred to them to save, invest or pay off their mortgage. They just had fun with the money.

    1. That is so sad! She wouldn’t be earning a great wage at McDonald’s, and that $75,000 could have changed her life. Incredible that she won twice! And double frustrating that she blew it all. Lottery wins should come with a mandatory financial planning course. Thanks for sharing that story, Carrie.

  11. A big windfall like a lottery jackpot should be regarded as income capital. Invest the winnings in appreciating/performing assets like real estate, dividend earning stocks, and interest paying bonds. Never touch the pot of money itself, only spend the income generated from the investments. This way the capital remains intact and hopefully grows from prudent investing, and therefore your income grows too. That’s what I would do. 😉

    1. Laurie, one of the reasons the rich get richer is that they raise their children to be financially literate. I have only a vague notion of what dividend-earning stocks and interest-paying bonds are. I’ll use this little comment as my base of strategy if a windfall ever comes my way. In the mean time, I have to educate myself more so that I’ll know what I’m talking about when the time comes : ) Thanks for your comment!

      1. I certainly got the bit about preserving capital from my father. The rest I had to learn the hard way. Investopedia became my friend 😉 It’s an excellent resource.

    1. I would definitely like to be the one to prove that I can handle it : ) (Ramsey would be very proud of you for not even playing, Tonya.)

  12. We don’t play the lottery, so no chance here. I don’t think I would want to have a large windfall for the reasons listed in your post. Beyond paying off my mortgage and having a small nest egg to retire early, I don’t need it and I suspect a large sum would cause I good deal of stress. I think I’d get distracted and lose my way.

    I do personally know someone who won $350,000 playing a slot machine. This could have been a life changing amount of money to him, but it was gone in short order, on two new cars (one of which he put in his ex-girlfriend’s name) and who knows what else and now he’s back to living paycheck to paycheck. Old habits die hard.

    1. Ah! So frustrating to see that happening. $350,000 could definitely be a game-changer! You are wise not to play, Amanda. You’re on your way to setting yourselves up with a well-earned DIY jackpot : )

  13. The thing that bothers me about the lottery is how much money is squandered on it by those who really can’t afford it. Maybe they feel like it’s their only hope. Maybe they feel like spending on the lottery isn’t going to hurt anything if they’re already in a tough spot. It’s kind of fun to play; I just wish it didn’t practically amount to a tax on the poor.

    1. It really is a “poor man’s/woman’s tax.” I think there’s a cultural element to it (ie. “Everyone in my peer group buys lottery tickets.”) as well as a sense that it won’t break the bank and it’s “fun.” It would be very interesting to tabulate how much money individuals have spent on lottery tickets over the years and to calculate how much they could have in savings or investments instead of a whole lot of disappointed hope.

  14. I’ve actually read up on the subject a bit, after hearing on Dave Ramsey’s show the statistic that something like 3/4 of the people who get a financial windfall (any size, from any source) return the same economic situation as they have now, within seven years. It honestly freaked me out, since a pretty fair number of people will be facing a windfall of some sort at least once in their lives (if you count inheritance or insurance payouts as a windfall). One of the best rules I read was to not touch more than 10% of the windfall (again, no matter the size) for 6 months to a year, while you educate yourself about your best options for using the money.

    1. I can understand why you were freaked out by those statistics! Most of us see it as a no-brainer: windfalls are life-changing – for the better. What’s with that 7 year time period? Not touching the windfall is the key. As Laurie (above) says: “Invest the winnings in appreciating/performing assets like real estate, dividend earning stocks, and interest paying bonds. Never touch the pot of money itself, only spend the income generated from the investments.” Thank you for your comment, Ben.

  15. We play the lottery once per year, on the anniversary of pre-marital counseling where our pastor advised us to buy a lottery ticket.

    I’m not joking.

    Then he gave us an assignment. He asked us to decide together what we would do with Ten extra dollars, $100 extra, $1000 extra, $10000 extra and the jackpot. It was a great exercise, so we do it every year. Except last year, when I bought a soda instead of the lotto ticket, but we still had the conversation.

    1. Wow! I’ve never heard of anyone (let alone a pastor) giving that kind of pre-marital advice! Cool guy. It would be a great conversation starter, and a way to make you talk about finances – something that most young couples don’t do (though I suspect you might have?) This year, I hope you make it to the ticket counter before you get tempted to buy a soda : )

  16. I don’t buy lottery tickets but I often conclude that if I did, I wouldn’t tell a soul! The same way I’m not sharing everything with my finances with family right now would apply to the situation. When everyone knows, that’s where the problems come in. But of course, winning – nah, it’s not going to happen, lol!

    1. I thought you meant you wouldn’t tell a soul because you think you’d get judged by the pf community – but you mean you wouldn’t want anyone to know if you won. Problem there is that it gets published . . . So be prepared : )

  17. We buy a lottery ticket when the lottery gets big, figuring a few dollars for a fantasy isn’t bad. We talk about the foundation we’d start if we won (promoting financial literacy in K-12 and community college scholarships) and the causes we’d give to (paying for the organ upgrade our church wants). And of course, the new car he’d buy and the possibility of box seats at his alma mater’s football games.

    But Jon often says “That’s enough money to ruin anyone.” I think like your husband, he plays but doesn’t actually want to win for fear too much would change.

    1. “enough money to ruin anyone” – I find it hard to get my head around that, but there is clearly enough evidence to support it. You’d be good winners though – since you’ve already got plans to support worthy causes with your big win. I’m sure that Jon wouldn’t feel ruined by his new car or box seats : )

  18. I think at some point managing that much money becomes a job and a burden. About 3% of our problems right now are due to lack of funds. If we won 200 million, 97% of our problems would be from too much money.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ms. Montana. What you say is in line with my husband’s opinion: “It would ruin us.” Now what if we reduced that 200 million to 1 million? I think that several 1 million dollar mini-jackpots would alleviate all kinds of problems for lottery winners. In the case of 1 million, I think that your 97% would go down at least to 3% – maybe even less : )

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