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Advice for Winning $500 Million

If you win a lot of money, take time before spending it (and get some professional help).Like a lot of people this week, my wife and I have been seduced by the media attention surrounding the half-billion dollar Powerball lottery prize – the nation’s second biggest lotto jackpot ever.

And so, last night, we bought a single $2 ticket. Not so much for the odds of winning all that money (statistically, after all, you are about 175 times more likely to be struck by lightning). We simply want to be able to play the “if I won the lottery…” game. Something you can’t do if you never buy a ticket.

If not tonight – then one of these days – one or more people will go to bed like you and me, with average jobs, average bank accounts, average debts, average lives, and wake up with a lot of money – potentially more than Mitt Romney’s entire net worth (if a single winner snatches it all).

So let’s say it’s you. What will all of that money do for you?

We’ve all heard the stories of the lottery’s winner’s curse: tales of betrayal, deceit, and divorce in the wake of multimillion-dollar windfalls. There are lottery winners who squander everything in a few years. There are others who are afraid to spend a penny. In both cases, winning the lottery does little positive for their lives.

The rest of us love to believe we would be better winners.

We would pay off our debts.

We would help close family members in need.

We would indulge a little – a vacation, a new car, maybe even a bigger home (but something modest, still).

We would invest wisely to provide a reliable income for the future.

Hopefully, we would use some of the money for a greater good.

I’m sure it’s not that easy. We humans are irrational creatures easily influenced…by the spotlight’s glow, the sudden fond attention of long-lost friends, and of course, the subtle influence big money tends to bestow upon its possessors.

I write financial advice for regular people, not multimillionaires. But soon somebody will wake up millions of dollars richer, but still regular…at least for a little while longer. My advice to them is the same as it is for all of us, however much (or little) money you have: Spend some now and save some for later.

Of course, think before you spend (or in this case, before you cash in that ticket). Pause. Breath.

Then, prioritize.

  • Cover your immediate needs.
  • Provide for a rainy day.
  • Pay off debt.
  • Invest for your future income and your children’s future.
  • Give back.
  • Indulge in things you want. (But remember, it’s okay to indulge a little along the way to keep life fun.)

The more money you have, the more concrete this plan needs to be. When you can afford it (as a lottery winner surely can), a team of professionals is a must: a financial planner, a tax advisor, and an estate attorney.

To the winner(s): Good luck. You’ll probably need some more of it.


Published or updated on November 28, 2012

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


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  1. Ross says:

    My first suggestion would be to spend a whole week at the library learning about personal finance before you spend any of it… It’s just ridiculous that some folks spend it all within a few years.

  2. Dan says:

    Not going to lie at all. I would probably blow through a million dollars as fast as humanly possible. If it was a normal jackpot like 15 or 30 million, I wouldn’t do this. But 550 million? 275 milllion cash? about 137 million after taxes? That first million would mean nothing to me.

    But then I would come back to earth and do what I have always dreamed of doing. Buying up properties to fix and subsequently rent.

    In addition, I would start a charity that I have always dreamed of…traveling around America and helping working class farmers fix up their farms and make life easier on them. It breaks my heart seeing all these beautiful farms falling apart casue owners can’t make ends meet.

    There is my play of the what if game…

  3. It’s really interesting how the sudden change in fortune tests lottery winners. Imagine if an entrepreneur built a half billion fortune from nothing over several years, or decades…you couldn’t imagine them being quite so careless or irrational!

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