Once again, the Mega Millions is up to the absurd amount of half a billion dollars. This is an amount of money no one on earth actually needs unless they are single-handedly funding a space program or buying a small island country badly in need of infrastructure.
Asking people what they would do if they won such a large sum is one of my favorite questions. I actually did a Facebook poll once and someone answered, "Stonehenge." Here I thought I was being frivolous buying a Burberry purse, but no, he was going to buy one of the wonders of the world. He won.
After thinking it over obsessively for several years (whenever a big jackpot is up for grabs), this is what I think you should do if you win.
For starters, buy the ticket in one of those tiny corner stores that still exist in this country. They get a monetary prize for selling the ticket and I’d much rather see that money go to some hard-working individual just trying to run a business than a billion-dollar corporation that sells bucket-sized beverages. The other bonus of a mom and pop joint is that they don’t tend to have security cameras. The computer system that spits out the tickets knows the exact date, time, and location that ticket was sold. Match that to security footage and suddenly, grainy photos of your clueless mug are being circulated on YouTube before you even had time to check your numbers. It hasn’t happened yet, but it will.
Next, call a lawyer and a financial planner. I'm lucky enough to know a few of each, and my hope is that since we are personal friends first, and my windfall, through fees, would become their windfall, that honesty would prevail. The signed ticket itself would have already gone into a secure safety deposit box in a random bank in a random town. Once you get all the legal details squared away, then wait. Every lottery system allows for a certain number of days to pass before you legally have to claim your winnings. Wait until the last Friday afternoon of that period of time. Much like celebrities announcing their divorces, the goal would be to bury the news story amid the mid-afternoon haze of weekend travel updates and weather reports.
Then, decide how you will take the payout. I would prefer to take the long-term installment plan to both get more money and to avoid any possibility of spending it all at once. I realize that many prefer the big buy-out, theorizing that they could manage their own money better, but if they were such adept money managers, they wouldn't need to win the jackpot in the first place. As time and history has proven over and over again, money does not buy class, taste, or intelligence. I like the idea of a big fat check getting deposited into my account on a yearly basis. It is an excellent life insurance policy as winnings do not automatically go to next of kin and my kids would need me alive to keep the money coming. Either way, I would wind up with more money than God, and really, what does he even need to buy? Even a yearly payment would allow for Scrooge McDuck-style shenanigans (though why anyone would want to roll around naked in something as dirty as money is a mystery.)
Then what? I say reboot and reset. Pay off all your debts. House, car, loans, school, bookies, etc. I have heard that it is better to keep your mortgage as a tax write-off, but that seems like a lot more work and allows for banks to collect a shit ton of interest, so I’ll skip that and just own my property outright.
Oh, and let me be clear. All of this must be done in absolutely secrecy. Don’t post it, tweet it, or breathe a word about it to anyone excluding the people who will help you make the financial decisions. Telling even one person will be the equivalent of just having a few friends over when your parents are away. Suddenly, you are in the midst of a raging kegger except instead of reaching for a beer, people will be reaching for your Benjamins. Lottery winnings are found money. You don’t earn a winning ticket, which means everyone and their step brother’s half-sister’s cousin twice-removed on your grandfather’s side will expect a piece of the pie. This isn’t a credit card commercial. Every friend, casual acquaintance, one-night stand, and barista at your local coffee shop doesn’t need to know what’s in your wallet. The free mug or t-shirt you get from being a guest on the morning news programs or afternoon talk shows will cost you millions in lawyer fees as you suddenly make yourself a target for every con man in the country. Is meeting a B-list celebrity in the green room really worth it? Doubtful. This may be the biggest, most important secret of your life. Keep it!
If you have to go public, do it strategically. Once again, timing is key. Wait as long as humanly possible. Provide as little information as allowed by law. You don’t want bells, whistles, or giant checks that don’t even fit through the door. You don’t need an agent or a manager or head shots. You need to keep your head down and your mouth shut.
Once you are in possession of more money you will ever need, sit on it. BUY NOTHING. Say your car dies. Buy the Mitsubishi instead of the Maybach. Short on bathrooms and storage space? Buy the bigger house, avoid the biggest mansion. Take small baby steps in spending so that, God forbid, if you are like 70 percent of lottery winners and blow through all your money in a few years, at least you’ll have the basic building blocks of your life still firmly in place.
You don’t need to rent out Disneyworld. Really. You don’t. Sure, spend the money on first-class airfare, the best hotel, book the tour guide that gets you to the front of all the lines, eat in the best restaurants, and buy all the souvenirs. This is true for any vacation; turn the dial to eleven, but don’t change the channel. I have always wanted to stay in one of those small, high-end, super classy hotels that go for thousands per night and have the best rooms, views, and amenities. However, I’m not high end or super classy and all the money in the world isn’t going to make me so. This is why I advise living the best version of your own life, and skip trying to live the life of someone who looks like you, but has a bigger bank account. I just want to up my threat count, not wake up in someone else’s bed.
Finally, after a year, when you have taken plenty of time to really think about what you want out of your life, start spending the money. Wisely. Slowly. If you can’t say no to friends and family over something as simple as who will host a holiday, then hire a group of trusted advisors, create a board of directors, and let them sort through the long line of charities, entrepreneurs, and charlatans looking for a benefactor, angel investor, and sucker. You were just given the opportunity to change your life and those around you – don’t ruin it. I’m not saying don’t enjoy your money, but I am saying that don’t lose your mind doing so.
In short, buy the purse. Just tell everyone it’s a knock-off. And if you do find yourself in possession of one of wonders of the world, don’t brag about it on Facebook. You’ll just look like an asshole.