Powerball Daydreaming: The Financial Litmus Test

Creative Commons by Andrew Pons
Creative Commons by Andrew Pons

Though the odds of winning are quite slim, I did have a good deal of fun during Powerball mania.  Coworkers stopped by my office to chat about their daydreams and stories bounced around about the wild ways people reacted when they mistakenly believed they won.  Groups have been formed, alliances made, contracts drawn up — all over the possibility of throwing your predicted life path out the window.

So even though we are all losers today, we can still take something away from the fun week in millionaire la-la land.  Besides, what have you got to lose to join in on the daydream?  $2? And throughout it all, I had a fun time analyzing the three stages of lottery mania and what each one says about your financial literacy and health, your relationship with your lifestyle, and your overall anxiety.  We may not be millionaires (and if you are, would like you to fund my writing/acting career?), but let’s at least try to learn a little something about ourselves.

Stage One: Bandwagon Justification Stage

I, like most people I know, only buy Powerball tickets when the jackpot reaches an absurd number like $90 million.  And yet, today, after three people won the prize, it has dropped to a still impressive $40 million.  No small peanuts.  And so sarcasm and judgement abound online today, pointing out that logical people would ideally play in every drawing, since even 1 million dollars would change your life. But at the end of the day, we have to ask: why we are actually buying them at all?  For me, jumping on the bandwagon means two things:

  1. If I didn’t buy a ticket when the pot is this large, would I always wonder if I missed out?  1 in 292 million is better than zero.
  2. For a few minutes, millions of people around the country will all be hovering around their TVs or computers, and getting excited for the same thing.  Unless you have a gambling problem, it’s a totally innocent group activity to play with the country, and how nice is that?  Why the heck not.

These two things, to me, are worth $2.  I have spent enough time in the past several years over-analyzing what experiences and items are worth my money.  But if we all played every game, as the aforementioned sarcasm suggests, then we’d be dealing with $208 over a span of a year (if we bought for each game, which runs twice a week).  $2 in a week is a cup of coffee while $208 in a year is a nice savings contribution, a really fancy dinner for two, or if you’re feeling charitable, an substantial dent in your friend’s Indigogo campaign.  However, if the $208 a year is worth the constant hope of a life-changing experience, then that is completely justifiable in my opinion.  It’s all just how you interact with your money and what is most important to your day-to-day psyche.

Stage Two: The “I know I won’t win, but seriously though, if I did I would totally…” Stage

This is when things get interesting.  I loved watching plans unfold on Facebook.  And I wasn’t one to judge because I had plans of my own.  But since I have such a wide-range of people in my Facebook community (High school acquaintances from rural NJ, corporate financial types from temp jobs, background actors from all over, and liberal arts college buddies) you definitely have a wide-range of responses to match.  The ultimate question people seem to have is, “Would I give it to all the charities, all my friends, or keep it for myself?”  And what I concluded from this is that many more people than you think, myself included, are not particularly financially literate, especially about that large a sum.

When Ben and I spoke about our daydreams, I always said that the first thing I’d do is call his cousin Robyn, who works in finance, to say, “What do I do?!!!”  Money of this proportion is beyond me, and I am conformable with accepting that.  Entire professions are based around managing these numbers, I am not about to claim that I know more than them.  However, I do know that no one needs the amount in these jackpots to live a comfortable or even lavish life.  So instead of making assumptions about anyone else’s post, I will share my first reactions.  With that much dough, my “plan” was to:

  1. Pay off me and my family’s debts- mortgages, student loans, credit cards, medical bills.  Done.  No more ropes holding you back from moving ahead in life
  2. Hire a team of financial professionals to talk about the best way to invest/save a percentage to assure that my family and future generations do not need to worry about money ever again.
  3. Buy a house in Montclair, furnishing it, and stash a certain amount away for house upkeep, etc.
  4. Go back to grad school for my MFA.
  5. I would figure out the best organizations to transform the issues Ben and I care most about, from local to a national level, also with the help of a financial planner.
  6. Travel travel travel.
  7. With the rest?  Not a clue.

So what did this tell me?

  1. Debt is the first place my mind went, and so is clearly one of the biggest contributions to my anxiety.
  2. That I like my town, and my job!  Hooray!  And that I wouldn’t get in my boss’ face to dramatically quit.  If this was your reaction, it’s probably a bit of a red flag.
  3. I am not considering grad school because of money.  I have a million other excuses, but clearly this is the forerunner.
  4. I do not know enough about investing and would like to know more–since the Powerball is clearly not the only way you can make money.
  5. I want to create a charitable plan for the money we can donate, even if it’s significantly less than what we have in my daydream.
  6. …the travel one was obvious.
  7. I cannot fully comprehend the size of those winnings.

If you’re feeling poopy today, I strongly recommend making a list like this.  It’s fun, but also super informative.  When someone rants about dramatically about storming out of their job after winning, it’s clear that that issue will stay on their mind when the Powerball hype passes.  I realize that job hunting is painfully hard, exhausting, and often frustrating for years, but this does not mean that all hope is lost.  I can never speak for everyone’s situation, but I do know that the emotions produced during these daydreams can act as a catalyst for change when you come back down to reality.

Stage 3: The “I didn’t really want to win anyway” phase

This one says a lot about gratitude, your day-to-day life, and your relationships.  Ben once had a teacher ask their class, “If everyone threw their own problems into the center of the room, would you still take back all your own?”  Almost every time, I answer that yes, I would.  As much as we deal with a variety of struggles, these issues are often connected to people or things that mean a great deal to me.  Debt is connected to my college career, and I wouldn’t go back in time and change where I went.  Anxiety can probably be attributed to genetics and some very stressful events growing up, but both of these factors are connected to my family, another thing I would never want to change.  The things we struggle with are often in the name of the people and things that we love, and so “throwing my life out the window” is not actually a goal when I really take the time think about it.

My other panicked thought was, “I don’t want money to tear friends and family apart.”  As much as we love the idea of handing money out to everyone in our lives, it wouldn’t go down that way, nor could it.  I never want to be in the position to place monetary worth on my relationships, nor be the target of this expectation.

The final thought I had, just before Saturday’s drawing was, “I’m super comfortable in bed right now, listening to the (victorious) Steelers game on the radio, and waiting for my awesome husband to come home on Tuesday.”  If I win, all of this will change, and I don’t really need it to.

So as much as you can learn about the red flags in your life, it helps to also learn about things we don’t need to change.  Could $1.5 billion dollars really be considered a “disruption”? Maybe not, but it sure would change your trajectory and ethic responsibility in the economy.  I would love that challenge, and yet since it’s not a pressing possibility, I will take my cat-covered bed listening to football on a 99 cent radio app in the meantime.

Now that we’ve come out of the woods, and we can celebrate three people out there having a FABULOUS day, let’s get back down to what we can control and continue to connect and educate ourselves about our financial possibilities.  They may not include buying everyone of your friends a ticket to Hamilton (one of my plans) but they could include someday reaching a place of financial contentment and peace, which is all we could really ask for a the end of the day.

4 responses to “Powerball Daydreaming: The Financial Litmus Test”

  1. Good post 🙂 I rarely play the lottery but like you, the pot was too large to resist. My mom got 2 numbers but no powerball (= zilch; with the powerball, would have been $7) and I didn’t get any numbers. But it was still fun to play.


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