With the Powerball jackpot eclipsing one billion dollars, an unprecedented lottery fever is sweeping the nation.
Around watercoolers, in person and virtually, the entire country is consumed with conversations about how to spend a hypothetical windfall. While you didn’t win, it’s been fun to think and fantasize about. Some observations from listening to our members talk about the jackpot:
1. Never take the annuity.
The average return on the annuity comes out to less than a 2 percent annual yield. Historically, that’s less than inflation, meaning you’re better off stuffing cash in your mattress than taking the annuity. Side note: Do not stuff several hundred million dollars in a mattress; aside from the financial and security concerns, your mattress will be incredibly uncomfortable and scrape the ceiling.
If you were to put your money into one of our savings products, you would get a much better return. Again, we wouldn’t recommend putting a few hundred million dollars into your savings account and calling it a day, but spreading your money around in a variety of financial products could yield much better results. For example, our money market accounts, savings certificates, IRAs and similar savings products all offer returns with low risk, much better than leaving your money in an annuity provided by the lottery commission.
2. No one seems to understand what a billion dollars is.
One billion dollars is not a lot of money. It’s an impossible amount of money. It’s easy to forget that one million dollars is one thousand times larger than one thousand dollars; it’s even easier to forget that one billion dollars is one thousand times larger than one million dollars. In other words, if you currently owe $250,000 on your house, one billion dollars would pay your mortgage, the mortgage of every family in your neighborhood (100 houses at $250,000 is $25 million), the whole neighborhood’s car notes (200 cars at $40,000 is $8 million), put everyone’s kids through college (200 children at $250,000 is $50 million) and still have enough money left to do the same for 10 more neighborhoods just like yours.
3. One billion dollars is so much money, it’s enough to rethink our happiness.
As long as we’re all having trouble pretending to spend the jackpot, it’s a reminder that joining the one percent doesn’t have to be the goal. If you can’t think of a way to spend one billion dollars, you probably don’t need to make one billion dollars. If you were to hit a jackpot big enough to pay off your debt, fund your retirement and set up a fund to take care of your family for the next century, would that be enough to satisfy you financially? If so, you could probably do so for a fraction of the Powerball jackpot. Each individual’s experience will vary, but for most of our members, a few million would be enough to hit all of those goals.
So what would you do with the rest of the money? Who cares? Everything after that point would be fun, but meaningless. We’d all love to own an NBA team, but most of us would be almost as happy with season tickets. A lot of us would rather watch the game at home, anyway. Would you really like to drive a nicer car? That’s great, but how much time would you spend in your Bentley if you weren’t commuting to work every day?
The other side of the coin is true, too. The horror stories about lottery winners who ended up alone, broke, and miserable have given a lot of people reason to pause. It seems like every conversation about the Powerball jackpot has to bring up the curse of the lottery. Whenever that happens, people talk about putting aside enough to make sure they’re happy, but instead it seems like having so much money is what causes the curse. With one billion dollars, you could give away 99 percent of your winnings and still have enough money for everything in the last paragraph, so why not just give it all away at the outset? Then, no one is coming around with their hands out, you never have to wonder if people are after your money, and you’ll still be set up well forever.
4. Figure out your retirement number.
One of the most interesting things underlying these conversations is that people don’t seem to know how much they’d need for the rest of their lives. While it’s not likely to ever come up because of lottery winnings, knowing how much money you need to live on for the rest of your life is important. It lets you plan your savings, investments and schedule your retirement. If you don’t know your number, it’s time to make serious plans. Stop waiting on a lottery windfall.