If I Had a Billion Dollars

In case you haven’t heard, the Mega Millions jackpot for tonight’s drawing is over $1.2 billion. That’s Billion, with a B. Although the odds of winning are less than 1 in 300 million, I suspect that many nonregular lottery-playing Americans will purchase tickets. To put these odds in context, here are the odds of some other unlikely events.


Odds of Rare Events

Source: Google

But we can dream, right? After all, someone has to win. And in the case of these very large jackpots, there are often multiple winning tickets that split the prize. No big deal, even after taxes and discounts for the lump sum, it’s probably enough.

A client asked me the other day what I would do if I won $100 million in the lottery. I love this question because it gives me a chance to reflect on my most important resource – my time. People have varying degrees of wealth but all are limited in the amount of time on Earth. Money doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it does allow you to make different decisions about how to spend your time.

I don’t hesitate to answer this question because I have used Kinder’s Three Questions as an exercise to explore what matters most to me. I’ve already considered what changes I would make in my life if I had access to all the money I could ever want or need. If you sit quietly with yourself for long enough, you will find your north star.

At the end of life, most people wish they had spent more quality time with loved ones. No one regrets the missed business meetings or deals, but they do regret the missed baseball games, the dance recitals, the late-night phone conversations, or the family game nights. As an introvert, I crave time alone. But this summer, I learned the intense joy that comes from spending time with my closest friends. We don’t live in the same city, so getting together takes effort. I am grateful we intentionally made time to be together this summer. No one knows how many more of these chances we have left.

The concept of work takes on a new meaning when you don’t need the paycheck, but nonetheless, most people thrive with a sense of purpose. Likewise, I would continue to be an advisor, study the markets and financial planning, and write about these topics. I would rearrange the amount of time spent on various activities, but I would continue in my profession at a slower pace.

My greatest splurge in the lottery scenario would be private aviation. I can think of no greater time saver than the ability to jet off to anywhere on my own schedule. No security lines, no connecting flights, no pre-dawn flights. I could even take my dog in the cabin with me.

The thing that excites me most about a lottery windfall is the ability to give great sums away to charitable causes. I realize that this requires an immense amount of time and energy to ensure the funds are put to good use.  I am inspired by the letters on the Giving Pledge site where 236 of the world’s billionaires have pledged to give away a substantial majority of their wealth.

Alas, the fate of many large jackpot winners is not a happy one. There are countless stories of winners who tragically lost their fortunes through frivolous spending, divorce, substance abuse, poor investment decisions, fraud,  and unrelenting requests from family and friends. The saying can be true, More Money, More Problems. Sudden money results in such common problems that there are professional accreditations for advisors who advise clients dealing with the stress of experiencing this life change. I believe this is further evidence that humans derive joy from the struggle of earning wealth rather than from the joy of receiving it.

If you partake in tonight’s Mega Millions drawing, good luck. If you are that 1 in 300 million winner, you may need it.


* If you consider the odds that the Earth exists, plus the odds that human beings evolved and thrived, plus all of the decisions of your ancestors that led to your parents meeting, the odds are almost astronomical. You are practically a miracle if you are reading this post. 

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