life lessons from the lottery

7 Money Lessons From Lottery Winners Who Lost Everything

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Image credit: @redstar Flickr

There are two kinds of lottery winners: Those who grow their wealth, invest in the future, and help people and organizations dear to them, leaving enough to pass on to their heirs—and the kind of people who blow it and lose it all within a few years. Hopefully, last night’s three Powerball winners will use their money wisely.

1. Carefully vet your financial advisors: Abraham Shakespeare pocketed $17 million of a $30 million jackpot in 2006. He befriended a woman, DeeDee Moore, who said she’d help “protect” his money from friends and family who were asking for handouts. She’d convinced him to transfer his money to her account, and then killed him. She was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

2. Update your estate plan regularly: A Chicago dry cleaner, Urooj Khan won $1 million in a lottery and the next day, was poisoned by cyanide. The family grappled over his winnings, which were ultimately doled out to his widow and daughter.

3. Get the best insurance you can afford: Suzanne Mullins of Virginia won $4.2 million in 1993 and took her winnings in annual payments instead of a lump sum. Her son, who was very ill, amassed $1 million in medical bills., which Mullins paid. When Susan’s money ran low, she borrowed from a special lottery-winners foundation, but didn’t pay it back. She cashed out the rest of her winnings, and ended up broke and owing more than $150,000 to the foundation after she was sued for not repaying the loan.

4. Pay your taxes: Alex and Rhoda Toth of Florida won $13 million and lived like, well, millionaires, staying in expensive Las Vegas hotel rooms and gambling the night away. In addition to squabbling over money with family members, they filed false tax returns for three years in a row, and lied in court documents about their assets. Alex died just before their 2008 trial; Rhoda went to jail, penniless.

5. Practice saying “no”: Billie Bob Harrell, a churchgoing man, won a $31 million jackpot and dished out money to anyone who asked, as was his nature. He soon went broke and confessed to his financial advisor that winning was the worst thing that ever happened. Shortly after, he killed himself.

6. Keep your promises: A customer regularly gave lottery tickets to Tonda Lynn Dickerson and the other waitresses who worked with her in an Alabama diner. The waitresses had an understanding they’d split any winnings, but when Dickerson claimed her $5 million lump sum prize, she wanted it all to herself. Then karma kicked in when the customer sued her (and lost), but the IRS slapped her with a “gift tax” of $771,570 after she formed a “S” corporation and gave 51% of her winnings to her family, and kept 49% for herself.

7. Invest in assets that appreciate: Evelyn Adams won two New Jersey lotteries worth about $5.4 million—and then gambled every single penny away in Atlantic City. Now she lives in a very modest trailer.

These lottery winners’ dreams turned into nightmares once they got their money.

Hopeful Learning: Kristi Blakeway

thoughts, reflections and hopes for my children and our students

Lessons from the Lottery

“Luck is when opportunity knocks, and you answer.” Author Unknown

Last night as I was cleaning the kitchen a commercial aired on TV advertising Lotto 649. As the thought of purchasing a ticket ran through my mind, I stopped and asked why. Why would I want to win the lottery? What would I do if I won? When you ask others what they would do if they won the lottery, many people talk about living their dream, spending their time and money as they wish. Dreams often include travel, moving to a new home, helping family, changing or altering careers, spending time with loved ones, and volunteering for meaningful causes. Thanks to a professor at the University of Victoria, I now think differently about the lottery.

In 2009, I travelled to U-Vic for the Fresh Minds Symposium: a day showcasing university life for bright young minds. Grade nine students had the opportunity to attend lectures on a variety of topics. Unfortunately I do not remember the name of the professor I had the pleasure of listening to, but I do remember his story. He started his lecture with a story about his personal background. He shared with the students that he had only been at U-Vic for a couple of years. Prior to that he lived in the Prairies with his family. He was working full-time, managing his career and family commitments while feeling overwhelmed. On his way home from work he decided to stop and buy a lottery ticket. He dreamed of the day he could win the lottery and change his life. He even decided to make a plan, asking himself what he would do if he won. He had always loved Victoria and so he decided he would move there. He had always wanted to do research and teach so he knew that even if he won millions, he would love to work for a local university once settling into Victoria. With a plan in place he waited with anticipation, hoping he could escape his current reality and live the life he dreamed of. Unfortunately he did not win. However, he learned some lessons from the lottery. He realized he was leaving his life to chance, and that he had the power to create the life he wanted even without winning millions. Of course he had to take some risks that could be avoided with a million dollar cheque, yet he used his experience as the motivation to start living the life he wanted. He applied to the University and within a couple of years he was able to achieve his goal of landing a job as a professor in Victoria.

When the commercial aired last night, I stopped to think: Why would I buy a ticket? What would I do if I won? Who could I help? How could I best spend my time? Where would I work? Where would my family live? When I answer these questions I recognize that I have the opportunity to pursue many of these dreams now, rather than leaving them to chance. My husband Shawn and I spent some time answering these questions. While we may not be able to make drastic changes to our lives without the lottery funds, we can use this experience to guide us in the right direction. When we have a big decision to make, we can stop and ask which solution aligns best with our dream. What do we want to learn? Where do we want to live? How can we best give back? Do we really need a lottery ticket to make these changes?

So… while I wish you the absolute best of luck winning the lottery, I encourage you to stop and ask yourself ‘why’ before you purchase another ticket. What are your really hoping for? What changes do you want to make? Are your dreams really best left to chance? Or can you make small changes today to live the life you really want. If we can learn lessons from the lottery to make positive change, then really we have already won.

"Luck is when opportunity knocks, and you answer." Author Unknown Last night as I was cleaning the kitchen a commercial aired on TV advertising Lotto 649. As the thought of purchasing a ticket ran through my mind, I stopped and asked why. Why would I want to win the lottery? What would I do if… ]]>