I suspect that most of us would love to have winning lottery numbers. Of course, the odds are ridiculously against us, to the point that it's hardly worth buying a ticket, unless it's simply considered entertainment. Still, some people have beaten the exponentially unpromising odds and won jackpots. But many of these winners have ended up looking more cursed than blessed.
Fortunately, as most of us have yet to win a lottery jackpot, we're well positioned to learn some valuable lessons from those who have won -- and lost:
- Michael Carroll, of England, was a 19-year-old garbage collector in 2002, when he won about $14 million in a lottery. Today he wears a hair net and works in a biscuit factory, having blown all the money on drugs, prostitutes, and extravagances. At one point, he was even running an amateur demolition derby, trashing new cars for entertainment. Today he's wiser, noting that, "I get 204 pounds every week for packing and stacking shortbread and cookies and I love it. I treasure those wages more than any 9 million pounds fortune."
- David Edwards won $27 million in a Powerball jackpot, and spent much of it on drugs, a mansion, a Lear jet, and fancy new cars. With $27 million, you could live comfortably for the rest of your life without working; but Edwards spent lavishly, and ended up living in a filthy storage unit late in his life. His wife eventually left him, and he died in hospice care.
- Evelyn Adams really beat the odds by winning the New Jersey lottery twice, in 1985 and 1986, and for a total of $5.4 million. Is she living a comfortable life now? Nope. She was a gambler to begin with and remained one, gambling much of her winnings away. At last report, she lived in a trailer and said: "Everybody wanted my money. Everybody had their hand out. I never learned one simple word in the English language -- 'no.'" She also added: "There are a lot of people out there like me who don't know how to deal with money... Hey, some people went broke in six months. At least I held on for a few years."
- Even when you are sensible with your lottery winnings, there can be trouble. In 2005, Steven Granger won about $900,000 in a West Virginia lottery, and socked the money away in a retirement fund. His financial choice was clearly better, but his day-to-day life got worse, with people resenting his good luck, and some seeing him as stingy for saving the money instead of spending it.
- Also harassed was Billie Bob Harrell, Jr., who won $31 million in the Texas Lotto in 1997. He enjoyed his new wealth at first, quitting his job, taking his family to Hawaii, donating money to his church, and buying cars and houses for friends and relatives. But soon, people he knew and didn't know were hitting him up for money. He made some bad business decisions, and his wife left him. Ultimately, he was found dead of a gunshot wound. He reportedly told a financial advisor, "Winning the lottery is the worst thing that ever happened to me."
- Many lottery winners become the targets of con artists -- and they also, sometimes reasonably, fear kidnapping of family members. Keith Gough, for example, saw his life get much worse after his wife won a jackpot. He quit his job, but then found himself bored, and took up drinking. In rehab, he met someone who talked him into a series of bad business deals. The stress and drinking contributed to a heart attack that killed him -- and he died with more than a million dollars left, too.
- William "Bud" Post III won $16.2 million in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1998, and didn't live happily ever after. Instead, his brother hired someone to kill him and his wife, while other relatives talked him into bad business deals. He also spent lavishly on homes, and cars, and motorcycles, as well as a sailboat and an airplane. Within less than a decade, he had declared bankruptcy. He's reported to have said, "Everybody dreams of winning money, but nobody realizes the nightmares that come out of the woodwork, or the problems."
It's hard to believe, but there are many lottery winners who are on record as having said that they wish they'd never won.
Lessons to learn
What went wrong for so many of these folks? Well, a lot of things. A key problem was that they hadn't learned much about money management. They had no plan. They didn't realize how quickly the money could run out, and didn't think about what would happen once it did.
If you're a buyer of lottery tickets, make sure you have a healthy mind-set about it. For starters, don't be spending any significant sum on tickets, because you're extremely unlikely to win. But go ahead and dream of what you'll do if you win because, after all, those are the main things that lottery tickets give us -- hopes and dreams.
Dream up a plan. Plan to not spend more than you can afford. Plan to not spread yourself too thin. Plan to sock some (or a lot) of the money away for your future needs. Plan not to act too quickly. Giving away money to charity is good, but don't do so before you take the time to learn about lots of charities and evaluate them and their effectiveness, and decide which ones you want to focus on.
Most lottery winners can't afford to do everything they might dream of. You'll still have to make choices -- so make good ones.