What Do You Do If You Actually Win a Mega Jackpot?
On October 6th, 2015, Jon Heywood, a British veteran, put down a very modest stake at the Betway Casino on a game called Mega Moolah. He had only just joined the casino after seeing an advertisement on television. Depositing just £30, he bet 25p and started playing.
Seven minutes later, he was a multimillionaire. His 25p stake won him a total of €17,879,645 ($20,062,600, £13,209,300).
It was at that time the largest jackpot ever won through an online slot machine.
If you have an online casino account, or you are thinking of opening one, odds are that at one point or another, you have fantasized about becoming the next Jon Heywood.
After all, it could happen. Who knows? It is not as if Heywood saw it coming. Maybe your mega millions are also just seven minutes away.
At the same time, do any of us really expect to win a massive jackpot? Not really. Heywood didn’t expect to win all that money. Do you think he had a plan for what he would do if he did? Probably not.
You probably do not have such a plan either—because you do not really expect it to ever happen to you.
If you do have a plan, it is probably something nebulous involving a new sports car and a yacht.
But that is not a plan—that is just a daydream.
Why Do You Need a Plan?
If a major windfall is unlikely, why do you even need a plan for one? Doesn’t winning a huge amount of money mean your problems are over forever?
To answer that question, just look up stories of past jackpot or lottery winners.
It is true that a lot of winners do just fine, but stories about winners who go bankrupt within five years are a dime a dozen. They blow through the money without even noticing until it is too late.
In fact, the National Endowment for Financial Education reports that around 70% of people who find themselves with an unexpected windfall of cash have gone through it all within just a few years.
There are also stories about winners who do not just go financially bankrupt, but go emotionally bankrupt as well. While winning a lot of money has the potential to be a great thing, it can also shed some uncomfortable light on relationships.
Suddenly it can be hard to figure out who really cares—and how not to alienate the best people in your life.
You also may have a harder time meeting new friends, because you can never be certain who is interested in you and who is just out to get your money (in some extreme cases, this can even endanger your life).
So those are two major concerns. If you do ever get lucky enough to win millions of dollars overnight—or even a much smaller windfall—you need to have a plan for what to do with the money and how to handle the people in your life.
I suggest the following steps:
- At first, do nothing different.
- Evaluate your priorities.
- Set long-term goals and adjust accordingly.
- Schedule routine reviews of your financial situation.
Let us take a closer look at each of these in turn.
1. At first, do nothing different.
When you find yourself an overnight millionaire, your first impulse may be to go out and buy a sports car or something else extravagant—or to relocate into a larger house or quit your day job.
You can consider doing all of these things eventually, but for now, I recommend doing none of the above.
You need time to psychologically adjust to your new reality. Winning all that money can threaten your stability because it seems so impossible. So for a while, living life as usual is very smart—it will provide a sense of continuity to your existence and help ground you.
Additionally, it gives you time to plan, and perhaps locate some professionals who can assist you. I recommend a year or two, if we are talking about a huge sum. Over that time, you will be able to evaluate your priorities (see below), as well as your goals and challenges. You also will be able to avoid the urge to go out and spend everything all at once.
How can you find the discipline to do this? I recommend making a solid commitment. Make the decision once—and then obey your decision. Do not wake up each day and force yourself to decide all over again. Mark your calendar and then simply put the idea of spending the money out of your mind until that date arrives.
The exception is of course if you have an emergency to deal with. If that is the case, pull out enough money to deal with it, and leave the rest untouched.
This applies to smaller windfalls as well. Say for example you are gambling on an online slot machine, and you suddenly win $1,000.
That is a pretty nice payout. What do you do if you suddenly have that kind of money in your account?
It is tempting to think, “Hey, I am on a lucky streak,” and then place a much larger stake on your next pull.
You might even think, “Well, I will set aside half of it, and play with the rest. I don’t really have anything to lose, since I did not have this money a few minutes ago. It is like free cash.”
Then think how awful you would feel a little while later if you managed to burn through $500. Suddenly that would not seem like free money at all anymore. Instead, you would think about everything you could potentially have done with it.
So I would say that if you do win even a smaller unexpected windfall of cash gambling at an online casino, your best move is to do nothing with it for a time.
Resolve to avoid touching that money for a couple of weeks. You might even want to think about withdrawing it to your bank account—at least for now. That way you will not do anything rash.
2. Evaluate your priorities.
Once you have made up your mind not to touch the windfall of cash for a while, your next step is to start thinking hard about what your priorities are.
There is no simple formula for doing this, since every person is unique and has different goals and needs.
But I suggest asking yourself the following questions to start with:
- Is it more important for me to live in the present, or plan for the future? Will I be happier if I spend a lot of the money now, or will I be happier if I invest it in my retirement?
- Who are the people I need to take care of, and who can I afford to take care of? Outside of my immediate family, who is my next priority? Extended family? Friends? Who can I trust? How far am I able to go to ensure that these people have what they need to get by? How will I go about helping? Would it make sense to give them a lump sum of money in the beginning, dispense the money over time, or leave it to them in my will (the answer may vary by person)?
- What aspects of my life are most important to me? My family and social circle? My professional life? My personal projects? Travel? Hobbies? Possessions? What is most worth spending money on?
- What makes me happy? What purchases in my life have brought me the most lasting joy? Trips I have gone on? Classes I have taken? Gambling? Prized possessions I purchased with hard-won cash? Money I have spent on family or friends—or have given to charity?
- What purchases have I regretted in the short or long term? What purchases would I not want to repeat in the future?
Once you have thought long and hard about all of this, you can make a list of your priorities in order from most important to least. You also can make a list of potential purchases which could result in buyer’s remorse. That way you will remember not to let these unnecessary purchases tempt you.
3. Set long-term goals and adjust accordingly.
Once you have a list of your priorities, you can come up with a list of goals for the future. You should definitely be thinking about the long term here. When you are only thinking about the next five years, quite often, that is all you get before you run through your cash.
Instead, think about the rest of your life. Assuming you are going to live a long life. Whether you plan on working or not, with a multi-million dollar win, you have enough money to plan for a lifetime of retirement—so it is generally smart to do so.
Your list of goals could look something like this:
- Enjoy a comfortable retirement starting at age X.
- Pay for the kids’ college education.
- Pay off old debts.
- Set aside X amount of money for the kids’ inheritance, or to help them out if they need it in the meantime.
- Set aside X amount of money to take care of parents in their old age.
- Set aside X amount of money to help sick sister work less or not at all.
- Set aside X amount of money to help struggling best friend pay bills.
- Give X amount of money to charity each year.
- Make annual visits to family and friends around the country.
- Take a trip to a foreign country every X years.
- Move into a larger house in a posh neighborhood.
- Pay for marketing to self-publish and promote a novel.
- Take flying lessons and eventually buy an airplane.
- Buy a fancy sports car.
- Buy a yacht.
As you can see, even though the sports car might have been the first thought that popped into your head when you won all those millions, you could find out on reflection that it is one of your lowest priorities. If you blew a lot of money on the car, that would be less money available to take care of your other priorities.
It really only takes a few big expenditures like that to wipe out even a large account. Think how much moving into a large home could cost you over time.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that the first bullet point I listed here is pretty much the standard starting requirement for any rational plan for managing personal finances. Make sure that you are set up for life, and then worry about everything else. You cannot help anyone or have anything awesome in your life if you do not first take care of the basics.
4. Schedule routine reviews of your financial situation.
The next thing to remember when it comes to managing personal finances is that people do not stay the same—they change. You will change over the coming years, especially since your entire life is changing rapidly.
That means that your priorities and goals may transform as well. So you will want to revisit your financial situation and your plan on a regular basis. I recommend that you do this at least once a year so that you can make adjustments as needed. That way you can make sure that your plan continues to support you going forward.
Conclusion: Massive Windfalls Are Rare, But They Do Happen, So Make Sure That You Have a Plan Already in Waiting
Are you likely to win millions of dollars gambling on online slot machines? Not at all, but the same could be said for every person out there who has actually won a mega jackpot.
For that reason, most people who do win huge amounts of money do not have a plan for how they are going to deal with the windfall, financially or psychologically.
You do not have to have a full vision in your mind right now with all your goals and priorities set out—all you need to start with is the resolution that you will wait for around a year before you touch the money. That way you can deal with the rest of the planning during that interval while you adjust psychologically.
Now you know why it is important to have a plan in case you do happen to be a lucky winner. That way you can make sure that the changes which unfold in your life are positive ones.
Lady Luck may be the one who determines whether you get rich—but you are the one who will determine whether you stay rich.
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