TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

April 24, 2013

Life is a great teacher about money and happiness


TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

CORBIN — When the body of murdered Florida Lotto winner Abraham Shakespeare was found, his mother said that on many occasions Shakespeare said he wished he had torn up the winning ticket.

After lottery winner Jack Whitaker, of Hurricane, W.Va., went through a litany of problems, including the drug overdose death of his granddaughter, his wife, now his ex-wife, wished he had torn up his record-breaking Powerball ticket.

Seems like a lot of lottery winners want to tear up the ticket.

Some don’t verbalize the thought. They just run through the money as fast as they can.

Having unlimited wealth is a dream for many people, many who consciously or subconsciously hate the idea of being rich.

What is going on?

A lot of misery comes from not having financial systems in place. The winners weren’t ready for their 15 minutes of fame and the hangers-on who would want a piece of them.

People don’t really know what to do with wealth. Some dream of showing off or sticking it to people they don’t like. While “take this job and shove it” probably feels good for a day, revenge won’t keep you happy over the long run.

Money equals security for most people. Or at least it should. One of the primary reasons that people become entrepreneurs is to keep big corporations from running their lives. They want to be responsible for their own financial destiny.

Since money is the ultimate security blanket, it seems senseless that people fritter it away. Yet, it has been said that 90 percent of people who get a lump sum do exactly that.

Some people get tired of pursuing money for money’s sake. I’ve long been fascinated by the story of Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity.

Fuller was a millionaire at a very young age. His primary focus was getting rich. His wife was at the point of leaving him. He stepped back and took a look at himself and didn’t like what he saw. He and his wife sold everything and moved to a commune-like farm.

From there, he redirected his passion and business skills and built an organization that made a profound and lasting impact on society.

I’ve studied “Big Money” for all of my adult life, and most of the problems come down to a few areas.  

First is a person, like Abraham Shakespeare, who just couldn’t say “no.” He was the perfect mark for every con artist with a story.

Usually the person with a story isn’t a stranger. It’s family, longtime friends and newfound “romantic interests.” A lot of emotions get brought into play.

And money seems to flow out the door.

The second is having too much money all at once. Most of the lotto winners who get in trouble are the people who took all the cash up front.

If it were up to me, I wouldn’t let lottery winners take a “cash option.” If they took the annual payments, they would learn from the mistakes with their first installment or two, and would still have 18 or 19 more chances to get it right.

Most lottery winners eventually figure things out, once the money is gone. Or when they are at the point where they wish they had “torn up the ticket.”

The government figured it out a long time ago. We don’t give people a lump sum social security check at retirement. We don’t want them to run out of the money. The same used to hold true with pension plans. People received an annuity that lasted the rest of their lives.

Today, most pensions are 401(k) plans. Just like the lotto winners, people are running out of retirement money while they are still alive.

When you think about it, almost all of us have our own “lotto moment.” We make decisions about money that will either give us long-term security and happiness or bring on pain and regret.

Handling a lump sum wisely can be a “ticket to paradise.” Or, like Abraham Shakespeare and Powerball Jack, it can be a ticket to misery that they wish they would have torn up.

Don McNay is a columnist for the Richmond Register. Contact him at don@mcnay.com.