On a regular basis, the New Jersey Lottery sends us updates on the potential jackpot of the upcoming lottery drawing. Every once in a while, a winner will be announced for maybe $75,000 or $135,000. Unless it happened to us or someone we know it seems almost chump change. Who could be troubled to a measly $75,000 or $135,000? I think.
Years ago, a chap I know won $1 million in the state's lottery. I never knew anyone who won that much money. Then I somehow felt special because I knew this guy.
In his self-effacing manner he somehow took all the zest out of his winnings by saying, "Al, it's only $50,000 a year for 20 years." I started to shake my head and thought, "The man has a point, it's only $50,000 for two decades, how paltry."
At the time I didn't make $50,000 a year or anything close to it, so it would have been a windfall. But somehow, after he said that, his $1 million winning seemed like a waste of time.
In subsequent years, there were some folks I knew distantly who won larger sums in the lottery. They seemed not to let the money go to their heads. They kept doing what they wanted to do, work. Then, suddenly, somehow the daily grind was different. They found themselves working because they wanted to work, because it was what made them satisfied at the end of the day, and not because they had to work. There is a vast difference, or so I'm told.
My former pastor told me a saying that his father passed to him. I suspect the old gent had a few dollars in the bank, or he could not have stated his opinion. "The greatest thing about having money is that you can drive a Ford because you want to, not because you have to."
I read that Sam Walton, the chap who founded those stores that became the world's top retailer, Walmart, liked to ride around in his pickup truck. What a pleasure that must have been for the old boy, tooling around in his pickup truck, knowing he could buy nearly everything he passed.
Often I chuckle as I think of those young, eager Walmart store managers who kept a wary eye peeled for Mr. Walton's pickup truck pulling up in front of their store bright and early some morning. Oh, the panic that might have taken place if they spotted one that looked like his. Their eight-hour deodorant probably went into overdrive. It must have made old Sam smile, at least on the inside.
Money can have a strange effect on many people. I've heard stories of people in old Cape May who "grew up rich, so money didn't mean anything to them." They were simple, down-to-earth folks who wore regular clothes, drove cars until they needed new ones, then bought second-hand cars, and left this world with loads of money in the bank.
Counter those types with others who experienced their first shot at "money," and it was like a pint of booze in a half hour. The stuff went straight to their heads and pretty soon the world "knew" they had bundles of loot. Their attitude changed, they had a new circle of "friends" who fit that new lifestyle. They pretty much forgot where they came from and the people who knew them when they were poor.
Such are many instant millionaires who enter a lottery and find themselves suddenly with an obscene amount of money. My first question would be, "How does an average person handle that much money?" The short answer, "It's not easy."
There was one such person recently in North Jersey who possessed the one lottery ticket worth $273 million.
All of a sudden, they will become a member of that elite group, spurned for their wealth who find themselves in the crosshairs of politicians and riotous crowds who want to tax millionaires out of existence. They will be hated for having attained what once was the American dream, to possess wealth and, perhaps, be able to do charitable work with some of it.
To be a millionaire would be trouble enough, but how terrible to be afflicted with multi-millions from a winning lottery ticket would be even worse.
There will always be dreamers, the ones who buy those lottery tickets. They envision that magical moment when they, too, are handed an oversized check in front of a row of TV and still cameras clicking their photo and reporters asking them what they're planning to do with their new-found wealth.
Most likely they could take care of every bill they possess with $350,000 or less, then what? The house is paid off. All the bills are settled. The old clunker is replaced with a shiny new one, and they take off on a vacation of a lifetime for a month or two. Finally, they return home, or they return to a new home.
Unless they have their "two feet on the ground" and have savvy accountants and lawyers, what are the chances that they will retain a great portion of that wealth? They’ll live in a house alarmed like a prison, probably surrounded by fences and gates, and they’ll fret about being robbed or kidnapped for their money.
An even more important question: Will they be happy or will they find out too late that money isn't everything? It can't buy health and it will not buy true love.