You already know that buying lottery tickets is a really bad idea. If you’re lucky you may win a small payout of a couple hundred dollars or so–enough to treat your partner or friends to an expensive meal. I suspect if you added up all the money you spent on lottery tickets to achieve those winnings, you’d find that meal was very expensive indeed. But the fact that your chances of winning are microscopically small is only one problem with playing the lottery.
There’s a bigger problem: You might win. And if you do, it will likely be the worst thing that ever happened to you.
If you happen to be one of the Powerball winners announced over the last few days–congratulations (sort of). And I suggest you stop reading this column right now.
For everyone else, here’s why you really don’t want to win the Powerball:
1. You like your home town.
Many lottery winners move to a new community because they can suddenly afford to live in a more expensive neighborhood or town. But others who like where they live find they have to leave anyway after become instant celebrities with desperate people waiting outside their door asking for money or investment. This likely wouldn’t happen–or not as much–if you had a different sort of windfall such as an inheritance. But anyone who’s ever plunked down the price of a lottery ticket will feel in some way that your winnings belong partly to them. You may think you could avoid this problem by remaining anonymous, but watch out: Some states require you to attend a press conference if you want to claim your winnings.
2. You love your spouse get along well with your family.
That will likely change if you win a big lottery payout. Family members have been known to sue for a portion of lottery winnings. And according to financial author Dave Ramsey, lottery winners have a four times higher divorce rate than the national average.
3. You like your friends.
“Everyone who wins thinks they’re going to have the same friends and do the same things,” on lottery winner says. But it rarely works out that way. Your friends are apt to be envious of your winnings, raising difficult questions about whether or not you should share the wealth and with whom.
4. You’ll learn what people are like at their worst.
It’s human nature: We compare ourselves to the people we know and when things happen to them, good or bad, we think to ourselves: “That could have been me.” In a brilliant TED Talk on happiness, psychologist Dan Gilbert shares research that shows that lottery winners are no happier a year later than people who’ve lost the use of their legs.
It’s not really surprising. When misfortune strikes, it brings out the best in others, who often think that it could have been them instead. When good fortune strikes and they think the same thing, it brings out feelings of envy and bitterness. Which would you rather have surrounding you?
5. You don’t want to become a drug addict or commit suicide.
Unfortunately, your chances drug addiction, suicide, attempted suicide, and even murder go up if you take home a lottery jackpot. For your reading pleasure, The Atlantic website has compiled several accounts of lives ruined by lottery winnings. After being sued multiple times, survived a drugging-and-robbing attempt, and having his granddaughter, granddaughter’s boyfriend, and daughter all die, one unlucky winner commented, “I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”
6. You don’t want to go broke.
Say what? The whole point of winning the lottery is to become wealthy, right? For most people, it doesn’t work out that way. In fact, 65 percent of lottery winners wind up in bankruptcy. It’s easy to see why. Winning the lottery is a temptation to lavish overspending. At the same time, friends, relatives, and strangers will approach you with requests (or demands) for money and/or investment opportunities.
Then there’s taxes. Lottery winnings are taxable income, usually taxed in the highest tax bracket of 39.6 percent. But instead of withholding taxes the way an employer would, the government only takes 25 percent of the full taxes owed at the time of payout. You’ll have to pay the other 75 percent at tax time, and your state and city may be collecting taxes as well. The only smart (but rarely followed) strategy is to immediately set half your winnings aside to pay off those taxes. Oh, and the first thing you should do when you win? Call your lawyer, according to USA Today.
7. You’re saving and investing instead.
I really, really hope this is the reason you haven’t bought a Powerball ticket. So does Tony Robbins. He says that the average American household spends $1,000 a year on lottery tickets. If you took that $1,000 and invested it with even a fairly conservative 4 percent return per year, with compounding you would have $100,000 in less than nine years. That’s not a one-in-292-million chance–there’s a very high likelihood you would achieve those returns, and you wouldn’t have unexpected tax bills or money-seekers camped outside your house.
Doesn’t that sound like a much better strategy?