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Why hitting the lottery could leave you broke


Clark Howard,

How could you possibly go broke after winning $400 million? It’s a lot easier than you may think…

With Wednesday’s Powerball jackpot sitting at around $430 million ($273.4 million if you take the lump sum), many people are wondering what life would be like with all that money.

But really, what if money suddenly fell out of sky and into your life? Maybe you win the lottery, or you get an injury settlement or maybe an inheritance. And while a $500 million jackpot is rare, there are all kinds of different situations in which you could be left with a lot more money than you’re used to.

When money shows up out of thin air, most of us have no clue how to handle it. And very often, it quickly burns a hole in our pocket.

Be careful how you spend all that money!

Remember the so called ‘Ocean’s 16’ from Ocean County, N.J., who each won $3.8 million (after taxes) in an August 2013 PowerBall jackpot that grabbed everybody’s attention?

Well, that’s a huge amount of money. If it’s well managed, it can provide comfort to you for the rest of your life. But therein lies the rub.

Read more: 19 ways to cut costs and save more each month

For most people who come into big money — like athletes or lottery winners — all of a sudden their wants instantly skyrocket. If those lottery winners back in 2013 gave into those wants, research shows they’ll blow through $3.8 million in just 6 years!

If you ever come into a large inheritance or sell a business and get a pile of money, restraint is key. I’ve long told people in this situation to blow 10% of it however you want. But the other 90% you treat as a nest egg to nurture.

History (and science) show money doesn’t equal happiness…

Jack Whittaker, a millionaire from West Virginia, became a much bigger millionaire when he won a $315 million lottery in 2002. After four years, Whittaker was broke and had lost both his daughter and granddaughter to drug overdoses (which he blamed on the lottery winnings). In addition to all that, Whittaker was robbed of $545,000 in CASH, as he sat in the parking lot of a strip club. Whittaker said, in hindsight, “I wish we had torn the ticket up.”

According to NBC News, a 2008 University of California study that measured people’s happiness six months after winning a relatively modest lottery prize didn’t exactly produce the results you may have imagined. The study looked at those who won an amount equivalent to about eight months’ worth of income. The winners had taken the money it in a lump sum. The study found that winning the money, “had zero detectable effect on happiness,” according to Peter Kuhn, one of the study’s authors

Read more: Skip the lottery: Why you should be on yourself instead!

It’s easy to say, but so hard for people to do. As for me, if I won that kind of money, I would change nothing. I would still get up and come to work every day. I would just think about what charity I could give it to! But that’s just me.

A final word of advice for future lottery winners!

Never take the lump sum payout. You’re better off taking the payout over years as a method of forced budgeting. If you worry your heirs won’t get all the money you have coming to you, buy a term life insurance policy that would pay them for what you would not receive if you die prematurely.

Remember, most of us do better with basic allowances than a huge sum of money right then and there!

Meanwhile, you don’t have to win the lottery or get an inheritance to come into extra cash. See some free and easy ways to search for missing money in your name.

Read more: Beware of this lottery scam on Facebook!

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