Congratulations, You’re Rich! Now What?

colorful lottery ballsMoney is the way we earn and purchase the things we need to survive. In a market economy such as the United States, we cannot survive without it. It’s so important that many of us believe that one can never have too much. But too much money can, in fact, wreck lives. Massive amounts of wealth, unearned or received suddenly as in an inheritance or lottery, can steal personal freedoms, create deep relationship conflicts, and lead to a chronic personal despair.

While most of us believe that we would love to have the chance to fight against those secondary effects of sudden wealth, even those of us with foresight could be caught off guard by a sudden massive cash windfall.

Inheritance

“The rich are different from you and me.” These are the words of the narrator in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby. In this story, a writer on Long Island spends a summer season next door to a man wealthy enough to not work, who entertains lavishly and constantly, and who appears to collects cars, art, and women companions. While his lifestyle appears enviable, we observe throughout the story that he and his similarly situated friends are people adrift, with no compelling personal purpose or life focus but to eat, drink, and be merry. All that merriment is alcohol-fueled, and there is only so much lobster one can eat and only so many intense sexual flirtations that marriages can withstand. Lives fall apart.

I live in an area of the country where similar issues have come to a generation of young Native Americans whose small tribe owns a hugely successful casino complex. How do you live a happy life when all the cultural tools, such as education, community support, and employment, are unnecessary to live? How do you have positive relationships with people who can’t build a mansion at 18 years old, drive several sports cars, or travel, entertain, or buy anything desired? Do you bother to finish high school, or even see college as important? Once you have all your toys, then what? What do you do with your life?

Lottery

Most of us play these state or national games of chance at one time or another, hoping like everyone else to win a million or tens of millions, retire from our jobs, or build our dream home. I’m glad these games fund common projects such as state parks and education because all of us, except extremely rare winners, will never see more than a few dollars from our lottery tickets.

But if you should be one of those rare winners, I hope someone will tell you that many lottery winners over the years lose their wealth. Many people, unprepared for such a windfall, spend down and give away what remains after taxes. And there are a lot of taxes.

Winners in those states that make you reveal your identity to receive your check are overwhelmed by requests from every corner of their lives for gifts, contributions, or loans. Their private lives aren’t private anymore, and their relationships with many people, including their family, are suddenly and drastically changed. Many struggle with keeping a job once everyone around them knows they don’t need it. All the aspects of life that for years were critical to their identity—work, education, home, friendships—are up for grabs. Will you be the same person you were before the win? If you will be, how will you live your same life? If you won’t be, how will you shape a new way of living?

When it comes to sudden, unearned wealth in our culture, the phrase that comes to my mind is “be careful what you wish for.” While we need money to live, and more of it to live better, there is a point at which more money starts to create more serious problems. It’s true: one can have too much of a good thing. Just ask Jay Gatsby.

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  • Gabrielle

    Gabrielle

    July 16th, 2014 at 9:02 AM

    I think that I would be willing to take a chance on this.

  • Lora

    Lora

    July 16th, 2014 at 3:25 PM

    I used to have this big plan for how I would spend and invest this kind of money if it ever fell into my lap. Now, I have changed my perspective a little and instead of only looking out for myself I would look out for the whole family too. Of course I want to give to charity as well but then you have to be thoughtful about which groups you choose to give to in that way too.
    No matter, I wouldn’t want it to change me as a person

  • marc

    marc

    July 17th, 2014 at 6:08 AM

    I won’t lie- it would be nice to have a little $$$ come my way. But I would hope that I wouldn’t become spoiled by it the way that I have seen others do. You are right- for some it becomes all about acquiring everything, and then when they have everything that their heart could possibly desire, they still see that they have nothing because they only have material wealth and not really much of anything that means anything in life. Sure they have lots of great cars and clothes and toys, and I would be alright with some of that. But I guess I am still searching for something a little deeper and more meaningful and I think that that is something that gets overlooked a lot. I would like to have both- the money and the meaning. Is it possible to achieve that?

  • Nell

    Nell

    July 17th, 2014 at 12:43 PM

    If I ever did win the lottery I would not tell anyone because then you have cousins and relatives coming out of the woodwork looking for a handout!

  • shayla

    shayla

    July 18th, 2014 at 7:23 AM

    When you have never had this kind of money before and suddenly find yourself exceedingly wealthy then I would certainly recommend a great financial advisor so that you actually have some of that money to rely on down the road.
    I have seen people who have come into money unexpectedly and then before you know it they are having to file for bankruptcy. What in the world is that all about?!?
    It is all a simple matter of they don’t know how to manage their money and so they end up blowing it completely.
    Get someone who cares about you on your side, and someone who can look out for your welfare without any underlying plans to only benefit themselves.

  • Harrison

    Harrison

    July 20th, 2014 at 5:52 AM

    It isn’t the money that causes the problems but rather not knowing how to handle it when it comes your way that is the problem.

  • stressmom

    stressmom

    July 21st, 2014 at 4:21 AM

    Now I am not saying that I would not take the money if it somehow miraculously fell into my lap, but at the same time I am happy in my life and do not tend to spend my time thinking of all of this that I could do with this much money or that much money. I try to remain grounded and focused more on the good things in life that I already have. In some ways it does feel like the money can corrupt and change people, and sometimes they become quite unrecognizable to us. I would never want to be like that, and hope that I would have the good sense to have a plan for this if it ever even looked like it could be a possibility.

  • ADAM

    ADAM

    July 22nd, 2014 at 4:34 PM

    I can only Wish I had someone rich to inherit from!

  • Tyra

    Tyra

    July 23rd, 2014 at 3:07 PM

    Really I don’t think that it is the money that causes the problems, it is always the people. People who let it take over and let the material goods come to represent who they are and what they want out of life. This has to be hugely tempting because I know that I too would want to buy a lot of things if very suddeny I found myself rolling in dough. But at the same time I want to do something more than that, and buying a new car won’t do that. There has to be a way to come up with the right kind of balance so that you can enjoy both aspects of being that wealthy. Give to those who need but at the same time take care of your own wants and needs as well. I really so think that if you work at it there is a way to balance it all out.

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