Every Tuesday and Friday, I plunk down one crisp dollar bill for a ticket to Mega Millions, which is now up to $250 million. In the event I win it this week, you probably won't hear from me again. I mean, what would you do?
Now, I am not alone in my fantasizing what I could do with $250 million; and I know full well the odds of winning and the better odds of losing. Of course, keep in mind that 37 states plus Washington D.C. hold lotteries and it's estimated that some 60 percent of all Americans play. In fact, according to a study by the Texas Lottery Commission recently, Texans spend between $30 and $90 a month on lottery tickets. Try multiplying that by a year or even by 30 years.
But let's keep some basic facts in mind. If you hit the so-called jackpot, you may not get what you think. In many places, the state pays a fraction to an insurance company, which then pays out the interest gained over a certain period. So, instead of the cool one million dollars you dream about all at one shot, you might wind up getting $50,000 a year for 20 years. To pay that million, the state only needs to invest $425,700 using a rate of 10 percent. Naturally, most financial people will blanch at 10 percent. We should be so lucky. Keep in mind what could be done with that amount at the same 10 percent rate by investing it yourself.
Now, let's say you decide on an immediate lump payout, you really get only the amount the state has paid into the annuity.
So, what to do? Well, think about this. The chances of winning that big number are rather remote. We all know that. So, it doesn't even matter the amount you spend on tickets or even if you play every day. Consider this. You spend $2 a week, like I do, and after 40 years (and not winning anything), I really come out on the short end. But suppose I invested that money every week at that overly generous 10 percent? I'd have $33,000+. I'm not saying you're going to get that 10 percent rate but think of perhaps putting that $2 into your IRA, 401(k), or 403(b), and doing it consistently.
Doug Charney, who is vice president of investments at Wachovia Securities, and is a pretty smart fellow, says that any person can still become a millionaire even if they don't play the lottery. He cites taking $300 a month at that 10 percent interest figure, starting at age 30 and ending at age 65, and the individual will have more than a million dollars. Thirty-five years of savings? Sure, that's the average person's working career. There's your million at retirement age from just one simple investment.
Charney believes that saving the money spent on lottery tickets is just as profitable as hitting the jackpot, and maybe even more so. "You don't have to win the lottery to become a millionaire, and you may even have a better chance by not playing." Right on the money! Now, where is that guy selling the Mega Millions again? $250 million? Let's make it two bucks to win.
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