If I had a billion dollars, I’d buy you a …

This found story was motivated by an article in today’s Monday morning paper about the jackpot for the Powerball lottery. The jackpot was projected to grow to 1.3 billion dollars for the drawing on Wednesday. That would set a record for the largest lottery jackpot in world history. Now that’s a record! The article said that the odds of winning were somewhere in the vicinity of one in 292.2 million and that seventy-five percent of all possible combinations of the six numbers had been purchased for this past Saturday’s drawing. Still, no one won the jackpot. For Wednesday’s drawing, the percentage would probably be even higher. Someone was bound to win! While the rational part of my brain knew that the odds were not going to improve, deep down inside, I could sense that my chances were getting better and better.

Talking about the plan for what one would do with lottery winnings is a favorite topic of conversation in millions of homes and workplaces during weeks like this. It has never been to hard for me to imagine what I’d do with a few million dollars. But I found that 1.3 billion dollars was much harder to wrap my head around. That’s moving into Gates, Buffett and Zuckerberg territory. Any plan would have to include other strategies than just gifts to family, friends and favorite charities. It would be challenging to find enough stuff to buy. I decided that a little research was in order, so of course, I turned to the internet.

There was lots of chatter on Facebook about the jackpot and plans for the winnings. My favorites were from my sister-in-law, Pat and her granddaughter, Ella. Pat reported that she would buy a house on Maui so that she could have a place close to her grandson, Henry and his parents. Then she could split her time between Wisconsin and Maui. Not a bad plan. Ella’s idea was simpler. I liked that. She would buy lots of guinea pigs. Maybe her dream was to have a guinea pig ranch. Another post that impressed me was from someone who wrote that they would buy houses in Florida, Arizona and Hawaii. It sounded like they hadn’t quite decided where they wanted to go, but it needed to be somewhere warm and sunny. One fellow posted that his wife would be the one who decided how they would spend their winnings. I hoped that she would let him buy something for himself like a new chain saw or fishing pole. Someone else wrote that they would donate most of their winnings to their church. I hoped that it wasn’t one of those mega-churches with more television revenue than the NFL.

I remembered a song from the 1990’s by the band, Bare Naked Ladies. The lyrics outlined a list of things that the singer would do if he had a million dollars. That might give me some ideas. I looked up and printed out the lyrics. The lyrics suggested that the singer was telling his “love” things he would like to buy for her or for their home, if he were rich. I assumed that the love was a woman, because one of the items was a green dress. Other planned purchases included a house, furniture, a car, a cool tree-fort, a refrigerator, a fur coat, an exotic pet like a llama or emu, a painting, a monkey, and for some reason, John Merrick’s remains. I think John Merrick was “the elephant man”. There must be a story there. I thought it was notable that his thoughts were of his “love” and not himself.

For years my brother, Bill outlined a complex system that he would use to determine how much of a gift he would give to each of his six siblings after winning the lottery. That would include me! It had something to do with their annual income and then some kind of second drawing. I liked the randomness of the system. Bill would not be accused of playing favorites. Now that many of his siblings are retired, the system may require some adjustment.

I’m going to try to not over-think this. Here, in no particular order, are some of my ideas of what we would do after Wednesday’s drawing, when Rachel and I win the Powerball jackpot. Rachel and I have talked about this, but she has not signed the binding agreement yet.

1. My preference would have been to remain anonymous during the process of obtaining our winnings. Some states allow the winners to choose to remain anonymous. I checked, and Missouri is not one of those. Lottery officials in Missouri will always release your name, your city, and the amount of your winnings. So it goes. As an alternative, I would hold onto the ticket for a month or two before turning it in. Maybe the hype would die down a little. It would also give Rachel and me time to decompress and do some planning. We could put our team together, including an attorney, accountant, psychic, driver and bodyguard. Maybe we’d do this planning on a nice beach somewhere. Rachel asked if I minded if she chose to stop working right away. I assured her that she could do anything that she wanted.

2. The other preliminary question is whether to be paid in a lump sum or in monthly payments over 29 years. If you die during the 29 years, the payments continue going to your estate. What a relief. If you choose the lump sum payment option, the current estimate for the payout amount, after federal taxes, is approximately $806 million dollars. In many states like Missouri, winners still pay state taxes on that amount. It seems like 1.3 billion dollars just doesn’t go as far as you’d think. Rachel and I thought we would choose the lump sum option. We wouldn’t want to be dealing with taxes and other financial details when we were in our nineties.

3. Once the funds were in the bank, so to speak, the fun begins. What to do? The first thing that we decided to do was to write a check for fifty percent of the winnings to our favorite charitable organization, Doctors Without Borders. That would immediately take some pressure off. The funds would be put to use in an amazing way, and no matter what else happened, we would have accomplished something special. Rachel gets credit for that idea!

4. Early on, we would probably want to get out of Dodge, to maintain a sense of privacy and sanity. We have a favorite beach community that would work well for that purpose. It is located somewhere in North or Central America. We would find a nice house or condo, close to the beach. It would not be extravagant, but big enough for company.

5. In the simplest way possible, we would share some funds with family members:  children, grandchildren, siblings, parents, nieces and nephews. The amounts would be enough to take away any financial worries for a while.

6. Rachel and I have a few favorite “charities” that would receive nice donations. These would include non-profit community service organizations, international wildlife and environmental groups, public radio and television, local theatre companies, and a couple of churches that are important to us or family members.

7. Our best guess is that all of that would just put a dent in the funds. That is where the team comes in. We would create a small foundation to invest the funds wisely and to manage their use. Under our guidance, consultants and a small number of paid staff would do most of the work. Rachel and I would define the mission of the foundation and establish guidelines for how funds are spent.

That’s about it. We decided that we don’t need a mansion or a house in every state. We don’t want a boat. I don’t want to learn to golf and Rachel doesn’t want to take up skiing. We will probably travel a bunch more, but grandkids will take up much of that time.

Rachel and I each purchased ten Powerball tickets last week for the Saturday drawing. We did not match a single number on any of the twenty tickets. What are the odds of that happening? They must be astronomical! I’m feeling lucky. I need to sign off so that I can take a trip to the local Shell gas station to pick up ten more tickets. This time… for sure!

Good luck!

Tim

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