What I'd Do If I Won The Lottery

I think about money a lot. I think about how I use it, how I can better use it, how I can help others use it differently. How I can teach about it better. How I can show my daughter how to use it well and not feel bad about herself in the process. Thinking about money is my actual job.

I’m really practical about money. Sometimes to a fault (just ask my spouse!). But there’s something about daydreaming about winning the lottery that gets anyone, myself included, feeling less practical. But only to an extent - I can’t turn off my budgeting-love that easily.

So what would I do if I won the lottery? It depends a lot on how much money it was. Let’s say it was a million dollars. A cool mil, as they say. Here’s what I’d do:

  1. Pay off my remaining student loans and my mortgage
  2. Put a bunch of money into my retirement accounts
  3. Move or significantly renovate our house. It’s a good house in a great location, but mama wants a bigger kitchen and living room.
  4. Buy a really nice hot tub (aka buy my spouse’s unending happiness)
  5. Take my immediate family to Scotland. (see #4)
  6. Put a bunch of money away towards my daughter’s college education
  7. Give a lot of money to good causes.

And here’s what I wouldn’t do if I got a million dollars somehow:

  1. Quit working (I’d probably slow down, but I like it too much to stop, and if I retired in my mid-thirties I’d make everyone around me lose their minds)
  2. Stop budgeting (you can pry my budget out of my cold, dead hands)
  3. Stop being practical about money (see #2. I can’t help it).

What if it was a smaller amount? Say - $100K. Well, in that case, I’d:

  1. Pay off my remaining student loans
  2. Get new kitchen cabinets
  3. Buy a used hot tub (aka buy my spouse’s long-lasting happiness)
  4. Take a relaxing, local vacation (we do live in Vacationland, after all)
  5. Give larger than usual, one-time donations to a select group of near-to-our-hearts charities.

And what if the number was much smaller, like about the size of a tax refund? The average tax refund in 2017 is about $2700, so what about that number? That’s certainly not enough to renovate my home, buy a hot tub of any size, and sadly not enough to pay off my remaining student loans. So when the amount you get as a windfall (whether that be a tax refund, a gift, an inheritance, or any other similar situation) isn’t enough to fund your big dreams, what do you do?

You budget it, of course! And what do we do in budgeting? We look at the big picture, we figure out our pain points, and we ask, “What do I need and want this money to do before I get paid again?”

So, if I had $2700 and I was in the situation I’m in now (i.e. no burning, high-interest debts, I have a healthy emergency fund, I’m able to meet my financial obligations on a regular basis), what would I do? Honestly - I’d probably just throw it in the bank or into my retirement account. That’s what I did with my tax refund this year. After all, a healthy savings account is what allowed me to leave my day job to focus on this business, even before the business was earning as much as my day job (something that would be difficult if not impossible to do while working a full-time job and having family obligations).

But what if you are in a more typical situation? You’ve got not-quite-enough in your retirement account, you’ve got some credit card debt (maybe not crushing you, but not doing anything but costing you money and making you feel bad, either), and probably no emergency fund. In that case, I’d put $1000 into an emergency fund (somewhere other than your regular bank), and put the rest into paying your bills for next month. I am a huge advocate for keeping a one-month “buffer” in your regular checking account, equivalent to one month’s full expenses, so that as your money for the current month comes in, it’s budgeted for paying next month’s bills. There’s a whole other post brewing about that, but for now, I’ll sum it up by saying that doing that makes staying flexible and adjusting to life’s changes a lot, lot easier. From that place comes strength, and that’s how you want to tackle the big goals - from a place of “never going back there, no way, no how.”


What would you do if you had a windfall? Tell me in the comments!