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You Could Win Mega Millions And Still End Up Broke

Another huge jackpot has us thinking: If I could just hit the lottery, I'd be set for life. Or would you?

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Lottery fever is back again. After the numbers were drawn for the $309 million Mega Millions jackpot, the ninth-largest prize in its history, last night, there were no winning tickets sold. Now, the jackpot for Friday’s drawing will be $353 million. And if no winning tickets are sold after that, the potential windfall will just keep on growing, prompting even people like me—the type who buys a lottery ticket maybe once every five years—to take my chances. (By the way, the odds of winning the jackpot with a $1 ticket are 1-in-258.9 million.)

Whether you almost never buy a lottery ticket, or you buy dozens of tickets daily, we are all driven by the same persistent belief: If I could just hit the lottery, I’d be set for life.

Or would you?

Everyone dreams of one day winning big in a mega, power, national lottery and getting hundreds of millions of dollars. Or maybe you’d be satisfied with just a couple of million, or even a few hundred thousand—you’re not greedy, right? However, merely having more money does not mean you will do better financially, especially without good money habits and a serious commitment to financial education. To see what I mean, check out these stats:

According to 2012 research compiled by  StatisticsBrain.com on 34 national lottery winners, 44 percent of the winners had spent their entire winnings in five years. At an average age of 46 for the entire group, these winners are a long way from retirement.

Another study of lotteries winners showed that the bigger the windfall, the more likely the winners were to file for bankruptcy after five years. Those who won between $50,000 and $150,000 were more likely to go broke than those who won 1$10,000 or less.

Here’s my point: Winning the lottery does not let you off the hook when it comes to eliminating and avoiding debt, committing to savings, following a budget and living within your means. If you’re not managing your money properly, focused on spending sprees and excess consumerism, and you aren’t serious about your financial education before you hit it big, your winnings will not likely last. In fact, you could actually end up in worse financial shape than you were in before you bought that winning ticket.

Of course, if playing the lottery is your main wealth-building strategy, you have a bigger problem. Do yourself a favor: For every dollar you spend on lottery tickets, budget a dollar for your emergency savings fund (to be maintained at at least 6 months worth of your annual living expenses and accessed only in case of loss of income) and another dollar extra toward paying down debt. Also, build your monthly lottery spending into your household budget, and don’t spend a penny more than you’ve allotted. Finally, make a commitment to yourself to take at least 50 percent of any winnings you get, big or small, and put it toward either debt reduction or emergency savings. Another option: 40 percent of any winnings to savings, 40 percent on debts, and 20 percent to spend as you please, as a reward to you for exercising financial discipline. (Yes, you may spend it on more lottery tickets.)

That way, you’ll improve your financial situation over time, even if you never hit that Mega Millions jackpot. This will also help you to establish better money habits and the fiscal discipline you’ll need if and when you do hit it big.

This blog is dedicated to my thoughts about money, entrepreneurship, leadership, mentorship and other things I need to get #OffMyChest. Follow me on Twitter at @AlfredEdmondJr.

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