I recently answered a writing prompt that asked writers to imagine winning a billion dollars in the lottery. In reality, if I won a that much, I would probably be so stressed out by the magnitude of change in income that I would do nothing.
At least for a while.
Beginning balance: $1,000,000,000
When the thought of winning money goes through my mind, part of me wants to be magnanimous and give some of it away. I’ve always had the dream to have the Oprah experience, pointing at people and shouting “You get a car! You get a car! You get a car” while everyone stands and applauds my generosity.
But who would I give it to? Family? I like the idea of giving everyone in the family a set amount. They would still resent me, but I would be off the hook with my own conscience. They would be on their own to figure out what to do with the money. I have a large family. Approximating 150 aunts, uncles, in-laws, siblings, children, etc., I could give each member ten thousand dollars and still have $998,500,000 left to figure out what to do with.
Remaining balance: $998,500,000
What if I were to spread it equally to everyone who is alive in the world today? The population meter is whirring upwards at breakneck speed, but at the time of this post it’s roughly 7,331,000,000. Doing my calculations, I would be able to give everyone in the world 14 cents. That’s not much, and it won’t make much of a difference even to the poorest of the world. In Afghanistan, it won’t even buy a loaf of bread. So that idea is out. How about dividing it equally among my fellow Americans? There are roughly 321,375,000 of us as of this posting. Each person would receive $3.11. Enough for a loaf of bread. On sale.
What if I decided I wanted to keep it, to become a “billionaire” and hobnob with the wealthy? I would still be snubbed by Donald Trump (but honestly, who isn’t?) whose net worth is estimated to be 4 billion. How about having lunch with Bill Gates, currently the richest man in America, who’s net worth is 79 times my new found wealth? Would he turn up his nose at me in the same way people who make over 100,000 dollars a year turn up their nose at people in poverty? The poverty level sits at about $25,000 for a family of four. That’s only a four-fold difference. Multiply that times times 20 and you’ll get the income disparity between the now-rich me and Bill Gates. Sorry, Bill, but Warren Buffet seems more approachable, and he is slightly less rich, at $72,000,000,000, although the difference between his wealth and Bill Gates is still seven times my new net worth.
So I’ll give up on the idea of entering the social realm of the über rich. I’m not really that into excess, anyway.
There’s the nagging feeling that I should invest at least some of it. I could invest $990,000,000 and still live very comfortably on my remaining 8,500,000. (Remember, I gave some to family.) I won’t even go into the stress of trying to figure the investment scenario out. I would have to use some of my remaining money on spa treatments and retreats just to recover.
Remaining balance: $8,500,000 (and that’s just because I cheated by shelving 99% of the cash.)
How many of us, when presented with the idea of coming into large sums of money, say they would like to travel? I am not alone in this desire. Yet my idea of travel is to experience the place as authentically as possible. That being said, my one change would be to upgrade those darn airline seats! First class, baby. No more being the last one on the plane, cramming my carry-on in the remaining space and my legs in the “space” between seats. In fact, I could probably buy my own plane and have an excellent pilot on retainer. (My immune system might suffer without having to exercise itself against all of those recirculated airplane germs.)
As far as location goes, I see no reason to travel if you go somewhere to experience the same things you would at home. I like to mingle with the locals, try the mom and pop eateries, and strengthen the local economy by taking home-grown tours. No all-inclusives for me. No high rise resort, gated-community living. To me that takes the richness out of life, and what’s the point of monetary riches if the emotional and psychological living becomes bland? You can only play so much tennis and drink so many mai-tais in an infinity pool. Every smile you are greeted with as you interact within a community creates an imprint on the heart and mind. Everyone you meet as a fellow traveler experiencing the world on a shoestring budget, all of the comparing and contrasting the local life to life at home, all of the ideologies mixed at local pubs and all of the shared experiences challenge long held beliefs and cause us to grow and change. These things are what strengthen our world and what create compassion for other people’s struggles and commonality with their joys. So I would travel the same way I travel now, but more often. I could budget $12,000 a year for the next ten years to travel and be completely satisfied. (Without the private plane.)
Remaining balance: $8,380,000
I would give some of it away. Is there anyone who wouldn’t? I would support the Nature Conservancy in their efforts to shore up important ecological areas around the world. I would add to the Children’s Eternal Rainforest and their important reforestation efforts in the cloud forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica. Emergency response organizations and children’s hospitals could always do with an influx of cash, so they would get a slice of the pie. I would create scholarships for highly motivated high school students to attend college. Honestly, the power to give back would be the greatest gift of so much money. If I gave 150 charities $10,000 each, I would still have an unimaginable amount of money in my pocket. Remember the bulk of the money is still tied up in investments, assuming my financial planner hasn’t run off with it. I’m just whittling down my measly budget of $8,500,000.
Remaining balance: $6,880,000
I would pay off my parents’ mortgage and make sure their health care needs were taken care of. I would like to say I would provide homes for my kids, but the struggle to create a home has such value that I don’t want to deprive them of that. I would make sure they had access to a top-notch education. Top private universities cost about $60,000 a year including room and board. I have 4 kids. That’s $960,000 total for undergraduate studies. If they want to go to grad school, that’s another $45,000 per year. I still have a little of my mad money to spend.
Remaining balance: $5,435,000
When you are used to living on a shoestring budget, spending money like this doesn’t come easy.
For myself and my comfort level, I would buy a nice, modest-size, quality house in a nice location by the water in the Pacific Northwest. I would make sure it’s equipped with the latest environmentally friendly upgrades, like solar power and a wind turbine. (It gets windy up here.) I could get something on the water in the San Juan Islands for around a million. (But then I’d probably need a boat.)
Remaining balance: $4,435,000
I could go on and on, trying to spend the remaining one percent of my billion dollars, but you’ve probably already stopped reading. What this exercise points out is what an incredible amount one billion actually is. While it’s fun to play “what if,” it’s sobering to think that some people actually have their hands on this kind of money. Some will use it for good, creating foundations and supporting community building. Some will use it for themselves, walling themselves off from the commoners like you and me. Some will use it to promote themselves and their agenda, which to me is the most frightening use of money of all, because then we all become pawns in their private game of power.
I’m not a billionaire, but I’ve always believed the old adage that the pen is mightier than the sword, or, in this case, the pocketbook. Money drives forces. It gets things done in the world. It greases palms. It buys elections. It subsidizes media, and filters the news on both sides of the spectrum. Critical thinking skills can not be purchased, but they can be snuffed out with the creation of enough mindless television shows and time wasting games. I won’t ever win even a million dollars in the lottery. I have more chance of being struck by lightning, dying in a plane crash (must rethink the whole travel thing), or hitting a deer while driving in Hawaii. I do have a real chance of having my country taken over by people who have the money to purchase air time, to manipulate the media, and to promote their agendas, most of which do not match mine. What power remains for us, the non-billionaires, is the power of the vote, and that power only works if people are educated enough not to be swayed by propaganda.
I originally wrote this when I first started blogging 8 months ago. It was an interesting exercise in financial relativity.