Here’s how to get a win out of losing the lottery jackpot

You can win, however, from being a lottery loser, because your ticket gives you an active stake in the game of “What if?” that every person who only plays the big jackpots should be engaged in.
Your Funds
Mega-Millions’ enormous jackpot was the big financial headline of the last week.
The headline to that story in your home, however, is different. It reads like this:
You didn’t win the big lottery. Again.
By all means, check the winning numbers one more time. Get excited if the jackpot gets carried over — meaning an even-bigger fortune is up for grabs in a few days — but face the fact that you aren’t winning the next big drawing either. It takes a lot of losers to make the jackpot grow that big.
You can win, however, from being a lottery loser, because your ticket gives you an active stake in the game of “What if?” that every person who only plays the big jackpots should be engaged in.
When it comes to “What if?” you don’t have to be “in it to win it.” I have never purchased a lottery ticket because I know the odds and don’t like throwing money away; I’ve engaged in what-if games based on big jackpots, but acknowledge that lottery players probably get a bit more excitement because of the minuscule chance their what-if turns real.
The good news in your lottery loss this week is that your life story will not be the next horror story of a jackpot winner squandering their prize on the way to some new low standard of personal and financial ruin.
What all of those winner/losers could have benefitted from was a nice game of lottery-fueled “What if?”
Assuming you never win a 10-digit prize — even if you count the spaces to the right of the decimal — there’s a chance you will come into a chunk of money somewhere, somehow.
Your sudden money might be an inheritance, a lump-sum distribution, an annual bonus, a lucrative stretch of overtime, a retirement “incentive” from your employer timed right as you wanted to start a new job or side gig, a surprise chance to pick up extra work/pay.
How you get that money is less important than the windfall’s potential to change and upgrade your financial life.
Too many people tell stories of messing up their lucky break by being wasteful or extravagant at first blush, only to learn that their windfall won’t go as far as they thought, especially when they didn’t start by using the money for what they most wanted to achieve with it.
What-if games around a lottery jackpot are a form of self-examination that can have a positive effect on everyday decision-making, even if your ship never comes in.
Potential endings
The process is simple. List as many possible endings as you can think of to finish this statement:
“If I had won the lottery jackpot, I would have used some of the money to …”
Your answers might include things like “quit my job,” pay off the credit cards and/or the mortgage, secure college tuition for the children and/or grandkids, add to retirement savings until it’s completely secure, donate to a favorite charities, help out the family, buy a dream house or car or take that fantasy vacation, start a business or buy a franchise and more.
Add to the list as if you had the full Mega-Millions jackpot to spend; when you run out of items to add, it’s time to bring real life back into the equation and set priorities.
Buying new cars for your nieces and nephews, for example, is not the high priority that securing retirement is.
Decide which items come first, and which are of lesser importance. Consider how your list changes if you had to split the big prize, then as if you won $1 million for picking the five regular balls correctly, then what if your win was $10,000 all the way down to what you would do with an extra couple of grand.
The result is a financial wish list with your dreams and desires and ability to achieve or contribute to them ranked in priority order.
That’s useful, even if you never win a jackpot.
If zeroing debt would be your first move after collecting lottery winnings, it probably should be first in your everyday financial planning. If you therefore earn some extra income and can cut debt and some of the stress it adds to your life, that’s where to put most of the money you get from any personal windfall.
You are more likely to achieve your wish list conventionally — cutting spending or living on a budget — than from hitting the jackpot, but you are working toward the same financial destination either way.
And as long as you are playing “what-if lotto,” consider your losings too.
The more than $70 billion spent on lotteries annually in the U.S. boils down to more than $300 per year per adult nationwide. Since lottery players are habitual spenders, consider what happens if ticket buying is curtailed.
Set aside $50 a month for the next 30 years and, assuming the stock market’s historic rate of return, you’ll come away with a jackpot of more than $125,000. It won’t feel like a jackpot, but consider it the winnings you get from not playing the lottery at all.
Remember, too, that on the rare weeks when the lottery becomes the focus of every newscast, it’s OK to indulge in the fantasy. But the more important what-if question that everyone but the big winner has to answer in their financial lives is “What if I never win the lottery?”
Plan for that outcome, because this week proved again that it’s probably the one you’ll be living with.

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