What would you do if you won just over $23 million? How would you change? And what would you be willing to lose?
We have all dreamed about winning the lottery and how we would spend the money, but very few people see that dream turn into a reality. Maybe that’s a good thing! It might just be that extreme wealth solves a number of immediate problems – like paying off the mortgage and credit cards – but it can present a lot of new more insidious problems too. Jealousy, feeding addictions, divorce, loneliness, lack of meaning and self-worth…The old adage that money can’t buy you happiness, might just be true.
While writing my domestic noir JUST MY LUCK – the dark story about a couple winning the lottery and the extremes their jealous friends go to secure a share of those winnings – I interviewed, met, and researched a number of people who had become instant lottery millionaires. Some claimed that they were incredibly happy, others were distinctly less so, going so far as to describe their wins as ‘ruining their life.’
The ability to celebrate and adapt to the new-found wealth seems to be dependant on how much money is won and the winner’s personality, age, and fiscal experience before the win. Some go on to mishandle the situation so drastically that they turn a dream come true into a living nightmare. It’s down to the individual. Again and again, I came across stories like that of Lara and Roger Griffiths, an ordinary working-class couple living in Yorkshire, UK who hit a $2.5 million jackpot. Initially, the couple seemed admirably restrained; they quietly celebrated the win at home with a bottle of champagne and a take-out supper. That level of normality was not sustained! Within one week, the Griffiths quit their jobs, purchased a convertible car, and had a splurge holiday in a luxury hotel in Dubai. They went on to upgrade their home, enjoy shopping sprees, and take more lavish vacations. Wouldn’t we all! However, their lives started spiraling out of control as they binge-spent to the max. The money soon ran out and the couple’s marriage broke down. Their assets had to be sold off to cover the debts and they divorced.
Extreme jealousy from friends and family is sadly often a consequence of a big dollop of brilliant fortune. Even if the money is shared about a bit, winners told me that recipients complained about not receiving enough or would feel resentful and indebted. This led to vicious fallouts between families, even families that claimed never to have rowed before. I came across a woman in Kansas City, grandmother Marva Wilson won £1.4m/$1.95mil on the Missouri Lottery in 2008, but she didn’t hold onto it for long. A family acquaintance scammed the trusting but gullible granny out of her winnings, leaving Marva with nothing. The scammer was sentenced to five years in prison for her crime, but the money wasn’t recovered.
Everyone has different things they value and whilst listening to what winners spent on, I tried not to judge. One winner treated herself to “new boobs” because hers were “wrecked by breastfeeding.” She treated her two sisters the same. She also went back to university though, as the winnings afforded her an education.
One of my personal favorites was the woman who won just under a million and comes from my hometown. She says, “The Lottery win has allowed me to indulge in my passion for Robbie Williams, but I’ve never totted up how much it has cost to see him around 40 times in concert, in places as far-flung as Barcelona, Vegas, Berlin, and Belgium.” Again, don’t judge, each to their own!
Of course, any sort of addiction – drugs, alcohol, cosmetic surgery, or shopping – can be supported freely when there is new-found and extraordinary wealth. A number of winners ended up broke within a relatively short time. Instead of investing his winnings sensibly in something like property or even the stock market, 45-year-old Ronnie Music Jr chose to invest in crystal meth of all things when he landed a £2.13m/$3mil prize playing the Georgia Lottery, USA, in February 2015. Thankfully, the hapless drug dealer was caught. Obviously, on top of losing his investment, Ronnie Music Jr was sentenced to prison in April 2016. He’s serving 21 years.
Winning vast amounts of wealth is vastly different to incrementally earning it. There is no past experience or judgment to rely on and bad decisions are made. Many people give up their jobs as soon as they win a fortune, and it must be tempting if you are not in a fulfilling role. But without jobs, people have less meaning or self-worth.
It doesn’t always have to end in disaster though. Many winners release ambitions, give to charities, make their families secure, and invest wisely. I was heartened to hear the story of Sue Richards. She was on the way home from a night shift as a carer when in 2016 when she bought a scratch card. She won $4.25m. She and her partner bought a new home, four new cars, a motor home, and holidays abroad. She also helped her children get onto the property ladder. Last year, Ms. Richards marked the anniversary of her win by having a bottle of champagne mown into her lawn. But – importantly and impressively – Ms. Richards still works 50-hour weeks as a carer and says she loves her job.
By Adele Parks author of JUST MY LUCK
Adele Parks is the #1 Sunday Times bestselling author of twenty novels, including Lies Lies Lies and Just My Luck, as well as I Invited Her. Just My Luck is currently in development to be made into a movie. Her novels have sold 4 million copies in the UK alone, and her work has also been translated into thirty-one languages. Connect with her on Twitter @adeleparks, on Instagram @adele_parks, and on Facebook @AdeleParksOfficial.