It’s 4:22AM as I begin yet another post about money. Are you sick of reading about money, yet? Posts about how much money my business makes, each month, and how much product I’m giving away. Posts like the last one, about my personal financial situation and outlook. Now this post, about my dreams/fantasies about money. Have I mentioned I haven’t written much of anything in several days? I was really on a roll there, for a while. You suppose it’s thinking about money blocking me up, or being blocked up leading my mind to wander into even less comfortable territory than the tyranny of the blank page? Tonight, yet again, I couldn’t get to sleep. At 9PM, when we got home from seeing a free screening of Love and Other Drugs (a fun romantic comedy with a serious side (I want to say: secret agenda – they’ve built the funny, romantic movie around a movie about dealing with debilitating disease, with a side order of the medical & pharmaceutical industries are fucking us all), which also happens to have more fully-nude Anne Hathaway (and Jake Gyllenhaal) than I’ve ever seen before), Mandy went right to bed and I knew I had no chance of sleeping right away. So I stayed up to continue work on hand-painting an eBook cover. I reached the point where all I could do was wait for paint to dry at around 2AM, and I felt physically exhausted from the work, so I tried to go to sleep. After tossing and turning and thinking for an hour, I stood up to find that, yes, it was 3:10AM. So I ate something, grabbed the mail (Mandy and I filled out our ballots over dinner before the movie), and walked to the post office and back, all the while thinking. I think I came to an interesting point of interest along the way, so I’m sharing it. (Also: I still can’t sleep.)
One of the things that occurred to me, while going through all the thoughts and calculations about debt in the last few days, was the thought of “winning the lottery.” I agree that, generally speaking, the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math. Still, I like to spend $1 on one lottery ticket about once every year or two, just in case it’s my turn. I also like to spend $5 or $10 on games of chance (usually a random slot machine) each time I find myself visiting Las Vegas. Gambling doesn’t do much for me, but I figure a moderate amount is not unreasonable. Yes, I also go outside in the occasional thunderstorm; I haven’t yet been hit by lightning, either. Anyway, one of the instructive things I like to do, when considering playing the lottery, is to see whether I have anything constructive to do with the money. I figure my odds are even lower of winning if God knows I’m not ready for it… and even now, I figure I’m not ready for a really big prize. Here’s how I arrived at that thought:
I usually start by thinking about moderate “big” wins, either $100,000 or $1,000,000. With any amount, the first 10% is a tithe, so for $1,000,000 I figure (after perhaps 40% goes to taxes) $50,000 each to K-LOVE and my local church, leaving us with around $500,000. A little over $70k of that would get us 100% out of debt right now, and I could go to art school, Mandy could get her masters degree, we could buy a moderately-sized house outright, maybe pay off my sister’s condo, and still have around $100,000 to invest for our future/retirement. Things like going to Japan become easier choices, and going back to school is a “yes” instead of a “maybe… someday… (probably not)” Even with as little as a $100,000 prize ($10k tithe, $40k taxes) we can pay off both cars, all our credit cards, and about half the student loans – bumping us up to a point where we can be 100% debt free in about a year and a half. Japan would still be “now” instead of “later” and our effective income would jump (once fully out of debt) by about 50%, making everything else a little easier. School becomes “soon” instead of “maybe.”
Then, jumping up and down orders of magnitude feels like a natural exploration. A $10,000 win ($1k tithe, probably $2,500 in additional taxes for the year) still gives us enough money to pay off both cars, which would free up $640/month toward getting out of debt sooner. It would take at least a year off getting out of debt, and could save thousands of dollars in interest payments. $1,000 win ($100 tithe, probably $250 additional taxes) gets Mandy’s car paid off about two months earlier, which bumps everything else up at least as much. $100 win we’d probably spend on entertainment and clothes (we’re both losing weight effectively enough we need smaller clothes every few months). $10 win we’d barely notice. $1 win is just the lottery saying “thanks, but no thanks, keep your money.”
Except right now in Arizona I have access to two multi-state lotteries, one of which is at about $72 million and the other of which is at about $110 million. It seems I see the billboards advertising a lottery in the $100 million plus range at least a couple of times a year. So I thought to myself, what about $100,000,000? I know that in reality I’d have to choose between lump-sum (usually about half the “full” win amount) and annuity, and that -if I were good at investing, and the markets weren’t about to crash- I could be “better off” taking the lump-sum. But with a win in the $100,000,000 range, even knowing that $30m-$40m will go to taxes, my take on the annuity would be around $2,000,000 per year for 30 years. Since I’d long-since calculated that a simple $1 million prize (pre-tax) was more than enough for my family and our future (out of debt, plus home, school, & retirement covered), $2 million per year ($1.8m after tithe) for almost as long as I’ve already lived on this Earth is nearly overwhelming. Like, I don’t know, right now, what in the world, exactly, I would do with so much money, overwhelming.
The full prize isn’t “big” money, not as far as the top 1% of Americans goes, and not as far as the big multi-national corporations view it. I probably couldn’t, for example, build a functioning, self-sustaining arcology for so little as $50m. Big money is now in the billions. When last I asked at Arcosanti, they projected they’d need $5b to complete their small, experimental arcology, and had no idea what a moderately-sized one (~100k residents) would cost to build. Apple has >$50b in the bank. Facebook is worth $25b -$31b. Huge money is now in the trillions. Trillion dollar bank bailouts, trillion dollar wars. To the big players, to the huge players, $50m is petty cash.
On the other hand, that annuity works out to nearly $5k/day in a world where around a billion people live on less than $1/day. Working through the possibilities, thinking about setting up scholarships, about developing tools for communicating difficult concepts more clearly to the masses, I quickly determined that I’d probably end up doing something like what the main characters of the book I just wrote did. They flew around the universe, seeking out hard-working people who were trapped in circumstances beyond their control, and found ways to help them, both financially and bureaucratically to escape the limits placed on them by a world which is designed to keep the downtrodden down. I’d probably have to do the same thing if, like them, I found myself with the excessive financial means to do so. I quickly determined that, in that position, giving all I owned to the poor and following Christ would be a long, difficult task (but one I would not shirk from), and that really, deep down, my goal is to have as close to no wealth (of this world) to my name when I die as possible. As close to zero. No burden of debt passed on, and no ridiculous accumulation of what does me no good once I’m through with this body, this Earth.
Upon making this discovery, as I was on my 3:30AM walk back from the post office through my neighborhood, I could not help but laugh out loud. Not at the absurdity of myself, but at the absurdity others would see when they learned this was one of my core ideals, and at the absurdity that the rest of the world does not share this ideal.
It’s now nearly 5:45AM. Mandy has awakened from a full night’s sleep, and is eating breakfast in the next room. I’m still in here, insomniac. But I’m also up to almost 1500 words. Another 1500 words about money. And you probably want to move on to another article/blog/video-of-cats. I understand. I just thought it was an interesting mental exploration, and worth sharing. What would I do if I won the lottery? If it was a little, it would improve my life a little. If a lot ($1m range), it would improve my life, and my family’s life, a lot. If a huge amount ($100m range), it would improve my life as much as possible, by enabling me to improve the lives of as many people as possible.