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How many favorite numbers do you have? April 18, 2014

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Blog regulars know that our friend Ben loves the lottery, the cheapest form of hope. For less than the price of a Coke or a pack of gum, I can buy a ticket that holds the promise of financial freedom. It’s great motivation to get out of bed in the morning.

This morning, I noticed that my ticket contained an ad for another lottery game called Quinto. It announced, “Pick your five favorite numbers. If you have an exact match, you win $50,000!” Reading this made me wonder, “Do I have five favorite numbers?!!”

It’s sort of like asking someone to pick their five favorite letters. It might be kind of fun (and revealing) to pick your five favorite words. But numbers, like letters, are just means to an end. In the case of letters, that end is words, things with meaning(s) and, usually, layers of meaning. In the case of numbers, the end is just more numbers.

At a guess, if people had to pick favorite numbers, most would choose 7 and 11, the “lucky” numbers. But beyond that? Do you have five favorite numbers?

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If you won the lottery… May 25, 2012

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“Silence! Are you thinking prosperous thoughts?”

“Ben, I’m always thinking prosperous thoughts. So… have we finally won anything?”

“Er.”

“Not again!”

“Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.”

Silence Dogood and our friend Ben are fortunate to live in a state that has a lottery. We consider it the cheapest form of hope. For less than the cost of a bottle of Coke or a candy bar, you can buy a ticket to financial freedom. We buy exactly one ticket a day, and first thing in the morning, we go online to see if we’ve finally won. We’re not morning people, so wondering if we’ve become instant millionaires is a great way to get us out of bed in the morning. And when we discover that, yet again, our ticket is not a winner, our spirits aren’t dampened, since, after all, there’s tomorrow’s ticket already waiting for its chance.

Admittedly, this is the only sort of gambling we indulge in. We don’t see much sense in sinking the minute amount of financial resources at our disposal into efforts that promise no more than our dollar-a-day lottery habit. But we do think that $7 a week invested toward our potential financial security is a better investment than, say, $20 spent for us to go out to a movie, which after all we can rent on Netflix along with bazillion others for $13 a month. Not to mention that in our state, Pennsylvania, the lottery directly supports services for the elderly, so our money is being used in a very good cause. 

Having lottery tickets on hand not only boosts our spirits, it’s a spur to self-knowledge and creative thinking. What would we do if we actually won? We like to split our plans into categories based on the amount of takehome money:

$500,000 or less: Pay off any debts, put the rest in the bank.

$600,000: Previous, plus buy new cars to replace the 240,000- and 180,000-mile models we bought used and drive now. This would be the first time we’d bought not-used cars in our lives. But we’d still probably stick to the VW Golf and Honda CRV that we know and love. If there was any money left over from that “extra” $100,000, we’d love to finally be able to travel, to Greece and Crete, by ship to Europe, to the Southwest and West Coast.

$1 million: Previous, plus upgrade from our tiny, falling-apart cottage home to one of the marvelous Colonial-era stone farmhouses with amazing outbuildings in our area. Um, who are we kidding? This would probably cost between $500,00 and $1 million-plus all by itself. But at least we could afford to fix our Hawk’s Haven homestead and get someone in for regular landscape and home maintenance.

$1.5-2 million: Maybe now we could get that gorgeous historic home, or at least finally be able to afford to live in and maintain OFB’s family’s National Historic Register home, Mile End, between Nashville and Franklin, Tennessee. 

$7 million, after taxes: We think this is the line in the sand for financial security in these times. Once we’d done all the things we needed with the interest income, we’d hopefully have lots left over to give our families and friends the gift of financial independence.

Anything more than $7 million: Yes!!! At last, a chance to create and contribute to scholarships, museums, college endowments, Native American and environmental causes, and everything else we think would be worth pursuing. A chance to give back to a world that has been so generous to us. We don’t need more than $7 million in the bank. Anything more than that is free money to give to help everyone else. If we get there, believe us, we’ll let you know!

Meanwhile, what would you do if you won the lottery?!

Playing the odds. June 9, 2011

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Our friend Ben was standing in line at our local grocery’s lottery line yesterday when the man in front of me asked for $20 in tickets—20 tickets—for today’s Cash 5 lottery game. Cash 5 has a smaller prize than, say, Powerball or MegaMillions, so presumably the odds of winning are higher. And the prize had crept up from its $125,000 baseline to over a million dollars. Our friend Ben could see why the man was excited.

When my turn came, I asked for a single ticket ($1) for the same Cash 5 game. “Just one?” the cashier asked. “It only takes one,” I answered. “That’s what they say,” said a guy in the next line. “But my wife and I never win anything.”

Well, neither do Silence Dogood and I. At least, not in terms of money. The odds against winning are, after all, astronomical. As our good friend Rudy once pointed out, “You have as much chance of winning as of having Skylab fall on your head.” Our friend Ben was extremely humiliated when someone pointed out that Skylab had actually returned to Earth several decades earlier, highlighting both Rudy’s sarcasm and my own ignorance. Ouch!

So why do we put our (single) dollar down? We try to buy a $1 lottery ticket every day. It’s not hard to do the math: That’s a $365 investment every year for what seems to be no return on investment, a total net loss. But our calculation is somewhat different: We’re investing $365 a year in pure, unadulterated hope.

To put this in perspective, let’s say you buy a coffee or latte or whatever from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts on your way to work every morning, or grab a Coke or Pepsi from the vending machine or grocery cooler to enjoy with your lunch. More than $1? You betcha. What if you decide to go to the movies once a week with the kids? At $9-plus a ticket (let’s not even think about 3-D or iMAX), plus drinks, popcorn, and candy from the counter vendor, you’re talking about $80-plus for four. A week. Silence and I don’t spend our money on coffee, soda, or first-run movies (if we want to see them, we’ll catch them through Netflix later for $15/month for as many as we can watch). Instead, we spend our $365 a year buying hope. 

Our friend Ben thinks of the lottery as the cheapest form of hope. For only a dollar a day, you could win financial freedom for life! What other investment offers this sort of payback? Imagine spending a dollar a day for an elixir that would let you get up every morning thinking, “Today I might have won millions of dollars and never have to worry about anything ever again!” If you could bottle this, you’d make more money than Warren Buffett and Bill Gates combined.

Silence and our friend Ben are not what you’d call morning people, so it takes a lot to get us going in the morning. The promise of the lottery and financial independence really helps get us out of bed in a better frame of mind. And if, as usually happens, we don’t win? There’s always tomorrow. Another day, and hope renewed. It was just a dollar, after all, less than a single 16-ounce Coke. (And, as Silence points out, without the calories!) No disappointment, just eternal hope. We think that’s priceless.

Yes, you’re right if you think we failed to win today’s Cash 5 drawing. Our friend Ben hopes the guy who plumped down $20 on tickets won. But you can bet the prospect brightened our day, and we’re already looking forward to tomorrow.