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Side Hustles

The Lottery Fantasy vs. The Lottery Curse

Have you ever bought lottery tickets?

DH = Dear Husband

Have you ever bought a lottery ticket? Here’s a true confession: I have been chipping in with a group at work for a long time. Twice a year, about 24 of us fork over $20 for the privilege of membership in the lottery club. So far, we have won enough to buy extra tickets every once in a while. Is it worth it? Sure! It’s fun to “What would you do if . . . ?” with other members of the group. Besides, how would I feel if I suddenly stopped participating – and then our work group won? (Do not tell Dave Ramsey! It’s a big no-no to have anything to do with lottery tickets according to his Total Money Makeover plan – which I am following.)

DH has firmly maintained throughout our marriage that it would be disastrous for us to win the lottery. “We would fight about what to do with the money. We’d be lost. We’d be ruined.” I, on the other hand, have always said that it would be GREAT to win the lottery. How could it not be?

“Lottery curse”

“‘Lottery curse’ can disrupt lives” said a headline in a local newspaper yesterday. In 2006, 24-year-old Daniel Carley, “a small-time weed dealer”, won $5 million. He was given the advice that all winners are given: “Get a financial adviser . . . Then delist your phone and change the locks on your home.” Unfortunately, Carley did not follow this advice – at least not the bit about seeking professional guidance for his sudden wealth. “He blew more than half the money in the first three years, at a rate approaching $20,000 per week.” Yikes! How do you even do that?

Last week, Carley – now 35 years old – was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for dealing crack. A one-time sudden millionaire now lost and ruined – as per DH’s dire prediction.

“But we’re not like him,” I would say to DH. To begin with, we’re older. And we aren’t small-time weed dealers. We would keep our heads and make a plan.

“Edward Ugel, author of Money for Nothing: One Man’s Journey Through The Dark Side of Lottery Millions, has said that, of the thousands of winners he interviewed, a few were happy, ‘but you would be blown away to see how many winners wish they’d never won.’” Here are some other remarkably negative aspects of lottery wins:

  • It is estimated that 2/3 of lottery winners go broke within 7 years.
  • Sudden money disrupts lives and fundamentally changes people – for the worse.
  • Lottery wins negatively impact people’s outlooks on those close to them.
  • Lottery winners who quit work don’t know what to do with their time.
  • Those who keep working are often shunned for taking away a job that someone else – who actually needs the income – could fill.

Would I really like to win?

Daniel Carley’s unfortunate journey from lottery winner to convicted crack dealer gives me some pause for thought. If I had won millions several years ago – before I had my financial wake-up – I probably would have spent like crazy. Trips, home renovations (fun fact: American lottery winners buy new homes; Canadian lottery winners renovate their homes); major clothing shopping sprees for my daughters and myself; restaurants to infinity . . . And no doubt, I would have developed consumer tastes, appetites, and yearnings previously unknown to me – to keep the spending frenzy going. And DH and I . . . Well, with my out-of-control chaos and his out-of-control control and worry . . . It wouldn’t have been pretty.

But now? Now that we’re 4 years into our journey out of debt? Now that we have an awareness of our money-related flaws and have even overcome some of them? Wouldn’t we stand a chance to be among those “few were happy” lottery winners? Maybe not. As I wrote last week, the power of habit can be incredibly stubborn, and I still have some bad money behaviors that I’m very aware of – but that I haven’t got the better of yet. If I’m struggling to get the better of them now, how would I succeed with the temptation of millions at hand?

A shortcut to our debt-freedom moment?

DH and I sometimes imagine the day when we’ll be debt-free. The day we put that last payment against our mortgage. The day we walk with bare feet through our backyard. (That’s a Ramsey thing: “The grass under your feet will feel different when you own your home.”) I wouldn’t mind a short cut to that day, but I really do believe that there will be a more profound sense of satisfaction if we get there by our own intentional effort. And that’s a good thing – because the chance of my work group ever winning the lottery is about 1 in 14 million.

I still say it’s fun to imagine the win, but I’ll keep a healthy separation between my imagination and my reality. The odds for a lottery win are pretty hopeless, but the odds for overcoming self-sabotaging financial habits and gaining gradual victories over debt are actually quite high. And that’s the win I’m counting on.

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Erin Thompson

Erin Thompson spent years managing her own blog about budgeting and debt. Because of that, she has great insights not only about managing spending and borrowing but also about running websites profitably. When she's not writing articles for us, she's traveling and looking for new types of wines to try.
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