It was 9 a.m. on December 2, 2009 when I heard the frantic knocking at the front door. My grandfather was pacing on the front porch.
“Is your mother home yet? She’ll be here shortly. Have you heard from her?” he asked me.
“No. Why? What’s wrong?”
He wouldn’t answer me. He just came in the house and paced around the dining room with his hands in his pockets for ten minutes until my mom came home.
“You better sit down,” she told me.
Obviously, I thought someone died.
She handed me a lottery ticket that my grandfather had purchased that morning. A scratch-off with Santa’s large, cheerful face beaming from the top.
For as long as I can remember, my grandfather has played the lottery every single day, frequently hitting between $5 and $500 on a regular basis.
The number 19 had been matched to the winning numbers, the prize revealed.
The next five hours went by in a blur. The ticket was verified. My father was called home from work. My mother’s siblings were notified. My siblings were notified. Lawyers and financial advisors were called. We made the decision that we weren’t going to tell anyone because we didn’t want people to see us differently. Having no clue how to manage his own finances, my grandfather made the decision to gift the ticket to my mother. She would have to cash it in her name, but that would allow her to manage it for him.
The first fight broke out that very night when my cousin, who is kind of a snake, said that it wasn’t fair that my mom got to control the money. She vehemently disagreed with my grandfather’s wishes to have my mom manage his finances (though mom had been doing it for years anyway).
A winning ticket with a sum that large has to be cashed at the state lottery commission building, and the decision was made to make that trip the next day (upon the advice of our lawyer). I was left in charge of the ticket for the night. After burying it in my tank top drawer (sock drawers are too obvious), I tried to sleep, but the adrenaline of the day caused me to wake up every hour, convinced someone was going to break into the house and kill us for that ticket.
You’d be surprised at how fast complete paranoia sets in when you’ve got a piece of cardstock worth a million dollars hanging out amidst your summer wardrobe.
At the lottery commission, we went through all of the hoopla involved in cashing this thing. I could breathe easier when it was out of my hands (and my purse, and my tank top drawer…).
FYI: Lottery winnings have the absolute crap taxed out of them. If you ever win a million, expect that you’ll see about $650,000. That still a good chunk of change, but it doesn’t make you a millionaire.
We declined to have our picture taken with one of those oversized checks.
“We’re trying to stay anonymous. We don’t want word getting out,” my mom explained to the woman handling our paperwork.
“Your name will still appear as a winner on our website, but someone would have to go searching for it to find out,” we were assured. She neglected to mention that local media outlets all over the state apparently camp out on their website.
We were told that we could expect to receive the money in several months, and we were sent on our way.
For about three weeks we continued living life as we always had. Then one Saturday morning, my mom frantically woke me from a (finally!) peaceful slumber.
“Get up. The news found out.”
My heart sank. It had been published in the newspaper as soon as my mom’s name hit the lottery website. They wrote an entire story about us, saying that we had declined to comment. I was unemployed and home all the time. No one had ever tried to reach us for comment. No one had asked us whether we were comfortable with airing our finances to the whole region.
Such is the nature of the media.
There was an angry message on our answering machine from my dad’s sister. “We didn’t know you guys were millionaires. Thanks for letting us know.”
I called her back, trying to explain the circumstances while other calls came in.
An old high school boyfriend of my mother’s showed up at her work that day – totally by coincidence — with his son.
“Hey, don’t you have a daughter who is about my son’s age? Maybe they should go out on a date.”
FYI: After you win the lottery, every weirdo you have ever known will come out of the woodwork and try to see what they can get from you. They might get belligerent. I 100% promise you this will happen.
This is what it was like for the next several months. Any time we were out in public and we had to put our name on anything, someone would say, “Hey, you’re the millionaires!”
And if they didn’t, you were always kind of worried that they would.
FYI: After you win the lottery, you desperately seek anonymity.
Once the money came, my mother was as transparent as she could be, but it didn’t prevent more fighting with family members. It didn’t prevent hurt feelings or people making wild assumptions that we were all going to quit our jobs or move into some fancy house. We all live in the same houses we always did. We drive Hondas.
The biggest change? My grandfather made some upgrades to his 300 year old house. His front porch is no longer cracked, his windows no longer drafty, his electrical wiring no longer considered a fire hazard, and the paint on his house no longer peeling. That eats up quite a bit of money.
He also operates a farm, meaning he made very little money before and it wasn’t always enough to cover his farming expenses. He was in quite a bit of debt that he’s been able to pay off.
About a month ago, the local newspaper called to see if we wanted to provide a statement on how winning the lottery has changed our lives.
We ignored the call because … it hasn’t. We still pinch pennies and worry about bills being paid on time.
While our winnings were much smaller, I still feel uniquely qualified to leave you with some advice.
If you win the $640 Million Mega Millions Jackpot, Be Prepared…
- Doing your taxes for 2012 will be a nightmare. Seriously. A nightmare. Get a killer CPA.
- You’ll find very few people who are understanding about your decisions. There will be fights, bad blood, hurt feelings, tears, and stress — the likes of which you’ve probably never before experienced at this level.
- Don’t put all of the money into one bank account. That’s just stupid.
- Your family dynamic could potentially be destroyed by the lottery.
- The Lottery Curse. Just sayin’. And if you’ve ever seen LOST, you know exactly what I mean. (Who’s playing 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42 tonight?)
- People you don’t know or haven’t seen in so long that you can’t even remember them will suddenly feel entitled to your time…. and also your money.
- Every single time you hear someone talking about what they would do if they won the lottery, you will feel kind of uncomfortable. If they say it to you, you’ll feel paranoid too, wondering if they know and what they mean by it. PS, this happens just about every day.
- Privacy and anonymity are things of the past, at least for a while.
- Use some of your money to get a state of the art alarm system for your house. Don’t think the mega millions weirdos won’t find out where you live. If you’re living in a one-bedroom apartment, they’re still going to assume you have a tremendous amount of expensive belongings inside.
Overall, winning the lottery is definitely a unique experience, but remember who you were before and stay true to that. Be aware that for all of the positives, there are a bunch of negatives that are often overlooked. Good luck!
This story was contributed by a writer who wishes to remain anonymous.