Lessons You Learn When Your Sister Wins the Lottery

BlogHer Original Post

The two biggest problems I've faced because my sister won tens of millions of dollars in the lottery are 1) Not being able to blog about it so that she could retain some sort of privacy 2) Trying to blog about it several years later.

OK the not blogging about it wasn't TOO hard. I do have the ability to keep my fingers off of the keys. I wanted to blog it but that desire faded pretty quickly because of the reactions of the few people I told about it. A couple of days after I found out, I told my co-workers before the start of a phone conference and the response was both surprising and troubling to me and went something like this:

Me: My sister won XX million dollars in the lottery last week.
Coworker: OMG, you're kidding? OMG, when are you quitting your job and who can we hire to replace you?
Me: Umm no I'm not kidding and I said my SISTER won the lottery, not me. I won't be quitting my job.
Coworker: Well why not? She's going to share it with you, that's what lottery winners do!
Me: Ummm, it is? Well, I don't know what she's going to do but it's her money and no I'm not quitting my job.
Coworker: That's crazy.
Me: [nervous laughter]

The discussions I had with friends and coworkers tended to go along in that vein for a good long while and they made me very uncomfortable. They also caused me to stop and think about my pat response to the "What would you do if you won the lottery?" question that has inundated online communities since the dawn of online communities. My answer has always been...

I'd buy a house only a tiny bit bigger than the house I'm living in now. I'd set up trusts for my kids. I'd give the rest away to family, friends and causes I cared about. And then, I'd simply live the way I've been living. No trips around the world, no quitting my job, no new expensive cars, no diamonds or new wardrobes.

That's a pretty typical answer from my experience with this question and online communities. There are some variations, but generally it's the take care of your immediate needs, splurge on something awesome, and then share it with those you care about and just keep on living your life. But would that be what my sister and my brother in law decided to do with their winnings? I'll be honest and say that TW and I and my big kids spent a lot of time in those early days wondering what they would do with it. It's a much more interesting topic when it's a family member who was photographed holding that huge lottery check.

It's also a much more sensitive topic. I can go from criticizing my sister for her spending to praising her for her thriftyness - all in the same conversation. It was that way in the first six months after the money was in their hands and it is that way today - several years later.

I've learned a lot about myself and how I feel about money by being the big sister of a lottery winner. My answer to the "What would you do if you won the lottery?" question has changed quite a bit because I've watched my sister make choices that I both agree completely with and disagree completely with. I've seen her change and I've seen how she has stayed the same. I don't know for sure, 100%, nobody truly knows until it happens to them but here's my new answer to that question...

I'd pay off my bills. I'd buy a house a little bit bigger than I'm living in now. I'd set my kids up with a SMALL amount of money to help them in emergencies. I'd share a percentage with my immediate family members and a few close friends (taking the IRS and its' "gift rules" into consideration.) I'd donate a percentage of my wealth every year to causes I care about. And I would invest the rest very, very wisely. I would NOT give it all away to friends and family and causes I care about. And, as much as I love my job - I'd probably have to leave it because people treat you differently when you are a multi-millionare.

I've learned these lessons from my sister.

At first my sister tried to continue with her job but it was uncomfortable for her and she thought it was uncomfortable for her co-workers. Relationships with people are different once you win the lottery. All relationships. All people.

I've thought a lot about the kid factor. My sister didn't have children when she won. She has two sons now. They're growing up wealthy, very very wealthy and are going to have completely different lives from the lives lived by my kids (even the very privileged younger three.) While I wouldn't deprive my kids of some of the perks of having a ton of money, I wouldn't hand it over to them either. There are benefits to living a normal, struggle to make ends meet, work your way up the job ladder type of life. I think it would be important for me to make sure they still had those kinds of experiences.

Then comes that giving it away bit. I really thought I would give it all away but now that my sister has not given it all away, I realize just how smart that is. She was always thrifty - even more so than I am (and I'm pretty darn thrifty) - and she's remained thrifty. That's a smart way to live. Many lottery winners run through their money quickly. Little Sis and BIL haven't done that and there aren't any indications that they're going to. If I hadn't watched my sister, I just might be one of those people who went from riches to rags. I wouldn't have thought it out... because I really hate money.

I don't want to talk about money which means I would have wanted to just get rid of it so I didn't have to deal with it every darn day. Or worry about whether I had enough to live off of. Better to just get rid of it and keep working. My baby sister is much too smart for that kind of thinking and I've learned my lesson from that. If I ever win, I'm not giving it all away. Sorry, folks. ;-)

That is really the most valuable lesson I could ever have learned from my sister - that as much as I really do hate to think about money or talk about money, I need to do it. I need to watch my money, and not just by being thrifty. I need to put it to work for me now, so I won't have to work nearly as hard later. I need to teach my kids these kinds of lessons now, while they're young rather than when they are older than dirt, like me. My sister winning the lottery was a blessing in a way that I did not expect it to be.

Now one more thing, before I shut this post down - the last lesson I've learned from watching my sister and her millions. Money may not buy happiness but it buys a peace of mind and that peace of mind does bring a kind of happiness that you do not have without it.

Yes, she still has some of the same types of problems we all have. Yes, she has some new problems that I will never have because let's face it, I'm not going to win the darn lottery. But, she does not have the types of worries that the rest of us poor non-millionares have - the ones about whether you're going to lose your job in this economy. The ones about whether you can ever pay off the medical bills from the last hospitalization. The ones about your student loans. The ones about the unexpected emergencies that you just can't cover. The ones about how the hell you're going to dig your stupid zillion foot driveway out from under 13" of snow to take your MIL to the ER when she can't breathe. Nope, my sister does not have those kinds of worries and better yet, she has the money to help ease some of those worries in the lives of her family and her friends.

No, she has not gifted me with millions of dollars. Yes, she has given some non-taxable monetary gifts to family members and those gifts have helped ease the worries over medical bills and student loans. And yes, she's given at least one family member a snow thrower and that snow thrower has made one family happier than I can ever begin to tell you.

Maria blogged about winning the lottery and whether it might "buy" happiness. I say it definitely does, particularly when happiness comes in the shape of a $200 snow thrower that you could not afford to purchase yourself.

What would you do if you won XX million dollars in the lottery? And how is your money working for you, right now?

~~Denise
Flamingo House Happenings

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