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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Lottery Test

Why do you work?  For the most part we all work for money. Salaries, healthcare benefits, retirements, helping the kids with college, have I left anything out? Very few of us work because we love it. I know some people who have, and I admire the heck out of them. But, most of us find things we are good at and do them for money. We are doctors, lawyers, and business executives and we all work for money. As the years go by, the question of doing what we love becomes more and more removed from the equation. It becomes doing what we can and must.

But, what if you won the Lotto? I think that poses an interesting twist to the question of doing what we love. It removes money from the equation. I know that some of you might say, “Well, that depends on how much I win!” Ok, fine. Let’s just say you won enough to free yourself from working if you want to. You won enough to quit your job and do anything you really wanted to. You won, after taxes, 12 million dollars. If that’s not enough then you are reading the wrong blog! If you are still reading, ask yourself the question, would I still do what I currently do if I won the lotto? More than your job, would you stay living in the same place? Would you do things differently for your family or relatives? What would you do with the rest of your life if you had that winning ticket?

A little disclaimer: I just bought a lotto ticket in Florida over the weekend.  Hawaii does not have a lottery, but over the weekend I was dealing with some family issues. On a whim I bought a 52 draw ticket. I know it’s a waste of money. But now, I can dream about winning a few million in the lotto. At least I can for the next 26 weeks. I think a little diversion for 26 weeks is worth $52, but that’s just me.

So how would I answer the question? Such a fun question! I wish some of you would comment on this and tell what you would do. Imagine yourself beyond the initial shock of winning. Think about the moves you would make over the next year if you won tomorrow.

This will sound absurd, but my life wouldn’t change that much. I know that sounds a bit contrived. But remember, I have already been pretty lucky. I sort of won the real estate lottery a few years back, so I made some of the changes you might be dreaming about.  I already live in the place I love most in the world. I think Kailua is one of the best places on this planet to call home. It has everything I want in a location; beautiful beaches, excellent and plentiful hiking, loads of water sports, and perfect weather.  Even if I had a billion dollars, I would want to live in Kailua.  So I wouldn’t move.

I also love my house, mainly because I did all the remodeling myself. My home is a reflection of my wife and me. We chose the colors and the design. I did ninety percent of the work myself. I have a lot of pride in the final product. Because I saved so much money on labor, we were able to splurge on cabinets and appliances. We remodeled during the 2008 recession and we found huge discounts on all the materials. So, I really wouldn’t change much about where I live. I would certainly pay my loan off. But, right now it is being covered by my tenants. Winning a lottery would allow me to have no mortgage, but I would still keep renting out the two rentals on our property, since the income is great, and it keeps the property safe. Winning the lotto wouldn’t change much as far as my home.

This is the view from the front of my house. 

What about my job? I suppose it would probably allow me to close my PT practice. But only if that meant starting some other business I would enjoy more.  I really loved buying homes and renovating them in Florida. I was truly passionate about that when I did it in Florida. What stops me from doing that in Hawaii is the cost of homes. If I won the Lotto, I could afford to buy a run down home and take the time to remodel it. I would love to be back in the house business. But would I really give up on treating clients forever? I have to say, I love helping people. It would be nice to work about 20 hours a week seeing patients. If I wasn’t burdened by saving for my retirement and keeping my business afloat, I would have time to go to more continuing education courses. Possibly, I would even do some volunteering, providing my service for free. I do that sometimes now, but it would be fun to be able to do it even more.

The thing is, I still see myself being a PT, just working a lot less hours. I also already manage real estate; my own home has 3 separate living areas, two that we rent out. Winning the lottery would allow me to balance my time between my PT job, real estate, and my family.

But I only work three days a week right now, so it's not going to change that much. I think the big thing would be knowing that I have my retirement funded. That would take a huge load off my mind. I am about 8 years away from my retirement goal right now. That doesn’t mean we are done working, just that our retirement accounts will be fully funded in about 8 years. After that point, we planned to continue working, but only at about forty percent of what we currently do. We save about sixty percent of what we earn after taxes. Once that savings goal is met, we plan to really cut back on the time we spend working.

My goal is not to be retired. Instead, I hope to slowly find myself in businesses I enjoy more and doing things that will engage me until I am too old to know my own name. I want to be a writer. I want to own rental properties. I want to be an investor in businesses and companies. I want to have the freedom to invent things and start new businesses.  I am in some ways all those things right now. I hope to be doing them more and more as time goes by. Winning 12 million would certainly accelerate those plans. But it wouldn’t change them. I was very lucky 8 years ago. Because I owned rental properties in the right place, our dream of moving  back to Hawaii was accelerated. Instead of having to work hard for 10 more years in Florida, we were able to move to Hawaii in two years. But it wasn’t the panacea I envisioned. Within another year, I was so miserable I almost killed myself.

You know, a lot of lotto winners have the same thing happen to them. They believe the money will make them happy. They mistakenly think money will solve all their problems. I promise you, it won’t. Everything that’s wrong with your life now, will only be magnified by winning millions. My own personality flaws were super-sized by making money in real estate.  There were communication problems my wife and I had that were made worse once we had a larger bank account. Money made those problems worse. It took both of us admitting the problem and honestly working through things before it was solved. Money had nothing to do with the solution. 

There was a propensity I had for trying to make things too large that only was made worse with the extra money. It's taken me years to realize that money doesn’t really solve anything, but it does speed things up. What might take you years of saving a meager pay check, will take a lottery winner just a moment. Is that really better? Sometimes, when you are forced to work for years toiling at a goal, you appreciate and value the goal more. You also have time to really think about the mechanics of it. When you have fast and easy money, do you make the same decisions? Probably not!

I am not saying I wouldn’t love to win the lottery. I am saying my dreams and goals won’t change. Right now, I feel I am working toward the same goals and aspirations I would have if I really did win millions. I just have to work a decade or so to achieve those.

Do you know what would really change for me? I would love to travel more! We took a three day trip to Florida last week. I think we spent as much time on a plane as we did seeing everyone. It was a terrible trip filled with family issues. But we still enjoyed the time away.  Last Christmas, we went to New Zealand for a backpacking odyssey. The year before, we went spelunking in Australia. We also did the Kalalau Trail on Kauai three times in the last three years. My kids had more fun out of those trips than all the birthdays and Christmases combined. Those are by far the best times I have had in the past five years. We should have traveled more. I want my kids to see Europe and Patagonia. I want to hike the Inca trail with them.  

We don’t travel that much because of our practice. We are really afraid to close it more than a week once a year. We work so hard to market it, we feel it kills our business to be closed more than that. I went to Florida for only three days because it meant the office was only closed for two days. In the past 8 years we have only closed our office for 6 weeks. Six weeks over 8 years!

That’s crazy! I am sitting here right now thinking, “If I won the lottery, I would travel more.” How dumb is that? My wife and I are healthy right now. My kids are young right now. That combination will never occur again. I think the lottery test is telling me something. I may not be able to travel for a month right now, but it's wrong for us to only take a week of vacation a year. Why should I have to wait for retirement to enjoy that aspect of life? We don’t have to spend tons of money, nor do we need more than a week off. I have enough credit card miles to send all of us to Europe. Closing the office will cost us, but we can just work harder when we are back. If I really feel my life would be enhanced by travel, why would I need the impossibly unlikely lotto win to make that happen? What am I afraid of?

Ok, you can answer that for yourself. My point is this, you shouldn’t need millions of dollars to live the life you want. Whatever it is that you want to do, find a way to start doing it today. I am not ever going to win the lotto. Neither are you. But I can do the things I want to do now, even if that means I work a few extra years. Money is always something I can earn, time isn’t.



  1. Excellent post.

    You explain it so well, I do not believe that winning the lottery would ruin you.


  2. If I win the lottery it would be a time for serious spending and serious benevolence. It would give me the opportunity to be like Andrew Carnegie during his donating and funding period. Carnegie said that you should spend the first half of life accumulating wealth and the second half giving it away. Unfortunately, I did not accumulate enough wealth by working, nor did I invest well enough. In fact, I consider myself a pretty poor investor, but it is somewhat comforting to read your story and know that I am not alone. Would the lottery ruin me? Absolutely not. It would give me the opportunity to have a new career as a donor, as a funder, as an altruist!


  3. Joel,

    Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!