What is it like to win the jackpot?

Let’s be honest. We have all dreamt at one point or another of hitting the jackpot, winning on a scratchie or seeing our numbers come up in the lottery. Even those of us who don’t regularly buy lottery tickets, or scratchies or play the pokies or even gamble at all have fantasised about what we would do if we won a large amount of money. So what is it really like? We spoke to a number of people who had won significant amounts of money – ranging from the big wins to the massive, incredible, stuff of your wildest dreams kind of wins. If you weren’t already caught up in dreams of what you’d do with a million dollars, or however much figures in your fantasies, here are some stories. Keep in mind that these are just different stories of what people did with their winnings and an idea of how they felt. This is not advice on the best way to spend your money if you are lucky enough to win. For that kind of advice, check out our frequently asked question, “If I win a big jackpot what should I do with my new fortune?

Steven is 49 and he won $1.5 million last year. “It’s been just so great. We’ve been able to give a lot of gifts to our friends and family. We couldn’t do that kind of thing before, and it really feels great” he says. Steven was working in construction management at the time, moving from building site to building site. He didn’t hate his job, but he didn’t wake up every morning dying to go to work either. “I gave my notice in straight away and it felt amazing. I mean, it was a pretty good job and they were good people, so I gave them my month’s notice and stuck around for that, but I did hand in my notice straight away – as soon as I had found out that I had won.” Since winning the $1.5 million, Steven and his wife Kay have been on a few holidays – one to Bali, one to England to see relatives and another one is booked to the United States of America with their two kids. They are also in the process of buying a new family home on a larger piece of land, out in the country but not too far from where they are now. Steven and Kay are completing their new house themselves and Steven says that they are nearly done. “We are close to finishing up on the new house and we’ll be moving in soon. It’s a fair bit bigger than our current one, not to mention a fair bit nicer as well. It’s also got a bit more land underneath it, so it’s pretty much our dream house – not too far from the town centre, peaceful and quiet and really comfortable. We love it.” Steven’s daughter from his first marriage, Ellla, who is 23, will be moving into their old house nearby. “She’s still at uni, so it’s nice we can help her out” says Kay. Steven explains that his friends think he’s crazy for fixing up his new place himself, but he likes the Do It Yourself stuff. “Yeah, my mates laugh at me a bit, telling me I should spend some of my fortune on a builder to do the stuff I’m doing myself. It’s not that I don’t want to spend the money, I just really like doing it, and I think it really makes a place feel like your own when you know you built some of it. Kay wouldn’t mind hurrying me up a bit though, she is pretty keen to get moving!”

Amanda is 29 and works as a primary school teacher in the western suburbs of Sydney. She and her colleagues have a syndicate - 17 people in total – who buy lottery tickets regularly, and their numbers came up in May 2008. Amanda shared in the winnings of just under $800,000 and netted around $47,000 for herself. “One of the other girls from work called me when we had won. I couldn’t even understand her there was so much noise in the background – laughing and screaming, and Jane, the one who called me, just kept saying “Oh my god oh my god” over and over again. I was a bit worried at first actually! But then Greg, another one in the syndicate grabbed the phone and said ‘We’ve won! We won on our ticket, we won!’ Well I wasn’t sure how much we had won, but because there were quite a few of us in together on the ticket, I wasn’t expecting more than a few thousand dollars – and that was at the outside. When I got to work and found out I had won almost $50,000 – oh I just can’t explain the feeling. It was amazing. I started screaming with everyone else – the kids were looking at us like we had gone a bit crazy, which we had I guess! I started ringing people but no one would believe me. My mum just thought I was joking. I called my fiancé though and he was really excited – he is my husband now. We’d been planning on getting married for ages, but we were just trying to save money for the wedding and the honeymoon and stuff, it all gets so expensive. So we were over the moon and we booked the wedding just a few days after I won. We never wanted a very lavish wedding anyway, so we had exactly what we wanted, and then went to Thailand for our honeymoon and still had most of my winnings leftover, so we put a deposit on an apartment closer to the city. It’s just made such a difference, I can’t believe how lucky I was! We all still go in for the syndicate ticket. We don’t really expect to be lucky enough to win again, but now we know it really is possible, it makes even the buying of it every week pretty exciting.”

Anne is 34 and works in a hospital as a nurse. She won $125,000 last December on a scratchie. “It was a Christmas thing that they were doing at work, a lunch for the nursing staff and we were given our last pay cheque before Christmas after lunch. The hospital is pretty tight for funding, like all state hospitals, so we’re not lucky enough to get bonuses like the big corporate finance managers and whatnot. But the hospital had given us each a scratchie with our Christmas paycheque – more as a bit of fun than as anything serious. Anyway, I didn’t even think of it until I got home later that evening and opened the envelope. I took a ten cent coin from my purse and scratched at the little blocks. Well, when that third $125,000 came up I just couldn’t believe it. And I mean literally couldn’t believe it. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a scratchie before, I suppose most people have. Well they always go out of their way to make it seem like you almost won, sneaking in an extra zero here and there so you think you’ve won but when you look closer you realise you haven’t. Well I was just sure that that is what had really happened, and I was just seeing it wrong, you know? I just kept on looking at it and counting those $125,000s and then putting the ticket down, and picking it up to check again. I ended up calling my neighbour over to check it was really true! Well she saw it and started yelling at me “You’ve won! You’ve won $125,000!!” Seeing her get so excited it finally clicked and I just started laughing and laughing – I was almost crying. I’ve never had too much money you see, I grew up with a lot of brothers and sisters and we were okay – we were never starving or anything like that, but we never had new things like the other kids at school. And then I became a nurse cause I liked nursing, and helping people, but nurses don’t get paid too much either, you see. So when I won that $125,000 I just thought it was the best thing to ever happen to me. I didn’t spend too much of it, most of it is still in the bank. I was able to organise for my mum to get a carer to live with her half the time, which is great as mum didn’t want to move out of her home but things were getting a bit difficult. I went on a bit of a shopping spree I have to admit, bought some new clothes and got my hair done and even bought a new fridge, because my old one had just died. And that’s about it. I mostly live just the same as I did before, it’s just that now there’s a certain sense of peace of mind. I still work my nursing job because I did it in the first place because I liked it. And I don’t need a bigger house or a car or anything flashy like that. Just knowing I can help out my mum, and that if something happens I have some security has really made a difference to my life. I was always pretty happy and positive anyway, but it sure is a load off when you’ve got a bit of money in the bank. I’m thinking of taking a holiday sometime soon, my sister tells me that Bali is beautiful so maybe I’ll go there. Who knows!”

Okay and now for the serious winner. We sat down and spoke with Michael O’Sullivan, 34 year old manager of a newsagency who won a $97 million dollar lottery jackpot a few years ago. He spent the first month of his brand new life after winning the jackpot assembling a team of financial planners and investment analysts to manage his money with the goal of turning his fortune into an even greater fortune. Michael wants to turn his $97 million into one billion dollars within fifteen years. This is what he has done with his money so far:

  • $50 million: Safe, low-risk investments such as municipal bonds, treasury bills and certificates of deposits
  • $37 million: Aggressive, high yield investments such as real estate and energy – both traditional (gas/oil based) and clean fuel
  • $2 million: A foundation for his family
  • $1.5 million: donations to various charities focusing on international development, medical research and secular domestic causes
  • $130,000: Bought a small block of land in rural France where he plans to go and rebuild the old farmhouse
  • $59,000: A trip to Bali with 25 friends
  • $30,000: Purchased a Harley-Davidson
  • $225,000: Paid off his mortgage on his two story beach front house
  • $28,000: Student loan repayment
  • $10,000: other debts cleared
  • $15,000: Annual gift to each family member

Did you buy lottery tickets all the time or was this the time you won a one-off?

I’ve gone through phases. When I won the lottery, I was buying tickets pretty regularly, pretty much weekly. I had developed a numbering system, which I guess worked!

What is your system and how did you develop it?

Well, I used to say that it was a secret, but I guess that would be a little unfair now – I’ve been so lucky that I guess I can share the information around! It started as a basic trial and error system. I played around with a few number game type things with myself first, but then started paying pretty close attention to the numbers that came up in the lottery every week, and recording them. Some came up more regularly than others. I looked at recent numbers, and all the numbers that had come up in the past six months. It started pretty simply, I just chose the seven numbers that were the most common – the seven numbers that had appeared the most over the past six months. I started playing around with the system a bit, making it a little more complex and then I started seeing results, but only small ones. $100 here, $200 there. Until I won the big one it was just small amounts.

What was your first big purchase?

A few things. The first big one was when I took my friends (twenty friends) to Bali for a holiday. That was really amazing fun, and it felt great to be able to shout my friends. I also paid off debts like my mortgage, student loans and other debts like my credit card. I also setup the family foundation, which at $2 million was the biggest single outlay. It was my favourite thing to spend on though, my family is the greatest.

What else did you do with your money?

The vast majority of it has gone into investments. I have a strong commitment to increasing my fortune to a billion dollars and maintaining that. Initially I was a little overambitious with the time period I wanted this done in, but I had hired experts to advise me and I readjusted my expectations to fifteen years on their advice. So far it’s going very well, my net worth is increasing steadily and is currently at around $160 million, though this is an unofficial status. It looks like we could get to a billion dollars in less than fifteen years after all, because obviously the more wealth you accumulate, the faster it grows.

What about a fancy car or a new house?

I live in a beautiful house on the beach, I lived here before I won the lottery and I don’t want o leave, I love it here. I already had a car – it’s not flashy at all – but I don’t feel any need for a flashy car. It’s a big cliché but really I just want to get from A to B. It gets good mileage and is pretty good for the environment. I’m thinking of buying a green car, but will wait until they get a bit better before I do that. For pleasure, I ride my motorcycle anyway.

But you must have treated yourself somehow?

Yes indeed I did. I bought myself a brand new Harley-Davidson. That was really it for big flashy purchases, my focus was very much on investment and helping out my family, so I went all out on the bike – and boy is she a beauty! I generally only take her out on weekends but I absolutely love it. Aside from my house I think it’s my favourite purchase ever.

You hear so many stories about people winning the lottery, or hitting the jackpot, and winning heaps of money but then it all goes sour and the stories turn sad. Were you worried about that at all?

Well, I think there are a few different reasons that those stories frequently seem to turn sad. Some of those aren’t really avoidable, though you can take measures to guard against them. Changing who you are for instance, that can be tricky to notice when it’s happening but you can surround yourself with down to earth people that you trust who will call you out if you start acting like an idiot. But friends and family turning against you – well I guess there’s not much you can do about that, except to hope they won’t. I trusted my friends and family and wasn’t really worried about anything like that happening, and it didn’t, so I’m lucky. But then there are other stories about winners that turn sad because they blow it all, and end up broke in ten years, or with even less money than they first had. Well I was determined that that wasn’t going to be me. That’s why I kept it on the down low for a month or so before telling people, and used that time to consult with investment experts. I’m planning on multiplying my fortune in ten years, not seeing it dwindle or frittering it away on nothing.

What about your job at the news agency – are you still there?

Laughing No, I gave that one up. Not that hated it or was bitter at all. I really enjoyed the work actually, It was really nice getting to know the community cause everyone would pop in all the time. The owner was a relaly good guy as well, so I stuck around until he found a replacement. There are no hard feelings at all. In fact, I still buy my newspapers there every weekend!

Did you give any money away?

Yeah I did. I’m a big believer in karma, and I think what goes around comes around and if you win a huge amount of money like I did and don’t give any of it away, well that’s really poor form and you’re just asking for problems. And while I might believe in karma, I can’t really believe that I did anything to deserve this, it just happened to me and it could have happened to someone else, it was pure chance. And I think you’ve just got to pay a bit of that kind of luck forward, and help create a bit of a better world, you know? So I set up a foundation for my family, that will cover things like university for all my nieces and nephews, and hospital costs, any costs involved with the folks getting older and needing care, and anything else that comes up really. Also all my family’s debts were paid off, and they each get a gift of $15,000 a year. In addition to my gifts to family, and the holiday for me and my friends, I gave $1.5 million to a range of different charities. Some work with homeless people, some help abused women and children, some fund organizations working internationally for development and democratization, and some research diseases and healthcare solutions. As well as the initial donations, a certain percentage of the annual profits from my investments will be going back into charitable donations.

And that age old saying, “money can’t buy happiness” – what do you think about that now?

Ah that’s a tricky one to answer, and to be honest I’m not sure I have any more information on that than anyone else does. Am I happy now? Definitely. Am I happier than I was before? Well, yeah probably. I’m happier in my day to day life because I can do things that I have always wanted to do, and help people I care about. I can focus on doing things that make me feel good rather than being caught up in the daily drag of meeting obligations and making ends meet. In this sense I’m happier. In a profound and deep and true sense – no, I’m not happier. Sure, I’m happy, but I was happy before. I think that if you already happy, and I mean truly happy, then money will make your life easier and more fun, so I guess in that sense, it will make you happier. If you’re miserable, then it’s not going to make you happy. I reckon the old saying is true.