Powerball & Financial Priorities

[Author’s note: This article is from a column I wrote a few years back. But with the latest Powerball lottery prize in late 2012 estimated at about $425 million, it seems like an appropriate time to re-run this info. The inspiriation for the column was from an ad run by Indiana’s Powerball organization.]

I must tip my hat to the Indiana Powerball folks. I heard an incredibly responsible ad about spending money on Powerball tickets on the radio the other night (right before Christmas, of all things).

The ad estimated the size of the current jackpot at over $250 million and went on to suggest that if you’re going to buy a ticket from a Powerball ticket seller, be respectful of folks who might be in a store for other reasons (like buying groceries or gas). The ad mentioned the odds of winning—something like 1 out of 120 million. And then came the shocker: the ad said you should only buy a Powerball ticket after you’ve met all of your other financial obligations—like saving for retirement or for your kid’s college education!

So let me ask you Powerball players: Have you followed the ad’s advice? Here’s a short list of life priorities to take care of first, before you play Powerball.

    • Have you funded your retirement account to the max this year? Are you contributing the maximum amount you can to your 401(k) or 403(b) at work?
    • Have you made this year’s deposit into your child’s college education fund?
    • Have you made a donation—even a small one—to a charitable organization whose cause you passionately believe in? I can’t recall reading a press release from any legitimate charity saying it’s received too much money this year.
    • Have you made a payment beyond the “minimum amount due” on your credit card bill?

You can think of several other financial priorities for your family. To their credit, the state lottery folks say you should fulfill all of your personal financial obligations first, and then if you have money left over, you can play Powerball. Now I don’t know about your family, but according to the ad, my family can’t play this year. And the odds are we won’t be able to play next year either; we have too many priorities ahead of Powerball.

Some of you are thinking, “Come on; it’s only a buck or two.” But small amounts add up; how do you think the Powerball lottery passed $250 million? Could your retirement account use a few extra bucks? Could your church or the Salvation Army? That buck or two will go farther toward your family priorities than it will in the state lottery. Pay attention to the ad if you want to maximize your retirement readiness, among other financial priorities!

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About Mike Wilson

Michael L. Wilson, MBA, CFP®, CRC®, is the owner of Integrity Financial Planning. Prior to founding Integrity in 1998, he worked for two years as a faculty member at the College for Financial Planning in Denver, training other financial advisors. Mike has 10 years of experience in the mutual fund industry, having worked with Fidelity Investments and Invesco Mutual Funds. He holds an MBA in Finance from Baylor University. Learn more about his work at www.integrityplanner.com.
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