It's totally okay to buy a Powerball ticket, we promise.
I spent this past weekend at my family’s house outside of the city. It was an impromptu gathering, the night of the $900 million Powerball drawing, the largest in history. My mother set a lottery-themed table for dinner, complete with her Powerball tickets artfully displayed as a centerpiece.
We laughed as we ate, imagining what we would do with the money. Buy a flat in Paris with a balcony view of the Eiffel Tower. Put myself on the list for a flight on Virgin Galactic. Leave the harsh Northern Illinois winters behind once and for all. Buy a Tesla. Take care of our family.
Yesterday, with the jackpot valued at over $1.5 billion, I trekked over to my little neighborhood convenience store to drop $10 on five tickets of my own. “You gonna win, right? You gonna share with us?” joked a guy buying cigarettes. I grinned and laughed. “Oh yeah," bantered back, "You KNOW I’m gonna win!”
In the last week, every news outlet and personal finance blogger out there has weighed in, calling out the eye-popping statistics that prove that the lottery is pretty much never worth your time. Some of the headlines I’ve seen from finance experts are overwhelmingly negative towards the idea. Even the New York Times made it clear that you will not win the Powerball jackpot.
Seriously, these killjoys are missing the point.
My parents are smart, frugal people who know full well they are more likely to be killed by an asteroid than to win the Powerball jackpot. I write about personal finance and living a frugal lifestyle for Brad’s Deals. We know the odds. We know precisely how absurd it is to think we’ll actually win.
It’s about being caught up in and part of a moment in time.
It’s about letting yourself dream a little.
It’s knowing that you can’t win if you don’t play.
It’s about spending your money on the things that make you happy.
And maybe there’s the tiniest of teeny tiny chances that you might actually win.
The Washington Post’s Justin Wm. Moyer agrees with me, at least. Economist Greg Ip can cite the behavioral economics theory behind it a lot more eloquently than I can. But perhaps “budget wonk” Michael Linden said it best on Twitter, “The pleasure you derive from the resulting daydreams is worth at least $2.”
Here’s my take on it.
When you’re frugal, you understand that being frugal does not mean living a life devoid of joy and hope. It's being thrifty with your needs in order to more generous with your wants (and finding those at a discount too when you can). Consequently, true frugality enables joy and hope. It means making smarter decisions for your life on the whole so that you can spend $2 on a daydream every once in awhile without second-guessing yourself.
One of the more popular articles on our blog is a list of things you shouldn’t waste your money on. Lottery tickets are on it, of course. And yes, spending hundreds of dollars on lottery tickets is going to be a fruitless investment. But in moderation, as an occasional splurge, why the heck not? If that $2 isn’t going to break you and having a ticket in your hand lets you dream a little, then go for it.
What would you do if you won?