Money, Money, Money…a catastrophe?
For those of us not born with black AMEX cards in hand, like my sleuth, Jessica Huntington, it may be hard to imagine what it means to be rich. That doesn’t keep us from trying. The fantasy that all our troubles will vanish if only a long, lost aunt or uncle leaves us a million bucks is commonplace. The size of Powerball and other lottery payouts around the country is a testament to the pervasive hope of winning big! Heck with the idea of waiting for that big gift from a distant relative—buy a lottery ticket or two or three instead. Never mind that lots of people have to buy lots of tickets to create enormous jackpots, making it harder for any single ticket holder to win. Despite the yearning to be rich, it turns out that wealth can be a burden. Sudden wealth has sometimes been described as “catastrophic” and for good reason.
Having met a real-life heiress while I was in college, I soon learned that wealth is no panacea for life’s challenges. That’s apparent in my Desert Cities Mystery series, as my protagonist, a 30-somethng daughter of privilege finds her well-planned life in the toilet. As she hurtles toward mid-life and a full-blown existential crisis, she has to come to grips with the fact that money can’t buy happiness, despite her overdependence on retail therapy. Nor can it save your neck when face-to-face with ruthless bad guys willing to do just about anything to make money.
My friend in college was beset by worries that she was unworthy of the money that made her life comfortable. At times, she feared the resentment directed toward her by those less fortunate. Her solution was secrecy. That might work well enough with acquaintances and casual friendships, but could be an impediment when it comes to finding love rooted in openness and intimacy, not secrecy. Could she ever be sure she was loved for who she was as a person and not because of her fortune, even if the love of her life was another member of the one percent? Ah, the woes of being a poor little rich girl! Still, her fears make sense given the open animosity often expressed about wealthy people. Ironic, given the widespread aspirations to become one of them!
My well-to-do friend had one advantage over many who find themselves suddenly wealthy. She understood money. At twelve, she began to attend family meetings where they discussed the ins and outs of the family business and managing their wealth. Money wasn’t something we spoke about as openly in my family, in part because we didn’t have much. Like most of us, I grew up without much knowledge about money, not even understanding the basics of budgeting, saving and investment.
Is it any wonder that in those fantasies about inheriting a million dollars from a distant relative, we’re unlikely to grasp what a windfall like that means? As Thomas J. Stanley and William Danko point out in their book, The Millionaire Next Door, a million dollars doesn’t go very far at all. If we don’t blow through it, preserve the principle and take only the interest earned by investing that nest egg at 4 or 5% a year—that’s 40 or 50 thousand dollars in income. We don’t dare quit our day job if we want to maintain a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. Want to buy a big house or drive a fancy car? That imaginary relative better drop 10 million on us instead of one!
Even ten million’s not always enough to avoid disaster. Going broke is one of the most common catastrophes associated with sudden wealth. “Instead of finding themselves in the lap of luxury, 70 percent of people who come into sudden money are broke within a few years,” according to Ilana Polyak of CNBC reporting findings from a study by the National Endowment for Financial Education. Easy come, easy go, some might say. I bet it doesn’t feel that way to those who go from rags to riches to rags in the whirlwind created by a windfall. That’s true not just for lottery winners, but for celebrities and athletes who win big for a few years, live beyond their means, and fall into a hole once they’re no longer a hot item in Hollywood or healthy enough to play in the big leagues.
Even before they go broke, many who win big come to regard their winnings as a “curse.” Sudden wealth changes everything. No one escapes those worries my heiress friend had about her wealth just because they win it, or earn it, for that matter. Apparently, the suddenly wealthy all too often find themselves awash in solicitations from the suddenly desperate. Friends and family members, charities and pitch artists all rush in looking to score a bonanza from an off-kilter, newly-minted millionaire. Imagine finding yourself recast in the role of the rich relative now inhabiting your family members’ fantasies of being rescued by money?
Jack Whittaker isn’t the only lottery winner to say “I wish I’d torn that ticket up,” or something like that, once the honeymoon ended following the arrival of sudden wealth. In his case, he was robbed, sued, and lost his granddaughter to a drug overdose. Lottery winners frequently become estranged from family and friends, and incur a greater incidence of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, and suicide than the average American. Not all that surprising since sudden wealth introduces new pressures and increases access to a host of temptations made more affordable by all that money.
The Gamblers by Christoph Fischer
If you’d like to read a well-crafted, award-winning fictional account of what it’s like to become suddenly wealthy, Christoph Fischer’s novel, The Gamblersdoes just that. The book provides a glimpse into the world of one lottery winner, a reclusive accountant, Ben Andrews. Rather obsessive, he’s fascinated with numbers, and not just in his profession. Ben is a gambler—believing his love of numbers can help him beat the odds. When a lottery ticket pays off big, almost overnight he’s a millionaire many times over. He keeps news of his winnings to himself, and unlike most of the suddenly rich, doesn’t go on a spending spree. At least not until he’s befriended by Mirco. A worldly-wise Russian gambler, Mirco has a taste for flashy suits, sexy women, and hot cars, and possesses a murky background. Soon after, Ben falls for a lovely woman, Wendy, a flight attendant he meets on an overseas jaunt.
Let the games begin as Ben’s windfall sucks him into a head-spinning, life-changing world of jet-setters willing to indulge themselves in all the things that money can buy—good and bad. What does all this mean for Ben Andrews? Will all that money change him? Can he trust Mirco or Wendy? I won’t say, but I will tell you that the story keeps you guessing until the very end.
What’s the moral of the story? To be honest, when it comes to money, it’s complicated. There is, in fact, some evidence that money increases happiness—to a point. More money seems to be associated with greater happiness [or less distress] for people until they report earning about $70-75,000. After that, the impact of earning even more increases happiness only slightly, or disappears altogether, depending on which study you read. In one study, researchers found that wealthy people spent more time worrying about money than those with less.
The happiness that money buys varies, too, depending on what you do with it. My flawed heroine, Jessica Huntington, loves playing fairy-godmother, wielding that black AMEX card of hers like a magic wand! As it turns out, investing in others can make you happier than splurging on yourself. Using your money to buy experiences also brings more happiness than buying stuff! Putting money in perspective helps too—learning enough about it to use it wisely, but not becoming overly preoccupied with it. After all, it’s the love of money, not money per se, that’s the root of all evil, according to that old proverb, right?
If you prefer mystery/thrillers with adult themes to the cozy mysteries I often feature on my blog, then I hope you’ll enter to win a copy of Christoph Fischer’s book, THE GAMBLERS. I’m giving away a kindle copy along with a copy of the first book in the Jessica Huntington series, A DEAD HUSBAND, and a $10 Amazon Gift Card. The Gamblers Giveaway runs March 24-April 15on Rafflecopter. To enter follow the link: https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/cb93d3c210/?
Christoph Fischer has a selection of fine books if you’d like to read more by this author. A talented storyteller, history comes alive in his works of historical fiction that feature deeply personal accounts of individuals caught up in epic historical events. To find out more about him and his books visit one of his sites!
AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: http://www.amazon.com/Christoph-Fischer/e/B00CLO9VMQ
Want to read more about money and happiness
The Only 3 Things You Need to Know About Money and Happiness
Can Money Buy Happiness?
Why so many lottery winners go broke
Why Lottery Winners Crash after a Big Win
Sudden Wealth Can Leave You Broke
The Suddenly Wealthy Just as Quickly Broke: