So you didn’t win the lottery…

It’s okay. You didn’t win the lottery. Someone else did. (In fact, three someone elses did.) Their lives changed overnight. Yours stayed mostly the same.

Of course, you probably knew that was going to happen. Most people who buy a lottery ticket assume they won’t win, but they do it anyway. Why? Because there’s a chance. And where there’s a chance, there’s hope, and where there’s hope, there are dreams. And for many people, dreams are all they have.

A Ticket to Something Better

In 2008, a group of researchers at Carnegie-Mellon found that people are more likely to play the lottery when they feel that their income is below a relative standard. That is, if they felt poor they were more likely to play the lottery.

Implicit in that finding is the reality that it can be incredibly difficult to pull yourself out of poverty. It’s easy to see how many may feel that big lottery prizes and their astronomical odds still offer a better chance at wealth and prosperity than any other options. That doesn’t change the fact that lottery tickets are still an exceedingly bad gamble.

Which is the troubling thing about lotteries – they seemingly prey on the people least financially suited to play them. If you’re impoverished, the lottery may feel like your only chance out of poverty, leading you to spend money you can’t really afford to spare on lottery tickets. Those tickets don’t pay out and now you’re even more impoverished, leading you to lean more heavily on the lottery’s potential to lift you out of poverty.

What Does a Dollar Buy?

There is no stock you can buy at a dollar that could pay out $20 million overnight. There’s no savings account offering 1,000,000 percent interest. There’s probably not an oil well underneath your house.

There are no real alternatives to playing the lottery. Sudden, astronomical influxes of cash don’t really happen short of a Brinks truck crashing into your living room (and even then, they probably wouldn’t let you keep it).

It is not “wise” to play the lottery. On an intellectual level, it’s clear to most people that you’d be better off just putting that dollar into a shoebox on the top of your refrigerator. But the lottery is much less about personal finance and much more about that feeling that lives between the time you buy the ticket and the moment you learn you lost. The trick is finding a way to replace that feeling.

Finding a New Rush

Because while there are no financial alternatives to playing the lottery, there will always be emotional alternatives. That hope, that rush – you don’t need a lottery ticket to feel that way. You can build your dreams from the ground up. The payoff won’t be immediate, but the feeling can be.

Which is all to say that you shouldn’t feel bad about playing the lottery. No, it’s not the best investment you can make. And yes, there probably loads of other financially shrewd ways to spend that money. But the feeling is real and it has value.  

You lost the lottery. Was it a waste of money? That’s for you to decide.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, focused on creating and delivering valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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