The Hidden Side of Money

“What would you do if you won the lottery?” It’s a fun mental exercise that many people like to play, whether they actually buy a lottery ticket or not.  The possibilities seem endless, and the empowerment seems tantalizing.  But the reality isn’t always what we dream.  Lottery winners are known to experience sleep deprivation, paranoia, and even depression after this sudden and drastic change to their lives. 

Susan Bradley, founder of the Sudden Money Institute, says, “When money changes, life changes, and when life changes, money changes.”  This is true whether we are talking about billions of dollars, or smaller amounts.  Money changes our lives.

Thankfully, there are things we can do to harness that change, moving towards a positive experience even in the midst of the unexpected.  Here are a few facets of dealing with a windfall that are often overlooked:

  1. Relationships.  Asking WHO is involved, not just “how much,” can help to re-focus on an important part of the equation: people!  Relationships will also change when money changes, but often not in the ways we assume they will.  We use a “Managing Expectations” tool to help clients sort through their assumptions and the emotions felt around them.  For example, one woman who inherited money was feeling an immense amount of pressure to make a donation to a charity, because she assumed the charity expected it of her.  When she was able to talk to them about it, she discovered the assumption was her own, not the charity’s at all.  Exploring assumptions that you and others may have around your money can be a healthy exercise at any time! 
  2. Slow down.  Inheritors or lottery winners often feel like they have a lot to DO immediately after the big money event.  In part, this is true: there are documents to be filed, money to be transferred, and some decisions to be made up-front.  However, we often put a lot of additional pressure on ourselves (or those around us) over things that aren’t necessarily urgent, but we perceive to be so.  An important part of managing any financial transition well is to give yourself time to absorb and process all the new info that is coming at you.  Taking time to sleep, decompress or just chill, and digest all that is happening, is essential to maintaining good mental and physical health during this time.  If that seems difficult, you might develop a personal statement that you can repeat when you feel pressured, like, “I don’t know all the pieces yet, so I’m not ready to make a decision on anything that’s not absolutely essential.  I’m giving myself time to get organized, figure out what’s possible, and look into different ways of managing my resources.  There’s a lot involved and I’m relieved to be going slowly in the beginning.”
  3. Reflection.  Making big, life-altering decisions too quickly without some time for reflection can lead to feelings of insecurity or regret.  “Me time” is not selfish here; it is an essential element to clarify what is most important, what needs to be protected, and what is sacred in times of great change.  We use several tools here to help clients write their “next chapter” and visualize what a successful transition looks and feels like.  For couples involved in a sudden money event, this can be especially important, because they are often surprised to discover they are not exactly on the same page.  That’s normal and OK – as long as a conversation ensues that encourages reflection of both people involved.  It is possible to explore areas that are the same and different, and to work with both visions of the future together. 

While most of us will probably never experience winning the lottery, it is possible we might experience other life changing events: an unexpected or larger than expected inheritance; a legal settlement; the sale of a successful business.  The monetary amount is not as important as the disruption a sudden money event brings to our lives. 

But thankfully, with some thoughtful inquiry into our relationships and assumptions, with a little breathing room by slowing down, and with some healthy reflection, we can manage disruption in a positive way that will lead us toward greater growth and a better future.