In some places the queues stretched around the block.
Across the country, nearly everyone fantasized about how they would spend it if they were lucky enough to win the biggest Mega Millions jackpot of all time.
But the truth is: it's just not that easy to spend $656 million.
Many of the things you might spend the money on wouldn't be enjoyable, and might make you less happy than you were before you won.
Once the thrill subsides, the larger realities settle in.
I know that sounds crazy, but it's true.
Using my own tastes and preferences as an example, I'll explain what I mean. I'm comfortably well off, but nowhere near rich enough to "have everything."
The First Stop with My Mega Millions
The moment the check clears, baby, the first purchase is easy. I need a new car soon, and this would be the chance to get a real one.
The new model Bentley Mulsanne will set me back $329,000.
It was described by Top Gear, the British TV show, as "the archetypal Marmite car." For 70% of those who know what Marmite is, the immediate reaction of course is "Yuck!"
But listen, I'm British, I have the bizarre hidden gene that makes me like Marmite, and that's what Top Gear is saying – even though designed by Germans, it's the sort of car that especially appeals to Brits – very posh, old-fashioned looking interior, lots of leather and walnut, top speed of 185mph, but completely silent and effortless with it.
Brits have a fetish about this: not only do they want to be No. 1, but they want it to appear as though they got there entirely without raising a sweat. Very un-American, I know!
But that's about it for cars.
I don't want any of those million-dollar specialty Bugattis that do 300mph – my reaction speeds aren't quick enough.
Even with a mere Bentley, the nearest dealer is in New Jersey, about 90 miles from here, but I presume that if you pay them enough, they will come and pick the car up when it goes wrong.
I might be tempted by a 1938 Lagonda V12, with cocktail cabinet in the back seat. It's the car that made Hitler furious in 1939 when it set speed records on all the new German autobahns.
It would cost me about $1.5 million if I could find one- but God knows where the nearest place is to get a vintage Lagonda serviced!
Besides, I'll bet it's a bitch to drive – back then, Lagonda owners had a chauffeur.
Not all Its Cracked up To Be
The Lagonda example shows the snag in spending this kind of money – the upkeep costs and hassles can be horrendous.
Take real estate for example.
I might be attracted by a place in New York. Not a penthouse on Fifth Avenue – the real estate taxes are outrageous.
However a brownstone in the East Sixties could be appealing – you can pick one up for $10-15 million and brownstones get a special tax deal from New York City compared to apartments.
Even then though, buying a place in Manhattan would subject me to New York City income tax, which assuming I invested some of the $656 million, would be serious money.
I don't mind spending money, but even with $656 million I don't want to waste it – and paying the nation's highest income taxes to subsidize Mayor Michael Bloomberg's fantasies and the New York City unions counts as wasting it, in my view.
The other big real estate temptation would be a British country house.
Being "non-domiciled" (having been out of Britain now for 17 years) I can avoid paying British income taxes, provided I don't move there permanently, so there isn't a Bloomberg-type tax problem. Of course, British real estate prices are outrageous.
A "Downton Abbey" style house in a good part of the country would cost me $50-70 million. There would be two other problems.
First, except for a VERY few old aristocrats (who would probably snub nouveau-riche, lottery-winning me) owners of houses in that bracket are either Saudi princes or Russian oligarchs. NOT the sort of people I want to spend time with!
And second, labor-saving appliances don't save all the labor, so with a Downton Abbey-style house I need a Downton Abbey-level staff, all of whom would have to be managed. No fun at all — you might as well be middle management in a hotel chain.
Still, a modest country house, in the $10 million bracket in southern England, something built around 1700 but fully modernized, that could be cleaned and managed by ladies from the village, now that would be worth having.
It doesn't spend much of the $656 million, though.
Mega Millions Travel Miles
Then there's travel. As a former merchant banker, I've been most of the places I want to go, except oddly enough India and China.
If I went I wouldn't want to see the modern bits – Shanghai's skyscrapers are just like everybody else's skyscrapers – but I would like to see the leftovers from their civilizations. That would probably cost me about $150,000 each if I took the family and spent, say three weeks, in each country.
As for other places, I loved Egypt, but not in the present mess, thanks. My three favorite cities are Paris, Vienna and Singapore, and I'd certainly like to spend time in each.
Probably the real treat would be to attempt to eat at all the Guide Michelin 3-rosette restaurants in France – that would again cost me in the low six figures for the family as there are 26 of them.
That trip would probably kill me though, so better to do it last!
You see the problem.
As for boats, anyone who has owned a sailboat knows what a hassle they are – so I have to believe a $100 million yacht would be even worse.
I don't like the actual process of travelling either, so my limited number of favorite trips would not make much of a dent in the money – anyway, what would I do with the cats?
In reality, whether I took the money in a lump sum (about $355 million after tax) or in twenty-six annual installments of $19 million or so, I'd invest most of it.
That would make my son a trust fund kid, which might not be good for him.
$50 million? Yes, absolutely, where do I sign?
But $656 million? Maybe not.
Tomorrow, I'll tell you exactly how I would invest the $656 million if they made me accept their giant check.
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