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Mega Millions Reality: It's Tough to Spend $656 Million

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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Join the conversation. Click here to jump to comments…

  1. Marco | April 3, 2012

    Agree, spending $656 quickly is not so easy.

    But there's more to being a multimillionaire than just buying to right toys.

    You see, more people than you think are capable of buying that top top of the bill sports car. But maintaining it??

    In order to judge the costs of a multimillionaire lifestyle you first need to think like a multimillionaire and forget about those initial investments.

    Building a truly multimillionaire lifestyle, with the right houses at the right places, the right cars and / or boats to match and a comfortable long distance traveling jet with crew, to move around the globe, will set you back more than you think (or better, imagine…).
    And of course all needs to be maintained and in tip top order when you get there, including whatever services you would require etc.
    Probably need to set up some sort of small company to manage all your properties and required services…

    And then, all of a sudden, you will see that besides the initial purchase, a constant flow of resources is required to keep things going.

    In order to meet people that you would be able to level with, you would need to throw the occasional party, where you can invite those people that you would like to meet etc. etc.

    Most people don't have it in them to think big enough. That's the problem, not the millions.

    If you want me to, I'll be more than happy to prove it to you. Just let me know and I'll send you my bank details!

    Kind regards,


  2. Rezaul | April 3, 2012

    Very interesting! I guess car's, Real Estate & Travelling & eating out are the most fun to think about, when you don't worry about where the money is coming from, like winning a lottery!!!! Waiting for your investment ideas ith lottery money.

  3. Steve | April 3, 2012

    Top execs in failing corporations make this every couple years or so.

  4. keith vitek vitek | April 3, 2012

    The only reason people invest money is to acquire more money. Why? To have sufficient funds whereupon you don't have to work, to save money; so you don't have to work. No body invests their money for any other reason… "self Sufficiency"…!
    So if you were handed 650 million dollars you have achieved this goal! You are done investing! Go live it up! Maintenance costs are of no consequence with that bank account.

  5. CURRY12792 | April 3, 2012


  6. Bernard Durey | April 3, 2012

    Well,here we are at the issue. What do they do with the winnings from the lottery? While out and about this weekend in a brief conversation one woman stated she would buy a new car and either pay for her house or buy a house for starters. One mentioned something about investing it. I asked would you invest offshore? We have over 800,000 millionaires whom have left for offshore due to perhaps many reasons. Better investment or better return for monies invested perhaps,etc. That brought up the questions can or does Congress have the power and/or authority to dictate where monies from mega lotteries can be invested,either onshore or offshore or perhaps both or otherwise. The other questions that came to be and we traveled there in I guess the early ninites when expanded gaming/gambling became very big for one state-the State of South Dakota. One person had also suggested people should stay out of the stock market. When it crashes they loose big time. So is investing monies in the stock market a gamble? What is the risk? I have in the past several months been reading some on investing,etc. Some investments people go into seemingly have gotten them into it for life and beyond. They even tell you that with certain investments they are like that. So that brings up the inheritance issues if on a personal level but for the millionaires like Warren Buffet could they be spun over into his companies or corproations,etc. All things to look at. An intersting topic. One other to consider is with the offshore movement and the plot of other countries is their intentions to break the U.S. A. in anyway they can. In many aspects they are getting it done also. So food to ponder,etc.

  7. dordan | April 3, 2012

    its better to want something you dont have than to have something you dont want or what you may want today you may not want tomorrow

  8. John | April 3, 2012

    It is a wee distance away but do buy a small slice of New Zealand for a relaxing holiday away from the grind of managing all those millions!

  9. George | April 3, 2012

    Huge wealth is a big burden which people except the hugely wealthy don't realise.
    Having said that, I'd have absolutely no problems with what to do with the 650 – when I think of the man with 6 kids in Texas whose house was shredded in the last cyclone, or the farmer whose crop and livestock was drowned and his livelihood washed away by the recent US floods, or the many similarly tragic blows nature has been dealing out to our people here in Australia… fire after fire, flood after flood, year after year. No, I don't think I'd have to scratch my head about what to do with that sort of winnings… in fact the biggest problem I think would be posed by trying to rank an absolute army of unfortunates to share in my financial help. I don't know about the US, but here in Australia that would be a "charitable" gesture and therefore tax deductible.
    However, like you, I'd hang onto the first 40 or 50 though…. its fun playing the market.
    Cheers and keep your excellent insights coming.
    P.S. I knew there had to be a reason why I enjoy your despatches so much. Now I know. Being a Brit explains it.

  10. BOBRGV@BTINTERNET.COM | April 4, 2012

    Spending $656 million for pleasure is like setting out with the law of diminishing returns like a drug addict who gets less out of each High. The real pleasure of investing is to make use of what you have to make more use of what you have. Depending on your preferences for luxuries and bearing in mind if you never had any then you would probably crave them. So to manage yourself with a happy outcome you should remember the saying:- Moderation in all things especially moderation. Keep applying the positive/negative feedback and these luxuries will be subordinate to all else but they do give a perfect reminder of where you got the money from.

    • George | April 7, 2012

      Your comment was so profound, couldn't understand most of its profundity.

  11. Fred Stork | April 9, 2012

    Martin, you forgot two things.
    1) Statistics — approx. 80% of big lottery winners have their life completely destroyed. This infuriates the greedy gamblers, as they don't want to hear any of this. They retort — "it won't happen to me, i know what i am doing" which, translated to plain English, means they are exactly the type who WILL be destroyed by it.
    Your friends leave you, some out of envy, some because you are not "one of them" anymore, some are offended "how little" your winnings you passed on to them. Same for most your relatives.
    Of course this cloud has a silver lining — you learn really quickly who your REAL friends are…
    2) If you don't want so much money, keep what you want, and simply give the rest away. I assume you are mature enough not to be enslaved and possessed by it.

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