lottery myths

Ask The Expert: What’s So Bad About Playing Powerball?

Question: I buy a Powerball ticket each week, and my boyfriend always makes fun of me. He says I might as well take my $2 to $3 (sometimes I pay the extra dollar for another play) and burn it in he fireplace. He also says I have better odds of becoming president after giving birth to triplets.

I bet he won’t be saying that if I win, and besides, one of his micro-brewed beers costs $5. Anyway, we’re always arguing about this, and now that Powerball is $1.5 billion, I spent $10 and he’s freaking out. What can I tell him to shut him up?

— Ana Lisa in Connecticut

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

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Your boyfriend is right. You’re not going to win.

There are all sorts of examples of the long odds you face in tonight’s Powerball drawing — like being struck by lightning — but I think my favorite is from Wired. The magazine simply declared you have “barely better odds than having your name randomly pulled from a hat filled with the names of everyone in the United States.”

I’m a CPA and a financial counselor, not a therapist, but I will say this: It’s not worth ripping apart your relationship over lottery odds. However, I’ve been doing this long enough to know that fighting over lottery tickets is usually a sign of deeper financial discord.

I could certainly point out that the $2 to $3 you spend per week adds up to more than $100 a year. That’s at least one very nice dinner with your boyfriend. In more boring but responsible terms, that’s $100 toward paying off your credit cards or saving for retirement.

Instead, let me hypothesize that you are your boyfriend have different views about money. Not just about Powerball, but about clothes, cars, tech, and even something as basic as budgeting.

How can I make such a bold claim? I’ve seen couples debate the lottery. I’ve seen precisely the same arguments you and your boyfriend are having. Let me break it down like this…

Powerball isn’t entertainment

If your boyfriend buys craft beer and you buy Powerball tickets, those are actually two very different things. You’re buying a ticket to win, against all odds, a lot of money. Your boyfriend is buying a beer because he likes the taste of it. He’s enjoying something now, while you’re simply hoping to reap a reward later.

Powerball is gambling

That might seem obvious, but many Powerball players see themselves very differently than those sitting in a casino. Yet their goal is the same: Spend money now to make easy money later. While some people say gambling is their form of entertainment, the fact is: It’s not entertaining if they don’t win.

Powerball adds up

The cost of Powerball is more than the $2 to $3 you spend a week. It’s the mindset of a get-rich-quick fix to all your financial problems. I’m not saying that daydreams are ridiculous — even CPAs have imaginations — but if you play Powerball because you seriously think you’re going to win, I wonder if you follow a budget, understand your credit score, or know what you need to do to pay off your debts.

Bottom line, Ana Lisa: If your relationship can’t withstand a couple of dollars a week, there are deeper issues, probably financial. So if you don’t win tonight (and really, you won’t) I suggest you and your boyfriend sit down with a craft beer and review your finances and your attitudes about spending and saving.

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Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a  CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

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