3/25/2013 2:10 PM ET|
5 things dumber than a lottery ticket
Some say games of chance are a waste of money. I can think of worse ways to drop a few bucks.
I live in Alaska, one of seven states with no lottery. The closest thing to a Powerball or Pick 6 is the Nenana Ice Classic, an annual pool in which people guess when the ice goes out in Nenana, Alaska. It's $2.50 per guess and allegedly (perhaps apocryphally) some numbskulls write "April 31" each year.
But I did buy an occasional ticket when I lived in Washington, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois. I don't see the harm.
Before you kick me out of the frugal movement, let me say that yes, I haveheard the horror stories about people who buy bushels of tickets every week because they just know they're going to win. Apparently some even consider it a valid retirement strategy, which is a little scary.
Clearly we need better math instruction in our schools, because when some people hear "odds are 1 in 18 million" they focus on the first number rather than the second. An article on the Daily Finance website puts those odds into depressing (though amusing) perspective.
Your chances of...
- Getting pregnant from a one-night stand: 1 in 20.
- Being struck by lightning: 1 in 10,000.
- Dying in an airplane crash: 1 in 355,318.
- Being dealt a royal flush in a given hand of poker: 1 in 655,750.
- Dying from a flesh-eating bacteria: 1 in 1 million.
- Winning the California Super Lotto Jackpot: 1 in 18 million.
Some of you are probably saying, "Oh yeah? If you saved that $2 a week and invested it, you'd have eight bazillion dollars by the time you retired!"
So you're saying you allow yourself no "fun" money, no small treats, no creature comforts? That every dollar you don't spend on the most basic of food, clothing and shelter goes into savings/retirement? That you never buy a beer, a magazine or a pack of gum?
Dumber ways to spend
I don't drink beer, I don't read magazines and I don't chew gum. But while I lived in the Lower 48 I'd occasionally drop a few dollars on lottery tickets. They were a big goof, a dream that I knew, intellectually, probably wouldn't come true.
But if it did…! Every time I bought a ticket or tickets I'd daydream about how I'd spend the money (some on me and mine, some on causes I already support). It was a harmless bit of escapism.
Besides, I can think of dumber ways to spend a few dollars. Such as:
1. Bottled water. Every frugalist's favorite example, true, but let's do it again: Unless the water in your town is nasty (yo, Philly and Phoenix!), why are you doing this? Add up how much you spend in a month. Then pick up one of those pitchers or faucet-mounted filters. Seriously.
2. Frou-frou coffees. Another of the go-to gripes for thrifty types: If you buy fancy java on your way to work every day, you forfeit the right to complain about the cost of living. Home coffeemakers aren't expensive and travel mugs can be had for a buck or two at most thrift stores, and not much more than that retail.
3. Ringtones. Your phone comes with the ability to ring all by itself. Why pay a couple of dollars every time a new hit tune catches your ear? Personally, I wish everyone would leave his phone on "silent" mode. If you're sexy and you know it, just keep that information to yourself.
4. Apps. Sure, plenty of free ones exist. Plenty of not-free ones exist, too, and one of their foremost attractions is their low cost (usually about $1.99 to $6.99). You figure you're getting a little amusement out of money that might otherwise have gone to a couple of those fancy coffees. So, all you app addicts: Take a second to add up the total amount you've spent on these things, and how often you actually use them. Maybe it's just one app for $1.99 and you use it every week. Maybe.
5. Smartphone games. I'm told these are lifesavers if you're stuck in a long line with a cranky kid. But I sure do see a lot of grownups launching birds at pigs or flipping virtual solitaire cards. How many games have you downloaded, how often do you play them and why is the $1.99 you spent on "Family Feud" somehow nobler than my $2.50 on the Nenana Ice Classic? (Which I haven't bought yet, by the way.)
"But wait!" you cry. "Who are you to tell me that I shouldn't buy apps or bottled water? It's my money!"
Yep, it is, and you get to decide how to spend it. If you want those things, then work them into the budget and enjoy the heck out of them.
But that road runs both ways. The next time you're tempted to criticize people who buy Powerball tickets, think about your own little vices.
I don't own a smartphone but I will defend to the death your right to improve your prowess at Angry Birds. So why should it bother you that I'll buy a New Jersey lottery ticket the next time I go see my dad?
As for those who grouse about all those poor people who accept social services but still buy lottery tickets, let me ask: How do you know? Even if you do know one or more people who do this, does that mean that all recipients of SNAP, TANF or Section 8 are spending the milk money on scratch cards?
Before you tee off on people who shouldn't indulge in games of chance, remember that you don't get to decide what constitutes fun for them, either. Even a minimum-wage earner has the right to splurge a few bucks now and then on a burger, a DVD rental -- or a lottery ticket.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.
ABOUT DONNA FREEDMAN
Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
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