Welcome to the game-show economy

Forget the dream home, most contestants just want to stay in their homes and pay down debt.

By MSN Money Aug 18, 2009 5:30PM

Forget about being a millionaire. Americans just want to pay the bills.

 

Recessions and tight budgets bring out desperation in people. For example, state-run lotteries will often see a bump in sales when times are tough.

 

As purveyors of slim hope, they aren't the only game in town. USA Today notes a rising interest in game show appearances by people not looking for riches but just trying to pay the bills.

On the syndicated show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," contestants test their trivia knowledge by answering more and more difficult questions, in return winning more and more money.

 

These days, as the story suggests, game show contestants are less willing to risk losing, even if big bucks are right around the corner -- no sense going for the million when a cool $50,000 will help postpone a foreclosure or pay health care expenses for those not carrying insurance.

 

Prior to 2008, it seems, most contestants said they were playing for a dream home or a dream vacation. Now, they just want to stay in their homes and pay down debt.

 

I remember trying out for a game show when I was in college. I was just hoping to win a few bucks to help pay for school. Today, more and more people need help with basic necessities.

 

Certainly, the odds of answering a few questions on a game show are much better than the odds in any lottery.

But there are lessons to be learned here. For example, I wonder how many investors are taking big chances in the stock market right now as a way to get rich quick -- or at least catch up. I suspect the numbers are quite large.

 

Just take a look at the number of infomercials selling options trading software. Options can be like a lottery ticket. For a low dollar investment, investors can see huge appreciation in a short period of time.

 

But the losses can be devastating. Make a bad option trade with your last $25,000, and you’ll be left with nothing. (The software also isn't cheap.)

 

Sure, we've all read about the Bernie Madoffs of the world scamming mostly rich clients, but there are a thousand mini-Madoffs for every one you read about.

 

Be alert out there, and if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There’s no such thing as a sure-thing stock. Any investment entails risk, and those stocks offering the biggest returns also entail the largest amount of risk.

In other words, do not bet the house. Instead, spend those dollars on a trip to Los Angeles and try out for one of those game shows.

 

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