Monday, February 20, 2012

How Much is Too Much?

America believes in supersizing.  Big is better, that's our philosophy.  More is better.  But is it?  I believe in the freedom of choice, yeah.  But at a certain threshold, and I do not know the precise number, the number of choices reaches a saturation point and suddenly too many choices overwhelm us.  Walk into an ice cream shoppe that offers over 40 flavors.  Are you more or less likely to try a new flavor or stick with your favorite?

Nine days ago, we learned that someone in Rhode Island held the winning Powerball lottery ticket -- only one winning ticket --  worth approximately $336 million.  That's $336,000,000 or one third of one billion dollars.  If the winner chooses the cash option payout, he or she collects something like $200 million.  Wow.  Who wouldn't want to win millions of dollars?  

Sure, I would, of course!  But wait a minute.  Stop and think.  About what, you might ask?  Well, how much would you need per year to live comfortably for the rest of your life?  Have you ever figured that out?  If you've done any retirement planning, perhaps you have.  If not, it's worth taking a moment to look at it.  I'd wager that it's actually much less than $200 million.

So here's the difference between what we need and what we want.  We may want the biggest sundae offered in the ice cream shoppe, worth hundreds of calories, gadzillion grams of fat, and enough sugar to fly us to Mars.  But do we need the biggest sundae to enjoy a delicious dessert?  Not really.  Our appetites far exceed our physical needs, and all that sugar and fat is arguably not terribly good for our bodies.  We need food to survive, but not necessarily ice cream sundaes.

We need money to survive.  This is a fact of our civilization.  Humans established millenia ago that money is an instrument of the exchange of goods and services.  We need money to pay for shelter, food, clothing, transportation, communication, electricity, water, sewage and garbage pick-up.  We pool our money as communities to pay for services for the community, and we do the same on a state and national level.  It should not be necessary to have any more money than we need.  We usually look for jobs that will pay us the amount that we'd need to pay for the goods and services that we need to survive.

But playing a lottery for a jackpot isn't working for the money we need.  It's a game, right?  The whole point of a game is to win.  Or is it how we play the game as our parents told us over and over when we were kids crying over losing?  If we win, it matters what we win (the jackpot), but does it matter how much?  How much is too much? 

It could be argued that it doesn't matter how much, really.  If I win millions of dollars, I can set myself up for the rest of my life, then establish a foundation to give away the rest on an annual basis.  Someone else might just spend it all on cars, houses, clothes, travel, jewelry, sports teams, etc. to the excess.  Or someone else might just be happy with the win and either give all the money away or decline the prize.  Or the lottery could have more winning tickets for the same jackpot and produce more winners rather than only one for so much money.  If 20 people had won that $336 million jackpot and they'd split the $200 million cash payout, that's $10 million for each.  Still nothing to sneeze at, right?

Well, that $336 million jackpot is still quite a win, the biggest sundae in the ice cream shoppe....       

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