VIDEO: Chaim Topol as Tevye, in the 1971 motion picture Fiddler on the Roof, which won three Academy Awards, and was nominated for Best Picture and Best Actor.
There have been stories of people reaping a fortune in millions of dollars from state lotteries, only to squander it away and subsequently ruin their lives. But oh, no, not me, mes amis. I would be one to show the world that this need not happen.
How dare do I make such a bold claim, you ask, dear minions?
One of my cousins was a professional baseball player. And while he was never among the first-string high-profile talent, his contract did run into the millions before he retired. He now lives in a very fine (and from what I am told, very big) house, and he makes his living as a contractor, building backyard decks. No, he does not just own a company that builds decks; HE builds decks.
This essay is to demonstrate, through the depiction of four scenarios, what would happen to me were I to be so fortunate, be it winning the lottery, writing the next great American novel, or just having it fall into my lap. It includes certain prudent measures, not the least of which would be to have a long and serious conversation with that cousin of mine; you know, what's okay, what's not okay. Taking into account roughly thirty percent going to taxes, and ten percent being tithed to the Church (which is the least I could do), I presuppose for this example, that I would be left with sixty percent of the amount in total. Other than that ...
If I won $100,000 ($60,000) ...
... I would settle my credit card debts (which aren't much, but enough to be inconvenient), and any funds borrowed off my inheritance, as well as make up for any deficiencies in my retirement portfolio. I would also trade in my current car and put a big down payment on a new one. The rest would go to the renovation of my townhouse, or maybe getting ahead on my mortgage. My life would not change much, but would improve.
If I won $1,000,000 ($600,000) ...
... I would do all the above, except that I would keep the townhouse as an investment, and put down a huge payment on a larger one. It would have to be one of the dozen or so three-bedroom units in my neighborhood, because I love my neighborhood that much. I would get two cars instead of one; a larger one, fully loaded, for highway driving, and a Scion iQ or similar vehicle for city driving. I would also establish a fund for the care of Mom, where she would draw from the interest. My life would change, but not go crazy.
If I won $10,000,000 ($6,000,000) ...
... I would do all the above, except that I would find an estate in the middle of town with a large carriage house and a servant's cottage, to create a neighborhood within a neighborhood, one sufficiently insulated by its landscape and other barriers. My wife and I -- hey, it could happen -- would live in the main house, with a separate entrance at the walk-in basement for at least two boarders, most likely expatriates from the Philippines who work in the home health care industry. There would be a quarter-acre garden for flowers and produce, and a shed for chickens, all under the care of a semi-retired couple living in the carriage house above the three- or four-car garage. The guest cottage would be for a retired priest, who would say private (Traditional Latin) Mass in the chapel to be built on the property, preferably on wheels, because zoning laws are such a pain.
What's more, the choice of "highway car" might be a bit more upscale.
If I won $100,000,000 ($70,000,000) ...
... I would do all the above, and quit my day job. Instead of tithing to the Church, I would set up an endowment with the amount in question, to disperse the interest off the principle. This could lead to the reception of papal honors, in which case I would only accept membership in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. There's just something about being "sovereign" ...
IMAGE: Artists rendering of Hundredfold Farm, a cohousing village near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Used without permission or shame.
Instead of buying an even bigger estate, I would buy property, either in the Blue Ridge, western Maryland, southern Pennsylvania, or southern Ohio, and build a village. It would follow the “cohousing” model, and would hold between twenty-four and thirty-six residences, or up to about three hundred people. Solicitations would be sent to Catholic homeschooling families, for whom would be secured low-interest loans to begin their new lives. We would establish a corporation to oversee the planning, design, and construction, and later govern it as a homeowners association (only we'd call it a "board of selectmen" presided over by a "mayor" and "vice-mayor"). There would be a common house to function as a "village hall," a chapel, something resembling a post office, and one or more small working farms along the perimeter. A village-based cooperative would own the general store, the workshop managed by a guild, and (finally) a produce stand along the main road nearby.
Finally, I would also establish a trust fund for my son and his family.
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In the second, third, and fourth scenario, I would hire an accountant to manage the fortune.
In the third and fourth scenario, I would hire an accountant to manage the fortune, and a lawyer to protect it from the riff-raff.
In the fourth scenario, I would be designated the village idiot, as “all day long I'd biddy biddy bum.”
(The above, with some adjustments, is a reprint of a work first published in December 2009.)