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Would Your Life Change If You Became a Millionaire Overnight?

winning a million dollarsI know that I’ve talked about having a million dollars and wondered if that made someone rich or not. I’m not sure it does in every case, but becoming a millionaire is still something most of us dream of, especially if it were to happen instantly. We’ve all heard stories of people winning the lottery, striking oil, or having a rich uncle who left them a fortune. Heck, how many TV shows have been made about that very topic? Well, I had the unique opportunity to meet an overnight millionaire recently, and one of my big questions was if and how her life had changed. It was really interesting  to hear what she had to say.

I’ve Won Some Money

One of the best things about my job is the vast assortment of people who walk in the door. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, I get surprised again. Last week, I saw a patient who has been one of my regulars for many years. She is one of the sweetest ladies you’ll ever meet but has a whole host of health problems, mostly due to heavy smoking. She is only 66, but easily looks and moves like someone a decade older. This lady has worked hard her whole life but has always been a paycheck to paycheck person and never had much money. I suspect she would have lived her remaining years relying on a social security check to pay the bills.

This visit, she kept talking about a vacation she would be taking at the end of the month. It was her first vacation ever, and she was going to spend a week in Hawaii, followed by a week in Tahiti. She was going with some of her grandkids and her three sisters that she hadn’t seen in 40 years. I was quite impressed. That’s a killer trip for anyone, let alone an elderly lady without much money. I really try not to judge how other people spend money, so I was very happy that she was getting to take this trip of a lifetime. I didn’t ask, but eventually she mentioned that she’d won some money.

People Really Do Win Sweepstakes

Because she mentioned it, I asked how she had won. I was shocked to learn that she had won one of those sweepstakes you can enter when buying magazines, kind of like the old Ed McMahon contests. I then asked her how much money. As deadpan as a judge getting ready to hand down a sentence, she looked at me and said, “A million dollars.”

I seriously thought she was joking, but it was true. This lady won a million dollars! She thought it was a scam until a cashier’s check arrived. She elected to take the lump sum payment, which was just under $600,000. Not quite a million after taxes, but holy goodness!

Did a Million Dollars Change Her Lifestyle?

After hearing that, I just kind of stopped examining her eyes and started asking questions. I can’t believe this wasn’t in the paper. Nothing like that ever happens in our hometown. She told me she was on YooHoo and everything and had to make a video about her winnings. How was she going to spend her bounty?

First off, she paid what debts she had.

She said that the two things on her bucket list were to go to Hawaii and another foreign tropical island, hence the upcoming trip.

The other thing she wanted was a washing machine, so she bought a USED washer and dryer.

She told me that having that amount of money in her bank account was unimaginable and it might  just as well be 10 million dollars because she would never spend that much money before she dies.

She said it was really hard to get used to having some money. She still he still puts items back on the shelf at Walmart, then tells herself it’s OK to buy them.

The thing she sounded most happy about was that she just bought two bottles of vitamins for her macular degeneration. She was never able to afford more than one at at time previously.

I asked if she had relatives showing up out of the woodwork. She said only her close family knew about her winnings, and she had given them a little of the money. They were all grateful. She told me her family had always been poor and knew how to live poor. They had no plans to go nuts now with a little money. However, she said it was amazing to not have any bills for the first time in her life.

Then, she went out and bought new eyeglass lenses but kept her old frames because they were still in good shape.

Lessons From An Overnight Millionaire

Counting on a sudden windfall is not a great way to plan for retirement. However, I do think coming into some money happens to a fair number of people, maybe through inheritance or insurance settlements. I think it’s easy to blow it all quickly, especially if you’ve always been poor.

If this lady had gone out and bought a new house and a new luxury car plus a bunch of crap for her family, she’d already be broke again. Instead, she hasn’t inflated her lifestyle. She’ s going to splurge a little and then use the rest of the money to be more comfortable and worry less. They probably won’t be making a reality show about her life, but I think this lady is someone we could all learn from.

Have you ever known anyone who came into a large amount of money? Did it change their lifestyle? What would you do if you suddenly found yourself $600,000 richer?


Image: Wikipedia Commons




About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. Good for her! Glad someone like her won the money!

    I’ve gone through the mental exercise of winning a million and it’s pretty depressing. I figured after taxes, it would be around 500 ( so maybe it’s more). 100k as a tithe. 150k for student loans. 180k for mortgage. 30k to pay off car so in-laws don’t have to. That leaves me with… Not much 🙂 probably would start college funds for the girls and then be right back to our same old life (although, I’d be a stay-at-home mom in that version).

  2. What a great story. I think id be very similar. Frugality isn’t something I can just turn off. Id pay off my debts and take care of a few things around our home then do the same, go on a trip with my family. After that I really think my life would just go on. I had a friend come into a ton of money (over a million tax free dollars) and her husband still works and they live a very modest lift. Everyone is different!

  3. I don’t personally know anyone who has come into a lot of money, but it’s true: people do win large sums of money. I thin it would change my life in a big way financially, though my day-to-day life would be pretty similar. I would pay off my debts and look into investing the rest. At the very least it would make me financially secure.

  4. This is an awesome lesson. Like her, I would definitely pay off all my debt and take a great trip, but I wouldn’t quit working or anything. Not working would give me more time to spend the money, lol. I would be happy looking at the number in the bank 🙂

  5. I think it would be really easy for someone to blow through 600K if they didn’t have any experience managing money like that. I hope it lasts for her!

    I don’t think 600K would change my life that much but it would certainly speed up my goals.

  6. Good for her! Good to see someone is winning those contests and they aren’t just scams!
    With $600k, I’d be debt free, take a year sabbatical abroad, then buy a modest house and furnish it. Anything extra I’d invest.

  7. At 28, $600,000 wouldn’t exactly leave me set for life, but it sure would be sweet. Because I’m young, I would probably invest and save most of it and treat myself to a little vacation of course 🙂

    • I think most people would go out and buy a new car and lots of stuff. I probably would have if I’d won money in my 20’s.

  8. While I would love a little influx of cash like that, I don’t count on it, nor do I play the lottery that often. There are some things I would do with a large sum of money, but it would really just pay off our house and be done with it. We would probably go on vacation as well, but then back to the real world. $600,000 won’t last a lifetime for us.

  9. Good for her! I don’t know anyone personally who has won that kind of money, but have a friend who knows someone who won TWICE! For me that would almost go straight to retirement savings, which would just give me a little more breathing room to not panic about money now. OK maybe I might take one small trip, but that’s about it.

  10. I have two items on my personal bucket list, a trip to Kyoto in the fall and a trip to Tahiti. After that, the money would go in the bank. a million is not all that much these days I’m sad to say.

  11. I enjoyed the story about your patient and so far she has the right approach with her winnings! I know of someone who won the lottery twice but nowhere near six figures. They were already pretty good with money so the winnings didn’t faze them. If I won a huge sum of money, I would buy a couple of things that I fancied but I would definitely keep a low profile and still live much as I do now.

  12. Winning $600,000 would change my life financially, but not really enough to change how I live daily.

    Just this morning Kate asked, “Do we really have to go to work, again?!” “Not if we win the lottery.” “But we don’t ever play the lottery.” “Then we probably should be going to work.”

    • That sound like a conversation I’ve had a time or two. It’s fun to think about winning the lottery, but I don’t every play, so it’s not even a slim possibility.

  13. That’s great. I would splurge a little more than that, but my rule would be that I wouldn’t spend more than 5-10% up front, and the rest would be invested or put to use where it would not be at risk of getting spent or withdrawn.

  14. What a great story Kim!! I do not know anyone who has come into this much money surprisingly, but I have heard about how many lottery winners often end up depressed after winning the money because they changed their lifestyles so much that they either spent the money or became just like the Joneses and realized the grass isn’t always greener. I have learned a lot of lessons on my road to frugality and if I came into a windfall, I hope that I would continue on my path and manage lifestyle inflation and give myself the opportunity to give more time, money and energy to people who really need it.

  15. Great that she’s keeping on track with her windfall and isn’t going crazy! Things would change for us. We would pay off my law school loans (131k), put away (100k) for our daughters’ college funds it would have a long time to grow. Probably take a big immediate family (25 people) vacation to Disney (15k), then invest the rest.

  16. Glad that she didn’t inflate her lifestyle too much. When I started reading the story, I thought it would be a cautionary tale of what not to do with sudden wealth, which happens all too often. Also glad to hear that her family members aren’t hitting her up for money for stuff because that happens all too often as well.

  17. In the grand scheme of things, not really. It would push things forward for me a few years; that’s for sure

    • Yes, $600,000 would not be enough to let me quit working, but it would allow us to pay off our house and rental property, which would certainly accelerate our retirement timeline.

  18. Maybe she can even buy some nicotine patches now! I often get lump sums when cashing out investments but usually it is just the boring re-investing it again, maybe keeping a little bit for fun. I don’t know how I would react if money I didn’t work to earn fell from the sky but don’t think my lifestyle would change much.

    • Yes, she probably could afford the patch, but has already quit smoking, thank goodness. I would probably splurge on a cleaning lady, but invest the rest.

  19. I love this, Kim! I would have thought it was a scam too until I get my cashier’s check too. You always see those advertisements and wonder if the people are real. It sounds like not only was she a really worthy winner, but she is using her money smartly. Paying off bills and taking a dream trip are great choices. I think those who win money (or even inherit a large sum) and do well are the ones who don’t crazy. They appreciate no longer worrying about money but they don’t overindulge.

    • If you knew this lady, going out to buy a new Escalade would not be her style at all. I am not really surprised she didn’t feel the need to go crazy.

  20. My life would absolutely change! I’d buy a house in full (nothing extravagent but with a decent lot size), take a nice vacation, and hubby and I would quit our jobs and start our own business.

  21. It sounds to me like this lady had some solid values in place before she won the money. I’m of the firm belief that money doesn’t change people…it only exacerbates who they really are.

  22. I’m glad she didn’t go crazy and blow the money, but I hope she does increase her lifestyle somewhat after the news has sunk in. But I think it’s prudent to not make any quick decisions.

    When I thought about this question in the past, I always said I would finish my PhD. Now that it’s DONE I’ll have to think of a new answer! $1M certainly isn’t enough for us to reach FI at the lifestyle level we want, so I’m sure we would invest it well for the long-term.

  23. A lot of overnight millionaire does become broke soon after they received their wind fall. Nice to know that she is still sticking to her old lifestyle, maybe it get to do with her age, older people are better at managing windfall.

  24. What a great story! I would pay off my student loans and invest the rest.

  25. I think I’d freak out with that kind of money! I’d probably we so overcome with the enormity of my winnings that I’d barely want to touch it until I’d done some serious thinking. Frankly, that $600,000 could pretty much make me financially free so I’d consider investing it, while continuing to work (initially) just to make sure that all my maths was right as the interest started to accumulate. If it *was* right – then I’d consider giving up my job.

  26. Changing is possible after you be a millionaire. I would probably invest and save most of it and treat myself to a little vacation of course

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