Deciding how best to divvy up her winnings between herself and her adult son and daughter was 65-year-old Irish-Australian Maggie Kerr’s first thought, upon receiving the news she’d won $750,000 in September 2015.
An occasional lottery ticket buyer, the Central Coast security guard and grandmother of eight thought the newsagent’s machine had malfunctioned after she scanned her Oz Lotto Mega Pick and got a message to contact NSW Lotteries.
“I was going to walk out and chuck it in the bin but I waited to check again and I said to the newsagent, ‘I don’t think your machine’s working’,” Kerr says.
Four days later the payout hit her account where it remained largely untouched while she mulled over her options for making it count.
“I went to the bank and asked them to pay my credit cards and my daughter’s credit cards and open an account for my son and to leave the rest,” Kerr says.
“Seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a lot of money. But it’s not a lot of money to do what you would like to do for three people, so I had to sit down and work out: how do I get the most out of it that I could possibly get?”
After consulting her children, she abandoned her initial plan to use the funds as a deposit on two properties to be owned jointly by all three parties. Instead, she chose to swap her own Department of Housing residence for a three-bedroom bungalow in the Central Coast town of Kariong, purchased outright.
“The kids came over and my daughter said, ‘Mum, we’ve talked it over and we think that for the last 40 years you’ve put us first and now we think you should put yourself first’,” Kerr says. “They said, ‘we want you to just get a house for yourself’. And when I pass on, it will go to them.”
Kerr spent $70,000 renovating her new dwelling, replaced her aging hatchback with a new Suzuki Swift and gifted her children $40,000 apiece.
How to deal with sudden wealth
While Kerr dealt with the win with a level head, in reality, coming into a lot of money – whether it’s through an unexpected windfall; the sale, or partial sale, of a business; inheritance; or divestment of property – dramatically changes people’s lives and not always for the better.
Sudden wealth often comes with an emotional toll – stress, anxiety, guilt, social isolation and confusion. It’s an affliction US psychologist Stephen Goldbart termed “sudden wealth syndrome”.
The co-founder of the Money, Meaning & Choices Institute, says sufferers become overwhelmed, grow suspicious of people around them, and make poor decisions, such as overspending or lending money to family and friends. A common outcome is personal and financial destruction.
Coming to grips with sudden wealth can be daunting, agrees Robert Hayward, financial planner with ANZ, who has seen several clients suddenly come into money. Seeing an advisor can help guide decisions that protect the capital so it lasts beyond the initial high of coming into a lump sum.
One case he refers to is one of his clients, a woman in her early 60s who worked in retail and won about $5 million in a Lotto syndicate she’d taken out with her workmates. Not everyone she worked with was in on the syndicate, which made going to work particularly uncomfortable.
However, the win meant she could pay off her mortgage, quit her job and set some of her family members up for the future.
“The biggest thing for her was dealing with all the extra zeros in her bank account; just trying to comprehend that level of money was a massive challenge,” he says.
“She was getting things thrown at her from left, right and centre, so seeking that professional opinion helped her understand what level of income support she needed to support herself long-term and to direct the money into the investment solutions that allowed for that.
“Our role was taking that weight – that burden, if you like – away from her when it came to making big decisions about where the money goes.”
Hayward also had meetings with her children to explain how the money was being invested, and why, and still meets with her regularly to make sure everything stays on track.
“She didn’t particularly care about getting a better rate of return; she just wanted to protect the capital,” he says.
“A Lotto win doesn’t come around very often. Others in the syndicate went down a very different path and spent the money on travel and other luxuries, but she took a very sensible approach to make sure it could support future generations.”
Setting herself up for retirement
For Maggie Kerr, the win couldn’t have come at a better time. Coming into a substantial sum made comfortable retirement a realistic prospect for the first time.
“If this hadn’t happened and I’d wanted to give up working then I would have been in a terrible position – I may have had to go home to Ireland,” Kerr says.
But while her lifestyle has improved, the windfall has not changed her financial habits or tempted her to embark on extravagant spending splurges.
“I’m still the same person going around in a daggy tracksuit,” Kerr jokes. “I’m not materialistic – I couldn’t care less what somebody else has; I’ve never been that type of person. I did exactly what I thought was the right thing to do with the money and I think I was pretty wise in my decisions.”
My financial journey is a series from ANZ Women on how Australian women have overcome major obstacles and taken charge of their finances.