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What Jet.com shareholders should do with their windfall

Dollars cash
Amr Abdallah Dalsh | Reuters

What would you do with a sudden windfall? Considering what to do with hypothetical millions isn't a bad idea.

Windfalls don't always come in the form of record lottery wins. They might be an inheritance, a bonus or – as in Wal-Mart's $3.3 billion acquisition of e-commerce company Jet.com – a big investment pay out.

Pennsylvania's Eric Martin said he was one of 10 people who won significant equity in Jet.com through a contest last year, and that he netted 100,000 shares for referring the most family and friends to the membership-based site. Some reports have valued his shared at more than $20 million.

Martin told CNBC on Monday that he can't disclose the value of his shares, and doesn't know how the Wal-Mart deal will pay out for him. (The terms of the deal weren't publicly disclosed.)

"Up until today, it was all just a hope and a wish and a dream," Martin told CNBC. "I don't think I'm some genius person that I thought Jet was going to work out. It was a gut instinct."

One of the best things Martin and other consumers can do with a sudden windfall is … nothing.

Ideally, consumers faced with instant wealth should take time to consider their financial and life goals before they do anything with the money, David Lynch, a managing director and head of branches at TD Ameritrade, told CNBC.com earlier this year. Consult with a financial professional to figure out the best ways to invest or save that money.

"Develop a plan," Lynch said. "Working without a plan is just hoping to hit a goal."

Don't start spending before you have the cash in hand. Depending on the nature of the windfall, the timing and final amount may not be set in stone, certified financial planner Clark Randall, owner of Financial Enlightenment in Dallas, told CNBC.com earlier this year.

"You don't have 100 percent of that money to work with," Clark said. "Most likely, you're going to have to pay taxes on it."

What people would do with "millions"

Invest or save 86%
Donate to charity 33%
Go on a trip 28%
Buy a new home 26%
Buy practical things for parents/grandparents 23%
Buy fun things for spouse/kids 17%
Buy a car 8%
Buy fun things for parents/grandparents 6%
Take friends on a trip/out to eat/to a concert or sports event 5%
SOURCE: TD Ameritrade

Think about the best ways to use the newfound wealth. Nearly 9 in 10 consumers say if they were to suddenly earn or receive "millions," they would save or invest at least a portion of that money, according to a TD Ameritrade survey of just over 1,000 adults. (The exact windfall amount was left to the respondents' imaginations.) Of those hopeful wealth-builders, 66 percent say they would save or invest at least half of their new wealth.

(See chart above for other ways consumers said they would use newfound wealth.)

"That's a really good indication of a culture shift," certified financial planner Susan Bradley told CNBC.com earlier this year. Bradley is the founder of the Sudden Money Institute in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, which helps consumers make the most of such wealth changes.

In consumers' plans for a big cash influx, investing usually comes in low on the list, Bradley said.

"Our experience is … people say that they would buy a house, or something house related," she said. "I have found that to be consistently true." Vacations and funding a child's education are other oft-cited top priorities.

"There's this preset notion that people will blow through unearned money," Lynch said.

It's a welcome surprise that people are more aware of the potential impact of sudden wealth for their bottom line, and that a windfall may not amount to a fast financial fix, he said. A quarter of the respondents said even with those millions, they wouldn't necessarily be set for life.

"Sometimes what you say and what you do are two different things," Lynch said. There's plenty of evidence that responsible money management can fly out the window in the face of a sudden influx of cash.

A 2012 study in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, for example, found that 34.9 percent of inheritors saw their net worth either decline or hold steady — indicating they didn't save the money or use it to pay down debt. Along with individual tales of lottery winner financial woes, a 2010 Vanderbilt Law and Economics paper found that financially distressed Florida lottery winners were only able to postpone — not avoid — bankruptcy.