Ready for the $530 million Mega Millions jackpot? Don't make these 6 mistakes if you win


Dreaming about what you'd do with $530 million if you win the Mega Millions jackpot? Join the club.

Tonight's drawing marks the seventh-largest jackpot in the game's history. Your odds of winning are a mere 1 in 303 million. Amid the Mega Millions mania, dozens of experts are chiming in about what to do if you win.

If you're lucky enough to claim the next multimillion-dollar prize, allow these six stories from past lottery winners to serve as cautionary tales.

1. Don't lose your ticket

Earlier this year, an unemployed Michael J. Weirsky won a $273 Mega Millions lottery jackpot after a stranger found and returned the winning ticket. Weirsky told reporters he lost the two tickets he purchased at a New Jersey QuickChek the day before the drawing.

"I was paying more attention to my cellphone. I put the tickets down to put my money away, then I did something with my phone and just walked away," he said at a news conference. It's safe to say that Weirsky got lucky; it's unrealistic to think that anyone who comes across a lost $237 million ticket will be kind enough to return it.

A handful of states allow you claim anonymously, while others require the winner's name to be revealed. But if you're prone to losing things (or, like Weirsky, are easily distracted by your phone), experts suggest signing your signature, legal name, address and phone number on the back of your ticket.

2. Don't make impulsive decisions

Younger winners should pay close attention to this lesson. Jonathan Vargas was 19 years old when he won a $35.3 million Powerball prize. While it must have been nice to be named as one of America's youngest lottery winners, Vargas ended up losing a portion of his money after taking a more impulsive approach.

The South Carolina resident and lifelong wrestling fan decided to partner with his friends in the entertainment industry and create a sketch comedy series called "Wrestlicious." In 2010, just one season after the show aired on television, Vargas found himself out nearly a half a million of his winnings.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would recommend people just sit on it for a year and really decide what they want to do with it," Vargas told CBS News.

3. Don't carry the cash around

On Christmas morning in 2002, Santa gave Jack Whittaker of West Virginia the gift that dreams are made of: A $315 million Powerball lottery jackpot. All went well at first. Whittaker gave $15 million to fund the construction of two churches, $10 million to various charities and $50 million to friends, family and strangers.

But eight months later, a twisted chain of events followed. Robbers stole $545,000 in cash from Whittaker's car and his granddaughter, who began using drugs, overdosed, according to NBC News.

"Since I won the lottery, I think there is no control for greed," Whittaker later told ABC News. "If you have something, there's always someone else that wants it. I wish I'd torn that ticket up."

4. Don't go back on your word

People participate in office lottery pools all the time. Hey, there's nothing wrong with bettering your chances — as long as you don't go back on your word if you end up winning.

In 1999, Tonda Lynn Dickerson and her colleagues each received lottery tickets as gifts from a restaurant patron. They all promised to split the money if anyone won. But Dickerson, who held a winning ticket valued at $10 million over 30 years, refused to share any of the earnings, according to Forbes.

Dickerson's colleagues sued her over the dispute. The court said she did nothing wrong. To "hold her lottery winnings," Dickerson put the money into a family-owned corporation and, on top of legal battles, ultimately incurred a $1.1 million gift tax, Forbes reports.

5. Don't give it ALL away

Okay, give some of it away. In fact, studies have shown that lottery winners who donate part of their winnings are more likely to be happier later in life.

But Janite Lee, an entrepreneur who won an $18 million lottery jackpot in 1993, found her earnings gone within a decade after donating to educational programs, political organizations and community welfare, according to Business Insider.

Giving a portion of your fortune away is indeed a virtuous act, but had Lee been smarter with her money, she probably could have invested the $18 million, made more millions and, in the process, written a better ending for herself.

In 2001, she filed for bankruptcy. Call it a classic case of "selling the goose that laid the golden eggs."

6. Don't take advice from anyone who isn't a credible financial planner

Of all the questionable decisions lottery winners make, Bud Post of Pennsylvania might have made the most in one lifetime.

In 1988, Post won $16.2 million and spent his earnings on a restaurant, a used-car lot and an airplane (that he couldn't fly), to name just a few.

Moreover, according to TIME, Post's relatives convinced him to put a chunk of his money into unprofitable business ventures, and his landlady swindled him into handing over a third of his cash. He also got times.

The bottom dollar

As the saying goes, "More money, more problems."

When you wake up to millions in your bank account, you can either make smart financial decisions or end up losing more than you had to begin with. So if you find yourself with the next winning ticket, keep these lessons in mind.

Tom Popomaronis is a commerce expert and proud Baltimore native. Currently, he is the Senior Director of Product Innovation at the Hawkins Group. His work has been featured in Forbes, Fast Company and The Washington Post. In 2014, he was named one of the "40 Under 40" by the Baltimore Business Journal.

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