Family Finances: The Millionaire Game

A fun game to play with your partner, the Millionaire Game will help you focus your life goals, financial and otherwise.

Sometimes it’s fun to think about what I would do if I won the lottery. Haha, just kidding—I’m too carful with my money to play the lottery. But sometimes I do think about what I would do if I found a discarded winning lottery ticket on the ground outside the Goodwill, or if I knocked a hole in the wall of my 100-year-old house and found a secret stash of cash.

Today’s topic of discussion: what would I do if I won $1 million.

First things first, I wouldn’t tell a soul. Well, maybe immediate family. My primary goal would be to keep my current, happy life (just slightly improved). I’m afraid if I started to tell people I was rich, I would start to feel rich, and then I would start to spend like I’m rich. Next thing you know I start to run out of money. Also, I think I only need to say this once: ain’t nobody gonna be moochin’ offa me.

Then I would order a pizza and have a whiteboard brainstorm party with my husband. We could list all the many, many wonderful things we could do with the money. Shopping trip in New York! Put all the money in an account and live off just the interest and dividends! Divide it into trust funds for the kids! The possibilities are endless.

Whatever we came up with would be a compromise between our two preferences. When Aaron and I got married, we had very little cash, and we’ve always considered every dollar each of us has brought into the household to be shared equally. This imaginary bonus would be no different.

So which scenario would I champion?

I would put $200,000 into my two boys’ 529 account. It would be exciting to watch it accumulate growth, interest, and dividends for the next 15 or so years until Louie, my oldest, starts college.

I would set aside $100,000 for giving. Some might go to relatives that need a little help. Some might go to our church. Some would go to charities.

Another $200,000 would be set aside for renovations to our house. We need to rebuild our front porch. We want to build a garage. And you know, it’s an old house, stuff comes up.

You might think I would pay off our mortgage. I would be sorely tempted. It would be amazing to be completely debt-free. However, the mortgage interest deduction makes the debt so cheap I don’t think I could bring myself to do it yet. I would, however, put the amount needed to pay off the mortgage in an account. It could just sit there and gather interest until the mortgage interest deduction is no longer worth it.

Then I would buy new cars for my husband and for me. By “new” I mean “new to us” and only “gently used.” I just don’t know if $1 million is enough to make me want a brand new car—it’s just not me.

The rest of the cash would be chucked in a savings account until we needed it. I would use this account to ensure that we maxed out our annual Roth IRA contribution each year.

To spice up my save-fest a bit, I asked my husband how he would dispose of this hypothetical band of bands. He said he would upgrade his motorcycle, his truck, and his computer. Then he would pretty much save the rest. So, almost exactly what I said. (You can tell we’ve had this discussion many times.) Although I do think it is interesting that he started with the things he would buy, and I started with the things for which I would save. But for the most part, two frugal peas in a pod we are.

This exercise is fun because you get to dream of being a baller. However, I recommend doing this kind of thing regularly by yourself and with your significant other. You can set the rules according to your preference, but the point is to think deeply about your life and what is really important to you. I’ve played the sudden millionaire game many times in my life. At least a couple of times I have thought afterwards, “Hey, I don’t actually need a million dollars to start working towards that goal.”

It has triggered me to course-correct in ways that have made me more satisfied with life. Ways that have nothing to do with personal finances. If you would buy a Ferrari or quit your job to be a bartender or just spend more time with your kids…then, you have a new goal, friend! Even if it is not immediately attainable, start working toward that reality today.

After you have ruminated on the question for a while, ask your main squeeze what he or she would do with a million dollars. I promise it will open an interesting dialogue on your values and goals in life. If you are both working toward the same ultimate goals, you will both get there faster and perhaps with fewer conflicts. You never know, if you save even small amounts over a lifetime you just might make it to a million—especially if you and your significant other are closely aligned.

Do you find this discussion with your partner as much fun as I do? How would you spend that million?

Photo by: Klaus M

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Amanda Gibson

Amanda Gibson used to teach folks about money at the Fed. Now she spends her days reading history books, raising kids, and thinking of ways to rule the world.

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