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It’s easy to start imagining all the boats, cars, mansions and vacations you could afford if you hit the winning numbers and millions of dollars suddenly fell into your lap. But lotteries are almost always a bad investment.
More than a third of people (35 percent) buy at least one lottery ticket during the typical month, according to a Bankrate survey conducted in fall 2019. The games pull in even more people when the jackpots reach mind-boggling levels.
A jackpot exceeding $600 million — like the Powerball — is enough to put dollar signs in anybody’s eyes, but avoiding the temptation and putting your money elsewhere is statistically the better bet. You can definitely win if you don’t play.
Here are three reasons why you shouldn’t buy lottery tickets:
- Your money will almost always go further somewhere else.
- The odds are against you — way, way against you.
- Lotteries are more likely to pull money from low-income people.
1. Your money will almost always go further somewhere else
Bankrate’s survey found that the vast majority of adults (92 percent) who buy lottery tickets spend between $1 to $100 during the typical month. The average ticket buyer spends about $75 a month on scratch offs and Powerball, the data show. That’s about how much you’d spend if you dropped $17 on tickets once a week while paying for gas or dropping into a convenience store.
Instead of shelling out $17 every week for lottery tickets, people who put that money in a piggy bank would be sure to hit an almost $900 reward by the end of the year. While that’s not $1 billion, it’s nearly enough to fund an average mortgage payment in the U.S. or to pad a savings account. When only 18 percent of Americans have a fully funded emergency fund and 28 percent have no emergency savings, $75 a month can make a difference.
2. The odds are against you — way, way against you
Slowly adding to your piggy bank each week is not as exciting as hearing your numbers called or scratching your way to an instant prize. But it’s a lot less risky.
Getting your money back is statistically the best you could hope for with Powerball. And even then, there’s only a 3 percent probability — a 1-in-37 chance — you’ll do that. Hitting that big prize is even less likely at 1 in 292 million.
Investing in the stock market is not gambling, but it still involves risk. That said, if done smartly it involves far less risk than buying lottery tickets. And it’s easier than ever to participate. Robinhood, for example, doesn’t require a minimum balance, doesn’t charge per stock trade and lets you conduct business right from your phone or tablet.
3. Lotteries are more likely to pull money from low-income people
People in the lowest income bracket were the most likely to buy a lottery ticket during the typical month. The Bankrate survey found on average respondents who made less than $30,000 said they put about $115 toward lotteries during the typical month.
Those with the highest incomes, earning more than $80,000, only bought an average of $73 in tickets during a typical month, the data show.
Lower-income people are also more likely to buy multiple lottery tickets, which, as Bloomberg reports, means poorer Americans are largely paying to keep these games running.