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The big win: Let's call it 'complicated'

As a kid, I didn't count sheep. When I couldn't fall asleep, I imagined what I would get if my parents won the lottery.

As the strains of "The Arsenio Hall Show" theme song floated under my bedroom door, I would line up the imagined purchases on the conveyor belt of my mind:

Hair scrunchies in every color, gold hoop earrings big enough to put your hands through, one of those neon telephones that light up when people call.

Being an heiress also somehow translated into me marrying Christian Slater and going straight to college from middle school, Doogie Howser style.

In reality, of course, I wore knock-off hoops from Hills and got my parents' hand-me-down rotary phone. But even if things had turned out differently, a richer household wouldn't have helped with any of my real day-to-day challenges. I still would have faced the same heartaches, math tests and lunchroom bullies.

Still, my daydreaming is not unique, considering New York state raked in more than $6 billion in lottery sales last year. There are plenty of folks out there holding onto the delusion that more money will fix everything. But for those who never seem to have enough money, that is simply not the case.

And just as money can't buy happiness, it can't bridge the gap in our financial education.

For those of us lucky enough to earn a living wage, it is not about how much money we make, it's about what we do with that money. A heftier paycheck is no substitute for sound financial planning.

There is no shortage of horror stories about lottery winners. Even those who don't end up squandering their "modest" millions on drugs and gambling generally have a rough time of it.

Take South Carolina Powerball winner Solomon Jackson Jr. The headline above the beaming photo of him holding an oversized check reads, "Powerball Winner: $260 M Won't Change Me." The statement is ironically and eerily true. Let's just hope his financial head was screwed on tight before he bought that fateful $2 ticket.

That's because your relationship with money doesn't change just because you suddenly get more of it. If people consistently live beyond their means, they will be consistently broke. If I don't know how to manage $300, I most certainly won't be able to manage $3 million.

Many of us treat our credit cards the way lottery winners treat their jackpots -- like bottomless cash reserves. But in the end we find out, just like those "cursed" lottery winners, that the lifeline only leads to the end of the rope. The time always comes to pay the piper.

Every month, consumers are filled with regret when they scan through the credit card purchases that seemed like a good idea at the time. You can almost hear the collective slapping of foreheads when the buzz has worn off and we find ourselves questioning whatever frivolous purchase is today's equivalent of a neon phone.

That's probably the time when thoughts of buying a lottery ticket creep into reeling minds. But once again, it's not "$1,000 a Week for Life" that will solve the problem. If we don't pay close attention to how we manage our money, bigger paychecks mean only bigger debts to pay with them.

And it doesn't matter whether you have an iPhone or a sneakerphone when the person on the other end of it is a bill collector.

e-mail: schristmann@buffnews.com

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