SAN JOSE -- I think I finally figured out why the person or people who bought the winning lottery ticket at Jenny's Gift &Kids Wear hasn't come forward to claim the $324 million prize.
They aren't lining up lawyers, CPAs or investment bankers. They're taking a few days to mourn the loss of the life they're living today.
Crazy, you say? Who would mourn losing anything after winning a fortune? Any sane person, that's who. For despite all the mystery around who won, where they are, why they haven't stepped forward, one thing is certain: The minute they speak up, their life is going to change dramatically.
Put yourself in the winner's shoes. (I know, you'd love to.) You woke up Tuesday with an ordered life: a job, a budget, friendships, obligations. That night, 8, 14, 17, 20, 39, mega number 7, and everything is turned upside down. Does work matter? Who loves you? What do they want from me?
"You have to deal with emotion," says Paul Golden, spokesman for the National Endowment for Financial Education, which promotes financial literacy. "The obvious ones are excitement and elation and this sense of security forever. But I think on the other side of it, there are emotions like anxiety, distrust, guilt."
Big winners, Golden says, are bombarded by friends and family, people coming at you with business deals, others asking for loans or donations. It's enough to have you wondering how you'll move forward.
I know. I know. You'll take the money and the problems that come with it. After all, $324 million can pay for a lot of therapy. But I'm not laying out the downside of a sudden upside just to make us losers feel better. OK, maybe it's a little of that.
Mostly, though, I'm searching for the answer that we're all searching for. Why wouldn't a lucky winner want to get his or her mitts on an amount of money that it would take Mark Zuckerberg days to make?
Granted, it's possible whoever bought the ticket on Tully Road lost it before ever looking at it. It's possible the buyer wrapped it as a Christmas gift and it's now sitting undisturbed under someone's tree. Or maybe San Jose's newest multimillionaire is carrying the ticket around without having checked its numbers.
"I think that a good portion of the benefit of a lottery ticket is the dream," says Santa Clara University professor Meir Statman, who studies behavioral finance. "For a whole week you can dream that you're going to be the one with the $300 million. The sooner you look into it, the sooner you find out you're a loser again."
Except, of course, this time someone is walking around with a ticket that is a winner. Frankly, I don't blame them for taking their time coming forward.
"The best advice I can give someone like this is, 'Just go into hiding,' " says Golden, who's joking, sort of. His point: It's good to take a cooling-off period. Rarely do any decisions need to be made right away. Take your time.
And my advice: Take time to revel in the life you lead, but will never lead again. The truth is you lose something when you win megabucks.
"Now it is the question of what are my obligations to the people around me," Statman says. "People have expectations of you, even if they are brothers or sisters. Now it's a question of what do you do? Do you give them a check for $100 or a BMW?"
And even social occasions of the sort that were once joyous and fun become awkward and uncomfortable.
"As long as it's Joe, who makes $60,000, and Ann, who makes $100,000, they're not really expected to do more than bring flowers or a bottle of wine when they visit," Statman explains. "But when you're suddenly in the $300 million range, you better bring the keys to something special. It must be unnerving to anyone."
It could be one of the reasons that people who find themselves on the business end of a windfall so often find ways to lose it all. One researcher cited by the National Endowment for Financial Education concluded that 70 percent of Americans who experience financial windfalls lose them within a few years, though Golden says the statistic is more than a decade old and that the foundation can't now put its hands on the study's methodology.
Still, it happens. And maybe just thinking about that possibility is enough, even for a newly minted $324 million lotto winner, to pull the covers up over his or her head and stay in bed for another day.