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The Village Idiot

I wanted to be a millionaire

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(1/2011) I wanted to be a millionaire and in 1983, a million dollars was offered to me, no strings attached. All I had to do was buy the winning Lotto ticket and sign the tax form. I turned it down.

Perhaps Iíd better explain the "how and why" of the Lotto ticket. I awoke (more drunk than sober) one Lotto drawing day to see four numbers floating between me and the ceiling of my glorified cardboard box (a dilapidated truck bed camper) I was then sleeping in behind the factory. Iíve forgotten the exact numbers, but I recall telling them "four isnít enough to keep me drunk all year. Go away." There was never a doubt in my poisoned brain that the numbers were winners.

All day the four numbers would appear before me as I tried to read, or ride my motorcycle. Always four, never the six needed to win a million dollars. It wasnít until that evening, after Iíd settled at my sisterís shack on the mountain, that the last two numbers sprang from my lips without warning. Iíd already told my sister how the first four had haunted me all day. She, being one to believe the universe is always offering us what we need, urged me to buy a ticket and just make up the last two numbers. She insisted such a chance wasnít likely to come along again in my lifetime. I hemmed and hawed. She wrote down the numbers anyhow and continued to argue with me. She nearly had a fit when I blurted out the last two numbers.

"Buy the ticket!" She hissed at me.

I didnít.

We sat before her television and watched my numbers come up in the Lotto drawing. She hit me. Hard! "How could you be so stupid?"

I argued the pay off wouldnít be a million, only about $35,000 a year for 20 years (assuming taxes ate 30 percent.) With $700,000 (the after tax sum accumulated over 20 years) I could dump the alcohol I used to suppress my dreams and begin building a reality based on those dreams. $35,000 would only tempt me to drink it all up before the next check arrived. After a long, hard glare, she agreed Iíd probably do just that. Then she asked why I hadnít bought the ticket and given it to her? I asked why she hadnít taken the numbers and bought a ticket herself. I learned years later the money would have been a disaster in her life at that time too.

Sober, a decade beyond the luck of the draw, I still thought about having a million dollars. Having refused Chaosí offer of cash, I decided I should just earn the money. Others had and people still do. So could I. At least I thought I could as I ransacked the public library of books on startup businesses, home businesses, investing in: real estate, stocks, bonds and what all. Investing was BIG, the "dot com" bubble hadnít burst and 9/11 wasnít on the horizon. People were making money! Those writing and selling books on making money certainly were.

All those books, all that information and I couldnít grasp any of it. I recalled telling a friend that she and I werenít stupid (well she wasnít) we were simply not taught how to make money. We were taught to borrow and spend, not accumulate and build.

About the time Iíd given up on figuring out how to become a millionaire I found a book written about such illusive people, "The Millionaire Next Door". Riiiight. The door cracked open, just a bit, and to my delight there was no blinding revelation, no blaring trumpets, no "Rah rah! You can do it! Just buy my book." crap. Nope, what I found on the other side of the millionairesí door was the same as what was on my side. The difference was the mindset of the millionaires. The most important fact I got from the book? Millionaires were all around me! I knew several well enough to start talking to them about their lives, how they made their money, invested it and spent it. I found them to be almost exactly what the book referred to as the "average" millionaire.

Chaos had presented me with a trail! I started reading about self-made millionaires and listening to those I knew who were already, or were well on their way to becoming, millionaires. I found college lecture series that dug deep into the millionairesí mindset. I told the millionaires about the books and lectures, and listened as they confirmed what Iíd been learning. I also heard some of them cautioning me that I didnít have the temperament to become a millionaire through my own efforts. That had long since become obvious to me!

There are seven common facts among self-made millionaires.

They live below their means, often well below! (I live paycheck to pay check. Sometimes weíll get a month behind due to the unexpected, like a vehicle in the shop getting a new motor!)

Their time, energy and money are used to build wealth. (Mine are mostly aimed at getting a good nap.)

Social status isnít as important as financial freedom. (Iím with them 100% on that! If I had millions to play with, Iíd look and live even more like a bum than I do now!)

Their elders didnít feed them money to ease their way into adulthood. (Neither did mine, but they never had any.)

Their adult children are economically self-sufficient. (Mine arenít and if they follow my example, never will be.)

They are proficient at targeting market opportunities. (Iím not sure what a market opportunity is.)

They chose the right occupations. (Iím not sure about this one. The millionaires I know didnít become millionaires so much by way of their jobs as they did by not spending, and investing wisely. Several admit they could have gotten to millionaire status quicker if theyíd had better paying jobs. Still, they made it without the right occupation.)

I took chunks of advice, put them into practice and began making money with money. "Hmmm," I thought. "It works!" So I looked deeper into becoming wealthy, money wise, and decided I wouldnít. Not that I couldnít do it. I just didnít see a reason for doing it. Too much in my life would have to change, and those around me didnít sign up for such an upheaval.

If Chaos should again offer me the winning ticket Iíll probably take it. Not that such wealth is likely to fall on me now that Iíve stopped most of my self-destructive behaviors. It would be interesting to be worth a couple hundred million dollars and live in a wooden crate behind the factory though. I wonder how long it would take some of the relatives to have me committed to an institution for "my own good" and take control of the money?

One other thing Iíve learned about self-made millionaires, "80% of the millionaires in 1996 America were first generation wealthy!" Iím not envious of them and donít see a reason to redistribute their wealth. They earned it!

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.