Ideas That Help You Manage a Financial Windfall

David L. Johanson |

Have you ever dreamed of winning the lottery or inheriting a large sum of money?  Most people have.  Yet, riches that fall into our hands can sometimes quickly slip through our fingers.

Statistics show that one third of the people who received an inheritance had negative savings within two years of the event. 

Alex Lasarev grew up in a modest household.  Thanks to his frugal mother, he inherited over $1 million as a teenager.  But a lifestyle filled with luxury and bad investments drained his fortune, and financially, he ended up back where he started.

Maureen O’Conner married the founder of Jack in the Box.  His passing left her with an inheritance valued at over $50 million.  But a series of unfortunate events in gambling and embezzlement charges left her destitute.

“Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow,” according to the Book of Proverbs.  While a windfall need not be viewed as ‘dishonest money,’ the wisdom from the proverb serves as a warning that a sudden inflow of cash can quickly disappear if proper planning is shunned.

Over the next decade, millennials are expected to inherit $68 trillion, and there are other ways you might come into a large sum all at once.  The sale of a property, the settlement of a lawsuit, a year-end bonus, and yes, a winning lottery ticket can create unexpected riches that can enhance your overall well-being - or turn into an unexpected nightmare.

How to Manage and Sustain Your Windfall

The advice we provide is always tailored to your specific goals and circumstances.  What we recommend to one individual, or couple, is not always the counsel we provide to someone else.  There are time-tested financial principles that are the foundation of the advice we provide.  The recommendations below are general and are based on long-term data and our experience.

  1. First things first: don’t do anything.  That’s right, do nothing.  Place the funds in a safe short-term account such as a money market or savings account.  This reduces the temptation to make a big purchase that you may come to regret.  It will also give you the time and space to develop a sound financial plan that meets shorter term and longer-term needs and goals.
  1. Get help.  We are always available to entertain your questions and ideas.  We will assist you in making any adjustments that incorporate the windfall into your financial plan and plug any shortfalls.  As a Wealth Management Firm, we will help you navigate the tax code and estimate any taxes due.  Further, an estate planning attorney will help you create an estate plan.
  1. Pay down or pay off debt.  As you develop a plan, consider paying down debt.  Do you have credit card debt?  Are some of your loans at high rates?  If so, consider wiping out that debt.  You will feel an enormous sense of satisfaction eliminating burdensome liabilities.
  1. In the same vein, bulk up your rainy-day fund.  It is a great idea to knock out debt, but emergency reserves are an important component of your financial foundation, too.  We typically recommend three to six months of living expenses that you can easily access.
  1. Let’s visit your retirement.  Are you on track to comfortably retire?  Making sure you have enough for retirement is one of the pillars of a sound financial plan.  If possible, max out your IRA or 401(k).  The earlier you contribute, the greater the power of compounded growth, but it’s never too late to start.
  1. If you have children, college savings plans are an ideal way to help them pay for the cost of higher education.
  1. Tax time.  Did you sell a large property that will incur a capital gain?  What are the federal and local taxes that might be due?  A conversation with your tax advisor is in order so that you can set aside funds to pay the government.  Getting caught flat-footed at tax time is something you want to avoid.
  1. Take care of yourself.  There is nothing wrong with spending a little bit of money on yourself.  Earmark a small percentage of your windfall for fun.

It may be a short vacation getaway or a few toys that enhance the enjoyment of your hobby.  Just be careful you do not turn one small expenditure into a series of splurges that whittle away at your windfall.