Man who found $1 million treasure in Rockies following the No. 1 piece of advice for lottery winners

Antiquities dealer and author Forrest Fenn sits in his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Jeri Clausing | AP

A decade-long search for a hidden treasure chest is over. The box, which is believed to contain gold nuggets and precious gems with an estimated value of $1-5 million, was allegedly hidden back in 2010 in the Rocky Mountains by Forrest Fenn, an 89-year-old millionaire art dealer, author, and Vietnam veteran.

An estimated 350,000 people attempted to locate the treasure chest with no success. Fenn says he was able to confirm the treasure hunter's success after he sent him a photograph. 

The individual who found the loot is "from back East" but does not want to disclose his name, Fenn told the Santa Fe New MexicanMoney magazine, and NBC's TODAY on Sunday.

That's a smart move, experts agree, and the advice they give to people who win the lottery. "Staying anonymous will help him stay safe," says Susan Bradley, a certified financial planner and founder of the Sudden Money Institute in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. "By staying anonymous, he's bought himself time to figure out what to do with his newfound wealth."

Still, she adds, "this lucky guy has a long road ahead of him."

If you have a sudden changes in income, "whether you're now worth $5 million, or you've seen your $100,000 income drop to $50,000 in a short span of time, you have to learn how to behave differently when it comes to your finances," says Brad Klontz, a financial psychology professor at Creighton University and author of "Mind Over Money." 

Besides continuing to stay anonymous, here's what experts suggest the "lucky guy" do, and what they suggest you do, too, if you suddenly end up with a lot more money than you used to have.

'Prioritize your expenses and allocate your money'

Since we don't know the identity of the man who uncovered Fenn's treasure, "we don't know how much of a life-changing event finding this chest was. He could already be a millionaire, or he could be unemployed," Bradley says. For most people, though, a fortune that sizable will make a huge difference.

Coming into a windfall or losing a big portion of your income requires the same self reflection, Bradley says. "You have to prioritize your expenses and allocate your money to what's most needed first. One example is dental work. People often put off dental work because it's expensive, or fixing the breaks on your car. Well, you need to stay safe, so if you have the money to take care of those important things, you should do so immediately."

Whether you're now worth $5 million, or you've seen your $100,000 income drop to $50,000 in a short span of time, you have to learn how to behave differently when it comes to your finances.
Brad Klontz
financial psychology professor, Creighton University and author of "Mind Over Money." 

'Make yourself familiar' with what successful people do

When you have a sudden change in net worth or income, it can be scary, says Klontz. "When you're out of your financial comfort zone, it's almost like you're in a different country." And before you move to another country, "you need to learn the culture, the language, the habits, and the customs." 

Klontz uses the example of the difference in financial habits between those who would be categorized as "middle class" and those who are "upper class." "If you're middle class, you're used to doing things yourself, like doing your own taxes or fixing your car, but if your suddenly very wealthy, you have to find a trustworthy professional to do your taxes for you, which is probably out of your comfort zone," Klontz says. 

"You need to make yourself familiar with other [money] cultures, and find out how they thrive," he explains.

The same is true if you are faced with a sudden decrease in earnings. "You should learn how people thrive making $50,000 a year, they do things very different, they spend carefully and budget. If you don't learn how they do it, you'll go into debt," he says. 

What to do when you win the lottery

Video by David Fang

Do your research on wealth management

"What most people find when they come into money is that there's a lot of satisfaction in it, but then the challenges and questions start to arise," Bradley says.

If you find a treasure, remember that "you have to pay taxes on that, so how much is the treasure worth after that? There are also different ways of getting appraisals on high value items, which requires upfront costs, and that's before he can even turn that treasure into usable money." 

For pretty much everyone, "money isn't infinite," Bradley says. Whether you're a millionaire or struggling to make ends meet, "money is complicated. Anyone can deal with it, they just need to have conversations with people who are trained," she explains. 

Money is complicated. Anyone can deal with it, they just need to have conversations with people who are trained.
Susan Bradley
Certified Financial Planner

Consult with a certified financial planner who meets certain criteria to make your money work for you, Klontz suggests. "Besides someone with a certified financial planner title, you want someone who is a registered financial advisor," or an R.I.A for short. 

Registered financial advisors are required by law not to withhold material information from you, Klontz explains. For example, an R.I.A. can't sell you a financial product, like a life insurance policy, without disclosing to you how much commission they'll get off the sale. Some financial advisors may try to sell you a product that isn't the best for you but will earn them the most money, he says.

Fee-only advisors are also preferable, he says. "That's because they earn money by making you money, so they take a percentage, usually around 1%, of whatever you earn off of your investments, meaning your success is tied to their success." 

Before he does anything else, the man who found the treasure should ask himself the question, "What makes your life worthwhile?" says Bradley, which is also a question you should ask yourself periodically, whether you've unearthed a treasure or not. And most importantly, she says, "Don't let money screw it up!"

She would also tell the treasure hunter, "'Bravo! You cracked the code.'" She has confidence he'll make smart moves going forward, since he's been savvy thus far: "I don't think he'll be stupid with his money. I truly doubt he just stumbled upon it."

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