Powerball, Mega Millions jackpots at $815 million: Advice for winners from the Sudden Money Institute founder

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event," says Susan Bradley, founder of the Sudden Money Institute.


The combined jackpots of the Mega Millions and Powerball games are an estimated $815 million after no tickets matched the winning numbers from last weekend and Monday night's Powerball drawing.

The Powerball jackpot has grown to an estimated $432 million, the game's second largest jackpot of the year. The new batch of winning numbers will be drawn on Wednesday, September 15, at 10:59 p.m. ET. The Mega Millions jackpot is now worth an estimated $383 million. That's the third largest prize this year. The next drawing will take place at on Tuesday, September 14 at 11 p.m. ET.

The odds of winning the jackpot in either game is roughly 1 in 300 million. But there are other, much more likely life events that could leave you with a sudden windfall of cash. A surprise inheritance, or selling a house at a profit.

"Not giving yourself time, and not really having a long-term perspective for this very short-term event, is where you get into trouble, because this money usually doesn't come back," says Susan Bradley, a certified financial planner and founder of the Sudden Money Institute in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, who has advised past lottery winners. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime event."

What to do if you win the lottery

Video by Stephen Parkhurst

When it comes to a windfall, it's wise to have a four-point plan, Bradley says: "You want to save some, you want to spend some, you want to invest some, and you want to share." Here's what that means.

Know what goals you are saving for

If you're saving the right way, you might have a similar response: "It's about feeling good about the money. You shouldn't be anxious about your money," Bradley says. In the event of job loss, or turbulent stock market swings, having some money that's liquid, like in an emergency savings account, "means you're covered and you're not going to get nailed on expenses that you can't cover."

Aside from emergencies, there are other questions you should ask yourself before allocating windfall money into savings, Bradley says. "Is it saving for something special in the future? What is the time frame? Does it make you sleep better at night? Does it allow you to take risks in other parts of your life because you have that money behind you?"

For example, maybe you have three kids, maybe they're all going to be in college over the next 15 years, Bradley says. If you're setting money aside, in say a 529 plan, "when those big expenses come up, you're freed up."

Suze Orman explains emergency savings

Video by Stephen Parkhurst

How to spend wisely after a windfall

When Bradley's team at the Sudden Money Institute advises clients who come into unexpected wealth, "we say, you can do anything, just not everything."

To start, "we actually have a process called a 'bliss list,' where we help people think about what are those long-term desires that they always thought, since they were a kid: 'If ever I had money I would ...,'" she says.

Before splurging, there are a few questions Bradley suggests asking yourself. "What would really make you happy? What difference would it make to buy whatever it is: the cruise, the car, the vacation, the new wardrobe?" she says. "How would your life be different?"

It can take years to figure out how to spend liquid income thoughtfully, Bradley says. To avoid spending on something you'll regret, it's best to take your time.

Learn the investing basics

Investing is an important part of any windfall planning, as it can help you grow your wealth. Even though there are great financial planners who can advise you, "if it [investing] is new to you, it's worthwhile to take some time to learn about the basics of investing," Bradley says.

Things you should know include: "How do you buy? How do you sell? What does it cost? Who manages that? Are you going to be active in [money] management or passive?"

Enlist the help of a certified financial planner (CFP) or, if it's a large windfall, a certified financial transitionist (CeFT) who specializes in financial transitions. "A good [financial] professional should earn their fee every year," Bradley says, whether their advice improves your bottom line in tax savings or investment gains.

A good [financial] professional should earn their fee every year.
Susan Bradley
CFP and founder of the Sudden Money Institute

Donate with intention

You can also use some of your newfound wealth to make a difference, Bradley says. "Think about it. It doesn't have to be a nonprofit. It could be a person. If you know someone who can't afford a medical procedure, and you give them $15,000 for that. There are so many different ways, and the delight is to give yourself time to figure it out," she says.

Before giving any money away, make sure you know exactly where it's going. Bradley suggests asking: "Does it all go to one place?" If it is going to a charity, "Does it go into an account that distributes it over a period of time?" And how will that money be used?"

The most important tool you have when it comes to money is knowledge, she says. "You have to learn about the money. All money has limits and boundaries and you have to figure out what that is."

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