This Tweet earlier today got me to thinking:
@wis10WIS News 10
Sunday dinner interrupted by $100,000 lottery win http://bit.ly/dYkFUg
This fits firmly into the category of what I think of as lame non-news. I mean, who cares, really? I remember thinking it was pretty cool back in the 60s that time that my grandmother won $300 and they put her picture in the Marlboro Herald Advocate, but the main appeal of the item resulted from the facts that 1) It was my grandmother; 2) The prize was in the form of cash, and they had formed the bills into a sort of lei and hung them around her neck, and 3) I was a kid, and that seemed like a lot of money. Back then, you could get a comic book and a soda and some candy for a quarter, and maybe even have change.
And yes, I think it would be cool if I or someone in my family won a hundred Gs, free and clear. I’d like it. But as news for other people? I don’t see it. Because I put myself in the position of the person winning the 100k, and think, what would I do with it? I could do ONE, but not more, of the following:
Pay off our mortgage. It’s down to below that amount, and that would be helpful. I couldn’t really change my lifestyle or anything, and I’d have to keep working at least as hard as I do now, but it would be nice to have that off my plate.
Take a year off from working. Fine, but I just sort of did that, and it wasn’t fun. And you know that when the year was over, you’d have to go back to work. And you’d find that after a year of not working, you’d have trouble getting back into the kind of work you want to do at your previous rate of pay. Believe me, I’ve been there. Not worth it. And yes, you could live for more than a year on 100k, but I would not be tempted to quit working, for any period of time, for less. Anything less, and I’d just add it to the rest of the income I manage to pull in, and keep plugging.
Go to England or somewhere again, and buy a bunch of toys such as accessories for my new iPhone. Which, let’s face it, Mamanem’s not going to let me do if someone interrupts Sunday dinner to give us $100k.
All pretty cool stuff, but not dramatically life-changing. It wouldn’t have enough effect on ME and MY life for other people to find it interesting. So… I’m not interested in the effect on someone else’s life. Certainly not Tweet-me-the-headline interest.
Which raises the question: How much WOULD be enough? How much money would I have to get to think it newsworthy? For that matter, forget newsworthy. I’d just as soon other people didn’t know I had all that money. How much is my fantasy amount that would make me achieve my lifelong goal of never, ever thinking about money again? (Because I really, truly hate thinking about it, on any level.)
I used to have a figure in mind. As I wrote in a column several years ago, “Buddy, can you spare half a billion? And be quick about it?” As I wrote, I had this fantasy in mind in which I saved Bill Gates’ life somehow or other, and he offered to halve his kingdom, and I told him nah, that half a billion would do. Or a round billion, if he didn’t have change.
But that was back in 2006, when my newspaper was up for sale, and I had a particular use for the money in mind. I wanted to buy the paper from the ruins of Knight Ridder. I had a detailed plan for what I wanted to do with it. I had this idea that buying the paper, since it was one of the few really profitable papers KR had, could cost me as much as $400 million. That was probably WAY too much to pay even then, but the paper had been bought by KR in the mid-80s for $300 million, and I didn’t want to be chintzy.
I would have used the rest for capital improvements, and perhaps to allow me to run the company at a loss for a few years while I searched for the right business model. And that’s the thing. The demand for news, particularly political news, is as great as ever (and we’re talking the written word, here). The problem is that the business model has collapsed. I figure a few hundred million extra would allow for almost unlimited experimentation with financial models. And we — and the readers — could have a lot of fun in the meantime. (By the way, some people were displeased by that column at the time. Sort of surprising it took them three more years to can me, huh?)
Now… I don’t know. If I had unlimited funds — or what would do for unlimited funds — would I buy The State? Things have changed. It’s no longer about trying to save “my newspaper.” I’m not sure whether the value of the brand would be worth what I’d have to pay for it. I wonder whether I should just start something from scratch (that might be the best way to start a new business model, assuming I could figure out what sort to go with). I’m pretty sure I could get it for a LOT less than I was guessing in 06. Back then, I bought McClatchy at $39. Today, it’s $3.33. (Yeah, I know. I’m a financial genius.) How that affects individual newspapers’ value I don’t know. Even assuming they were willing to sell.
And there’s always the possibility of traveling the globe and hanging with my grandchildren. I could grow tomatoes, and chase the kids around in the garden… but no, I’ve still got stuff I want to say. And South Carolina NEEDS some good journalism, just as it always did. Dick Harpootlian was mentioning that today. He was mentioning it in a partisan context, but he was on point.
A certain amount of money could pay for some good journalism. AND achieve my lifelong goal of never having to think about money again.
So how much would that be? I tend to look at it in powers of 10:
- $100k — I’ve already explained why that won’t do.
- $1 million — Much better, but one could neither buy a newspaper of any size nor launch a new operation nor permanently retire on that, even if one were as cheap as Mark Sanford. An awkward amount (not that I’d turn it down, mind you; I’d find something to do with it).
- $10 million — Now we’re talking. THIS a guy could retire on, and not feel the need to work to make more. And you might be able to launch an experimental publication of some sort. But you’d have to bet it all, and if the first business model you tried failed, that would be it, and you’d be broke. Or so I’m thinking.
- $100 million — This would most likely provide it all — buy a business, revamp it, try a lot of stuff, and never worry about money again. Grow a lot of tomatoes when you felt like it. But you’d have to be careful you don’t blow it all, still. You want to leave something to the kids. I mean, as long as we’re fantasizing here, why don’t we go a bit further…
- $1 billion — Done deal. Do it all, make a lot of mistakes along the way, and still be able to install a diving board in your cash vault, like Scrooge McDuck. So for me, this is the ultimate fantasy amount. TWO billion would also be nice — maybe I could get one of those miniature giraffes — but let’s not get greedy.
So, it looks like I’ll be working for a while.
There you have it. A twist on the “Office Space” question of “What would you do if you had a million dollars?”
What’s your answer? How much would it take for you to feel like you had it all?