How much would be enough? (A billion, or would $10 million do you?)

This Tweet earlier today got me to thinking:

WIS News 10

@wis10WIS News 10

Sunday dinner interrupted by $100,000 lottery win

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?

15 thoughts on “How much would be enough? (A billion, or would $10 million do you?)

  1. Steven Davis

    I’m one who believes money that fell into my lap, fell there for a reason. I know someone who had a large sum of money dropped on them for doing absolutely nothing other than having the same last name, not life changing money still a six figure windfall. Most of this money was donated or set up to help others. I respect that, I don’t respect people who keep it all for themselves as if they earned it. Having witnessed this, I can see how people who are lottery winners say they wish they would have never won the money. $300 great have fun… $300,000 a large chunk needs to be used for something other than your personal spending spree.

  2. Steven Davis

    You are in your upper 50’s, if you had a million dollars in the bank free and clear you couldn’t retire???

    Even if you hide it in the mattress not earning a dime of interest, live to the upper 70’s, that’s $50,000 cash to spend every year. I don’t know too many people who have $1000/week in walking around money to blow.

  3. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    $70K/year is apparently the break point after which more money doesn’t yield more happiness. Don’t know if that’s per person or per family of four or what. At any rate, enough to invest and spin off that much income, adjusted for inflation. You do the math.

  4. Doug Ross

    $1 million would cause me to quit my current job that requires me to travel 200 days a year but still work in the industry locally. $2 million would allow me to quit the industry and do something like teach or set up a companion dog training operation for my wife to run.

    Anything above that I’d probably give away to my kids, my church, and my friends who need it.

    That’s why I think a Powerball ticket is the best entertainment a dollar can buy. If I buy one while I’m out driving around, I get at least 15 minutes of daydreaming out of it.

  5. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Steven is right– a million dollars *ought* to be enough for you to retire on, except that you and Mama W. need health insurance until you qualify for Medicare.

  6. Steve Gordy

    I’m with Doug on this. It’s almost as much fun daydreaming about having an extra $ 1 million in hand as it is trying to manage it productively. Still, it’s a problem most of us wish we had.

  7. Nick Nielsen

    So was that you, then, Doug, that cut me off on I-20? Holding up a lottery ticket and wearing a fatuous grin?

  8. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    @Doug— I’m disappointed in you. I didn’t figure a mathematically savvy guy like you would fall for the stupidity tax! Buy penny stocks, if you want to gamble. Make a microloan.

  9. Ralph Hightower

    $10M would do, but more is better. With any amount, I’d pay down non-deductible interest. I’d also invest the money with the financial advisor that I use to manage my IRA. Since we have no kids, I’d will the estate to THE USC.

    With apologies to Janis Joplin: “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Corvette…”

    I’d buy a Corvette. I have always coveted Corvettes since they were restyled in 1968. $100K can’t buy a ZR1 (the high performance model). I’d also buy favorite models from the mid 60’s, an El Camino and a Mustang.

    There would be the opportunity to travel. When I was in Cedar Rapids, I picked up an unusual hobby, visiting Hooters Restaurants. The craziest trip I took was driving to Omaha for lunch, then to Kansas City for dinner. I’ve been to 23 Hooters in 18 states; only one involved planes since the company paid for the trip to Rhode Island (not Hooters related).

    I would keep working because I enjoy what I do: writing computer programs. I’ve even written computer programs for myself and published for others to use for free.

  10. Ralph Hightower

    Oh, and I would buy classic computers from Digital Equipment and a Cray supercomputer.

    Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, bought and restored some of DEC’s PDP computers:

    I’d buy a PDP-11/70 (preferred to an 11/45, both have blinking lights on the front panel) and a VAX 11/780. I currently own a VAX, but it is a small VAXStation (about as high as a desk)

    Both the PDP-11 and VAX 11 have neat instruction sets, something that @Kathryn’s husband, a professor at USC’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, could appreciate.

  11. Steven Davis

    Just so I understand this, Kathryn says you and your wife need insurance until Medicare kicks in. I state that health insurance is going to cost you two $700/month and that with a million dollars that equates to $1000/week over 20 years. This isn’t enough to quit working? I’m pretty good at math, and don’t quite understand the need to delete my posts.

  12. Doug Ross


    Let me know where I can buy a penny stock for $1.

    I’m not planning on winning but I’ll be sure to know what to do with the money if I do.

  13. bud

    Now that we’ve established that a couple million is sufficient to create happiness for life why do we still debate taxing the rich to help with the deficit? damnest thing I’ve ever seen. Class warfare where only the rich class is waging the war while the rest of serve as cannon fodder.

  14. Brad

    Steven, I don’t “delete” your comments. I just don’t approve them, unless I think they add to the conversation. It’s been this way ever since I put you on Double Secret Probation.

    I elaborate on this point (yet again) here.

    In the case of this comment, it was a conversation I was uninterested in having. I don’t think a million is enough to quit working period, even if medical coverage were not an issue. Give me $50k a year and I would definitely keep working.

    So the question you were raising was moot. I could just as easily have let it post and not answered it. But sometimes the way I ignore comments is by not approving them to start with…

  15. Steven Davis

    Do you net $50,000 now? If you do, then the only difference in the two situations would be one where you go to work and one where you stay home. The money going into your account stays the same. I think the reasoning would be that you wouldn’t want to stop working if you were given $50,000 free and clear per year. Could you, Yes… Do you want to, No.

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