So I mentioned my retirement plan to a friend of mine, the retirement plan that revolves around winning the lottery, a plan that I’ve been (literally) banking on for about thirty years. He suggested that I do a little research into something I’d never heard of before called “expected value.” Since this person is obviously some kind of math brainiac, I decided to do what he suggested and looked into this mysterious “expected value.” (I swear I never heard that term in any of the math classes I ever took, although that might be due to the fact that I was always appropriately placed in the slower math classes where the math vocabulary pretty much ended with the word “exponent.” It also might be due to the fact that I seldom listened to my math teachers.)
Well, I looked it up and I still didn’t get it so I asked for a further explanation. His response explained to me quite clearly how I’ve been basically throwing my money away every single time I’ve played the lottery and how the odds of anyone–including me–winning the lottery are so ridiculous that I’d have a much better chance of winning the Academy Award for Best Actress in a remake of Gone with the Wind next year, playing Rhett Butler. Believe me, this was NOT what I wanted to hear. What I wanted to hear was that Santa Claus is real and that the Easter Bunny knows where I live and has a giant stash of chocolate eggs waiting for me. I especially wanted to hear that the odds of winning the lottery are completely in my favor after being such a faithful player for so many freaking years. (Don’t longevity and loyalty count for anything?)
All that math talk reminded me of someone I met years ago, another mathematically minded person who carried around a chart in his back pocket that showed how early someone could retire if they saved x amount out of their salary every month. After we had known each other for all of seven minutes, he whipped the chart out and explained to me how saving even a small amount every thirty days could add up quite nicely over the years, guaranteeing not only a pleasant retirement but a pleasant retirement while one was still young and healthy enough to enjoy it. At the time I thought the guy with the chart was a rigid but harmless lunatic. Now I know that while he was definitely rigid he was also a freaking genius who is undoubtedly retired by now and living someplace tropical with lax tax codes.
I know that it’s next to impossible to tell anyone anything, especially when they are young and have far too many hormones raging 24/7, but I think we need to change how we teach math in our public schools. Instead of giving algebraic formulas and geometric theorems and the dreaded statistics classes, we need to turn math labs into faux gambling casinos and apply all that math know how into something that the average Joe and Jane would actually care to learn. Perhaps if young people realized that they most likely aren’t going to win the lottery someday, at least they could be taught how to better figure out how to succeed at black jack or the roulette table.
That said, it’s too late for me to really do anything that could have an much of an impact retirement-wise no matter how big of an x I save every payday so I might as well stay the course. Plus, I think it’s important to remember that every so often somebody DOES win the lottery. I’ve never personally known a winner but that doesn’t mean they aren’t out there because I see their pictures on the lottery website every time I go to the gas station for my own ticket. That someone could be moi. Astronomical odds or not, expected value be damned, I’m going to keep on believing that one of these days I’ll be moving to my own tropical happy place with the lax tax codes. It’s a long shot but–and please correct me if I’m wrong–aren’t the long shots the one with the highest payouts? I sure hope so.