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Sarah Ritter

Sarah Ritter - Quad-City Times reporter

I spent a lot more time standing in line at gas stations last week — waiting as each customer purchased a stack of lottery tickets. 

As each ticket printed, customers chatted about what they'd do with the more than $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot. Plans ranged from buying family members a home, purchasing a Tesla and moving to the Bahamas. 

I have my own dream scenario. But, winning the jackpot seems impossible to me. But then a $1 million prize was won at a Davenport Hy-Vee gas station — so maybe it's not so crazy after all. 

I called Cicily Maton, senior financial planner and partner at the Planning Center, to talk about this topic. The lottery is perhaps the most exciting way to have money fall in your lap, she said clients acquire unexpected wealth all of the time. 

"The interesting thing about the lottery is that it's an emotional time for people, and you can equate that to almost any event where you're all of a sudden faced with more money than you've ever had before," Maton said. "It can be $2 billion or $10,000." 

They coach clients through the process of taking on new wealth, whether it's from a family member's estate or an entrepreneur selling a business. Here's her advice:

Take a step back and assess

Maton advises anyone who gains new wealth to stop and take a breather. 

"There's myriad questions around those emotional things that occur," she said. "Is it enough to keep me going for the rest of my life? If it's too much money, what do I do? Basically, what do I do with this money? So we try to help people slow down the decision making. Don't make any decisions until you sort of get your bearings, financially and emotionally." 

Maton also said wait until the money's in the bank.

"It's a shocker when you know how much taxes you're going to pay, and that's not just the lottery, that goes for anything," she said. 

Avoid making major decisions

Maton advises clients to hold off on following those dream scenarios.

"Don't promise to buy mom a new house. Don't buy the cousins new cars. Don't buy tickets to go around the world yet," she said. "Whatever those dream things are, avoid acting on that, because many people experiencing money events probably don't have a good sense of what that really means when it comes to spending and paying for a lifestyle." 

She tells clients, "you can do anything you want, but you probably can't do everything." Maton advises people to run through different spending and budgeting scenarios before taking any action. And, know what your limits are.

Work with professionals

Depending on the amount of wealth acquired, people should make money decisions with a team of professionals, Maton said. 

"You might need, not just a financial planner, but perhaps a tax accountant," she said. "You might hire lawyers, like estate planning and business lawyers who can help you make decisions about how to structure your money. You might need a team of people." 

Some financial planners make referrals and can help clients find professionals who share similar values, or are strong communicators and decision makers, she said. 

Tie your money to your value system

Next, Maton said it's time to think about what matters most. 

Gaining new wealth is a time to reconsider values and what matters in life, she said. Basically, it comes down to, "Who are we? Where are we going? And how do we use this money to be more like we want to be?" 

"What do you want your life to look like?" Maton said. "Sometimes at the Planning Center we do an exercise about what if it were the last days of your life? What are you most proud of? What do you regret? When people can identify those things, then getting a better handle on how to spend and invest your money and time gets easier." 

Maton said major decisions will involve what affects family units, such as estate planning. 

She recommends taking time to reflect and meditate. Plus, she said to "focus on long-term goals rather than thinking about the immediate joy of buying things." 

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Sarah Ritter is the business reporter for the Quad-City Times. Each week, she will write an experiential column as part of the series, "Cash Course," aimed at reaching financial security and tackling stereotypes about money. Have an idea or want to share your money story, email sritter@qctimes.com.

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