NEWS

ARBOR WEALTH: Lottery winners, benevolent cops and Nick Cage

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

“Say you don’t need no diamond ring and I’ll be satisfied.” — rom “Can’t Buy Me Love” as performed by The Beatles

“It Could Happen to You” is a silly but heartwarming dramatic comedy released in 1994. The storyline involves a New York City patrolman (Nicolas Cage as Charlie Lang) who promises to split his lottery winnings with his restaurant waitress (Bridget Fonda as Yvonne Biasi) instead of leaving a tip.  Supposedly the film is based on an actual incident when a policeman voluntarily split millions in lottery winnings with a Yonkers, N.Y.,waitress friend.

In the movie, Officer Lang wins $4 million and returns to inform Biasi that he is indeed giving her half of the prize. Enter Muriel Lang (played by Rosie Perez), who is aghast that her husband would consider sharing any of their recently won money with a stranger, regardless of the circumstances.

Several predictable occurrences follow. Charlie and Yvonne fall in love. Muriel ramps up her spending and embraces a jet-set lifestyle. She eventually divorces Charlie and sues and wins back the money that her husband gave Yvonne. Then, in true “It’s a Wonderful Life” fashion, citizens read about Charlie and Yvonne’s continued generosity (Yvonne buys the diner where she works and establishes a table to feed the poor each day) and send hundreds of thousands in small bills to the couple to relieve their financial distress. Fittingly, Muriel loses all her new money to a con man.

Interesting economic themes resonate throughout the film. The first is how “sudden wealth” radically alters the behavior of Muriel Lang. Muriel thinks of herself differently now that she’s “rich” and spends and lives in upscale fashion. Conversely, Charlie Lang’s greatest financial joy is in simple gift giving. He provides his police partner with Knicks’ season tickets and presents Yvonne with a lovely chain for her glasses so she will not continually lose them at work. 

Lottery winners, athletes and entertainers blessed with sudden wealth often struggle with issues like substantial new tax burdens, investment responsibilities, and sophisticated financial planning. That this can be overwhelming is not surprising. To me, the most fascinating aspect of sudden wealth is how sometimes folks immediately display an emotional connection to their new money that alters their behavior and their essential character. 

One thing that I have noticed about individuals with long-held significant investment accounts is that they usually don’t think of themselves as rich. By that I mean they rarely embrace the trappings of wealth: bigger houses, fancier cars, more luxurious vacations. They still think of themselves as middle class. They have built their wealth slowly by saving and investing discretionary dollars whenever they can, and they still eschew unnecessarily expensive items, even if they can well afford them. 

Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, a syndicated economic columnist, is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin. This column should not be considered personalized investment advice and provides no assurance that any specific strategy or investment will be suitable or profitable for an investor.