Editor's Note: Tonight's $312 million Mega Millions drawing takes place at 11:00 pm Eastern Time (8:00 pm Pacific Time). The winning numbers will be published at USA Mega (www.usamega.com) and at Lottery Post's Lottery Results page.
Playing the lottery is a fool's errand. Everyone knows it's a losing gamble, that the house wins and that, especially as jackpots increase, the odds of winning are slightly lower than the odds of getting struck by lightning — twice. (Just ask this guy.) In tonight's MegaMillions drawing, for example, a $1 ticket buys you a one in 175,711,536 chance of winning the $312 million jackpot.
But Allan Roth, founder of Wealth Logic, says that dollar can be money well spent. In a January column on CBS's MoneyWatch blog, he wrote:
I'm also buying [a MegaMillions ticket] because it helps me to keep my investing dull. Buying broad index funds and rebalancing over time is definitely the path to reaching my financial goals, but not the path to filthy richdom. So this $1 investment gives me a delusional hope for riches that my core portfolio could never give me.
Put another way, use cheap entertainment-style risk outside of your portfolio — with no expectation of winning — and stick to the fundamentals in the market. We hardly bat an eyelash at spending $10 on a ticket to a two hour movie; why not spend a dollar and savor a couple of hours imagining yourself swimming in a pool of gold coins or jet-setting around the world?
Even Jack Bogle, godfather of the index fund and founder of Vanguard, would likely agree that finding ways to isolate your emotions from your portfolio is worth a dollar every couple of months. When he sat down with Steve Forbes last year, Bogle talked about avoiding impulsive choices in portfolio management in search of higher returns.
"Emotions are your enemy, and you've got to find ways to get around your emotions or you're going to get killed," he told Forbes.
Of course, like any risky investment, it's unwise to throw too much money towards lotto tickets. Since buying more tickets barely registers an increase in your odds, it's probably not worth more than a buck.
When I spoke to Bogle, he advocated for another form of controlling emotional investing:
I believe strongly that some kind of asset allocation–some kind of anchor to windward or dry powder, if you will–is a very important thing for investors to have. So it's buying and holding a stock portfolio and a bond portfolio. Or a balanced portfolio, if they're combined in one.
That has an uncertain effect on returns. It's obviously very helpful in bad markets and is a drag in good markets.
But the beauty of it is that it reduces your impulsive behavior. If the fluctuations in your investment portfolio are reduced, the impact of emotions and behavior on your account is also reduced.
Whatever strategy you use to control those impulsive actions — so long as it's cheap — is a worthwhile endeavor. I've never bought a lottery ticket before, but maybe tonight's my lucky night. If a dollar spent on a daydream saves thousands lost on a risky stock, then it's a good investment indeed.