By Allison Cooke and Beverley Hadgraft
Seven months ago, I was a typical 19-year-old working in a Melbourne [Australia] warehouse, packing books and earning $17 an hour to help pay my way through university. Then, suddenly, I was a millionaire.
Have I been partying ever since? No. I'm one of four kids from a single-parent family doing it tough and Mum has instilled in me the value of a dollar.
I won my prize last November after buying two tickets for a BoysTown lottery — a charity that helps disadvantaged children, young people and families. I didn't imagine for one second I'd actually win — it simply seemed to be an easy way to donate money to charity — so when I received the phone call, I could hardly believe it.
BoysTown told me I was the owner of a $1.3 million luxury beach apartment on the Gold Coast, $52,000 worth of furniture and electrical goods, $70,000 of gold bullion and a $6000 travel voucher.
When I rushed home to tell Mum, she didn't believe me; I had to call BoysTown and ask them to confirm I was telling the truth. Meanwhile, my siblings, Ashleigh, 18, Melanie, 12, and Tom, 9, were jumping up and down with excitement. My friends were shocked, too. None of us could believe it was possible to suddenly have so much at our age.
My friend James kept repeating, "You won a house? You won a house!" He went on about it for 20 minutes. I was happy he was so pleased. We were good friends and shortly afterwards we became a couple — it had nothing to do with me winning the lottery, though. He's a great guy and we're still together. We would've ended up together anyway.
Once the thrill of telling everyone about my win had died down, it all seemed quite scary, so I sort of ignored it. Mum suggested I cash in the gold and put the money in the bank to earn interest. She pointed out it was enough for a deposit on a house. I liked the idea; it still hadn't sunk in that I already owned an apartment.
I used some of the cash to settle a couple of debts. Mum had lent me money for a performing arts tour in high school and a modelling course. I'd been paying her back bit by bit, but it was great to be able to give her the full $7000 — plus a little more, because she's Mum and she works hard! I also bought her a barbecue for Christmas because she'd always wanted one. I used the travel vouchers for a family holiday at my apartment on the Gold Coast, and finally had a chance to see it for myself.
The apartment is beautiful. It has ocean views, three bedrooms, a huge spa bath and even a media room. It reminds me of a hotel. It took me a few months to really appreciate it belongs to me. Once I finally became used to the idea, I began to rent it out. I'll save the money until I have enough to put a deposit on a house I can live in.
Although many people might think I haven't had much fun with my winnings — I haven't bought so much as a new dress — they'd be completely wrong.
I've stopped working in the warehouse full-time. Now I only work one day a week to fit in with my university schedule. If I didn't have a job, I'd feel strange. I've been raised with the mentality that you should work for what you want. But it's great I can enjoy my science studies and my time at university without constantly worrying about not having enough money to eat whenever I drop a shift. So many students don't have that privilege.
But most important of all, the money and other prizes have given me security. It's given me an amazing start to my adult life and I'm not going to waste it.
Occasionally I do think, I'm only 19 and I'm a millionaire! But I quickly put that thought out of my mind — I don't want to become a self-absorbed person wrapped up in money. I'm just going to keep my head straight, work hard and do good things.
The winners' curse
The way Cooke has treated her win might sound unusual, but it's exactly what psychologist and former president of the Australian Psychological Society, professor Bob Montgomery, says all lottery winners should do.
"Most winners don't do anything substantial with the money. Some evidence suggests people actually end up worse off after a windfall. They're inexperienced in handling large sums of money and quickly go through it with nothing significant to show at the end. Then they feel worse than before, because they think they were handed a great chance and threw it away," he says.
"My advice is to take out enough of your winnings to have a holiday and pay off essential bills. Then put away the rest in a term deposit for at least six months and seek expert advice. This takes great skill in delayed gratification, though, which is probably why most people don't do it."
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