Turns out these sufferers have something in common besides ruinous financial decisions: They're not Swedish. A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research reports that lucky Swedes are much likelier to hang onto and benefit from their winnings than are their American counterparts.
The reasons for this discrepancy aren't exactly earth-shattering--the Swedes are simply wiser with their money. Instead of buying Ferraris, for example, they get out of debt and make smart, long-term investments.
Easier said than done. I ought to know, because I'm as American as apple pie and have wasted more windfalls than I care to discuss. My cash infusions were the result of selling small businesses rather than buying a golden ticket, but the principles are the same.
As an entrepreneur, you might end up in this situation, too. If you suddenly find yourself with a big chunk of cash on your hands, consider these four savvy steps:
1. Take a deep breath ... and do nothing.
It took years of hard work to build my first business. I was constantly cash-starved. When I finally sold the business, I had more money than I knew what to do with. Literally.
I made stupid, hasty decisions because I wasn't used to having a full bank account. I was like a kid contemplating his candy hoard after a night of trick-or-treating. What I should have done was put my earnings in a CD and waited a full 12 months before acting.
Try it. Behave as if nothing has happened. Resist the temptation to start investing immediately or implement dramatic changes in your lifestyle.
2. Invest your windfall in more than one place.
Not following this basic rule cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars. Again, it was the sheer giddiness of having hundreds of thousands of dollars that led to disaster.
I concentrated my profits into a single investment, creating an all-or-nothing scenario in the process. I invested fast, I invested in one place, and then watched in horror as the value of my investment plunged straight to zero.
Spread out your investments. If one turns sour, you'll have others to fall back on. My main takeaway from our friends the Swedes is as follows: Patience, good, impulsivity, bad. Remember it.
3. Invest your windfall in something you understand.
Not only did I invest my hard-earned money in one place, I invested it in a place I wasn't even familiar with. I dove into a huge real estate development project when the totality of my expertise in real estate amounted to having once owned a house.
I was a babe in the woods, and it showed. That I couldn't recognize sound from unsound advice was obvious. I admit this in retrospect, of course, because at the time I really believed I was killing it.
I wasn't. I was killing myself. The guy I trusted most, who had pitched me the idea of this glorious project, ultimately went bankrupt.
The lesson here is clear: Go with what you know. Forget the rest.
4. Seek the advice of experts.
Before you do anything else, get advice from people who are already successful. Ignore anyone who isn't. There are a million snake oil salesmen out there who present themselves as brilliant financial planners, yet don't have a dime to their names.
I have a great story to illustrate this. It occurred when I was right on the edge of investing in a memory chip company that I felt sure was a sure bet. I'd vetted the hell out of it and thought it the perfect scheme.
At the last second, I reached out to an expert in the space and asked his advice. He suggested a three-way phone call between him, me and my potential partners.
What followed was amazing. He tore their proposal to pieces, systematically dismantling what until that point I'd had complete faith in. He did it in 20 minutes, and it saved me a quarter million dollars.
So there you have it. When blessed with extra income, take your time, invest in multiple areas, stick with what you understand, and always seek advice from people in the know.
Become, in short, an honorary Swede.