A novel idea–part three

When Jason Hero won the lottery, he did spend some of his winnings on his personal life. He bought some new clothing. He bought a new car. He bought a larger house, one on a lot large enough that he would not have to hear his neighbors. He improved his diet, buying more fresh fruits and vegetables that he had not been able to afford in the past. But Jason did not invest much money in unnecessary luxuries. He was not interested in a fancy car or fancy clothing; what he bought was practical and comfortable.

Jason (to borrow a line from the musical Hello, Dolly!) believed that money is like manure: it is meant to be spread around to help things grow. So Jason invested some of his millions of dollars in starting two new businesses.

One of his new businesses was called Green Stealth Lawn Service. The Green in the name was not just a boast of greener lawns; Jason intended his lawn care service to be environmentally friendly. He did not offer pesticides or fertilizers; only grass cutting and leaf and debris removal. The Stealth in the name represented the fact that Jason’s workers were to be so quiet that the homeowner wouldn’t even know they had come. Instead of gasoline lawn mowers, they would use hand-operated reel mowers and hand-held trimmers. Instead of leaf blowers, they would use rakes. With the savings in equipment and fuel, Jason’s company would pay higher salaries than competing lawn care companies. Therefore, Green Stealth could afford to hire the best workers and to keep only those who followed the rules. Clippings and leaves and other lawn debris would be packed in biodegradable bags which the workers would leave on a lot purchased by Jason for that purpose. After a year or two of business, Jason would be able to offer his customers mulch, rich compost, and fill dirt as an additional service. The workers and their equipment would arrive in electric-powered trucks, keeping the theme of quiet and environmentally friendly.

Jason rented an office with a telephone for his company. He hired a manager who was in charge of hiring and scheduling. Jason was a customer of Green Stealth Lawn Service. Twice he had workers fired for breaking company rules and bringing leaf blowers to the job. (This would be described in much detail in the novel I thought about writing.)

Jason’s other business idea was inspired partly by the Disney theme parks, partly by Renaissance fairs, and partly by nostalgic movies such as Back to the Future. Jason purchased several pieces of property around the country and had each developed in a different way. One was built on the pattern of a medieval village, complete with a castle. Another was a western ranch, set around the end of the nineteenth century. A third was a suburban community, with all the houses and cars and stores resembling those of the 1950s. Another was a pre-Civil War southern plantation. In each case, Jason had the developers create dwellings that could be rented that would portray the flavor of the time period depicted, yet would also have modern comforts including heat and air conditioning, and hot and cold running water. Customers could come and stay for a night or two, or for a week or longer. When they made their reservations, they would include their clothing sizes; and when they arrived, they would be given clothing suitable for the time and place. They would be served meals also matching the time and place. All the staff—greeters, food servers, property cleaners, maintenance—would be actors and actresses trained to complete the experience of a medieval village, a 1950s suburb, or whatever else the property was designed to represent. Considering the amount of money people pay for the Disney experience and for Renaissance fairs, Jason figured his nostalgia vacations would also be profitable over the long term. His lottery winnings made the short-term construction possible.

Jason also had a thought about using his money to help the homeless, but that will have to wait for another post. J.

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If I won the lottery

What they say is true: you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket. I bought a lottery ticket once to use as a visual device for a lesson at church; we were talking about coveting and about contentment. God could have made a good joke from my lesson by making that ticket a winning ticket, but in his infinite wisdom he chose not to make me a millionaire. I can still dream, though, that someone buys me a lottery ticket as a joke and it wins the big prize, or that I pick up a scrap of paper in the grocery store parking lot and it turns out to be a winning lottery ticket.

What would I do if I won the lottery? For convenience, we will assume that the prize that week was one hundred million dollars. Instead of accepting the full prize over twenty years, I would ask for the smaller immediate pay-out (Why be greedy, right?) which is about half the total prize. Then federal and state income taxes would claim roughly half of that prize. If I won one hundred million dollars, then, I would have about twenty-five million dollars to spend. Here are a dozen things I would do with that money.

Ten percent would go to churches and to charity. To prevent a large gift of unexpected money to any one place, and the problems that kind of gift can cause, I would limit each gift to fifty thousand dollars, giving me the opportunity to help fifty different groups. I would start with congregations that have been important to me over the years, places where I have worshiped and places where I have benefited from their ministries. I would also support charitable work and mission work through certain organizations in the church. In addition, I would give gifts to museums, libraries, and fine arts organizations like the local symphony orchestra. I would support public television and public radio. I would send a gift to my alma mater. What I would not do is start supporting charities about which I know nothing; and I would not give a gift to some organization that started asking me for money after I won the lottery.

Next I would pay off my current debt, which seems large compared to my annual income but would be rather small compared to twenty-five million dollars.

Afterward, I would set aside $250,000 for each of my children, my nieces, and my nephews. I have chosen that amount very carefully; it is more than enough to get them through higher education (or to pay off their student loans), but not so much that they could drop out of life and not work at a productive job. Until each of them turned thirty, the money would be in a trust. Certain expenses would automatically be approved: student loans, tuition, room, board, and fees at a college or university, and other normal living expenses for a college student, including buying and operating a car. The trust money might also be available for medical expenses, if necessary. Otherwise, the rest of the money would not be theirs until they have begun a fruitful life as an adult.

After all that, I still have twenty million dollars left. I would give half a million dollars to my parents, to help them with their retirement years. Then, before spending money on things I want right now, I would set aside money for my future. I would put two million dollars in a low-risk investment, designed to deposit one thousand dollars in my checking account every Monday. Yes, I would be spending the principal of that investment. On the other hand, I would draw a salary of fifty-two thousand dollars a year, and the fund should last for the next forty years. I would create another account, perhaps half a million dollars, to cover my health insurance and other medical expenses. That also should last at least forty years.

I would set aside $200,000 to replace the family vehicles; that should be more than enough to provide reliable vehicles to replace our aging fleet. I would also spend up to $100,000 to make improvements to our house—flooring, wall-paper, maybe new windows and doors. I wouldn’t want to waste too much money on this house, though, because I want to buy a new house.

I would willingly spend one million dollars to buy a larger house with features that shelter me from the noise of the neighbors. (No more Mrs. Dim!) The house would have enough rooms, beyond the bedrooms and kitchen and dining room and living room, that one room could be for television and video games and jigsaw puzzles, another for musical instruments and recording, another as a library, another as a study, a place someone in the house for woodworking, and a guest bedroom or two. The property would have more flower gardens than lawn, and the house would have porches for spring and fall to enjoy the outdoor weather.

At this point I have managed to spend a little less than ten million of my twenty-five million dollars. What should I do with the other fifteen million dollars? I would set aside one million dollars for a new business to provide needed services and employ other people. One idea I have for a business is a lawn care service that does not use loud machines. Workers would use rakes and quiet mowers and trimming devices—no blowers or loud gasoline engines. I would pay them a little more than the competition and would charge customers a little less, since expenses would be lower given the equipment we would use. If we haul leaves and clippings away, I would find a property where they could be mulched, and then my company could sell mulch to our clients. If someone else likes this idea and wants to start this company, you have my permission. You don’t even need to give me credit or pay a commission for the idea. (I was going to call it Stealth Lawn Care. Feel free to use the name or to change it.)

I am aware of a building project that has closed down due to lack of funds. I don’t want to be specific about this project, but if I won the lottery I would commit up to one million dollars to get it moving again. Whether I became a partner of the original planners or bought them out does not matter; I simply want to see this project come back to life.

For one to three million dollars, I could endow a professor’s chair, either at my alma mater, or at a local college. I would not want the endowment to be named for me—it could be named for someone who has effectively taught at the college—but I would like to support higher education in that manner.

Finally, I would like to get involved in help for the poor and homeless in the area, beyond just giving fifty thousand dollars to some organization. I would like to spend two million dollars or more providing facilities to help the poor and homeless—overnight shelters; and daytime shelters where they could take a shower, wash their clothes, and simply rest somewhere other than the streets. I would encourage a doctor and a dentist to volunteer a few hours one day a week to help the people who come into the daytime shelter. More than that, I would like to begin a business that could provide work for the poor and homeless. I’m uncertain about what kind of work it would be—maybe assembly of machine parts, or sewing a line of clothing—but it would provide work and income for these people. Perhaps the workplace, daytime shelter, and overnight shelter could be linked, along with meals and medical care that they could purchase with the money earned from their work. Tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs would be banned from all these facilities. Oddly, some ventures of this sort have turned into cults and have abused the people they were trying to help. I would establish a board of directors to make sure this did not happen in my organization. Religious counseling and services would be provided, but we would go great lengths to make sure that they remained legitimate and helpful.

After all this, I still have nearly ten million dollars to spend, and I have no fresh ideas to offer. I suppose I could put more than two million dollars into the help to the poor, or I could start up more than one business, or I could endow chairs at more than one college. The point is, though, that I cannot even imagine spending this kind of money if I had it. I don’t know why the Lord has chosen not to give me a winning lottery ticket. I cannot see anything that I want to do being objectionable to him. All the same, I have to trust that he knows what is best for me; and I should do the best I can with what I have.

J.