By David Schepp
The odds of winning the growing Powerball jackpot -- around 300 million to 1 -- are infinitesimal, but that hasn't stopped hordes of Americans from buying tickets and pushing the prize up to $1.5 billion.
That mind-boggling amount does make the mind dance. Just what would you do with all that money? Quit your dead-end, or even tolerably decent, job? Buy a new house? Buy a new car -- a fleet of new cars? Travel the world? The options are endless.
First, a small reality check: Should you win, you won't, of course, get all $1.5 billion. Taking the cash option rather than an annuity, advisable for anyone over age 35, leaves you with $930 million before taxes. Next, Uncle Sam will take a chunk -- 39.6 percent to be precise, the rate at which big jackpots are taxed -- costing you roughly $368 million, reducing your haul to $562 million. And don't forget state and local income taxes, should they apply.
In most states, tax rates on high-income individuals range from 5 to 10 percent. Using the 7.5 percent median, state income tax would lop off another $42 million, leaving you with a still tidy $520 million.
What could you buy with all that cash? Here are some suggestions.
A really swell house
With more than $500 million in your pocket, you can afford nearly any home.
But let's stipulate some rules. Many financial planners suggest not spending more than 30 percent of your annual income on housing. So for the sake of simplicity, let's divide your winnings by 30 (to mimic the type of mortgage most Americans prefer -- a 30-year-fixed) to establish your "yearly income" and then multiply that amount by 30 percent to find your housing allotment, which figures out to be about $5.2 million.
With that budget, you could easily swing the nearly $3 million asking price for a penthouse apartment at the Level Club on New York City's posh Upper West Side. According to the listing, the "funky" apartment is "reminiscent of a Venetian palazzo" and is a "castle in the sky." It features bright blue and pink plaster walls and arched windows. The building, which features 144 condos and rentals, was once the headquarters of a group of Freemasons who called themselves the Levelers.
Hugh Heffner's house -- and Hugh
If California is more your style, consider Hugh Heffner's Playboy Mansion, which hit the market Monday, The $200 million price tag include five acres in Los Angeles' Holmby Hills neighborhood. The 20,000-square-foot home has 29 rooms and a four-bedroom guesthouse, as well as a home theater, gym, tennis court, swimming pool and even a zoo license. But the new owners will have one other unexpected feature: Hugh Heffner himself. The founder of Playboy Enterprises has lived in the home for four decades and doesn't want to move out. His continued residence at the home even after the property sells is a condition of the sale, a company spokesman says.
A fabulous vacation home, too
Should you tire of Manhattan's teeming crowds or L.A.'s infamous traffic, you can always opt for a second home elsewhere. And since you're got plenty of cash, why not just buy your own private island. One example: a 6 acre island in the Bahamas offered at $720,000. Known as Bonefish Cay, the parcel lies in the heart of a world-famous bonefish fishing destination. Snorkeling, deep sea fishing, scuba diving and hunting are all just a short boat ride away. Accommodations, however, are a bit rustic. For now, only the remnants of a cottage and stone dock built in the 1930s exist, but don't let stand in your way. Resort development plans and other resources are available that can help you build your own fantasy island.
Now that you have acquired a luxurious new home or two, you'll need a way to get between them (and all the other destinations you're bound to want to include).
Nothing tops having your own private aircraft, but be prepared to spend a pretty penny. A private jet like a Gulfstream G650 costs about $65 million new. But if you're not keen on hiring a pilot and buying your own jet fuel, Warren Buffett's NetJets provides a cheaper alternative, selling access to luxury air travel through fractional ownership.
To get around town or take the dogs for a walk in the park, you'll need a new set of wheels. You might consider buying a Ferrari, which sell for $180,000 to $400,000 new and holds its value well. Nine of the 10 most expensive cars ever sold were made by the Italian carmaker.
Then again, you might opt for some more eclectic choices, like former Tonight Show host Jay Leno. Among his collection of more than 200 cars and motorcycles is a McLaren F1, which sold new in the late 1990s for $1 million. Auctioneer Gooding & Co. sold a similar model for $8.5 million in 2013.
If a McLaren doesn't suit, Gooding has plenty of other hot rides up for auction this year, including a 1955 Porsche 356 Speedster with only two previous owners (estimated value of $300,000 to $400,000) and a 1985 Ferrari 288 GTO with just over 57,000 miles, valued at $2 million to $2.4 million.
Forget coach class
Having pocketed a cool half billion dollars likely means you gave your 9-to-5 job the heave-ho, so you'll be looking for other ways to fill the hours. How better than with trip around the world?
For just $132,000 a person, Four Seasons will provide you the ultimate in travel aboard a private jet, speeding you to some of the world's most iconic destinations, including the Taj Mahal, the Sydney Opera House, Bora Bora and the jungles of Chiang Mai.
Boats more your style? Why not splurge on a 15-day cruise from Barcelona, Spain, to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, aboard a SeaDream luxury yacht. The Presidential Suite can had for a mere $23,500 (based on double occupancy), and with nearly one crew member for every passenger, prepare to be "splendidly spoiled."
Art for art's sake
By now, you're living and traveling in extravagant style, which means it's time for more refined pleasures. The nice thing about art is that you can still exhibit a connoisseur's taste without spending a fortune. For instance, patriot richies might enjoy a painting of George Washington leading his troops to battle in the Battle of Monmouth, offered by Sotheby's with an estimated value of only $25,000 to $35,000. American history buffs also might appreciate this remarkable wooden bust of Benjamin Franklin circa 1785 to 1795, valued at $20,000 to $30,000.
Both are peanuts compared to the $54 million paid in November for a Vincent van Gogh painting that showed a spring meadow with children picking flowers while dark clouds gather overhead. Titled "Landscape Under a Stormy Sky," van Gogh finished the painting just a month before he admitted himself into an asylum.