Review of Money For Nothing: One Man’s Journey Through the Dark Side of Lottery Millions by Edward Ugel
Some titles are better than others. The title of this book is spot on. Money For Nothing has two meanings: It refers to the money won by lottery winners and also to the money made by the salesman who earn huge commissions selling lump sum payouts to those same lottery winners.
Before I read this book, I had never heard of the lump sum industry. Not being a lottery winner myself might have had something to do with that. You have to win some money before they show up on your radar screen.
Ed Ugel takes the reader on his own personal ride from unemployed white male living with his parents to a six figure salesman for The Firm. Along the way you get to meet some of the lucky or not so lucky lottery winners who find themselves short on cash. There are many reasons for the lottery winners to find themselves in this predicament: poor financial advice or no advice at all, taxes, family pressures, divorce, etc. Ed gives an example of a lottery winner who wins two million dollars. At first glance you might think that this person is set for life. Not so fast. That two million dollars is paid out over twenty years. That’s $100,000 per year or $70,000 a year after taxes. It doesn’t take long to blow through that kind of money, especially when there is a long list of hanger-ons waiting for handouts. That’s where The Firm comes in to save the day. They will buy your annuity in exchange for an upfront cash payout. Ed doesn’t give any specific examples of how much we’re talking about, but you get the impression that The Firm comes out way ahead over the lottery winner.
Much of the appeal of this books comes from the conversational tone of the writing and the expert use of analogies, metaphors, and similes. They are sprinkled throughout the text and used to great affect. To demonstrate this, I will pick a page at random. I guarantee you that I can find a good example within three pages before or after the page I select. Okay, here goes. I opened the book to page 56. Here he is talking about his experience as a bartender. On page 55 he talks about his inability to tap a a keg of beer. Here’s what he has to say, "As a bartender, in a beer-and-wine-only pub, not having the ability to tap a keg is like being a veterinarian afraid of dogs." That’s good stuff. To be able do it over and over again is the sign of a good writer.
Ed isn’t afraid to talk about his faults such as his gambling addition and his lack of business managerial skills. But Ed is also a born salesman as well as a talented writer. I would have liked to have learned more about the way in which lottery winners burn through their cash and how much they stand to lose when dealing with The Firm, but these issues aside this is a great book.