Lottery Winners Aren’t The Only Ones Squandering Opportunities

The story of Billie Bob Harrell, Jr. started as a fairy tale in 1991, but it quickly became a nightmare that eventually ended in tragedy.

​​In 1991, Billie Bob Harrell, Jr. won the $31 million Texas Lottery. His dreams had come true – so he thought. Harrell worked as a stocker at the local Home Depot and struggled to get by with a wife and three teenagers, so you can imagine what finding out he had won $31 million might have done to Billie Bob.

Up until that fateful day in 1991, Harrell bought a few lottery tickets every month with the hope of changing his fortunes but never with any luck. So, when he won $31 million, he thought his life had changed forever. He was right about that. It just didn’t turn out the way he expected.

Harrell wasted no time spending his winnings. He bought a ranch, homes for himself and other family members, and new cars for his wife and children. He also donated generously to members of his church congregation in need. As with many lottery winners, people suddenly come out of the woodwork asking for money – family, friends, and even old acquaintances. Harrell had a hard time saying no, and it put a strain on his marriage – eventually ending in divorce. He started dating a younger lady, but it didn’t bring him happiness.

Less than two years after Harrell won the lottery, he locked himself in a bedroom of his new home, took off his clothes, and shot himself. His family members were gearing up for a fight over how to split his fortune. The problem is, there was no fortune. It turns out that what was left of his money wasn’t even enough to pay estate taxes.

Billie Bob Harrell, Jr.’s story isn’t unique. There are countless stories of lottery winners squandering their fortunes. Looking at people like Billie Bob Harrell, Jr., it’s easy to judge. You tell yourself that you’d never let yourself squander an opportunity like that.

You don’t relate to Billie Bob? Are you sure?

​​Just because you didn’t get your lifetime earnings in a lump sum doesn’t mean you didn’t squander or waste your earnings or squander your opportunities to achieve financial independence. If you’re not living the life you want to live or had dreamed of living, maybe it’s time to take inventory.

​​Like weeds creeping in and overtaking a garden, you may think you’re on top of your finances, but before you know it, the weeds have taken over, and eradicating the weeds just became that much harder. In the case of Billie Bob Harrell, Jr., it was too late by the time he realized he had gone broke.

Billie Bob squandered his fortune in less than two years. You may not have squandered your money that fast, but maybe you did it in installments over a longer period. Review your earnings thus far.

​​Review your expenses:

What kind of weeds have prevented you from building wealth?

​Did you live beyond your means?

​Do you have a lot of consumer debt?

​Do you live in a house beyond your means?

​Buy too many cars?

​Go on too many vacations?

What if you had gone into less debt and saved more of your earnings to parlay into passive investments that generated income that could be compounded to grow and build wealth?

​​What if that passive cash flow had accumulated to the point where you would be able to walk away from your job today?

​​You’re not alone if you’re feeling a little regret creeping in. The question is what you’ll do about that regret. Will you turn it to your advantage and make the changes to avoid Billie Bob’s fate?

​​There’s always time to turn things around.



Mike Ayala has owned and operated mobile home parks since 2007, and has been active in construction and management since he was 15 years old. He graduated from the Associated Builders and Contractors 4-year project management program at age 22 and then became a licensed instructor. He is also the host of the Investing for Freedom podcast.