A million bucks here, a million bucks there, $10 million here, $10 million there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money.
Try this for real: Someone could walk away from tonight's Mega Millions multistate lottery drawing with $117 million cash. Is that a lot? Yes. What will it buy? We'll get to that.
The actual prize is an obscene $290 million-plus if taken in annual installments of $11.2 million (that's $214,000 a week, or nearly $31,000 a day). But the up-front cash version is discounted down to an estimated $163.7 million.
Then, the tax man takes a cut - the lucky winner immediately loses 25 percent to the Internal Revenue Service and 3.5 percent to the state of Ohio, or 3.9 percent to Michigan, if that's where the winner lives. In actuality, more taxes likely would be owed, using the top tax brackets for federal and state taxes, and that could whittle the prize to about $95 million.
But, hey, the winner gets the temporary use of the full $117 million, at least for a few months. So, what will $117 million buy? A lot.
What's your poison? Do you like real estate? With $117 million, you could buy whole subdivisions, even very pricey ones. That much money would buy 234 homes priced at $500,000, or 117 priced at a full $1 million each.
You prefer office buildings? You could probably buy all of the prime office buildings in downtown Toledo - One
SeaGate, Four SeaGate, Summit Center (Manor Care's headquarters), and Edison Plaza - and still have money left over, said Steve Serchuk, a commercial real estate agent.
Maybe you like the wide open spaces. Ohio's farmland is going for an average of $2,800 an acre, so $117 million would buy nearly 42,000 acres, or 65 square miles of land - that's the equivalent of several townships and about a fifth of the land area of Lucas County.
If cars are more your thing, you're in luck.
You could buy 1,460 Cadillac XLR roadsters at $80,000 each, or you could get nearly 4,700 top-of-the-line Jeep Liberty models at just under $25,000 each.
You say you are the "shop till you drop" type of person. Even if you could spend $100 a minute, you're going to drop a long time before the money runs out. If you spent that kind of money 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it would take nearly two years and three months to exhaust the money.
Even if you were a very experienced shopper and could spend $1,000 a minute, it would still take nearly three months of round-the-clock spending to blow the windfall.
In an investing mood? You could buy up entire small companies. If you're a real gambler, you could buy all the stock of one pretty big company, Toledo's Owens Corning, for $30 million or so. But you probably wouldn't want to: The Fortune 500 firm is in bankruptcy, and its stock will likely be declared worthless someday.
If you're a sports fan, your $117 million won't go very far in the high-octane world of major-league sports, but you could probably buy a few minor-league franchises. For example, the Toledo Mud Hens franchise is supposedly worth $15 million or so (it's not for sale), and a number of others are priced at $12 million or less.
All right, so you just want to sit on the money and think it over for a while. Actually, that's a pretty good idea for big winners. "We encourage everyone to sit down with a very competent adviser," said Marie Kilbane, a spokesman for the Ohio Lottery Commission.
But even so, $117 million parked in short-term CDs, earning 1.9 percent, would yield $2.2 million in annual interest - or about $6,100 a day. Placed in 30-year bonds, drawing 5.3 percent interest, the same $117 million would yield $6.2 million a year, or nearly $17,000 a day.
Perhaps you'd like to do a good turn for society. Your $117 million would pay about half of the city of Toledo's general budget of $231 million annually. You could pay the entire four-year tuition for 4,000 students at the University of Toledo.
However, don't think about contributing to national defense. Your $117 million would pay for a couple of days' worth of the cost of keeping our troops in Iraq. It wouldn't even make a down payment on an aircraft carrier (they run anywhere from $3 billion to $5 billion).
A few billion here, a few billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money. Trillions.