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Thinking of Entering the March Madness Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge?

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I hesitated to write and publish this post, because Quicken loans is already getting a lifetime of free publicity from their Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, insured by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (yep, the same Warren Buffett I wrote about a few weeks ago).

But… what the hell, March Madness is here, and it is the greatest sports tournament/playoff/event in the world. I wanted a tie-in to personal finance, and this marketing gimmick offers up one.

I’m fired up, because I’m a Michigan State Spartan alum and fan and 17 straight NCAA tournaments (with 6 Final Fours in that stretch) means there is no better team and event to be a fan of (in my opinion).

What makes the NCAA tournament great? 68 teams have a shot. And it’s not just rooting for your alma mater or the school whose t-shirt you bought on sale at Wal Mart – it goes far beyond that. There’s something special about seeing the stars align for a school very few people have heard of to come out of the middle of nowhere to knock out a highly favored and storied program. I’ll be taking this Thursday and Friday off of work, so I can watch those moments in their entirety.

It’s all about matchups, effort, and a lot of luck.

billion dollar bracketSpeaking of luck… back to this Billion Dollar Bracket. Should you fill out a bracket to enter the contest? Not for the chance to win a billion. Here’s why:

As per the rules page, the “odds of winning the Grand Prize are 1:9,223,372,036,854,775,808.” That’s 1 in 9.2 quintillion for all of you who comma counters out there.

That’s a pretty big number to wrap your head around. To put it in more fathomable terms, if all 317 million people in the United States were to fill out a bracket at random, you could run the contest for 290 million years, and there would still be a 99% chance that no one would win. Wait, that’s still unfathomable, isn’t it?

To be fair, those odds are if you randomly choose the winner of each of the 63 non-play-in games correctly.

Luckily, you aren’t picking teams randomly – YOU are way better than that! A math professor at DePaul University calculated the odds at 1-in-128 billion, if you know something about college basketball. That’s… yeah, still shit.

But you’re not just any average Joe Basketball Knowledge, you’re… a skilled Vegas handicapper (the guys who set the betting odds who have ridiculous amounts of data and algorithms to lean on). In that event, the odds are more like 1-in-1 billion. OK, things are looking up here.

For comparative purposes, the odds of winning the Mega Millions lottery (which just hit $400 million, by the way) are a mere 1-in-258,890,850.

And given that there are 492 billionaires in the U.S. the odds of any of us randomly becoming the next billionaire are about 1 in 644,000.

“Yeah, the odds are long, but, it’s FREE!”, you say.

Well, if you don’t a monetary value on your name, address, email address, date of birth, home ownership status, and more being given to a mortgage lender for 1-in-128 billion odds, I suppose that is true.

Alas, Quicken probably realizes 15 million of us aren’t that numerically challenged and desperate, so they have sweetened the pot by offering $100,000 to the 20 best “imperfect” bracket pickers. Odds of winning $100,000? 1-in-750,000 (assuming they hit their cap of 15 million entrants). Anything less than 15 million entrants and your odds improve. Now we’re talking!

So after you finish filling out your $100,000 Bracket Challenge, brush up on your personal finance. The odds of one of you randomly being one of the 9.63 millionaires who live very comfortably in the good ole’ US of A? 1-in-33. Odds you live in a millionaire household? 1-in-14. And you guys are way better than random, of course!

And, there is the tie-in to personal finance. How many of us have thrown away money at some sort of ridiculous hope that somehow we’ll become a lucky grand price winner, and then we’ll have it made? I’ve been guilty of it myself.

The reality is you can live a pretty damn good life on a million in net worth. It takes hard work and a little luck to get there, but with each informed decision you make, you improve your odds.

Besides, what in the world would you do with $1 billion?!

Oh… and Michigan State for the win.

Bracket Challenge Discussion:

  • Are you entering the contest? Why or why not?
  • Who are your final 4 picks?
  • What are your “upset special” picks
  • So… what would you do if you actually won a billion dollars, other than move to North Dakota, grow a beard, and hide in a hole?

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I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Steve says:

    I haven’t yet, but I’ll probably enter. I don’t expect to win the billion (though I’m of course a lock to win the $100K), but it’s fun to do and compare with friends. I realize I have no idea what I’m talking about (except this year; that $100K is mine!) and don’t actually enter paid pools, knowing I’ll lose my money, so I’ll fill out a free bracket or two just to see what’ll happen.

    My Final Four is Ohio State, Michigan State, Arizona, and Wichita State. WSU over MSU for the championship. Upset Special: Western Michigan over Syracuse in the first round.

    If I won the billion, I’d probably give most of it to charity, and keep ~$50 mil for myself. Of that, I’d put ~$250K into savings and invest the rest into passive investments. I wouldn’t be nearly as frugal as I am now but still wouldn’t spend the money foolishly, maybe travel a bit more. I doubt I’d stay with my current job, but would still want to do something…maybe spend my time volunteering, or get a Master’s Degree in a field I find interesting that likely wouldn’t be a good idea if I had to pay for but needed thecash.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      I like that final 4 (but not the end result!). Kentucky v. WSU in the second game is going to be fun to watch. Then WSU or Kentucky v. Louisville? Duke vs. UM? That MidWest bracket has a lot of very intriguing matchups.
      Why Western Michigan? I know Syracuse has tailed off a bit here, but the MAC is an awful conference.

      • Steve says:

        I think Syracuse is in a complete and utter tailspin and its confidence is completely shot. I certainly agree that it’s a better than than Western Michigan. However, I just don’t have high optimism it can beat anybody in a win-or-go-home environment right now.

        I realize I’ll probably be proven wrong, but it’s always fun to pick an upset or two and root for it to happen.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    I’ve already entered even before reading this article. I don’t expect to win this or the CA lottery, but i do know that if you don’t play, you can not win.

    Same goes w/ sweepstakes that are free. I win occasionally enough to make it worth spending my time doing so. And it’s a fun hobby.


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