As tonight's record $1.5 billion -- that's right, billion -- Powerball drawing looms, there's one question that's on the minds of every man, woman and child in America: how many chicken nuggets can I buy with that money?
It's a deceptively simple problem, but let's get into it. On a base level, you could go into McDonald's and order their four piece nuggets, which costs $1.99 according to FastFoodMenuPrices.com. Divided into $1.5 billion, you get 753,768,844 orders, or 3,015,075,377 nuggets.
Simple, right? Not so fast! McDonald's also has a 10, 20 and 40 piece order, which cost $4.49, $5 and $8.99 respectively. Focusing on the 40 piece order for the best value, that equals 166,852,058 orders, or 6,674,082,314 nuggets. Which is a lot of nuggets.
You're not going to want to eat plain nuggets, though. The good news is that you can snag as much ketchup as you want, and usually one additional sauce with every order. But with 40 nuggets per order, you're going to need more than just one tiny container of barbecue sauce. Factor in an additional sauce per 40 nugget order at a cost of 40 cents each (as of July 22, 2010 according to GrubStreet), and you're now down to a paltry 6,389,776,358 nuggets.
Do you need anything to drink while you eat your nuggets? Probably, they're pretty salty. Back in the day McDonald's used to do free refills, but now only allows a singular refill of your soda pop within 60 minutes of purchasing your food. It's possible they may make an exception for the horrible monster who is sitting in their restaurant consuming chicken nuggets all day, but let's just assume you'll need to buy a new drink with every meal so you don't desiccate. I'm going to give you the 21 oz. medium size drink at $1.29, versus the large (or super-size), because you probably don't need to drink more than 126 ounces of soda a day. You probably also don't need to drink more than zero ounces of soda a day, but let's be honest, you're not surviving this anyway so have a Coke while you kill yourself.
Let's also assume, because really this is now a full-time gig, that you're having one 40-piece nuggets order per meal, for three meals a day. With this new math -- one 40 piece nuggets, one extra sauce, and one medium drink -- you'll get a total of 5,617,977,528 nuggets, over 46,816,479 days, which is approximately 128,264 years so enjoy the rest of your natural life eating chicken nuggets.
Hey, do you have a job while you're doing this terrible thought experiment? A place to live, maybe? Not anymore, now you live at McDonald's. After all, you committed yourself to spending $1.5 billion on Chicken McNuggets, so you don't have time to do your job. You certainly don't need the money from a job to buy any food, because, you know, nuggets.
And because you're spending all your time eating chicken nuggets and don't have a job, how are you going to afford an apartment or house? All of your money is funneled directly into chicken nuggets, so you don't have the resources to pay for things like heat, hot water, or a place to sleep.
Even with the amount of money you're spending on nuggets and drink (and sauce), chances are the friendly staff of your local McDonald's isn't going to be down with you sleeping in the ball pit at the PlayPlace. So you're going to have to buy that McDonald's.
As of November 18, 2014, Business Insider estimated that the startup costs for a franchise are somewhere between $955,708 and $2.3 million, depending on where you build your McDonald's (or renovate an existing store), what equipment is inside the kitchen, what signing you choose outside the location, etc. There's also a $45,000 franchise fee, and you need to donate 4% of gross sales and rent to the mothership. That said, you can make around $2.5 million running your restaurant, which you can funnel right back into your chicken nugget eating operation.
Assuming you're smack dab in the middle, this will cost you $1,627,854 to start up, and after paying rent and franchise costs you'll gross about $2,187,500. I actually couldn't find info on salaries, as well as material costs, but sake of argument let's just say that over the course of the 128,264 years you're eating chicken nuggets, it all evens out.
"But wait!" you say. "I own a McDonald's now, free nuggets forever!"
Sort of. You're the owner, so yes you can technically eat as many nuggets as you like, but there's still a materials cost. As far as I could find by combing through various forums, McDonald's may actually pay seven cents per nugget, before marking them up. That means...
Okay, look, we could do this forever, getting into how much it would take to pay employees, upkeep of the franchise, advertising, and so on. We could even talk about the medical fees you'd need to pay to be constantly defibrillated while eating 60 chicken nuggets a day and drinking 126 ounces of soda. We could even get into how much it would cost to instead buy sacks of nuggets from WalMart and heat them at home (think of your gas bill!), but what's the point, exactly?
The point is that when presented with an astronomical number like $1.5 billion, our minds immediately go to the gigantic tasks we'd accomplish, and things we'd buy with the money. "I'd buy a mansion!" "I'd take my whole family on vacation!" "I'd buy over six billion chicken nuggets!"
But what we don't think about is the actual cost in the long -- and short -- run of winning money from the lottery. It seems like an easy fix, free money, but first, taxes are taken out. Then, you have to deal with your normal life being disrupted for weeks on end, with lawyers, and contracts, and friends and family calling with their well wishes. And then you have to deal with the fact that whatever you buy comes with numerous, unseen costs of their own.
Want to buy a house? Great, now you need to maintain that house. Want to take your whole family on vacation? Fantastic, but then you have to coordinate a vacation for however many people, and try not to get mad when they take advantage of your new riches to trash their hotel room -- or expect that you're now doing this family vacation thing on an annual basis. Want to eat a ridiculous number of chicken nuggets? See above.
The fact of the matter is, you're not going to win the lottery. Not only that, but if you did win? Really, you wouldn't want to. It's like the old story of the monkey's paw, that you'd get your wish but there are always strings attached and twists you're not expecting.
What if you go in the opposite direction, and instead use the money to invest wisely and make sure you frugally spend it over the course of the rest of your life? The problem with that scenario is, that's no fun. It's actually against the spirit of excitement that the lottery provides, and the sort of person that would use lottery winnings to set up a Roth IRA really should know better than to throw away money on a lottery ticket.
It's fun to theorize, it's fun to pretend, but what we need to remember is that Powerball (and the like) is a game, and one that's specifically designed so you won't win. Let's watch, let's laugh, let's speculate, but you're just going to be better off emotionally and physically trying to make money by being awesome at your chosen field of work, than winning it all in an instant.
That said, later tonight (January 13) someone in America may win $1.5 billion when that final Powerball number is drawn. My recommendation? Don't spend it on chicken nuggets.