Striking it big with the lottery is a dream for many, but a reality for few. But the fact is, you are far more likely to receive a sudden windfall of money from another source than the lottery. Whether it be an inheritance, a bonus at work, or a tax refund, it is important to know what to do when you become the fortunate beneficiary of a large sum of money.

The rules of how to handle a windfall are the same whether it be $3,000,000 or $3,000:

  • Rule 1: Do Nothing. No exotic trips, no loans to family. Take at least a month to plot your course, more if the sum is substantial.
  • Rule 2: Pay Off Debt. When you start spending the money, the first thing you should do is pay off creditors.
  • Rule 3: Have Fun. That is, after all, one of the main things in life. Buy something you’ve always wanted, or take a trip somewhere you’ve never been.
  • Rule 4: Invest. If you don’t know how, learn. If you don’t know what to do, find an expert who does. No matter what, get a fee-based financial planner, not one who works off commissions.

Bottom line: when money falls in your lap unexpectedly, take your time, get out of debt, have fun, and invest for your future.