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How much do you have to spend in order to win the Powerball lottery, and can playing Powerball be an effective strategy to pay off student loans?

It's week 2 of 3News' Stephanie Haney's social experiment to track Powerball winnings versus expenses over one year, in hopes of making a dent in her student loans
Credit: wkyc studios
3News' Stephanie Haney is pictured here on January 19, 2022, in week 2 of her social experiment to track Powerball winnings versus expenses over the next year, in hopes of making a dent in her student loan debt.

CLEVELAND — What do student loans, New Year's resolutions and the Powerball lottery have in common?

In addition to being at the forefront of the nation's current conversation, these ideas are all part of my latest social experiment. Before I explain that part of it, here's a snapshot of where we are right now.

Right now, federal student loan payments are on hold through May because of the global pandemic, and there are calls for President Joe Biden to make good on his promise to cancel significant portions of these debts for millions of Americans. This comes at the beginning of a new year, when people all over the world are resolving to take all sorts of action over the next 12 months to better their lives, and on January 5, two winning tickets split one of the top 10 Powerball jackpot prizes of all time, sharing in a combined prize of $632.6 million.

It was while having a conversation about those Powerball winnings on WKYC's 5 P.M. television show, What's New, at the end of my Clicking in Cleveland segment that I wondered out loud with hosts Jay Crawford and Betsy Kling how much those winners had to spend over the course of their lives on Powerball tickets in order to win those prizes.

And that's when an idea was born. Not only did I want to try to win the Powerball lottery, I wanted to do it to try to pay off my crippling student loan debt.

Like so many of you, I am among the the millions of Americans with significant student loans hanging over my head. According to the Education Data Initiative, the total outstanding federal student loan debt load is $1.59 trillion. 43.2 million people hold an average of $39,351 each in both federal and private student loans, and approximately 42.9 million Americans with federal student loan debt each owe an average $37,105 for their federal loans, alone.

I won't bore you with the details, but after paying for an undergraduate degree, law school, and taking a full year off of work to get my Masters degree in journalism, my student loan debt is well above that national average, at a healthy six figure sum. You can see why the thought of benefitting from a windfall to pay this debt down is very appealing. (My other strategies include tweeting at Elon Musk in the hopes that he'll drive up the value of my 200 dogecoin investment, or just pay them off himself when he sees a tweet that I tag him in and he feels bad for me.)

I’ve weighed my options, and the Powerball seems the most likely, so here’s what I am going to do. (I'm not alone, by the way. Many of you have told me on social media that you are doing the same thing in different ways, in hopes of paying off your student loans! Just read the comments on this Instagram post for proof.)

Every week this year starting this week I am going to buy a single $2 Powerball ticket for the Wednesday drawing. I’ve looked into the likelihood of winning based on choosing your own numbers versus the "quick pick" auto-select option, and while the odds of winning don't change, I've read that the odds of having to split a winning prize are less with randomly selected numbers, so I’m going to go with quick pick every time.

There are 9 ways to win a prize in Powerball, and all prizes are set cash amounts, except the jackpot total. The overall odds of winning a prize are 1 in 24.9. The odds of winning the jackpot are 1 in 292.2 million, according to Powerball. (Yes, I have better odds of being struck by lightning or getting killed by a shark, but you don't get paid for those things, so here we are.)

Credit: Powerball
There are 9 ways to win the Powerball lottery, with 8 being set cash prizes. The only variable prize is the Powerball jackpot.
Credit: Powerball
This chart shows the odds of winning any prize in the Powerball lottery, with one $2 ticket purchase.

I will also always get the $1 prize multiplier option, called the Power Play. This multiplies your winnings if you win anything other than the jackpot. Under these parameters, I am going to spend $3 per week, for a total investment of $156, and track my winnings against my investment for one year.

For comparison, I'll also check on how a $156 investment in each Bitcoin, dogecoin, and Apple stock made on January 13 would fare over the same period of time.

I'll be documenting this on social media along the way, livestreaming each drawing shortly before 11 p.m. every Wednesday night on my Instagram page, and sharing those updates here in this article. From time to time, we'll also check in on What's New and see how this social experiment is going.

Here's how it's going so far:

Week 1: Powerball drawing on Wednesday, January 12

So far, no luck! I bought my first Powerball ticket from Sun Valley Beverage on West 25th Street in Ohio City, and I didn't match a single number. Not even the Powerball. This is off to a rocky start, but I am undeterred!

The winning Powerball numbers were 12, 21, 22, 30 and 33, with 34 as the Powerball. The Power Play was at four times. My numbers were 6, 40, 56, 59, and 65, with 9 as the Powerball.

  • Powerball jackpot: $38 million
  • Powerball expenses: $3
  • Powerball winnings: $0
  • Net Powerball proceeds: -$3
Credit: wkyc studios
3News' Stephanie Haney shares her losing Powerball ticket for the drawing on Wednesday, January 12, 2022.
Credit: wkyc studios
The winning Powerball numbers for Wednesday, January 12, 2022 were 12, 21, 22, 30, and 33 and the Powerball was 24. 3News' Stephanie Haney didn't match a single number.

Here's what I would have been able to get with $156 in each of Bitcoin, dogecoin, and Apple stock at 12:30 pm Eastern on January 13:

  • Bitcoin: 0.000023BTC
  • Dogecoin: 952.79 DOGE
  • Apple stock: less than 1 share, at $173.76 per share

(Since you can't buy partial stocks, from this point forward I'll compare the value of 1 share of Apple stock over the next year.)

Week 2: Powerball drawing on Wednesday, January 19

Fool me once, shame on you... fool me twice.. play the Powerball again! Week two was no nicer to me than week one, and again I did not match a single number! Onward to week three!

The winning Powerball numbers were 11, 15, 43, 55 and 61, with 10 as the Powerball. The Power Play was at three times. My numbers were 1, 36, 54, 60, and 64, with 16 as the Powerball.

  • Powerball jackpot: $62 million
  • Powerball expenses to date: $6
  • Powerball winnings to date: $0
  • Net Powerball proceeds: -$6
Credit: wkyc studios
3News' Stephanie Haney shares her losing Powerball ticket for the drawing on Wednesday, January 19, 2022.
Credit: wkyc studios
The winning Powerball numbers for Wednesday, January 19, 2022, were 11, 15, 43, 55 and 61, with 10 as the Powerball.

Here's what each of my hypothetical alternate investments of $156 would have been worth at 1:20 pm Eastern on January 20:

  • Bitcoin: $0.99 (0.000023BTC) for a net loss to date of $155.01
  • Dogecoin: $157.41 (952.79 DOGE) for a net gain to date of $1.41
  • Apple stock: $167.88 (1 share, at $173.76 per share) for a net loss to date of $5.88

Check back in each Thursday from now through Thursday, January 5, 2023, to see how much I've spent, whether I've made any money, and how hypothetical investments in Bitcoin, dogecoin, and Apple stocks would be performing, by comparison.

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