How Much Money Can You Spend on Lottery Tickets Before It Starts Getting Weird?

Today’s Dear Prudence looks at an issue near and dear to Billfolders’ hearts: wasting money.

About once or twice a week, depending on my mood, I stop at a local convenience store on my way back from work and purchase a lottery ticket. I wouldn’t describe it as anything excessive, and I obviously have not won the lottery (yet). I spend about $80 a month, so nearly $1,000 a year. I make a good income and have little debt. My girlfriend thinks this is ridiculous behavior, a profligate waste of money, and a sign that I am irrational.

Prudie reminds the letter writer that a lot of people spend $20 a week on irrational purchases (like — you guessed it — fancy coffee) and gives the letter writer her blessing:

Given that you say your finances are in good order, you can afford this $1,000-a-year habit.

Wait. WHAT?

At this point I’m frantically trying to figure out if I have a $1,000-a-year habit. (Is eating dinners with friends a “habit?”) If I was spending $1,000 a year on something as uneventful as walking into a convenience store, grabbing a lottery ticket, going “eh, it didn’t win” and walking out, would I be able to recognize it?

Because to me, getting an extra $1,000 back in my bank account would be like winning the lottery. That is one-fifth of an IRA contribution right there, or a monthly debt payment.

Of course, who knows? Maybe this letter writer has enough money that spending $1,000 doesn’t feel like a deprivation. At least Prudie didn’t suggest the letter writer put the money in a savings account, with some line about how the real lottery winnings are the magic of compound interest.

It’s also worth noting that one of Prudie’s other letters this week is about a man who did win the lottery. As the slogan goes: somebody’s gonna Lotto, might as well be you.

What do you think? Is spending $1,000 a year on lottery tickets too much? And how much can a person spend on lottery tickets before it crosses that line?