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Sunday, May 19, 2024

‘March Madness’ money: What to do with your winnings

'March Madness' money: What to do with your winnings


For many basketball fans, March Madness quickly turns into “March Sadness.” But if you're lucky enough to finish first in your office pool this year, there’s a good chance you may earn more than just bragging rights. 

Over 36 million people participated in a bracket challenge last year, with cash likely up for grabs as the top prize.

Deciding what to do with your newfound wealth isn’t always a slam dunk, though. If you come out on top this year, should you save it? Should you spend it? Should you squander it? While it may be tempting to relish your triumph by making a big purchase, you may be better off putting that money on the bench and focusing on taking care of your future. 

After you’re done cutting down the nets at work, check out these four ways to maximize your winnings: 

1. Make it 'rain' 

Your chances of getting every tournament pick right stand at 1 in 9.2 quintillion, so it’s safe to say the odds of something going wrong at home are a wee-bit higher.2 Eventually, your car may need new tires, your cellphone may break or your pet may get sick. Life happens! Creating a rainy-day fund can help you pay for those pesky unexpected expenses that aren’t necessarily part of your normal budget. 

Amounts vary, but it’s often suggested to have about $500-$2,000 stashed away to cover minor emergency events like replacing a cracked window.3 If you didn’t score that much in your March Madness group, don’t sweat it. Starting small — and contributing consistently — can make a huge difference in the long run. 

2. Shoot for a vacation 

Travelling in basketball is a violation. But travelling in your free time? That’s called a vacation. Let’s face it, everyone deserves a break from their busy schedule. Getting in some R&R, though, can cost a pretty penny. 

With inflation impacting everything from gas prices to airline fares to hotel stays, booking a trip isn’t cheap these days.4 A one-week getaway in the U.S. is now averaging nearly $1,984 per person depending on the destination.5 International travel prices have also surged, with European hotel prices increasing by a staggering 37% in the summer of 2023 compared to 2022.6  And tickets to this year’s national championship in Glendale, Arizona will set you back anywhere from $235 to $9,597 a seat.

Don’t throw in the towel on your dream escape, though. Using some of your tournament pool profits to build a travel fund can help you financially prepare for your next adventure, so you don’t have to rely on a credit card. Whether you’re saving to see the world or attend a future Final Four, transportation, lodging and food can add up fast, so you’ll want to have enough reserved to afford all the basics. 

3. Box out your debt 

You don’t need “Cinderella” magic to get back on track with your debt. According to Experian, the average credit card balance for most Americans has surpassed $6,500 and has eclipsed the $9000 mark for Gen-Xers.8Annual percentage rates (APR) are also on the rise, nearly doubled to 22.8 percent in 2023 from 12.9 percent in 2013, costing consumers an additional $25 billion in interest fees last year.

If you won a nice chunk of change in your bracket contest, consider putting some or all of it toward paying off your debt. The snowball method is a simple way to help you manage your different loans so you can keep your long-term goals within reach.10 It’s a one-by-one process that allows you to slowly put the full-court press on your debt until you’re out of the red and back in charge of your money. 

4. Play the waiting game 

Even hall of fame coaches call a timeout to think about their next move. You can, too, if you’re not sure what to do with your recent riches. 

Putting your March Madness stash to work may help you grow your nest egg and keep you on a championship path. Investing that money in a diversified portfolio is a great way to potentially improve your overall financial picture. 

Remember, the ball is in your court when it comes to your finances. Always try to make the best decision for you and your future. 

Get the scoop on your money.

Stay current on planning, saving, and investing for life.

1 Wallet Hub, “2023 March Madness Stats & Facts,” March 2023. 

2 NCAA, “The absurd odds of a perfect NCAA bracket,” March 2023. 

3 Bankrate, “Rainy day fund: Definition, purpose, how much to save, where to keep it,” October 2023. 

4 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “CONSUMER PRICE INDEX – JANUARY 2024,” February 2024. 

5 Bankrate, “The average cost of a vacation: Transportation, food, entertainment and more,” November 2022. 

6 Hopper, “2023 Summer Travel to Europe,” June 2023. 

7 Ticketmaster, “2024 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship,” March 2024. 

8 Experian, “Experian Study: Average U.S. Consumer Debt and Statistics,” January 2024. 

9 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Credit card interest rate margins at all-time high,” February 2024. 

10, “How to Use the Debt Snowball Method,” December 2023. 

March Madness bracket winnings may be subject to income tax and withholding.  Consult with your tax advisor before utilizing any winnings.  


The Currency editors

Staff contributors

The CurrencyTM, a publication from Empower, covers the latest financial news and views shaping how we live, work, and play. We keep you current on ways to plan, save, and invest for life.

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