Whether or not you bought a Powerball lottery ticket proves a basic truth about money

Tonight could be your night. Neilson Barnard/Getty

Somebody is going to win the Powerball lottery jackpot. Maybe even tonight.

Today’s jackpot has grown to $US700 million, the second-highest in US history, after multiple drawings have passed without a winner.

The bigger the jackpot, the more people are willing to buy a ticket — and the lower your odds of winning become. Still, the appeal of achieving multimillionaire status overnight is worth it to many.

As Business Insider’s Your Money editor, I noticed something about our office Powerball pool that got me thinking:

Most of the reporters who cover finance, markets, and science are conspicuously missing from the list of 51 people who joined the pool. As a certified financial planner and maths enthusiast, I have to admit I didn’t chip in, either.

Andy Kiersz, our resident quant reporter and another Powerball pool abstainer, told the group they have a “91% chance of winning at least some prize.” But, he continued, splitting $US20 across 51 people probably isn’t going to be easy.

But participating in an office pool is fun — even without the promise of a payout. Two bucks won’t make or break your finances, and discussing what you would buy with your imaginary millions isn’t a bad way to spend a lunch break.

It’s easy to argue that playing is worth the cost, even if you’re far more likely to lose a couple dollars than win the massive jackpot. And that point proves a basic truth about money:

Money is rational, but the way we deal with it isn’t. The financial choices we make are often driven by emotion, rather than logic.

Need further proof? When asked why they decided to join the Business Insider office pool, 86% said “because I would be devastated if my colleagues won and I was left out because I didn’t contribute $US2.”

That just goes to show FOMO is more powerful than maths. If everyone but you wins, it will be torture to be the one tied to your desk, watching everyone’s Instagram stories from Ibiza, St. Croix, or wherever else their money may take them.

Spending two bucks to avoid that fate could almost seem logical, in some sense. That is, until you realise that each ticket has only a one in 292,201,338 chance of hitting the jackpot.

Deciding to spend a couple dollars playing the office pool isn’t wrong or a bad choice necessarily, but it’s definitely irrational.

For those of us who did the maths and stayed out of the pool, all I can say is, I hope we weren’t wrong. And if we were, I’m unfollowing the rest of our coworkers on Instagram.