Saturday, July 21, 2007

Blood Money and the Pizza Hut Waitress

Blood Money and the Pizza Hut Waitress

"I don't feel like dancing."

-Scissor Sisters (song written by "Babydaddy", "Jake Spears" and Sir Elton John)

National headlines came out of Aurora, Indiana, when a Pizza Hut waitress received a $10,000 "tip" by one of her regular customers.

Buried in the story was an important fact: "Becky", the woman who left the tip, had just received an injury settlement. Becky's husband and oldest daughter had been killed in an accident.

"Becky" didn't win the money in a lottery. She received it as compensation for a terrible loss.

The media spin has been to pat "Becky" on the back for her generosity. The feel-good story is that the Pizza Hut waitress's life will be better because of the "tip".

The person I worry about is "Becky." Injury settlements are awarded for one reason: to help the loved ones of the people who were killed.

The injury settlement was calculated to take care of Becky and her children. The Pizza Hut waitress was not factored in. No one in the waitress's family died.

The waitress's "tip" did not come from an emotionally stable business person, like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. It came from someone going through a personal hell.

I don't know anything about "Becky" or her settlement. I don't know how much money she and her children received. I don't know if her lawyers helped her set up structured settlements or if she has good financial advisors.

I do know that roughly 90% of people who receive an injury settlement or large lump sum will run through it in five years or less. I pray that "Becky" is not one of them.

Giving $10,000 to a semi-stranger is not evidence of sound thinking or long-term financial planning. It shows signs of a hurting person who perceived that her settlement was "blood money".

When people receive a lump sum, they think it will last forever. Look at the history of most lottery winners. People think it is incredible that a guy like Jack Whitaker can run through millions of dollars from a Powerball jackpot, yet the same feat has been accomplished many times over.

Jack gave his tips to strippers instead of Pizza Hut waitresses, but the bottom line is the same: both Becky and Jack would have been better off keeping the money for themselves.

Going back to Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, both of those two committed to giving away the fortunes that they accumulated through business success.

Instead of giving the money to a waitress with no strings attached, Bill and Warren gave their money to a foundation.

The foundation has goals and objectives. It also has rigid criteria as to who receives the money.

Bill and Warren are smart businessmen. They did not waste money once they earned it, and they are making sure it is not wasted as they give it away.

When my mother and sister died, I set up a college scholarship fund in their names. Both my mother and sister were single parents, and the scholarship's focus is on helping other single parents like them.

The scholarship will be helping someone for years after I am gone. It has professional administrators and investment advisors.

Since we don't know Becky's real name, we won't ever find out the final story. We won't know if the money she received from her settlement will allow her and her children to have a better life. We won't know if somewhere down the road, Becky will have frittered away her family's money and be broke.

We also don't know if the "feel-good" publicity from the $10,000 tip will cause Becky to do the same for another waitress, a gas station attendant or all kinds of people with hard-luck stories.

If I die in an accident, I don't want my family to give their settlement money to a waitress. I want them to spend the money on themselves. I have a suspicion that Becky's deceased husband would feel that way too.

Although many media outlets want us to jump up and cheer for "Becky", I don't feel like dancing.

ABC News Story about "Becky" and the Pizza Hut Waitress

Story Behind the Song

"I Don't Feel Like Dancing"

As any regular reader knows, I have an undying love for the Scissor Sisters. I knew "Babydaddy" in the days when he was Scott Hoffman and Scott's parents are dear friends of mine.

I've had dinner with several group members, seen them in concert, buy all their stuff and will have a chapter about them in my upcoming book, Son of a Son of a Gambler.

Thus, it was natural that I use them in a column again.

I've used I Don't Feel Like Dancing before. I make it a rule not to use the same lyrics twice but since the Scissor Sisters are about breaking the rules, I will make an exception in their case.

I love the video to the Dancing song, which was a number one hit in England. I hope the group comes back to the United States but they are so hot around the world that we probably won't see them here soon.

I've written several columns about the group but my first, Babydaddy's Daddy, from August 2004 is one that I am particularly proud of.

Babydaddy's Daddy

The video for I Don't Feel Like Dancing is incredible. Check it out. You can see Sir Elton John's influence. He wrote the song along with "Babydaddy" and "Jake".

The Poll

The following are the results from my last poll:

Do you favor allowing people to legally bet on sporting events?

94.4% Yes
5.6% No

If you had to bring on form of gambling to a state, would you favor...

Sports Betting - 65%
Casinos - 25%
Lottery - 10%

This week there are two poll questions:

1. If you receive an injury settlement, would you give part of it to a stranger?

2. What will you do with your money when you die? Will you leave it for your family, give to a charity, leave to a stranger, a combination of one and two, or a combination of one, two and three?

To vote in this week's poll follow the link below. The poll will be on the left hand side of the web page.

Don McNay is the author of the upcoming book: Son of a Son of a Gambler: Life's Winners and Losers and What to Do When You Win the Lottery. You can write to him at or read other things he has written at His award-winning column is syndicated throughout over 200 publications.

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