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cash and kerry

Lottery Lotto 6/49 winner, billboard in Toronto subwayKerry. K. Taylor/The Globe and Mail

After paying my taxes, covering rent, and signing my kid's daycare cheque I'm feeling financially unlucky. Sure, remitting to the Canada Revenue Agency is the law, but to make this year's tax-free savings account (TFSA) contribution I had to go for broke.

It turns out other Canadians are heading towards broke. Our household savings rate is a low 3.6 per cent, while our household debt hit a record 163.3 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2014. So we owe around $1.63 in debt for every dollar we earn, says Statistics Canada.

It's true – life is expensive, debt is easy, and saving is hard.

There must be a better way. An easier way. A way that doesn't require financial sacrifice. Because, let's be honest, delaying gratification is boring and buying stuff is fun.

I want to have fun. Maybe buy a big house, a new car, and pay someone to clean my house and drive me around in my car. Can you imagine the freedom?

With visions of exotic vacations and early retirement flashing before my eyes, I saw the sign. No, I didn't see God. I didn't see Ace of Base either. The sign was a massive advertisement featuring a very happy woman who had presumably won a million bucks in the Lotto 6/49.

Bingo. I'm going to win the lottery. My days of scrimping and making do without would soon be over. I was going to be rich, a millionaire.

My biggest obstacle to winning the lottery wasn't the odds, it was finding the winning ticket. I decided to go underground in search of a dealer, and the lotto centre below Toronto's Dundas subway station seemed a good bet.

The guy at the kiosk wasn't really into my lottery retirement plans. When I asked him what game of chance I should play, he limply pointed to his Lotto MAX and Lotto 6/49 neon ticket stand.

I couldn't decide which game to choose so I did what all personal finance experts do: I diversified and played both.

Some might say that I'm a chump, the odds are against me, and I should know better. But a recent bank poll found that 34 per cent of Canadians say they are planning to fund their retirement by winning the lottery.

Over one-third of Canadians are gambling in government run lotteries rather than contributing that cash to their registered retirement savings plan. A tax refund is a sure-fire win. Spending big bucks on a losing lottery ticket is a fool's game.

So I'm going to prove the naysayers wrong. I just hope I don't win the 50 million jackpot, because that would be awful.

With my lottery numbers picked and my tickets scanned I tried to pay for my government sanctioned gambling via credit card. No dice. The kiosk guy wanted cash. So I handed him $3 for Lotto 6/49 and $5 for Lotto Max in loonies and skipped home $8 lighter.

My new gambling habit wasn't so bad. The average Canadian household spends $160 a year on games of chance, according to a 2013 StatsCan survey of household spending.

And some people do win. The winners had their pictures plastered all over the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG) website, holding a billboard cheque boasting their new retirement fortunes. Most winners looked uncomfortable holding their fortune.

I wanted my winner's photo to look relaxed and natural, so I asked my husband to photograph me looking thrilled while carrying a $50-million cheque. But getting him on board was pushing my luck. Not only was he busy contributing to his TFSA, but he was against me playing the lottery.

"It's a stupid tax," he said.

So did I win?

I don't know. While waiting for the draw I put aside my inflated lifestyle dreams and got busy enjoying the life I'm earning. Saving money with a balanced budget and living below my means may be boring, but it works.

Besides, I'm not stupid. The house always wins.

Kerry K. Taylor is a personal finance and consumer expert, the author of 397 Ways To Save Money and the lone blogger at Squawkfox.com. You can follow her on twitter at @squawkfox.