Deep down inside, you already know this: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, financially or otherwise. Yes, of course, you understand that. You have heard it over and over your whole life. If you want anything – especially something lots of other people want, too, like money – there is a simple formula that few really want to hear about. All you need to do is work your arse off. That’s not the only way to become rich – you could invent the next killer app or iPhone or cold fusion or what have you - but it is how most of the wealthy people in this country got that way. And yet . . . so many of you find yourself drawn into all manner of get-rich-quick schemes that, truth be told, objectively speaking, can only be described as lottery ticket. Speaking of which: Last year, Americans spent over $70 billion on state-run lotteries. To put that into context, that’s more money than Americans spent on sports tickets, books, video games, movie tickets, music plus all of the apps, games and programs bought from iTunes ‘s App Store – combined. That is a whole lot of money, poorly spent. The obvious truth is that people who buy a lottery tickets want the free lunch. They want riches and financial security and oodles of discretionary income – and with very little effort. What they do have, to paraphrase New York State’s lottery logo, is “a dollar and a dream . . .” Sorry, folks, but that’s not going to get it done. It is worth noting that many lottery winners die broke and dejected. My own pet theory is that you appreciate anything you must earn through the sweat of your brow. Speaking of which: Stock brokers pitch the next hot stock pick – “I have it on good authority that Warren Buffett is about to take this company out!” – in order to push the free lunch hot button. (They do that because, let’s be honest, if you knew what company Berkshire Hathaway was buying next, you would immediately jump on the phone to start cold calling random strangers to share that information with. Because, you know, THAT’S what you do with that information.) Fantasy sports leagues are the latest nonsense dangling the free lunch. They are ubiquitous on television or online. The 2006 Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act did away with online games of chance, but created an exemption for a fantasy sports, a technically legal form of online gambling. You may have noticed a tsunami of advertising for these “games of skill” with daily, rather than full season, payoffs. Anyone willing to spend that much on advertising must have the odds tilted incredibly in favor of the house. A study from the Sports Business Journal showed just how lopsided those odds are: Over 90 percent of winnings go to roughly 1 percent of players. Another analysis conducted for Bloomberg found the top 10 players won on average 873 times daily. The remaining field of about 20,000 players tracked by Rotogrinders won on average a mere 13 times per day. I am not suggesting that becoming rich should be your goal; indeed, pursuing financial security is a much more realistic and useful objective than chasing money for its own sake. However, the very human tendency to pursue a freebie often ends up costing people more than if they went the more arduous route. Of so many free lunches, this is the hard truth: • You are not going to win the lottery; • Hot stocks tips are worthless; (the only exception are those especially costly tips that will get you sent to federal prison). • You are not going to buy an iPad from one of those deal sites for $3; • No, you are not likely to buy in early to the next Apple or Netflix, and if you do, you are unlikely to hold it long enough; • No, you are not going to make $10,000 gambling at fantasy sports; • The odds are radically against you finding the mutual fund manager or stock broker who is going to make you fabulously rich; • Indeed, the odds are against you a) stock picking; b) market timing c) investing in a venture fund, private equity fund or hedge fund that over the long haul is going to out perform a simple index fund. Whether it’s the lotto or the stock broker or the fantasy sports leagues or Las Vegas, someone is always ready to take advantage of your desire for a free lunch. The sooner you start picking up the tab for your own meals, the better off you will be.