In advance of Jeopardy’s recent $1 million “Greatest OF All Time” Championship tournament in January (congrats, Ken Jennings!), Netflix added old episodes of the trivia show to its offerings. As I watched, I wondered what some of the nation’s greatest minds ended up doing with their winnings. Splurge? Invest? Donate? 

So I posted to Facebook, and rounded up 18 brilliant friends-of-friends who not only made it to the Jeopardy stage, but won at least one game. 

I sent my 18 subjects identical Google Forms and discovered that most won one or two Jeopardy games, and one won five! They reported their average total winnings was $31,772.28, before tax. The biggest winner from my pool was Kristin Sausville from Newark, Delaware, who won $94,000. 

Jeopardy champions—they’re just like us! 

Before gathering my data, I’d convinced myself Jeopardy winners must inherently know more about investing than I could ever learn in a lifetime, because they’re just so smart. Turns out, only one out of 18 invested their winnings in a traditional sense. Boston resident Sara Glidden won $30,000, which she split between a Roth IRA, help with a kitchen remodel, and one very fancy dinner with her best friend.  

Instead of traditional investing, several champions put money toward their future in other ways. Four used some of their winnings for higher education tuition and to pay off student loans. Two used their cash to stay afloat while starting new careers, namely, working in politics and becoming a writer/comedian; two put their winnings toward funding their dream of moving to New York City, and one used 25 percent of his earnings to pay for  COBRA health insurance for 18 months after quitting his job because he has Crohn’s Disease. 

Winnings by Numbers 

  • 1/6 donated a portion to charity 
  • ½ took a vacation 
  • 2/9 spent a portion on education 
  • 5/18 spent a portion on home improvement 
  • 5/6 have no regrets about how they spent their money 

And some standout answers to the question “What did you do with your winnings?” 

“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve wanted a room in my house where it was wall to wall upholstery. Like a giant flat couch that fills the whole room. It would be all ottomans, and I would call it the Ottoman Empire. With a little of my Jeopardy money, I finally bought the ottomans and finished the room. It’s got a big TV on the wall, surround sound speakers, and all the pillows, blankets, and cushions I could find. We had a slumber party in there a couple weeks ago, and it was everything I ever imagined. Ottoman Empire forever!”

-Eliane Wilson of Manassas, Virginia

“I haven’t done much with it yet, but I did rescue a pair of bonded dogs and named them Maggie and Trebek!”

-Sara DelVillano of Lanham, Maryland

“I lived off of them for [about] six months. I got laid off right after I shot my episode, so my winnings allowed me to stay afloat while I job hunted and eventually, to take a low paying job in politics that I was really excited about and that I’m still working in, eight years later!”

-Amanda Wallwin of Brooklyn, New York

“I bought electric guitars as gifts for members of a band I was in, Tastycakes.”

Robert Knecht Schmidt of Cleveland, Ohio

Come up with a plan for your money

Clearly, even a windfall goes fast. If you’re ever in a situation where you get a lot of cash at once, consider investing some of it before it all disappears. (But also: Try to have a little fun.) 

Make saving and investing a habit.

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Make saving and investing a habit.

Go automatic with Auto-Stash.

Start now

Make saving and investing a habit.

Go automatic with Auto-Stash.

Start now