Mid-South woman blessed and cursed after winning Powerball jackpot

MEMPHIS, TN - (WMC-TV) - Sandra Hayes won millions in a Powerball jackpot, and now she is warning others to be careful what they wish for. She says she was both blessed and cursed with the big win.

"I make it a point to go to Hawaii every year," she says.

Traveling is a passion Sandra Hayes could not afford when she was a single mother, studying for her second master's degree.

"Three student loans to repay, I'm like man there is no way I can do it," she said.

That all changed in April of 2006, when Hayes and a dozen of her co-workers hit a record setting $225 million Powerball jackpot. It was the first time she'd ever played the office lottery pool.

"I felt like I was dreaming, that's how I felt," said Hayes.  "I'm dreaming I'm going to wake up any minute now."

Her share of the winnings after taxes was roughly $8 million.  It was a reality check that came with a hidden price.

"I had people calling me at work begging for money and people sending faxes with letters and sob stories and I'm like, 'I do not know these people,'" said Hayes.  "I was under so much stress, I thought I was going to explode."

Even worse, people Hayes did know wanted a piece of the pie, including a close friend who fabricated a financial crisis.

"People trying to use me as if I'm a personal bank or ATM machine. That was what I had to cut out of my life," she says. "You have to learn to say no."

At times, Hayes has had to say no to herself, to avoid squandering her life savings like so many lottery winners do.

Money management expert Fred Hiatt says, "People are envious. People are greedy and we're all human."

Hiatt knows getting rich quick can be a blessing and a curse.

"Hire professionals and, if you don't, you're going to end up as a statistic that already indicates that the majority of these winners end up broke or dead or live a miserable life of some sort," said Hiatt.

"Even though I have money, I'm still conservative. I still budget," says Hayes.

She says she has to budget, in order to pay her quarterly taxes!

"That's my duty as an American, to pay taxes. That's not the problem. The problem is the amount!  I'm not used to writing such big checks to the government!" Hayes explains.

She doesn't like writing big checks, period.

"I love Hawaii. My God, I'd love to move to Hawaii, but it's too expensive," she says.

For now, her Missouri home is bought and paid for. Her debt, and her childrens' debt are paid off. And she does make it to Hawaii at least once a year, while treating her entire family to trips of their own.

"That's a blessing that makes me feel good because when I'm long gone they will remember that," she says.

Hayes, no doubt, considers her windfall a blessing, but she didn't expect her fortune to come with a hidden cost.

"The money is not evil. It's the people that are evil," Hayes says. "This journey, it teaches you a lot of things. You see people for who they are and it's like this no matter what you do for some people, some people - I'll put it that way - it's not enough. It's not enough."

Hayes wrote a book about hitting the jackpot, the good, bad and ugly. She's working on a second book, and hopes one day to retire in Hawaii. And get this: she won the lottery two months before she finished graduate school. She not only completed those classes, she also continued working. At least until she got her check.

Copyright 2012 WMC-TV. All rights reserved.