It’s training camp time for the NFL, and I’m getting excited for another winning Packers season. Despite all the problems with professional football these days, when you grow up in Wisconsin, those chilly winters are made a whole lot more fun by enjoying a cold beer and a brat at Lambeau Field. My dad was a die-hard Packers fan who steered his old Impala through all sorts of horrible weather to cheer for the green and gold (yes, even the infamous 1985 Snow Bowl). So years ago, we surprised him with a personalized brick at the stadium, even holding a contest among the family to find just the right phrase. Brother Ken surprised us with the winning entry. And now that dad has passed, the brick serves as a touchstone on the few occasions we visit Lambeau.
The Football Players Dilemma
I love football strategy, but there’s no doubt it’s a violent game. Players jeopardize their health each time they go out on the field. So I’m sure there’s a mantra among players to “live for the moment.” And given our fascination with wealth and opulent spending, the media further promotes extravagance by publicizing players who arrive in camp via helicopter or a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce. I guess if you’re making $20 million a year, those luxuries are within your reach. But tomorrow does come, and for NFL players, all too soon as injuries cut their professional careers short. And that “living for the moment” lifestyle is detrimental to life beyond football – did you know that 1 in 6 NFL players go bankrupt?
The reasons for bankruptcy are many – lavish lifestyles, greedy agents and “friends,” drugs and alcohol, health problems, mental illness, poor business decisions, and little to no knowledge of personal finances. To the typical salaried grunt, it’s pretty hard to imagine blowing through millions of dollars, but it happens all the time. The same thing happens with lottery winners. So I am taking some liberties with NFL play calling to bring you this football lover’s guide to money.
Don’t let your opponent in the huddle.
On a football field, it’s really easy to spot your opponent – they’re the guys wearing the other jersey. In real life, it’s not so easy. You huddle up with your most trusted buddies, but one of those dudes might be there to ease you out of your hard-earned money. It’s a simple truth – if you have money, you will be the target of exploitation. Take for example, Bernie Madoff. He was a guy you could trust, until he was convicted of running a Ponzi scheme and destroying fortunes. The best remedy? Learn basic investing strategies and stash lots of money into index funds. They have low fees and track the markets without making you susceptible to lousy or greedy fund managers. Here’s a guide on how to get started.
Use the quarterback sneak for small gains.
It’s 4th down and you need a few inches to make the 1st down. Line the quarterback up behind the center’s giant butt and plow forward. There’s nothing sexy about the quarterback sneak. But you can’t argue with its effectiveness. The same is true of the boring savings account. Save for that rainy day, because it always arrives. Not sure how much you need in an emergency fund? Here’s a nifty calculator from MoneyUnder30.
Take a sack but stay in the game.
The linebacker flies through the O-line as the quarterback scrambles to avoid the sack. He has a split second to get out of the tackle box and safely toss the ball out of bounds. Or in the worst case scenario, he lobs the ball up for grabs and it’s intercepted by the cornerback. Sometimes he’s better off taking the sack. So it is with the stock market. The only way to beat inflation is to invest in stocks. But the market goes up and the market goes down. We feel overconfident when the market pops, but it’s pretty difficult to stay in the game when a recession knocks your portfolio to the ground. There’s a tendency to pull out of the market at the exact worst moment. If you leave the game, you can’t bring the team back for a victory. Stay in the game!
A two-point conversion might be the deciding factor.
The extra-point kick after a touchdown has a good success rate. But catch the opponent off guard, and that two-point conversion can make all the difference at the end of the game. So you’ve got a retirement account, right? That’s what will win the Super Bowl for you in the end. And if you’re willing to endure a little short-term pain, a winning strategy may be converting an IRA into a Roth IRA. The fact is that tax rates today are low, and the soaring national debt is likely to lead to higher tax rates down the road. If you buy into that theory and you can afford to pay some taxes now, this might be a great time to try that conversion. Here are the steps to do a Roth IRA conversion.
Mix up the plays, Coach!
There’s nothing worse than watching an NFL team in which the Coach uses the same playbook week after week. And often, the calls go like this: Run, Run, Pass, Punt! Now you can’t have a game with all passing, or with all running, and expect to win. Diversification is the name of the game. And that’s true of your money. We’ve seen employees roll all their money into the company retirement and stock plans. The company fails, and it’s the little guy who loses everything. Put all your nickels into one bag, and you’re asking for trouble. You want a diversified portfolio in cash, stocks, bonds, and real estate at the very least.
Jog off the field before you’re carted off.
NFL players often have a tendency to stay in the game well after their prime. The stadium lights slowly fade on their career and it’s hard to say ‘goodbye’ to the fame – and fortune. They have to know when to hang up the cleats! In the business world, there are too many people dragging themselves to a job they hate so they can collect money and have health insurance. Or they haven’t saved and feel like they will have to work until their last dying day. But sometimes, the job disappears and you have no choice but to head off the field early. Start working toward financial independence as soon as you can, because you want to jog off that field.
You can have fun in the cheap seats.
There is definitely room for fun in your life, and fun doesn’t have to be expensive. Some of my best memories are sitting in my snowmobile suit in the bleacher seats high-fiving dad as the Packers scored a touchdown. And we even had fun when the game stank – if you haven’t people-watched at Lambeau Field, you are missing out! So while you’re prioritizing all that boring stuff like emergency funds and retirement accounts and buying a diversified portfolio of index funds, don’t forget to have some fun. And those seats in the endzone are a whole lot more entertaining than the skybox seats!
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