If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I have become a football fan. People change over the course of their life and pick up new hobbies and interests. For me, it’s football. So this Sunday, I watched the Ravens score a crushing victory against the Steelers. It was a beautiful game! I also watched the kickoff last Thursday. Two games in a week; that is pretty good for a rookie fan, no?
In this new season, with rookie players on their field for their first games, there is an abundance of discussions and articles about these newcomers. In the New York Times yesterday, there was an article about finance and financial advice to the rookies. The link to the article “Financial Lessons from Sports Stars’ Mistakes” is at the end of this post.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, the statistics about football players mismanaging their money are pretty staggering. The article mentioned several star athletes who have had brushes with bankruptcy: Michael Vick (recently acquired by the Philadelphia Eagles); Bernie Kosar, formerly of the Cleveland Browns; and Mark Brunell of the New York Jets.
Some have argued that the behavior of football players is similar to those who win the lottery. Flushed with large sums of money that come to them suddenly, players squander it and are left with little or nothing a few years out. I do not think that this is a good analogy. One difference between football players and lottery players is that we know the former are very talented people: Who else could do the things they do when they are out in the field? Moreover, these people know discipline; they show up to practice every day. They also know the correlation between efforts and outcome; if one works steadily at something, he will get better. These are great skills that can be applied not only to playing football but also to managing money.
So, why do we see players going bankrupt? One of the reasons why people (including football players) make mistakes is because they lack financial knowledge. This problem can be particularly acute for young, inexperienced people whose highest earnings are concentrated at the beginning of their career. But this is not an impossible problem to fix, and the New York Times article outlined a set of lessons that could be learned from some players’ mistakes.
I have three pieces of advice for rookies. (There is more advice to give, but let me start with this simple list; I will follow up in future posts.)
1) Do not spend it all. The career of football players is short and risky; you want and need to have provisions for the future and for uncertain events. An example? The recent lockout. What would have happened if the lockout had continued? Another example? Even superstars have injuries and/or cannot play for health reasons. Peyton Manning, for example, just had neck surgery.
2) Take it in your hands. Money management is too important and too personal to be delegated entirely to someone else. You are the one who knows your needs, your aversion to or love of risk, your objectives for the future. If you leave it to others to manage your money, chances are they will not make the decisions you had wished for. Even if you seek financial advice, rely on reputable experts and stay involved in the process. After all, it is your future that is at stake here.
3) Be humble about finance. My research repeatedly shows that the majority of people are overconfident about what they know of finance. Four out of five Americans gave themselves high financial knowledge ratings but, when asked questions about basic concepts, they answered incorrectly. And ignorance hurts. Study after study documents that it is those with low financial knowledge who pay more for financial services and who are more likely to end up in financial distress. Do not be afraid to speak up about what you do not know; it is not a weakness, it is a strength, and you will intimidate anyone around you when you admit it. Most people do not have that kind of courage. Do not jump into projects or investments you do not understand well. Tell people around you, “I want to be smart about my money.” Over time, you will be.
When I got my first job as an assistant professor at Dartmouth College about twenty years ago, I showed up in the Human Resources office and was given all of these forms to fill out, requiring me to indicate which of the three pension providers I wanted and how I would allocate my pension money. I remember feeling puzzled that such an important decision would be asked of me without inquiring about my knowledge and whether I needed any help. Throughout the years, I have worked to change that process and, with the collaboration of some great people at Dartmouth’s HR office, there are now programs in place to help new hires. I take a little pride in that.
The NYT article is posted here: