7 personal finance lessons to learn from pro athletes

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Joey Held

As a writer, Joey Held has specialized in business, marketing, sports, music and insurance topics for more than a decade. He's also a podcaster …

This shouldn’t come as a surprise: professional athletes make a lot of money. The stars of each league will likely earn far more than most of us ever will — but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them.

Through their actions, pro athletes dish out some pretty valuable personal finance lessons. From budgeting to planning to side hustles, they’ve experienced it all. And luckily, they’re willing to share their experiences.

Below are seven personal finance tips from pro athletes across sports. Even if you’re just getting started with a financial goal, it’s worth taking notes.

Shaquille O'Neal

Pick the right partners

Shaquille O’Neal accomplished plenty on the basketball court, but he’s accumulated an impressive business portfolio, as well. He’s partnered with brands like Krispy Kreme, 24 Hour Fitness, Carnival Cruise Line, Papa John’s and The General Insurance.

In each case, there’s a reason behind the partnership. Sometimes, it’s easy: Shaq loves donuts, so Krispy Kreme made sense (not to mention, his broadcasting partner Charles Barkley is also a big fan of donuts; there’s one loyal customer). With The General, Shaq remembered how he struggled with paying car insurance when he was in college, so he wanted to work with a company that offered affordable rates. Conversely, O’Neal has turned down plenty of opportunities that he thought weren’t good fits.  

But the best partner of all? His bank manager. When Shaq first entered the league, he quickly spent $1 million on cars and jewelry, all within the same day. His bank manager called him and offered a warning: you need to learn how to take care of and manage your money, or it’ll all disappear. 

Whether you hire a financial planner or tax accountant or are simply looking for your next insurance coverage, take the time to find the right fit for you. Teaming up with someone that makes you uncomfortable or doesn’t have your best interests at heart will only have a negative impact.

Danica Patrick

Learn about budgeting


Retired NASCAR driver Danica Patrick is the most successful woman in the history of American open-wheel car racing, with seven top-ten finishes in the NASCAR Cup Series and a victory at the 2008 Indy Japan 300. Off the track, she’s received lucrative endorsement deals from companies like GoDaddy, appearing in more than a dozen Super Bowl commercials for the brand. 

She’s also one of the most successful athletes at managing her money. Patrick has not one, but two Certified Public Accountants (CPAs) to help with the cause. One of the CPAs simply monitors Patrick’s daily finances and spending.

You don’t have to hire a CPA to keep track of your money or create a budget to compare what’s coming in with what’s going out. Use spreadsheets or digital trackers and budget planners, and the endless wealth of the Internet can teach you specifics about certain topics. Some apps even offer cash-back options to give you a little flexibility in your spending.

Knowing where your money is going is the first step toward reaching financial goals, whether you’re trying to save up to buy a house or grow your wealth.

Alvin Kamara

Splurge responsibly

New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara made an impressive splash into the league. He won the 2017 Offensive Rookie of the Year award and helped the Saints reach the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs.

He also received a hefty signing bonus when he joined the team. What did Kamara do with that $972,772?

He put it into the bank and then got himself some chicken wings. Kamara hasn’t shared what his preferred sauce or rub is, but even a 50-wing combo would cost under $100, a totally reasonable splurge. 

There’s nothing wrong with treating yourself. Maybe you got a new promotion at work or just finished a big project and want to celebrate. A night out on the town can be a perfect way to unwind. 

But don’t let that night turn into a week, and don’t quickly blow through a financial windfall. Find more modest ways to treat yourself and that money will last you a much longer time. It can also be used for home repairs, emergencies or to reach long-term savings goals.

Steph Curry

Invest for the long run


You might recognize Steph Curry from his NBA career, which includes three championships and two MVP awards. Or perhaps you’re more familiar with his work on the golf obstacle challenge show Holey Moley.

Either way, Curry has made bank over the past several years—but that wasn’t always the case.

Earlier in his career, Curry suffered multiple injuries, and it looked like he might be one of those players that flamed out because he kept getting hurt. The Warriors offered him a four-year deal worth $44 million in 2012. The contract made Curry the fifth-highest-paid player on the team, despite being the best guy on the court.

Curry didn’t pout, though. Rather, he used that money as a foundation to build up a business empire. Curry smartly recognized even a “modest” contract by NBA standards was “plenty for me to be able to provide for my family,” and it wasn’t worth the risk of trying to be greedy to get more immediate money. 

The move paid off. Curry later signed a deal with the Warriors worth $201 million and made several other partnerships, including an extension with Under Armour that gives him an equity stake in the company.  

The path to financial wealth rarely involves get-rich-quick schemes. Even saving or investing a small amount today can prove lucrative down the line. And when you have proven your worth—such as at a job or during a freelance relationship—don’t be afraid to ask for fair value.

Marshawn Lynch

Don't spend for no reason

Marshawn Lynch, the former running back nicknamed “Beast Mode” with a penchant for Skittles, made about $50 million during his NFL career before retiring at age 29. Rumors swirled that Lynch never spent a dime of his earnings—a rumor he dispelled—but he certainly hasn’t thrown money around carelessly.

According to Lynch’s cousin, rapper Mistah F.A.B., the former running back stays wealthy by “living like he’s broke.”

“He still lives like, ‘Cuz, let me get $10.’” F.A.B. said. “‘Oooh, $10? Cuz, I don’t know. I don’t got it right now. How much is them? Oooh, $40? No, let me get the $15 ones.’ Like, that’s how he is. You’ll be like, ‘Bro, are you serious?’” 

F.A.B. also called Lynch a “symbol of hope” since he teaches how to save money. It’s true—you don’t need to spend money simply because you have it. A nice pair of sneakers or a new big-screen TV is a fun purchase, but if you don’t really need them, that money could disappear more quickly than you think.

Andrew Luck

Be prepared for the unexpected


Andrew Luck joined the Indianapolis Colts as the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. For the most part, he played well and showed routine flashes of greatness, but just before the 2019 season, he abruptly announced his retirement when he was only 29.

While Lynch retiring at the same age made a bit more sense—NFL running backs often see a drop-off in production once they hit 30—Luck still seemingly had around a decade of time left. But the quarterback said nagging injuries and the rehabilitation process had “taken the joy out of this game” and the only way he could move forward was to “remove himself from football.”

The Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 46% of retirees leave the workforce earlier than planned. What’s more, 72 percent of workers plan to work for pay in retirement, compared to just 30 percent who actually do.

While having a strategic plan in place is helpful for finances, you have to be ready to roll with the punches. It may not be an early retirement; maybe you’ll need to replace your car after an accident, or your home requires major repairs after weather damage

Always try to keep a nest egg handy for emergencies, and regularly contribute to a retirement fund.

A.J. Francis

Understand the power of the side hustle

You’ve likely used a rideshare app before to catch a ride somewhere. Your driver probably wasn’t a 6’5”, 330-pound defensive lineman, though.

Well, if you lived in Miami in 2013, you may have been treated to such an experience. Faced with multiple big expenses in a wedding and finishing his master’s degree, Miami Dolphins defensive end A.J. Francis took up a side gig driving for Uber.

NFL players don’t earn money during the offseason, so Francis had gone about three months without a paycheck. He had just started bringing home $1,000 per week from training camp workouts, and added to that with his Uber side gig, netting him between $16 and $30 per hour.

A side hustle can be a great way to earn multiple income streams. Something like a ridesharing app lets you work on your own schedule, though there are all kinds of side hustle ideas out there. Get creative and you just may find a fun new way to grow your wealth!

More personal finance tips

Want more personal finance tips with a side of pop culture? Check out these other resource:

5 personal finance lessons from TV shows

7 personal finance lessons from music

And if you're looking for one more way to have more money at the end of the month, try comparing your car insurance to see if you could be saving!