A lot has been made of how athletes mismanage—can we say waste?—their money. Rick Reilly's most recent column does a thorough job of cataloging those extravagances. But what about those athletes who watch their money with the same diligence they watch the pass rush? We asked All-Pro QB Drew Brees, an instructor with Visa's Financial Football program, who tours the country teaching kids how to manage their money, and incoming QB Matt Ryan, who recently signed the largest rookie contract in NFL history and just finished his financial debriefing at the league's rookie symposium, to explain their plans for holding onto their dough. As Visa's National Financial Literacy Educator Lisa Withers points out, "64 % of Americans learn money skills the hard way. Athletes are no different."
1) FIRST AND FOREMOST, LOOK OUT FOR NO. 1
Brees: For most guys it's more money than you've ever had in your whole life. You've got a lot of people pulling at you. It can be family or other people—everybody's got a great investment for you.
Ryan: One of the big things you have to learn is that you have to take care of yourself first and foremost. And your loved ones too.
2) EASY ON THE TOYS
Brees: I learned the hard way that the worst thing to spend money on is a really nice, expensive new car. The minute you drive it off the lot you're losing ten grand. I bought one my second year in the league. Sure enough when I went to sell it a couple of years later and I saw how much I could get for it I thought, "Man, was this the best decision?" Was it fun? Yeah, it was fun.
Ryan: You want to stay away from liabilities, like big flat screen TVs. Stuff that's not going to make money for you. Not to say that you can't buy those things, but you just have to be smart when you make those decisions.
3) THE 401K IS NOT AN OPTION PLAY
Brees: The NFL has some of the best benefits in all of professional sports. The best investment any player can make is to put money in a 401K and let the NFL match it 2 to 1. Even if you're making the league minimum and you play for five to ten years, you can walk away with a great retirement plan. It's free money and tax-free too.
4) WHEN YOU'RE NOT PLAYING, YOU'RE NOT MAKING MONEY
Brees: What's crazy about football is you're only getting paid during the season: from September to December [Unless you make the play offs]. The other eight months you're not making any money, but guys will spend money like there's a check coming in every week when that's no longer the case.
Ryan: Everybody has heard the stories of guys that lose track of their wealth, guys who suddenly find themselves worse off than when they started. You need to be prepared, just like playing football. It's all important to avoid becoming a horror story.
5) MILLIONAIRES HAVE CREDIT PROBLEMS, TOO
Brees: I learned the first couple years in the league that you've got to keep an eye on your credit score. Simple things like paying your bills on time, keeping your balances in your bank account below fifty-percent. These are things I had to learn and I was getting dinged along the way. You'd be surprised at how guys with multi-million dollar contracts have bad credit scores.
Ryan: Just because you've got a lot of dough in the bank doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to have a high credit score. Unfortunately just being good at football isn't going to bring your credit score up. Down the road it becomes real important when you go out to buy that first car or throw down that mortgage.
6) HAVE ROLE MODELS
Brees: Troy Vincent, the most recent President of the Players Association is a guy I hear a lot of good things about. Tony Richardson is another guy who has played a long time and has made good decisions and he's gone back to school to get his M.B.A. In the end, I don't think there's a guy out there that hasn't gone through some learning experiences.
Ryan: More gets made of the guys who haven't done it correctly, but look at guys who have done it correctly—like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady—these guys have made a lot of money and have handled themselves well financially. They've set themselves up very nicely.