Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who’s currently prepping for his fourth Super Bowl appearance on Sunday, has played in the NFL for 18 years. Twenty-year vet Adam Vinatieri, the Indianapolis Colts’ 43-year-old kicker, is the league’s oldest player and, like New England Patriots QB Tom Brady (who’s been around 16 seasons himself), has four Super Bowl rings.
Unfortunately, long and massively successful careers like these aren’t the norm. While the NFL and NFL Players Association disagree on the average career span (the NFLPA says three; the NFL says almost seven), it’s definitely not in the double digits.
That makes it particularly important to be responsible with those pro football paychecks while they last—a strategy Ryan Broyles, 27, a wide receiver from the University of Oklahoma, embraced during his three-year tenure with the Detroit Lions.
And now he’s reaping the benefits. Although Broyles was plagued by injuries and eventually released last fall, his money’s still working for him. We talked to him about his budget, investing for the future, and what he wants people to learn from his story.
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When did you know you wanted to play pro football?
As a little kid, I always wanted to play in the NFL. But I didn’t take it too seriously until I got to high school. When I was in high school I thought, okay, I can go into Division I. And when I got into college, I thought at the time, okay, I can play in the NFL. So it kind of progressed as an idea.
In 2012, you signed a $3.6 million contract with the Lions. What did that money mean to you at 24 years old?
It was more amazing getting drafted…I actually went second round, so that was a big accomplishment. Money didn’t really mean too much. It was more like, man, I made it! Sitting here at 27, of course, that money means a lot more to me now that I have to support my family.
When did it start to sink in?
At 24, I didn’t have many bills. I was living on a college budget with my wife, who was my girlfriend at the time. We survived off $1,200 a month. When I got the money, it wasn’t like I was going to buy this big house and get these nice cars. Honestly, it didn’t sink in until now that I’m sitting back, a free agent, knowing the hard work I did paid off.
How did you learn about personal finance?
When I was in college, during the summertime, I worked at the YMCA [with special-needs kids]. Sitting on the bus when we’d go on regular field trips, there was [a teacher] who would talk about money—how her family had supplied for her or how she supplied for her daughter. That’s really the first time I’d ever had finance talks.
As I started getting further along into college, knowing I could potentially come up on some money, those conversations weren’t on the surface anymore. They were about real estate, the stock market, retirement funds. Once I got the money, we stayed in contact. Then I also started bringing in specialized people to further my education.
When did you feel confident making your own financial decisions?
I wasn’t making any investment decisions that first year after I got my signing bonus. I talked to various people, like financial advisors and other investors, to get the gist of it. Then I came across this book called “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. That’s when I really dove headfirst into learning on my own.
How did you land on a budget?
When I interviewed financial advisors, I found the guy I liked. He wasn’t about setting a budget instantly. He was like, “Go about your life [and spend] how you normally would.” Over three or four months, we were hitting about $5,000 a month. That’s what was comfortable for us. We ate what we wanted to eat, went out…the bills were paid.
After that, we [figured out our] investments and how risky we could be, and put some of the money away so it could work for us.
What do you think of the widely cited stat that suggests 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt or under financial stress within two years of retirement? Did you see a lot of financial irresponsibility?
I’ve seen players who’ve made some outrageous purchases that I guess can give you a glimpse of what their budget sheet would look like. [But] when you have millions of dollars, some guy might spend $100,000 and still be sitting good.
But not everyone signs a multi-million-dollar deal. You could have a guy who’s on the roster for one year making $400,000. In two years, if he doesn’t have another job, his money’s going to be gone. When they say 78 percent, I think it’s a little biased to make the numbers seem bigger.
Switching gears, what’s been your best investment to date?
After my first season, I bought a little foreclosed home for $20,000, and I put $20,000 in it, and I made $40,000 on the sale. So I made a 100 percent return in about six months. If you look at the stock market, you get about 8 percent a year, if that. So I was like, okay, I did a good job!
What purchase has brought you the most joy?
Me and my wife bought a Tempur-Pedic bed with massages on it. It’s awesome. I sleep on it every day, so it’s well worth the money.
If you could get financial advice from anyone, who would it be?
In the stock market, it would be Warren Buffet. I’ve researched his history; he’d be a cool dude to listen to. When it comes to real estate, it would be Robert Kiyosaki. He’s inspired me. Some of the things he preaches, I do to this day.
If you were giving one piece of financial advice to people who are just starting out, what would it be?
I guess what I tell my friends all the time. Basically it’s simple: Do you want to be financially free one day? If you say ‘yes,’ now what are you doing every day, every week, every month to get to that point? I can’t really answer the question. I can only give you a question. Everyone’s game plan is different…But you have to want it and then you go from there.
What do you want people to take away from your story?
When [people] look at an NFL guy who made a lot of money, they don’t see that they could get to that point. It might not be tomorrow. But if you play your cards right at 25 years old, you can have well over a $1 million when you retire.
Editor’s note: This Q&A has been edited for brevity and clarity.