Don't make these 3 money mistakes, says soccer player who teaches athletes about finance

Amobi Okugo #5 of Orlando City SC during an MLS soccer match in Orlando, Florida.
Alex Menendez | Getty Images

Amobi Okugo started playing soccer as a child in a bid to get a college scholarship. Then in 2010, at the age of 18, Okugo signed on to play professionally for Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union.

He had no shortage of role models on the field, but he struggled to find people who modeled successful money habits.

"I wanted to find athletes that I could look up to for being smart with their money," says Okugo, who is now a midfielder and defender for Austin Bold FC, a team in the USL Championship league. "And what I kept finding were, 'This guy lost all his money. This lady lost all her money. This financial advisor scammed these athletes.'"

That frustration stayed with him through almost a decade as a pro athlete. He started A Frugal Athlete as a resource to help other professional sports players and to inspire others to learn more about personal finance.

Here are three of Okugo's top money tips—for pro athletes and the rest of us.

1. Don't hurry big financial decisions

When he turned pro in 2010, Okugo was making six figures right away: He had a guaranteed salary of $158,000 a year, including bonuses annualized over his contract, according to sports contract site Spotrac.com.

While it's tempting to start splurging when you get a windfall, Okugo says, "it's important to get your bases in order and figure out your strategy." For him, that meant parking his five-figure signing bonus in a certificate of deposit (CD) for a year while he learned more about both professional soccer and personal finance.

If you receive unexpected money—if you win the lottery, get an inheritance, or even receive a bigger-than-anticipated tax refund—experts usually advise you to keep the money in savings at first. That gives you time to figure out the best ways to use those funds to meet your goals and to research different investments.

One injury and your career could be done in an instant. You have to take what you have in hand and act as if it's going to be your last contract.
Amobi Okugo
founder of A Frugal Athlete

2. Don't fall victim to lifestyle creep

Okugo makes enough to fund a pretty lavish lifestyle—in his top-earning year as an MLS player, according to Spotrac.com, his guaranteed salary was $325,000. But he has taken a long view, keeping his recurring expenses in check and watching his budget to make sure he doesn't overspend on optional expenses like ride-sharing.

"One injury and your career could be done in an instant," he says. "You have to take what you have in hand and act as if it's going to be your last contract."

Whether you have a contract or just a paycheck, that's a smart move. Forget about keeping up with the Joneses and focus on your own future. The next time you get a raise or a bonus, set aside some for a celebration but think about using most of it to better your financial situation—like paying off debt faster or boosting your retirement contribution.

3. Don't rush into a side hustle

Creating A Frugal Athlete, which was both a passion project and a potential side hustle, took a lot of planning. Okugo had to figure out what legal documents he needed, determine the right structure for the company, and plot out the tasks to keep it running.

"It's almost like creating a budget, allocating different things for different times," he says. "Mondays will be the days I write blog posts. Wednesdays is when I do podcasts interviews. Sundays is when I do the newsletters."

Okugo has been able to monetize the site through efforts like podcast sponsors, affiliate links, and merchandise, although he says the income from his side hustle is "nothing to write home about yet."

Picking a side hustle is much easier than making money from it. Neglecting to calculate the time and money costs of starting a side hustle is one of the big mistakes people make, "Squeezed" author Alissa Quart told Grow earlier this year. After you've settled on a side hustle that could work for you, make sure you're able to put in the time to make it successful.

"If you have a vision, you've got to put the work in to get the results, just like in sports," Okugo says.

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