Imagine that, all of a sudden, you land a job that pays $2 million a year. (Hello, Malibu home, Maserati and fancy vacations!) But there's a catch: That lucrative position comes with a blink-and-you-missed-it shelf life, and before you hit 40—when most people are enjoying their prime earning years—your career, and cash flow, will likely have dwindled.
This is a familiar situation for many NFL players, who, unfortunately, don't handle their money well while it's flooding in. By some estimates, nearly 80 percent end up in dire financial straights just two years after retiring.
What gives? Brandon Lloyd, a wide receiver from the University of Illinois who was drafted by the 49ers in 2003 and played for six teams before retiring last year, offers an explanation: "You give a 22 year old millions of dollars, [they're] going to make really poor decisions," he told Yahoo.
But Lloyd, 34, never fell into that trap; rather, he's been smart about his finances all along. "When I got into the NFL, it was with a three-year deal, maybe $1.5 million," he said. "When I got the signing bonus, it was all about clearing my debt. I wanted to be at zero."
As his career took off, his paycheck—and good habits—multiplied. "An opportunity to earn more money presents more challenges," he said. "Having goals to purchase what you want and having plans to save is key."
A few years ago, Lloyd began sharing his financial savvy, teaming up with the National Financial Educators Council to speak at Money XLive events, which are aimed at inspiring young people to make positive financial choices. We talked with Lloyd about how he fights the urge to splurge, his post-NFL plans and his best investment yet.
Why do you think financial literacy is a critical part of education for kids?
I feel it is important to learn at a young age that it costs money to entertain yourself, and that money is not guaranteed. You have to develop a healthy drive to be educated and obtain work that is fulfilling—in your heart and bank account.
What money lessons did you learn growing up?
My parents worked hard to make sure I had everything I needed. (I learned there is a big difference from what I needed and what I wanted.) But as I grew, my wants also grew, and my folks encouraged me to do work around the house as a way to earn income. That was supported by one of my older sisters, who allowed me to wash her car and tutor her son for cash.
Also, my father used the local Charles Schwab bank to manage his [investments], and opened my eyes to a broader business relationship between consumers and the world. If we consumed a lot of a particular product, he would tell me that when I got older, I should buy stock in it and [I'd benefit] every time I buy.
What was your secret to not overspending throughout your NFL career, even though you were making a substantial salary?
When money is coming in at such a consistent pace, it's hard to classify 'overspending.' On paper, it looks like everything is running like a finely tuned machine. It wasn't until I was released somewhat unexpectedly from Washington [Redskins in 2008] that the balance sheets didn't look so sharp.
So the key was to have no sacred [cows]. That means no car, watch or home is worth risking my nest egg. My advice to anyone coming into substantial amounts of income is to separate you, the person, from objects.
What are you up to now, after retiring from football last fall?
My plans are to enjoy parenting and homemaking for my children. I will continue to reintegrate myself into my family life and nurture my friendships. I also plan on finishing my undergraduate degree and to participate in an executive business program, while staying relevant in the investment landscape.
What's the most important financial lesson you've learned over the years?
Risk is user-based. Some folks have a larger appetite for it, and it pays off. But no one has the [only right] answer.
Developing a car wash or barbershop business, [pursuits] commonly associated with black athletes, can be just as calculated a business opportunity as working with Goldman Sachs. The general population seems to feel that fancier, riskier investment opportunities are the smartest, but, in reality, they are the same. I love saying, 'If it worked, you would applaud them.'
What's your biggest financial mistake?
Creating music [as a second career, post-NFL] without a business plan. As an artist, I wanted to eliminate business from the creative process, but it is a necessity to make it a true revenue stream. My unwillingness to sell out and [conform to] the industry made the endeavor a failure in my eyes. It goes against everything in my makeup to do something halfway.
How about your best investment?
My oldest sister advised me as a senior in high school to develop myself outside of football and track and field to prepare for life after sports. So I invested in an education in relationships—and through those relationships, I received perspective from people who have achieved a lot in life and are generous with stories of their experiences.
Maintaining friends and advisors outside of the sports entertainment industry has given me perspective on my work from a realistic viewpoint.