Tony Gonzalez is a football legend. Widely considered one of the greatest tight ends in history, he played 17 seasons in the NFL—first for the Kansas City Chiefs, then the Atlanta Falcons—and only missed two games during his entire career. He holds league records for total receiving yards and receptions by a tight end.
Four years ago, at 37, Gonzalez retired from the sport that catapulted him to greatness. Now a studio analyst for FOX Sports, Gonzalez talked with us about how he’s navigated that transition. Plus: the smartest investment he ever made, and the financial advice he still follows.
Before retiring in 2013, did you take any steps to set yourself up for your next professional move?
When I was playing football, I dabbled in business and television to find out what I really wanted to do. I tried a couple of business ventures, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I loved being in front of the camera and knew the future I wanted was working for some place like CBS. I got that job [as an analyst on the show ‘The NFL Today’ in 2014], but it wasn’t making me totally happy. [He’s cited the travel schedule—he was flying from his California home to New York each week during the season—as the reason.]
So I quit CBS [in March]. It was scary, but I knew I’d either stay and not be as happy as I could be, or take the risk and see what happens. Now I’m at FOX and loving it—it’s only 10 minutes from my house so I get to spend more time with my family.
How did you prepare financially for life after football while still in the NFL?
I had a structured plan for how much I could afford to spend per month, and I have goals.
I’m building a big house right now, and I know I need to keep working in order to sustain that lifestyle. So I put myself on a budget. I rarely go over and [often] come in under.
Do you have any secrets for not overspending?
I guess it’s called four kids! It reminds me every day to keep things in check... Now I don’t care about cars, watches and jewelry. The only thing I care about is going to work and traveling [with my family].
You also can’t compare yourself to your friends. I have a group of friends who have done very well financially, and I can’t spend like them. I don’t have an ego. I just try to learn from them and eventually plan on getting where they are.
What money lessons did you learn growing up?
My stepfather was good with money. He was calculated, risk-averse and always looked ahead. I’ve got a lot of that in me, although he was more conservative than I am. He wanted me to learn how to balance a checkbook at a young age and was there throughout the majority of my career to help me make smart money decisions.
What was the best financial advice you got?
I learned about ‘risk capital’ [or money invested in high-risk, high-reward ventures] from a good friend of mine, Nate Hobgood-Chittick, who played for the St. Louis Rams, won the Super Bowl and was a financial manager.
Risk capital means you need to plan ahead. I ask my advisor how much money I can invest in business interests per month, while still keeping my 20-year plan intact. We figured out how much money it will take for me to sustain my lifestyle if I live 99 years. That number adjusts every year and goes up when I get a new contract. When I first came into the league, my first house was $270,000… even though I had a [more than] $3 million deal. I didn’t spend outside of my means.
What do you consider your smartest investment?
I got involved in a company out of San Francisco called FitStar that was acquired by FitBit. It started out as a workout app, and I was the main virtual trainer. They gave me a profit share of subscriptions. It was going well and I said, ‘Don’t pay me; [give me] stock in the company.’ I didn’t have to pull a dollar out of my pocket.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.