Biblical principles on how athletes can be wise with their money

The 2018 NFL Draft has come and gone and 256 young men will fulfill their goal of playing football professionally. These athletes will sign a contract for the first time and make more money than they ever have before.

Unfortunately, the bright smiles of a new contract are often dimmed in just a few years. According to Sports Illustrated, about 78 percent of NFL players are either broke or struggling financially after retirement. Many will become unemployed or underemployed.

So what are some Biblical stewardship principles on how athletes (and everyone else) can be wise with their money before time runs out? For insight, we spoke with Don Christensen, who is the Executive Vice President of the Professional Athlete Division of Ronald Blue Trust.

1. Understand God owns it all

Verses: Deuteronomy 8:18, Job 41:11, Psalm 24:1, Haggai 2:8

God owns it all — that’s the No. 1 stewardship principle. It’s not learning that 10 percent is His and 90 percent is ours. God told Job, “Everything under Heaven belongs to me.” In Deuteronomy 8:18, God told Moses,  “Remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”

Money is just a tool to use for God-given purposes. He wants us to be able to spend some, give some and save some.

We didn’t choose where we were born in this world. But athletes were born with the right genes and the right DNA to be very athletic, and combining that with hard work got them to this spot. God, in His Sovereignty, did it all and put them on a team. So therefore, athletes can ask God, “Since You have put me here, what should I do with the stewardship of my time, talent, treasure and platform?”

For such a time as this, athletes are given the money and ability to play sports at a very high level. Acknowledge God’s plan through it all.

2. Have long-term financial goals written down and prepare for eternal Kingdom participation

Verse: Proverbs 13:22 – “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”

According to the NFL Players Association, the average NFL career is about 3.3 years. Very few careers are longer than five years. The mortality rate of an NFL career is 100 percent and few people are going to care what they did 30 years from now. It doesn’t matter if they’re a Hall of Famer, most people will not know who they are. So the question we all should be asking is: How should I live my life now with that in mind?

Athletes are going to spend many more years outside the game than they ever did playing it. Players run out of money because they are living a life in the game they cannot maintain outside of the game. So they need a plan that details what their financial goals will be and how they are going to live life outside the game. That helps with long-term planning. History has shown this to be a good rule of thumb for saving and investing: You need roughly $1 million saved for every $40k-$50k of lifestyle on average.

Write down several tangible goals on where you want to be within the next 5-10 years and have a grid to run your financial decisions through. Ask yourself: Will today’s purchase help me accomplish my long-term goals?

Also, if an athlete didn’t make enough money in the game to make them financially independent, they’ll either finish college or go onto the next step of their life. The question we should ask ourselves: What should my life look like once my career is over?

3. Spend less than you earn

Verse: Proverbs 21:5 – “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.”

Spending less than we earn creates wealth. Divide your finances into buckets.

We should aim for one to two years of living expenses in cash; three to nine years of living expenses in low risk investments, such as bonds or CDs; and then we can take more risk on anything over 10 years because we don’t need the money immediately.

If athletes look at those buckets and start filling them, it will help them leave the game financially secure.

4. Avoid the use of debt 

Verse: Proverbs 22:7 – “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

Look at that whole verse. What does that first part have to do with the second part? The rich loan to the poor and put them in bondage. So if it’s a good deal for the rich to loan us money, it’s got to be a good deal for us to pay the rich off.

Take a credit card. If we make a minimum payment on a credit card, we could be paying 14 to 18 percent interest on it. That’s an investment that returns 14 to 18 percent with no market risk! Pay off your credit card! Paying off debt is an investment tool because you are saving yourself from paying interest on a monthly payment.

Debt is not a sin, it’s just bondage. Every choice is a rejection of something. If we choose bondage, we reject freedom. Is that a good choice?

5. Avoid a consumptive lifestyle; it will focus on self rather than God.

Verse: Proverbs 21:20 – “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.”

Does our spending align and reflect a temporal focus on this earth or is there an eternal focus?

One of the biggest problems athletes get into is that they build too much house. When they buy a home for $1 million or more, the market of people that can afford $1 million homes is less than 1 percent of America. That’s the market for people who would be able to buy that house and sell it. Very rarely do people who spend $3 million on a home ever come out of it profitably. They usually are taking losses.

Final Thought

Following God’s principles help make life more predictable.

A plan gives us a roadmap to hit these measurable targets so we will be able to execute the plan. Being a good steward of God’s resources will give us the freedom to spend our time post-career serving others, whether that’s by going into ministry, volunteering or going back to work — if we wanted to, but are not forced to.

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— Panthers’ Thomas Davis donates $15K to buy 60 championship rings for high school

This article was written and arranged by Justin Adams