A College Football Star Has Financial Lessons for Your Grandkids

Last update on: Sep 13 2019

Your children and grandchildren probably won’t take much financial advice from you. But a college football star might persuade them to save and invest.

Christian Wilkins was a defensive lineman on Clemson’s national championship team and was the 13th pick in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft by the Miami Dolphins.

Wilkins also was profiled by The Wall Street Journal as “The NFL Draft’s Most Frugal Player.” Wilkins managed to save more than $15,000 during college. All of us, but especially young people can learn some lessons from him.

Two principles guide Wilkins’ financial philosophy. “It’s simple,” he told the Journal. “My mindset is just save a whole lot more than you spend.”

His second principle is that he’s “very low maintenance.” Discipline and a well-conceived system also work for Wilkins, as they have for every financially successful person I know.

Wilkins divided his money into four bank accounts. These aren’t mental accounts. They are four different accounts at a real bank.

The first account is for what he calls everyday spending, such as dining out. He put $150 in the account at the start of each month. When the money was gone, he didn’t do any more of that type of spending for the month.

The second account was reserved for his rent and any major purchases, such as air-line tickets. The article didn’t say how much was put in this account each month. The third account was savings, and Wilkins put half his monthly income into that account. The fourth account was reserved for emergencies. Again, the article didn’t say how much Wilkins put in that account.

Wilkins believes a key to his being able to accumulate money during college while most students, even athletes and others on scholarship, go into debt was dividing his money into accounts for specific purposes. Most people have one account, and they’ll spend if the account has money.

By giving each account a specific purpose, Wilkins knew that when an account was empty when he couldn’t spend any more on that activity that month. Wilkins also had a few tricks to reduce expenses. Instead of ordering a beverage at a restaurant, for example, he’ll ask for water and six lemon slices. He adds the lemons and some sugar to the water to create free lemonade.

He rented a low-cost apartment and spent as little time there as possible, to reduce electricity and water bills.

As a scholarship athlete, Wilkins had advantages many other students didn’t. He was able to maximize the time spent at the athletic facilities. He’d shower, eat and even brush his teeth there as much as possible. He wears mostly clothes issued by the team.

While Wilkins maximized the benefits of being an athlete, he didn’t offset the advantages by spending on other items. Wilkins said he has no paid music or apps on his phone and doesn’t have a car. He rode a bike most of the time. He also didn’t use credit cards.

Though a full-time student and an athlete, Wilkins became certified as a substitute teacher and took jobs for $80 per day when he could. Wilkins is in line to be paid millions of dollars by the Dolphins, but he said he’s considering the practice of former player Ryan Broyles, who lived on $5,000 monthly and saved the rest of his NFL salary.

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