Have you ever heard the story of the highly sought after athlete who signs a lucrative contract, competes in sport, then ends up broke shortly after retirement? Unfortunately this scenario is far too common, and I wanted to make sure I did everything in my power to avoid it.
It can be a bit difficult to have the conversation about track and field earnings since there is a tremendous amount of variability in the industry. There are some professional track athletes who make $0 (there is a debate in our sport about what qualifies someone as a “professional” athlete, but that is a conversation for another day). And there are also athletes making millions of dollars from their shoe/kit contracts alone.
To make this even harder, there are often stipulations written into shoe contracts that prohibit athletes from discussing exact figures. In an effort not to ruffle any feathers (or inadvertently breech any agreements) I will not discuss exact figures of my earnings.
I can, however, offer a little insight into what my experience was, and some of the strategies I used to ensure I wouldn’t be yet another cautionary tale upon retirement.
How do track athletes actually make money?
My first shoe contract out of college in 2009 was six figures with a generous bonus structure for certain time and placement goals. Another way I made money was from prize money I earned from competing and placing in various competitions. If you’re fortunate enough to have earned medals in the sport, like I was, you may also be offered appearance fees to simply show up to a meet. Some athletes also get paid a stipend/salary from their federation. There are also non shoe company sponsors athletes can partner with for payment, but these opportunities can be pretty limited. It wasn’t until my final year of my track career when I partnered with Air BNB and &Mother that I realized how significant the earning potential can be in these often overlooked areas. Knowing what I know now, this is one area of income that I wish I would’ve pursued more heavily while I was competing. But I digress.
How managing this money can be difficult
Although I was very grateful to have been handsomely compensated for a job I absolutely loved doing, I still approached it with caution. I am no accountant, but I knew that between the standard 15% that went to my sports agency, and the roughly 25% you have to pay in taxes, without a good plan in place, it’s easy for an inexperienced 21 year old to make some costly mistakes. Couple that with the fact that the shoe companies normally pay you in two big lump sums, it can be easy to blow through money quickly if you do not have a monthly budget where you track income versus expenses.
Ways to loose your track earnings quickly:
I was fortune that my second contract in 2014 was 75% larger than my first but despite that, I took it upon myself to continue to live below my means. This is an area where a lot of people struggle, athletes included. It’s easy to think that just because your income has increased that you need to “keep up with the Jones’” and immediately elevate your lifestyle. Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the finer things in life as much as the next person, but I also know that life is all about balance. I am an avid saver, and luckily I got a financial advisor as soon as I went pro and he taught me about the importance of investing early to reap the benefits of compound interest. That was very useful, and I definitely recommend seeking expert advice on how to effectively manage your finances. The principles I learned are foundational, and can be built upon, despite your income level.
Lack of foresight:
As with anything in life, all good things must eventually come to an end, sports included. I go into detail about planning for retirement in this blog but having a clear vision of my financial goals helped me curb the urge to overspend. I used the money I earned early in my track career to pay for my final two years of pharmacy school, which thankfully meant that I graduated in 2012 without student loan debt. I loved the idea of seeing the tangibles that track afforded me so I made it a goal to pay off our home mortgage as quickly as possible. By the grace of God, and with discipline, we paid off our first house in 2016 and this was a very proud moment for our family because it served as a spring board for our financial freedom journey.
What it looked like for us:
For people who are into numbers like I am, we bought our house for $272,000 in 2010, invested roughly $20,000 into home renovations, and sold it for $441,000 in 2021. Now, I do acknowledge that we bought and sold at good times, but this is just an illustration on why real estate has become a key part of my investment strategy.
In 2017, I expanded my portfolio and purchased my second piece of real estate, this time it was a four-unit income property on a college campus. After learning more about the business, I took over the management of this property in 2019, and although there was a bit of learning curve, I grew a lot during this time as an entrepreneur. Learning how to manage people and building a team of trusted contractors were two key lessons I learned very quickly during this process.
Later in 2019 shortly after my daughter was born, I purchased my third property, this time with the intention to flip it. Thankfully while working with my Aunt as my business partner on this project, I was able to rely heavily on her expertise to complete the flip. I purchased the house for ~$73,000, put ~$51,000 into it with my Aunt, and we eventually sold it for ~$170,000 in October of 2020. Although I was more of a “silent” partner on that flip, I still learned a lot like, how to manage expectations when timelines aren’t met, and how to pivot after being disappointed by a shady contractor.
In 2021 we purchased our current house in the Cincinnati area, and I have been enjoying doing renovations on this property.
With this being our fourth property that we have purchased, I learned that there is a balance between fixing a house to your liking, and “over renovating”. If you put too much money into the renovation, this can decrease your ROI (return on investment) when you go to sell.
For example, I absolutely love white kitchens and initially I was going to replace the black granite countertops with a white quartz. After getting quotes, reviewing the renovation budget after staining the floors, painting several rooms, and redoing the kitchen, it just didn’t make sense. The current countertops were in great condition, so we kept them and I ended up loving the look in the end. This just goes to show that being flexible and open to compromise can yield very positive results.
I’ve learned so much along my wealth building journey thus far, and I know there is so much room left to grow. Now that I’m a mom, my decisions have bigger implications. I strive to be financially responsible so I can be an example for my daughter and teach her the importance of building generational wealth.
Everyone’s journey to financial freedom is different, and I feel fortunate that track has opened up so many doors for my family. Looking back now, I am very happy that I was intentional about investing early, and making the small sacrifices that are paying off now that I am retired from track.