What former NFL star Terrell Owens learned from blowing through $80 million

Terrell Owens
Getty Images | Gabriel Olsen

Throughout Terrell Owens' impressive football career, he scored 156 touchdowns, which is the fifth highest total in NFL history. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is even inducting him at last, though he has announced he is skipping the ceremony.

Before his talent was formally recognized by the Hall of Fame committee, though, it was recognized by the teams he played for: Over the course of his career, he earned an estimated $80 million.

And, in a 2012 interview, he told GQ that almost all of that was gone.

Owens sat down with NerdWallet to discuss his financial struggles in detail so as to help current players avoid making the same mistakes. Despite the fact that NFL players make an average of $1.9 million a year, 15 percent declare bankruptcy, while Sports Illustrated estimates that 78 percent end up coming close and/or experience significant financial stress.

Owens' insights boil down to a few key points, and they're valuable for anyone looking to become more financially secure, not just pro athletes.

First off, don't overdo it. "My advice to any fan or athlete out there: Just don't live beyond your means," says Owens. "At that time I got sucked into wanting to be like everybody else, the guys with the Mercedes and all the flashy cars and the jewelry. I think those are some of the most idiotic purchases I think players can do, especially when they don't have that money in the bank account to really pay for that stuff."

Others have also had success following that tip. Former Detroit Lions wide receiver Ryan Broyles lived on $60,000 a year during his stint in the NFL while saving and investing the rest of his salary, which at times exceeded $500,000. Before he was drafted, he said his credit report was terrible: "I had late payments. Delinquent bills. Accounts in collections. It was bad." After reading Robert Kiyosaki's "Rich Dad Poor Dad," he became motivated to make a change.

MLB pitcher Daniel Norris restricts his budget even more. In 2015 he told ESPN that he was living off less than $1,000 a month. "Just because money is there doesn't mean you have to have nicer things than you used to have," he said. "I'm actually more comfortable being kind of poor."

This simple plan helped an ex-NFL star pivot to become an investor
This simple plan helped an ex-NFL star pivot to become an investor

Owens' second piece of advice is to not trust just anyone with your money, including financial advisers, because not everyone is looking out for your best interest. If you do get help, make sure to stay in the loop and understand what's happening.

"The best thing to do is ask questions before it's too late," says Owens.

As GQ reports, Owens says his financial advisers "put him in a series of risky, highly leveraged ventures that he didn't discover until autumn 2010, when he finally demanded a full accounting."

Finally, Owens tells NerdWallet, sometimes splurging on a big purchase is okay.

The wide receiver collected a total of $150,000 in fines for "excessive" celebration after his touchdowns. Most infamously, as a San Francisco 49er back in 2000, he posed with his arms spread wide while standing on the star in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys' stadium, which is directly under the hole in the roof through which zealous fans say that "God looks down to watch his team play." He actually did it twice.

Asked if he regrets that lost $150,000, he responds: "It was worth it. That's the least of my worries."

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