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NFL linebacker Brandon Copeland saves 90% of his pay. Here's how he does it

Key Points
  • NFL linebacker Brandon Copeland recently signed a lucrative contract with the New York Jets, but he says his conservative approach to spending and competitive mindset makes it possible to save 90% of his income.
  • This offseason, he is teaching a class at the University of Pennsylvania about budgeting, saving and the magic of compound interest.
VIDEO3:2503:25
Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland shares his playbook for defending your wealth

When it comes to making plays, NFL linebacker Brandon Copeland is no stranger to risky moves.

Since graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013, Copeland has gained notoriety with the Detroit Lions and the New York Jets, where he recently re-signed for the upcoming season.

Off the field, he plays it very safe.

"I came out of Penn and I was signed to a one-year, $1.2 million contract," said the 27-year-old Copeland. However, following a severe injury, "I probably really only saw maybe $25,000 to $35,000 of those dollars before being released by the team."

Brandon Copeland of the New York Jets.
Scott W. Grau | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

Since then, Copeland says he's learned to live on less. In fact, he said, he spends only about 10% to 15% of his income.

"I'm not too flashy; I don't need a lot."

"I realized that I have it backwards," he said of his early days in the league. "I need to be maximizing every single day I have in the NFL because I don't know when this NFL platform will be swept right under my feet."

For others — whether they're professional athletes or not — he advises shooting to save at least half of your salary, far more than even most financial advisors suggest is feasible. (One popular guideline among experts is to spend half of your take home pay on necessities, put 20% toward savings and leave 30% for discretionary spending, otherwise known as the "50-30-20 rule.")

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"Ultimately, being able to cut your expenses will help you save money so that you can have a nice nest egg," Copeland said.

To achieve such a goal, he said, his competitive mindset helps. "If you just challenge yourself, you'll be surprised at what you can accomplish."

"The biggest money lesson I've learned is basically don't try to keep up with the Joneses," he said. "If that's not something of value to you, then don't chase it."

That mentality is what sets him (far) apart from his peers. In fact, nearly 80% of retired players go broke in their first two years out of the league, according to Sports Illustrated.

Now he's sharing his conservative approach with students, too. This offseason, he returned to his alma mater to teach a class on financial literacy, which he's nicknamed "Life 101."

Brandon Copeland speaks to students about financial literacy.
CNBC

Along with professor Brian Peterson, Copeland starts with the basics: budgeting and living within your means, good debt versus bad debt, whether it makes sense to rent or buy, how to save for retirement, and the value of compound interest.

You need to attack your financial health, your financial well-being and get to work on creating a better future for yourself.
Brandon Copeland
NFL linebacker

"We need to pull the curtain back," he said. "You need to attack your financial health, your financial well-being and get to work on creating a better future for yourself. "

He credits football for providing a platform that will get kids to listen and he hopes that the 30 undergrads in his class at Penn will go on to use these lessons in the real world.

"My goal is for the kids to understand how to apply the concepts," said Copeland, a member of the CNBC Invest in You Financial Wellness Council. "I care about the application rather than you just being able to give me the textbook definition."

Indeed, students who are required to take personal finance courses have better average credit scores and lower debt delinquency rates as young adults, according to data from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's Investor Education Foundation, which seeks to promote financial literacy.

VIDEO5:0005:00
New York Jet turned professor shares his financial playbook

Additional footage provided by the New York Jets.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.