Save and Invest

First-round NFL draft pick is 'the cheapest guy in the world'—here's his smart money-saving strategy

Christian Wilkins of Clemson celebrates with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen #13 overall by the Miami Dolphins during the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft
Andy Lyons | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

Former Clemson football star Christian Wilkins hates spending money: He doesn't pay for music or apps on his phone and prefers to sneak his own food into the movie theater. He'd also rather order a water with a side of lemon and add sugar than pay for lemonade.

"My teammates know I'm the cheapest guy in the world," the 23-year-old tells the Wall Street Journal. His frugality allowed him to bank more than $15,000 over his four years at Clemson. Not bad for a full-time student-athlete who worked part-time as a substitute teacher and received a small monthly stipend from the university.

"My mindset is just, 'Save a whole lot more than you spend,'" adds Wilkins, who was selected 13th overall by the Miami Dolphins in the 2019 NFL draft on Thursday. "And I'm not ever willing to spend much."

He doesn't just have the right mentality — he also has a smart money strategy in place that makes it easy to save. Wilkins has four separate bank accounts, each with a different label: everyday spending; rent and big purchases; savings and investments; and emergencies.

My mindset is just, 'Save a whole lot more than you spend.'
Christian Wilkins
first-round NFL draft pick

He distributes his income among those, and that forces him to set aside money for future big purchases and to build up an emergency fund.

"I feel like a lot of people just have one account, and they feel like 'I want this, I want that,'" he tells the WSJ. Whereas keeping your savings separate can create a mental and logistical barrier between you and that money.

Wilkins also has a system to keep his regular expenses in check: He refills his everyday spending account with about $150 every month. Once he goes through the money, he's done spending on discretionary things like meals at restaurants. It's similar to putting himself on a "cash diet," in which you only have a set amount of cash to work with for a period of time and so you have to be strategic about how you spend.

I'm only spending $60 a week for 8 weeks. Here's exactly what I'm buying

While Wilkins is about to get a big pay bump — he'll likely sign a multimillion-dollar contract, the WSJ reports — he doesn't plan on changing his money habits much. "I'm very low-maintenance when it comes to my needs," he says.

And some other pros do manage to restrain their spending, including New York Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland, who has a similar attitude towards personal finance. Nearly 60% of Copeland's post-tax salary goes towards "safe, long-term" investments, while 30% goes towards savings. He lives off the remaining 10-15%.

"I've literally hoarded money," he told ESPN in 2017. "I'm literally stacking, stacking, stacking."

Don't miss: NFL player who saves nearly 90% of his income teaches a money class at Penn called 'Life 101'

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