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How NFL linebacker and money pro Brandon Copeland learned to live on less

Key Points
  • New York Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland went to the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. 
  • Since signing a $1 million-plus rookie contract, and suffering a severe injury, the NFL pro has learned to live on a tight budget. 
  • Nearly 80% of retired football players go broke in their first two years.
Tackling your financial goals
Tackling your financial goals

If football is a game of inches, then personal finance might as well be a game of pennies, according to New York Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland.

Entering the NFL in 2013, Copeland signed a lucrative contract right out of college. "I came out of Penn and I was signed to a one-year, $1.2 million contract."

However, a severe injury sidelined Copeland. "I probably really only saw maybe $25,000 to $35,000 of those dollars before being released by the team."

Since his rookie year, Copeland has learned to live on less, a lot less. Copeland only spends around 10%-15% of his paycheck, and the rest is saved.

Copeland — who was recently awarded the NFLPA's Alan Page Community Award, the highest honor the players union bestows on its members — attributes his saving success to his ability to stay disciplined. He does not let competition or his ego derail his financial goals. "It is okay to compete on the field, but in our finances, it doesn't make sense to compete. It doesn't make sense to try to one-up each other for who's driving a nicer car."

This mentality sets him apart from many peers. Nearly 80% of retired football players go broke in their first two years out the league according to Sports Illustrated.

New York Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland
Icon Sportswire | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

When it comes to tackling personal finance goals, Brandon's first piece of advice to is have an intimate knowledge of your income and expenses. "You need to know where your money is going, how is it working, how is it being spent on a monthly basis?" he tells CNBC.

From a young age, Copeland aspired to a successful money-making career. But as he has matured, Brandon's priorities have changed. "I have grown up and realized that money is not necessarily what I am chasing. I am more so chasing the financial freedom."

Copeland encourages others not to rest on their laurels. "As you are making money, now is not the time to be lazy. Now is the time to double down on that work ethic."

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Earning a living is hard and, more often than not, just saving money is not enough. In order to gain true financial freedom, investing is important. For Copeland, the most important question to answer before investing is the why: Why are you investing?

Once you have identified your core reasons for investing, Copeland urges investors to focus on what they know and understand. If this sounds like advice you've heard before, that's because you probably have, from none other than billionaire investor Warren Buffett, famous for saying, "never invest in a business you cannot understand."

New York Jet turned professor shares his financial playbook
New York Jet turned professor shares his financial playbook

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Additional footage provided by the New York Jets.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.