Even before Jamie McLennan made it to the NHL and began earning a top-athlete’s salary, he learned a hard lesson about how “money attracts a lot of good people and a lot of losers.”
While he was still playing in the minor leagues, he and many of his peers invested in a beanie hat company that aimed to sell its wares at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. In the end, the company never lived up to its promises and his $5,000 investment disappeared.
“He took our money and spent it, and probably lived high on the hog for a few days,” said McLennan, who went on to be an NHL goaltender for 11 seasons and is now a hockey analyst for TSN.
McLennan’s loss was relatively small, but the story is all too common.
“Every player, for the most part, can tell you their one story of where you trusted somebody and it kind of went south … You need to surround yourself with people that know what they’re doing and people that you trust,” he said.
The NHL season started this week, bringing in a fresh crop of hockey stars who after years of gruelling training will start to reap the benefits of their hard work – in both profile and salary.
Still, despite earning seven-figure salaries and higher, too many high-profile hockey players have squandered their millions and filed for bankruptcy, including Jack Johnson and Darren McCarty.
Many former players now advise the next generation of stars on how to not become the next financial cautionary tale.
“They train hard, and they get these specific programs to be successful, you know, on the ice,” said Stew Gavin, former NHL player and president of Gavin Hockey Wealth Specialists. “And if you take some of that same initiative to care for your financial matters, you can do extremely well.”
Here are some personal finance rules for NHL stars that can apply to beer league players and non-hockey playing folk as well.
1) Do not rush into financial decisions
Whether you have just received a massive pay bump or come into a large sum of money such as an inheritance, resist the urge to deploy your cash into investments right away, Gavin says. Learn what investment options are available, interview different firms and only do what you are comfortable with, he added. “If it takes you six months or a year, I would rather someone go into it, be informed and educated and gradually deploy it so that it is in line with their comfort level,” he said.
2) Live within your means
Don’t try to keep up with peers who are further along in their career, and earning power, said Francois Giguere, a Colorado-based wealth manager who has advised hockey players for 20 years. An individual at the beginning of their career may feel pressure to keep up with their peers’ lavish lifestyle, he said. “Even if you’re making a million, you’re with players that are making five, six, seven million (dollars). … That’s where you can fall and miss the boat financially.”
3) Help friends and family – down the road
If you take care of your own finances up front, you will be in a better position to help them even more later, said Giguere. “It’s tough early on to be a little bit more selfish and make sure you take care of yourself,” he said. “And as your income grows … you can be in a position to help.”
4) Pay close attention to your cash flow
“The biggest eye opener is to see money go out on a monthly basis,” said McLennan, who is a client of Gavin’s. The key is to establish how you want to live for the rest of your life, and work backward to structure your finances to reach that goal, he said. “The quicker you can identify that as a young athlete … The faster you can achieve those goals.”
5) Budget for a longer retirement than you anticipate
Players need to earn enough for their post-playing life, which for some can span 60 years. In general, most people are living longer past retirement – beyond the 20 years that used to be standard. Think longer-term, as saving now means more flexibility in the future. “When they retire from hockey they’ll be able to pick a second career, if they need to work – something that they can be passionate about,” said Giguere. “Not necessarily something that is going to give them the most amount of income.”