It's easy to assume that when athletes go to the big leagues, their spending and lifestyle goes bigger. After all, an incredible one in six NFL players go broke within 12 years of retirement.

That's one route the defensive lineman prodigy won't be tracking down.

Christian Wilkins is, by any standard, a cheapskate of epic proportions.

Wilkins told the Wall Street Journal that he managed to save $15,000 in college while friends were going into debt. He did things like make his own lemonade when eating out by asking for water, pouring in free sugar packets and dipping multiple (free) lemon slices in it. He found the cheapest apartment he could and then was never there so he could save on water and electricity (opting instead to essentially live at the football practice facilities, including showering and brushing his teeth there).

He'd bum rides everywhere, didn't use a credit card, avoided the costly app-trap, and wore team-issued clothes. His cheapness, (like his talents according to some scouts), knows no bounds.

Which seems at odds with one another. Surely, Wilkins has sensed for a long time that riches were coming his way. You'd think that would fray his frugality a bit. Nope. 

First and foremost, Wilkins came to a critical realization--one we should all deeply reflect on.

Wilkins realized how little he needed to be happy.

Period. Over and out. It's an assumption I started with when I left corporate to become an entrepreneur. I assumed I'd need less than my corporate lifestyle had me accustomed to, and would need to live to a lower threshold as a safety net. Lo and behold, my lifestyle, by choice, isn't as big, but my happiness is much bigger.

Wilkins might be able to teach a financial advisor a thing or two as well (not unrelatedly, Wilkins is hesitant even now about spending the money to hire a financial advisor). The scholar-athlete, who won the National Football Foundation's Campbell Trophy, also called the "academic Heisman," applied his smarts to budgeting, as he told WSJ.

Wilkins divides his money into four categories, kept in four separate bank accounts.

The first account is for everyday expenses like going out to eat (for something to go with that free lemonade), in which he puts $150/month. This budget is the hardest for Wilkins to hold to as he said "My biggest weakness is always food." Cut him some slack, he's carrying around a 315-pound frame.

Next up, an account for rent and big purchases, and then another for an emergency fund. The fourth, most important account, is for savings and investment, into which he'd put half of his earnings (at college Wilkins got certified and worked as a substitute teacher for $80 a day).

Let's run some Inc.com columnist math here. Wilkins is projected to make as a median estimate, $15 million/year. That's 187,500 times more than he made as a substitute teacher. He's a smart kid who certainly knew at least the range of where things were headed, pay-scale wise. And yet he still tucked away $40 each paycheck for a rainy day, or what is for most NFL'ers a car-valet tip for being kept out of the rain (while someone fetches the Lambo).

Here's the thing. His thing, realizing you don't need much to be happy in life, can be your thing, too.

No one said you have to squirrel away sugar packets in a bunker (or a storage shed, your neighbors shed, one you didn't pay for) or shower at the chemical burn station in the R&D wing, but you can embrace some frugality and shift your focus. And with that comes another F.

Freedom -- to just be happy.

Published on: May 2, 2019
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