Here we are in the midst of my favorite time of year. College football season has begun, which means my Saturdays are booked until early December. I love so many things about college football, but none more than cheering on my alma mater, West Virginia University. Watching the Old Gold and Blue rack up 40+ points regardless of the competition is just awesome.
College football is great in and of itself. But since this is a personal finance blog I have to ask: Could it also teach us a thing or two about reducing our debt loads?
I say yes. Here are 5 cool things college football can teach us about getting out of debt:
1. To complete a pass you have to know where your receivers are and where they’re headed
If receivers ran all over the field willy nilly, how would the quarterback be able to predict where to throw the ball? A quarterback has to know not only where his receivers are but where they are headed. This is where plays come in. Offensive coordinators design plays with a goal of advancing the ball down the field. Their ultimate goal is to score a touchdown.
You are the quarterback of your life. Your receivers are your debts. Get out a piece of paper and write down every one of your individual debts including the balances, interest rates and minimum payments. Your credit report will help greatly. When you have them all written down, rearrange them in order from smallest to largest. You will make nothing but minimum payments on all debts except your smallest one, at which you’ll throw every extra dollar you have. When that debt is gone you’ll throw everything at the next smallest and so on. This is called a debt snowball.
Until you have a clear view of the field, you’re not going to complete any passes. Your debts will languish in oblivion, steadily increasing thanks to interest.
Takeaway: Know your debts and snowball your way to success.
2. To make big hits you have to bulk up
Athletes spend hours each week in the weight room. Why? They realize the more time they spend conditioning themselves before the game, the harder their hits will be during the game. A 250 pound running back is a lot more intimidating and harder to stop at full speed than one weighing 220. Building muscle is so important that most teams have a strength trainer on staff.
In a previous post I talked about an important muscle you have in your frugal toolbox known as the DG muscle. That’s Delayed Gratification for any newbies out there. The gist is that if you deny yourself pleasures now you’ll be better off down the road. In that post I talked about our decision to put off a furniture purchase until we had the money saved up. Avoiding the extra debt was well worth the upfront unpleasantness of hanging on to our old furniture a few months longer.
Just like the athletes, the more you flex this muscle the stronger it gets. When your DG muscle is primed and ready for action, you’ll start saving money everywhere. Take all the money you would have spent on “things” and chunk it towards your debt snowball. Now that’s a big hit.
Takeaway: Practice delayed gratification by flexing your DG muscle often, and put the savings toward your debt snowball.
3. To handle game day pressure you have to focus
I’ve never played in front of 60,000 screaming fans, but I imagine it’s pretty intimidating. And some of the bigger games are shown on national television, so the pressure is even more intense. How does an 18-year-old handle these situations? In a word, focus. On the ball, on the game, on their coaches; anything but the pressure. A healthy dose of humility helps, but it’s increasingly rare these days.
Your game is your budget. You have a budget, right? Good, because it’s your road map to which you’ll refer back often. In case you haven’t noticed, a lot of products and services out there are clamoring for our dollars. There’s never a shortage of people ready and willing to take money off your hands. These are the screaming fans you’ll have to fight through on your journey to debt freedom.
You have to realize that we’re always one clever marketer’s pitch away from busting our budgets. One vulnerable moment is all it takes for them to swoop in. That’s why you see all those ads everywhere – it’s a numbers game. Advertisers know their ads aren’t going to work on everyone, or even most people. But they work on just enough people to make it worth their time.
Takeaway: Filter out the noise and stick to your budget
4. To graduate in 4 years you must excel in the classroom
You didn’t think every one of these would also apply to the NFL, did you?
College athletes have the double responsibility of preparing and performing in games and doing well in their classes. Many tremendous athletes have unraveled their careers in the classroom.
How do you spend your time outside of school or work? Mindlessly sitting in front of the TV isn’t going to get it done. You need to educate yourself in the basics: what affects your credit score, which types of insurance you need or don’t need, how investing works and so on. You need to be aware of exactly where every dollar is going each month. And you need to learn about creative ways to save outside of couponing and frequenting thrift stores.
Takeaway: Use your noggin to find creative ways to save on things you regularly buy
5. To create a winning strategy, the entire team must be on board
Coaches create plays and make game plans with the assumption that all players will contribute to the success of the team. We’ve all seen what can happen when one player becomes selfish and tries to take the game into his hands. The reality is it takes a team effort. Even great running backs need blocks from teammates to find the end zone.
On your team will be your family members. Your spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, fiance, whatever. Everyone needs to agree to the plan and follow through with their individual parts. Two people pushing in opposite directions will get nowhere.
Getting out of debt is hard work. A team effort gives support, motivation and accountability to the process.
Takeaway: Gather a team of loved ones, agree to a plan, and support each other through the journey
What’s your favorite team? Can they teach you anything about getting out of debt?