It is not how much you make, it is how much you spend.
It is not the things you have, it is the memories you make.
Possessions do not bring happiness, they mainly complicate your life.
To illustrate these points, lets take a look at the extreme end of spending excess: professional athletes and why they go broke.
Evander Holyfield, boxing icon, made over $230 million over his entire career and finds himself going to court because he is over $372,000 behind in child support.
Evander had 12 kids from six different mothers. Child support payments were reported to be $19,270 a month just for one of his kids. The home he built was 54,000 square feet, which is only 1,000 square feet smaller than the White House, has 109 rooms, 17 baths, three kitchens, a bowling alley, a movie theatre, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and sits on 235 acres. The home sold at auction for $7.5 million with Holyfield owing a reported $14 million on the home.
Every year we hear stories of athletes that made many millions of dollars over their careers but end up in bankruptcy. How? Why? It doesn’t seem possible!
I want to start with some shocking statistics. 60 percent of NBA athletes go broke after five years of being retired and 78 percent of NFL players are bankrupt or under financial stress after just two years of retirement.
A common misconception amongst the public is that athletes are “dumb jocks.” While there are a few that fit that description, a recent study showed American elite athletes scored, on average, 96 to 107 on I.Q. tests. The problem lies not with the lack of intelligence, but rather the same challenges and issues every American faces.
Regardless of salary, statistics show many Americans spend everything they earn. As dangerous as that is for the ordinary folk, it’s even more so for athletes that are one injury away from a career being over.
Let’s take a look at how these million-dollar bank accounts get reduced to zero.
Taxes Yes, this is huge. Let’s not forget about Uncle Sam. We all pay our fair share to the government, but with ultra high salaries comes ultra high tax bills. Every contract should be viewed as half of the actual amount. A player signs a $20 million contract, he will clear only $10 million. I know, who can’t live off $10 million?
Divorce Again divide by two. That player that signed a $20 million contract gets divorced; he will receive $5 million of that $20 million after taxes and a divorce settlement. During NBA careers, 90 percent of married couples stay together. Post NBA career, 18 percent stay together!
When a divorce settlement is reached, each walks away with half and legal costs are usually through the roof. Oh, and what if there are kids?
Child support Depending on the number of kids an athlete has, child support can be extremely costly. Travis Henry, former Denver Broncos tailback, has obligations to pay $170,000 annually in child support. Remember, that is for one year and for one child.
Bad investments Athletes all have them and they are lucky if they just have one. Read any story of an athlete going bankrupt and there will be a high probability of him having a bad real estate deal, a bar/restaurant that failed, a next “big thing” investment that busts, or a plain old risky investment in stocks and bonds that losses money.
Some athletes have services that pay their bills and handle all their business matters so they can focus on their sport. They trust people, the wrong people, and shell huge amounts of money for the “sure thing” investment. Money managers, CPA’s, lawyers, and agents can grossly overcharge or outright steal without detection.
Unfortunately for an athlete, there is no high school or college course on how to live with and protect millions of dollars.
Most athletes are first generation wealthy; meaning their parents never had nor know what its like to have money. They usually are young, new to money, and often try to surround themselves with people they have been around their entire life – family.
An athlete can always rely on family right? Sadly, in many cases, it’s the family members who put their own self-interests first. They put an enormous amount of pressure on the athlete to be generous; reminding him he didn’t get there by himself. Many times it’s the buying of houses, cars, and expensive jewelry to show appreciation. Next thing you know, mom, dad, brother, uncle, and cousin are on the payroll. Financially it can be managed when the money is flowing in, but the real problem arises when taking care of family lasts a lifetime.
The average NBA player has a career span of 4.8 years; NFL is 3.2 years, and MLB is 5.6 years. It should be obvious that careers don’t last forever. Unfortunately, that is not the mentality of an athlete. Athletes can’t envision the body breaking down or getting old until it is too late. Spending habits form off the money that is currently coming in from pay checks.
They usually associate with other athletes or high spenders and tend to spend accordingly. They buy cars, houses, jewelry, clothes, and fancy dinners because there is almost nothing they can’t afford at the time.
The years of undisciplined spending habits are too hard to break. Factor in taxes, divorce, child support, pressure from loved ones, bad investments, and unchecked spending, there is a perfect storm brewing for bankruptcy.
The “average” person. Professional athletes may be the extreme, but how many people do you know who live in a similar manner. They buy things they can’t afford, max out their credit cards, get into mortgages that aren’t commensurate with their incomes, have all the “toys”, and basically try to keep up with the Joneses.
Spend only what you can afford. Try to limit your debt to your house mortgage and a car payment. Pay off your credit cards every month with an automatic complete payment at the end of every month. Don’t go on expensive holidays – the best vacations are often simple. Eat out rarely – learn to cook good food – it’s better for you anyway. Eat together as a family – that is how children learn to socialize and develop good eating habits. Possessions don’t make you happy.
The imprint of consumption is everywhere liberal states flourish. Given its integral role in modern life, it is surprising how little attention is paid to its collective environmental and social consequences; and while there is no shortage of viewpoints about the virtues and pathologies of consumption, divergent concerns are rarely prominent or sustained in public discourse. Meanwhile, worldwide consumption continues to grow without a pause for its critics’ warnings. While social critics and environmentalists lament consumption’s ill effects, and the disproportionate consumption taking place within market society, there’s little likelihood that their cries to curb mankind’s taste for material goods and services will be heeded. Quite the contrary, for contemporary consumption practices are best characterized as hyper-consumptive.
Can consumption-based capitalism survive environmentalism? It is one of the most important questions going, since so much of the eco-discussion centres around how we can save the planet while keeping the way our economy and society functions exactly the same. But the question is, do we really want more of the same?
The Chinese character for “crisis” is the combination of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” Our current environmental crisis is an opportunity for us to take a step back and take stock of the way we live and whether we are really heading in the direction we want.
The assumption in western politics seems to have been, for the longest time, that economic growth is what’s most important. The priority, on both a societal and personal level, in other words, is to get more efficient, do more work, produce more goods, and get more money.
On a societal level, the idea is that a growth in economy will trickle down to the poorest of the poor and that the quality of life for all of us will improve. On a personal level, the idea is that more money means more comforts. We’ve used the idea of growth in income—and resource use—as a surrogate for growth in personal and societal happiness. The problem is that this is not working on either level. More and more studies are showing that growth is not trickling down. Despite the growth, the poor are getting poorer, the middle classes are getting middler, and the rich are getting richer. In the USA, people have begun to question whether their huge economy really does make for our being the land of opportunity. So, does further economic growth really equate to societal happiness?
As for the personal or individual level, members of the new branch of the psychological profession who call themselves “positive psychologists” say that we are on a “hedonic treadmill.” We earn more to spend more and then have to earn more to spend more and then… We get a quick burst of pleasure from our purchases but no long-term increase in happiness. Meanwhile, many are stressed by working all the hours to do jobs they don’t believe in with people they don’t care for.
Increases in the baselines of our happiness, it turns out, don’t come from money once you’ve achieved an income equivalent something like $40,000. What the positive psychologists say happiness does come from, on the other hand, is strong interpersonal relationships, doing what you are naturally good at, living a life that is in accord with your values, and achieving meaning by connecting to something larger than yourself.
What this all adds up to, in my view, is that the economic growth paradigm is making happier neither the people nor the planet—which can’t afford the resource use. If we use the current environmental crisis to change our priorities, maybe the world could be a better place in a lot more ways than one.
Having said all this, to allay suspicions to the contrary, I want to say that I am a total pro-progress person. I don’t want to take a single step backwards. I’m go straight ahead all the way. But I do question the definition of progress and going forward. If, for 150 years, we considered economic growth and technological advancement as our means of moving forward, is doing more of the same progress, or is it conservatism that will be more important? A lot of the western world is now living a decent standard of living. That was real progress. But real progress does not mean moving from three TVs a household to four. Progress may not be developing our left-brain techno-financier capabilities any more.
Real progress, to me, means turning our attention to the world’s real problems and solving them, not in some trickle down way, but directly. Let’s take a step back and ask these two questions. First, can we take all that we’ve learned and use it, not to figure out how to get teenagers to buy more cell phones, but how to get it so much of the rest of the world is not living in poverty and disease? Can we use our big brains to make pumps for wells in villages that have no water and solar panels for villages with no electricity, for example? Can we change our societal priorities from me, me, me to us, us, us?
Second, can we in the developed countries take a step back and ask ourselves what would really make us happy. Could we consume a little less and spend the time building stronger communities? Could we get off the earn to spend, hedonic treadmill that traps us in the stress cycle, and maybe find meaning looking for ways to help those who are way less fortunate than us? How much happier would we all be if we were able to say we were helping the less fortunate instead of quietly worrying that we were hurting them?
That to me, would be a real measure of progress, both for the planet and its people, because being kinder to the planet may well turn out to be the same as being kinder to its people. That’s the opportunity part of the crisis. So the question may not be can consumption-based capitalism—with growth as its exclusive goal—survive environmentalism, but should it?
“The problems that exist in the world today cannot be solved by the level of thinking that created them” Albert Einstein