The National Hockey League (NHL®) brings us endless hours of entertainment — a gift we value all the more during the pandemic when many other recreational outlets remain off limits — but the game we love can also teach us (and our kids) some important lessons about the art of money management.
Indeed, it takes the same dedication and discipline to put pucks in the net as it does to secure your financial future. Each time they take the ice, NHL players demonstrate the basic building blocks to success. Those foundations include:
- Staying focused.
- Setting goals.
- Pushing setbacks aside.
- Embracing teamwork.
- Being unafraid to reinvent yourself
You don’t make it to the NHL by chance. The athletes who turn pro spend years perfecting their game. They sacrifice their free time, prioritize their physical health, and never lose sight of their dream of making it to the NHL.
It takes the same resolve to save for a mortgage down payment, a college education for your children, and your retirement.
To get where you’re trying to go, you must make savings a top priority. That means spending within your means, keeping debt levels under control, and resisting the urge to overindulge today at tomorrow’s expense.
One financial trick that can help keep you focused — and keep your discretionary spending in check — is to pay yourself first every month, meaning, contribute to your retirement account and personal savings before you pay the bills and buy that new sweater.
NHL players train on and off the ice each season to improve their individual performance — they want to skate faster, stick handle around their opponents, shoot harder, and increase their stamina. They also share common goals with their team, like beating their rivals or winning the division. And make no mistake, they all picture themselves winning the coveted Stanley Cup®.
Whether you play sports, seek a promotion, or plan to pay for your child’s college degree, success begins with setting goals. (Calculator: Setting financial goals)
Money mindfulness helps you visualize the end game, following in the footsteps of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who once famously quipped that he skates to “where the puck is going, not where it has been.”
Pro tip? Think S.M.A.R.T. – an oft-cited acronym for setting objectives. Your financial goals should be Specific (for example, you want to retire with enough money to maintain your standard of living), Measurable (you will need perhaps $300,000 saved), Achievable (you will save 10 percent of your monthly income), Realistic (your contribution rate is possible given competing financial priorities) and Time-Based (you wish to retire at age 65).
Push setbacks aside
Every NHL team suffers setbacks. Players get injured, and teams lose games they should have won, but NHL players and their coaches never give up.
Obstacles exist on the road to financial success, too. You may experience a job loss, health challenge, or bear market that takes the wind out of your investment portfolio’s sails. You may find yourself buried in high-interest debt. Or, you got a late start at saving for retirement.
Don’t let that derail you.
By chipping away at your debt one credit card at a time, you can take back control of your monthly budget — and redirect those payments toward other financial goals. (Learn more: Credit card debt: The problems, fixes, and prevention)
And it’s never too late to begin putting money away for retirement. Those age 50 and older may be able to make additional tax-deferred catch-up contributions to their 401(k) of $6,500 in 2021, on top of the standard $19,500 limit for all eligible taxpayers. You may be able to contribute an additional $1,000 to your traditional IRA or Roth IRA, as well (if you are age 50 and older) for a total of $7,000 in 2021.1 (Learn more: Retirement plan contribution limits you need to know)
If you maintain an emergency fund and a diversified portfolio, you may also be better positioned to keep your investment strategy on course when the stock market stumbles. Investors who panic during market downturns all too often make costly mistakes, including waiting too long to put their money back to work. That, in turn, leaves them vulnerable to lower effective returns in the long run.
As for your emergency fund, financial professionals recommend saving at least three to six months' worth of living expenses in a liquid, interest-bearing account like a savings or money market account. Those who are single, have income instability, or own a small business may need even more set aside to maintain financial security. (Learn more: Don’t have an emergency fund? Get one)
You can’t win a game on your own. NHL players know that it takes the contribution of every player on the team, from the defensemen, to the forwards, to the goaltender. Each has a unique skill set and, when they all work together, they are better than the sum of their parts.
Depending on your assets and objectives, you may also need a team to put your financial plan in place. From your financial professional, to your tax accountant, to your estate planning attorney, each brings their insight and expertise to bear to help you develop a road map for getting to where you want to go.
They can help ensure that your loved ones are protected with life insurance and disability income insurance coverage in the event that your paychecks should stop prematurely. They can help manage investment risk by aligning your asset allocation with your age, goals, and tolerance for risk.
And, they can ensure that your estate planning documents reflect your intent for end-of-life care and the tax-efficient distribution of your assets to your heirs. (Learn more: Wills and the basics of estate planning)
By working together with a team of professionals, you can potentially help reach your financial goals while managing risk, minimize the taxes you may owe, and protect the ones you love even after you are gone.
Being unafraid to reinvent yourself
Hockey players, like other professional athletes, go on to have a career after playing in the NHL. Some become sports commentators, coaches, or motivational speakers. Others go back to school for a college degree to work in corporate America. They aren’t afraid to reinvent themselves.
If you find yourself in a career with limited longevity, you lost your job during the COVID-19 pandemic, or you simply wish to pursue a new passion, you can begin anew, too.
Roughly 61 percent of U.S. workers who are looking for work during the COVID-19 pandemic report that they have broadened their search to a new industry, and roughly one-third said they view learning new technical skills as key to landing their next job, according to a recent Morning Consult survey commissioned by Amazon. Most job seekers surveyed were attempting to transition into fields with stronger growth potential, including health care and technology. (Learn more: Making a mid-career switch)
Be aware, however, of the financial implication of starting over on the bottom rung of the career ladder, which affects not only your monthly income, but also your retirement savings projections. The costs are greater still if you quit your job for several years to return to college.
Career counselors suggest it is often most cost-effective to take the skills you already have and transition to a new industry or build upon your existing experience by taking a few supplemental classes to pivot at minimal expense into a new line of work.
We can all learn some valuable life lessons from the NHL. We learn that a positive work ethic results in success, setbacks should not derail us, teamwork makes a difference, and setting goals is the most important step to achieving them.
Those same learnings, when applied to our financial plan, can help us save and spend effectively, too — for the ultimate win.
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1 Internal Revenue Service, “Retirement Topics — Catch-Up Contributions,” Nov. 10, 2020.