What I Told the Next A-Rod
What can you learn from the financial advice I give major league ballplayers every year? Plenty.
By Walter Updegrave

(MONEY Magazine) – It's my personal spring training ritual: Every year, at the invitation of Major League Baseball and the Players Association, I share financial advice with 100 or so of the game's hottest prospects before they head off to camp. The idea is to help these rookies parlay their skill on the field into a lifetime of financial security--and avoid the money problems that often plague pro athletes.

When it comes to finances, you may not think you have much in common with athletes in a sport where paychecks average $2.5 million a year. But much of what I tell these elite players applies to regular folks like you and me, especially these three rules of retirement planning.

Control Your Spending

Before the ink has even dried on the big contract, some young pros go on a spending spree of Ruthian proportions, buying a palatial manse and then picking up a Maserati or two. Problem is, the big money can run out sooner than they think--big-league careers last an average of just four to five years--leaving them with no savings or, even worse, staggering debts.

Most of us don't have a chance to run through big bucks so quickly, but we do have a similar tendency to ratchet up our lifestyle as our income increases. Rather than boosting our savings, we buy the DVD-sunroof-leather seats package for all three cars, or we spring for an $8,000 private summer camp when the YMCA would have done just as well.

Instead, do what I tell the rookies to do: Base your lifestyle on your income after you've saved for your retirement, not before. Aim to stick at least 10% and preferably 15% of your salary in your 401(k) or other savings plans and then adjust your spending to what's left.

Balance Family and Money

Many big-league ballplayers find themselves deluged with requests for money from parents, siblings and Sally, their second cousin once removed. Family obligations can put severe strain on the budgets of the rest of us too. Indeed, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center estimates that 13% of baby boomers are providing financial assistance to a parent while supporting a minor or an adult child. Talk about a squeeze play.

Often the solution lies in a compromise that satisfies your emotional need to help without jeopardizing your financial security, such as making only small contributions to a college savings plan until you've maxed out your 401(k), or putting a limit on aid to an adult child. If your aging parents need a hand, start by tapping local and federal resources rather than your own savings. You can find such programs at the federal government's Eldercare Locator (eldercare.gov) and the National Council on the Aging's BenefitsCheckUp service (benefitscheckup.org).

Work with Advisers

Faced with the demands of managing our money while navigating stressful careers, many of us respond, as ballplayers do, by yielding virtual control of our finances to an adviser. Big mistake. Beyond the heightened danger of being ripped off by an unscrupulous planner, you run the bigger risk of getting bad advice from a well-meaning one if you're not keeping him up to date on your financial situation.

What I tell the ballplayers holds equally true for you: Do not abdicate responsibility for your money. If you work with a financial counselor, get together at least quarterly to review your progress toward a clearly defined goal, like achieving a certain level of retirement income.

Of course, following the advice I give to the pros doesn't guarantee you'll retire in comfort. But in retirement planning as in baseball, if you get the fundamentals right, success is a lot more likely to follow.

At a Glance

TOUCHING ALL THE FINANCIAL BASES

Do what the ballplayers do: Follow these tips for a secure retirement.

1 BASE YOUR LIFESTYLE on your income after funding your retirement accounts, not before.

2 SET LIMITS on your contributions to college savings plans and your financial help to adult children.

3 TAP GOVERNMENT RESOURCES to help your aging parents before dipping into your own savings.

4 CHECK QUARTERLY with your financial adviser to make sure your savings plan is on target.

Sign up for Updegrave's weekly e-mail newsletter at cnnmoney.com/expert. E-mail him at longview@moneymail.com.

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.