4 Financial Lessons From the NFL Season

What you can learn from football teams and apply to your own finances.

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There are few sports as exciting and stressful as the National Football League, and as the league enters its playoffs, it's fun to look back and marry two of my interests--the game and finances. You might think there's little we can learn from athletes earning hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, but there are quite a few takeaways. While we shouldn't mimic the spending habits of some of our favorite stars, there are things that the teams do that can apply to our finances.

[See 50 Ways to Improve Your Finances in 2012.]

1. Have a back-up plan. The Indianapolis Colts, perennial football powerhouse with Peyton Manning as quarterback, found themselves winless through 13 games in large part because Manning was hurt. The previous year, they were a 10-6 playoff team that was a field goal away (courtesy of my New York Jets) from the AFC Championship. The team had relied so much on Manning that they collapsed without him at quarterback, and owners Jim Irsay fired Vice Chairman Bill Polian and their GM Chris Polian, in part because they didn't have a good back-up plan.

This shows how far you can fall when you don't have a plan, and your personal finances are no different. Make sure your emergency fund is adequate to help you weather ttough times. If you don't think an emergency fund is important, you probably haven't hit an emergency yet. Don't let the first one sink you because it'll take a long time for you to extricate yourself from a mess that could be handled easily by a rainy day fund.

[See 8 Painless Ways to Save Money.]

2. Rebuilding takes time. It's been tough to be a Detroit Lions fans, with the low point in 2008 when they lost all 16 games in the regular season (the first and only time that has happened since the regular season was expanded to sixteen games in 1978.) Until this year, they hadn't been to the playoffs since 1999 when they were defeated by the Washington Redskins. This year, they went 10-6 and made the playoffs on the backs of good drafting. Rebuilding takes time, and many of the stars of this year's Lions were their draft picks in previous years.

Rebuilding also takes time with your finances. If you are battling any kind of debt, especially expensive credit card debt, know that it will take you some time before you can repay those loans and get on the path to wealth accumulation, rather than debt elimination. You can use tools such as 0% balance transfers to help. If you're trying to repair your credit score through good credit behavior, recognize that it will take a long time and you may not see dividends early. Your credit report has a long memory, oftentimes seven years for negative items, so your patience will be tested. However, if you do the right things, you will be rewarded.

3. Take a vacation. Unless you lived under a rock, you probably knew that the Green Bay Packers were one of the hottest teams in the NFL this year. Until they lost in Week 15, they had won their first 13. They still ended up 15-1 despite resting star quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the final game (his backup, Matt Flynn, put up 480 yards and 6 touchdowns in backup work), which highlights the importance of taking a vacation every once and a while. In the case of Rodgers, the Packers were resting him to avoid injury in an unnecessary game (their position in the postseason was locked in) but it also gave him a little respite from the physical grind of playing.

[See How to Set 2012 Money Goals That Work.]

A season of football is extremely long and taxing on both the body and the mind. It's not any different than you managing your work, your family, and your finances. Occasionally, you need to take a break, blow off some steam, and just get away so that you can refocus when you return. Ever notice that after a vacation, even if it's just a long weekend spent at home watching football and doing nothing else, you feel refreshed and ready to tackle the week's challenges? If you've been diligently saving towards your goals, take a week off and splurge a little. Your plans won't be derailed by just one planned diversion, it's better than burning out.

4. Rely on your team. When you watch a football game, you'll see 22 players on the field at any one time. Eleven on offense, 11 on defense. What you don't see is the rest of the team, to include players, coaches, scouts, trainers, and other staff. You don't see the engineers who keep the lights on, the men and women selling food and beverages to the fans, the folks who check tickets and the ushers who shuffle fans along so everyone can get to the right seat in time for kickoff. You don't see the equipment managers, the seamstress responsible for the uniforms, or the kid who throws extra footballs in.

Everyone has a job and it's only when they do it correctly that you have a football game worthy of charging money for. With your finances, you need to rely on your team to help you in times of need. While it's important to understand everything that is happening, sometimes you need to talk to experts in order to learn what you don't know. I don't mean that you need to run out and get a financial adviser right this moment. I mean that you should be talking to your insurance agent if you have any insurance questions. You should be talking to your banker if you have questions about loans. It's about cultivating these relationships so you feel comfortable asking questions instead of trying to do everything yourself. With all that said, there are surely more lessons one can learn from the NFL. But with the playoffs in full swing, it's time to get ready for another weekend of great football!

Jim Wang writes about personal finance at Bargaineering.com. When he's not tackling money issues, he's usually looking forward to his next vacation and writing about it at Wanderlust Journey.