Ryan Harris at the beach carrying his son.

10 Smart Money Moves that Saved My…Assets

My first year in the NFL, I found myself $30,000 in debt before I played my first snap.

Then boom: before getting my first NFL paycheck, I’d already had my first surgery.

These two experiences drastically changed how I viewed money. I decided to make sure that I used my education, including my economics and policy degree, along with my interest in money to create a few good money moves. Here are some of my favorites.

(If it’s not obvious, I’m not a financial advisor—I’m a retired football player, a broadcaster and a speaker, sharing a few moves that helped me.)

CREDIT MOVES

How you approach credit can make you a money champion or put you on payment plans for the rest of your life. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

Purchasing on credit is an easy way to make a ton of money disappear in a hurry. Money moves come into play in a big way with credit cards and taking out loans.

1. Can You Afford It? I have been the cause of much laughter after saying the words “I can’t afford it.” Sadly, many of the people laughing would later call me to offer a used backpack, car, or even jewelry when they needed money or were going bankrupt.

If you can’t afford it, just say it. Say the words, “I can’t afford it.” Did you die? No. Also, chances are that 99% of the people around you can’t afford it either. They are lying to themselves and they’re lying to you. Ask yourself this: do you really spend time thinking about other people’s purchases? Probably not. At the end of the day, that’s how much people are thinking about yours.

2. Don’t. If you need to use an enormous amount of credit to purchase something, then here’s the move: don’t. Don’t do it. It’s amazing how we will purchase things on credit as if it doesn’t cost anything. Couches, cars, vacations. But credit does cost. More than the price tag, eventually.

If you want something but wouldn’t pay for it in cash, don’t put it on credit.

3. Love What You Buy. Buying on credit is a backwards money move—especially if you bought something you don’t really like. Look around at the some of the things that you did put on credit. See how many of those that you actually like and use.

The smart money move with credit is finding the things you truly want to own. The things you love. The things you will hang on to for a long time. Who needs to waste money on clutter? Make sure you love what you’re buying (and even better, own what you buy).

RELATED: Why Athletes Go Broke and How to Avoid It Yourself 

4. Clear Your Credit Card Each Month. If you can’t pay off your credit card every month, find places where you can stop spending. When you run a balance and pay interest each month, it just makes everything you bought more expensive. If you can, pay more than the minimum. That saves you money down the road.

5. Earn Something on Your Credit Card. The final credit money move is to tie all of your purchases to a credit card that gives you something you want, like miles, discounts or other benefits. You can put your cable, your groceries, gas, and everything onto this card to build your miles/benefits.

I travel all the time, so one of my money moves was to get a credit card earning miles with a popular airline that flies both to my hometown and to my favorite vacation spot. Even when money is low, I can still go home for a holiday to see my family. I can still take a vacation.

All of these credit money moves create ways for you to have more money later on.

“AMAZING! OUR BEST SPEAKER YET!”

-CHRISTIE ISENBERG PRESIDENT, AMP THE CAUSE

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FREE MONEY MOVES (DIVIDENDS)

1. Invest. The number one money move I made is to set myself up to get free money, like dividends. When you invest in a company (when you buy their “stock”), then those companies pay you four times a year, every three months, part of the profit they made. You’re buying a small piece of the company, so you get some of the profits. They’re called dividends.

When you invest your money in companies that pay dividends, you are making free money. You’re making money on the money you put down. (Not every company pays dividends, so check. And some of those companies were easier to buy than others.) Start today.

2. Own Stock in What You Buy. I decided to get dividends from the companies that I use every day. If you are wearing Nike shoes and clothes that you bought from Nordstrom’s, if you drive your Chevy or Ford vehicle to the Starbucks that’s inside of a Target, own all those stocks.

Own what you buy. That’s one of the strongest money moves you can make. Your money comes back to you. (You spend it, the company gets it, makes a profit, and gives the money to their shareholders—you.)

RETIREMENT MONEY MOVES

1. Count on It. I’m a young guy who has already retired once. It’s amazing to me how many people do not talk about their retirement, nor plan for it. Retirement is a form of unemployment. What will you live on? The answer is: you will live on what you save now. That means that whatever your plans are (even if you don’t have any), you need to prepare for retirement.

2. Start Saving. Every dollar you spend today is a dollar you take away from your retirement. On the other hand, every nickel you save now will become a dollar in retirement (depending on how far away retirement is). You can save it, invest it, and let it pay you free money.

3. Sign Up for Free Money in Your 401k. In the NFL there’s a 401k matching program, two-to-one up to a certain amount of your paycheck. Two to one. That means if you put $1 into your retirement account, they put in $2, for free. That’s free money from your employer. It’s like making your salary bigger, like getting a raise for saving. Do it.

Believe it or not, the NFL has never had 100% participation in their 401k program. Guys are giving up free money. You don’t have to. Check with your employer and find out if they have a matching program to help you save for retirement.

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I set myself up fairly well by starting with the money moves I’ve mentioned. Try some of your own. How much in dividends can you save up? What are your purchasing habits like? Can you save money for later? What money moves are you making to address your retirement or future unemployment?

Money is important. Take care of yourself now and take care of your money. You deserve it. You’ve earned it.

Neither Ryan Harris nor his affiliates provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This article has been prepared for informational and entertainment purposes only, and is not intended to provide (and should not be relied on for) tax, legal or accounting advice. Consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.