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Treat Your Finances Like Fantasy Football

Espn fantasycast football

I published this post the day after winning my 12-member fantasy football league in 2016. It wasn’t because I was good (I had a 6-7 regular season record and just snuck in to the 8-team playoff). It was mostly luck, but I did pay attention.

Unfortunately, I didn’t win the following year, so the rollover pot continues to grow.

In the meantime, I’ve continued to win in at investing, collecting market returns with my diversified portfolio while keeping my fees extremely low.

Every fall, armchair managers across the country devote countless hours to studying football players, matchups, injuries, and projections. If these same people would put in half the effort toward their personal finances, they’d all be winners.

Treat Your Finances Like Fantasy Football


Winning at Fantasy Football Requires Attention


You do your homework before the season. You read a few previews, print out some rank lists, and study up on rookies and free agents most likely to make an impact. On draft day, you’ve got everything you need on paper or eleven open tabs in your browser. The beer is cold, the dip is warm, and the chips at the ready — no double dipping. Please.

espnfantasycastEarly in the season, you check the injury reports. You look for the surprise player that went undrafted only to catch 8 balls for over 100 yards and two touchdowns in week one. I’m looking at you, 2012 Kevin Ogletree . Seriously, where you the rest of the season?

Throughout your league’s season, you’re checking the waiver wire, seeing who is being added most in other leagues, and negotiating trades to improve your team as much as possible. You navigate your player’s bye weeks, plugging players in and out of your lineup as if they were Browns quarterbacks.

If you’ve done your job, and your players have done theirs (Why, Cam? Why did I draft you so high?), you will reach your league’s playoffs. With a little luck at the end of the season, you might end up in the money.

On the other hand, if you autodrafted, forgot to set your lineup a few times, and don’t bother much with the waiver wire, the odds of success are stacked against you. Yes, Andrew, that’s probably why you miss the playoffs pretty much every year. Those habits, along with stacking your roster with your favorite team’s players, is really working against you.


Winning at Personal Finance Requires Attention


I don’t have the data to support this theory, but it would be an interesting survey. I’d be willing to bet that most fantasy football players spend much more time on their fake football teams than their own finances. The game with dozens or hundreds of dollars at stake garners more attention than the other game where millions could be on the line.

Why would I make that bet? I was one of those who spent more time managing my fantasy football team than managing my own money.


Yahoo Fantasy Football


In the first five-plus years of my career, I was good at saving, but I didn’t know much about investing when I started collecting a doctor’s paycheck. I knew enough to stay out of trouble, having read The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need back in medical school. So that was all I needed, right? I mean, Mr. Tobias gave it that title for a reason, No?

I hadn’t read the book in six or seven years. I put my money into target date funds. I didn’t know the difference between a 401(K) or a 457(b). I didn’t start a taxable account until I had been out of residency for four years. I didn’t have an IPS, or even a desired asset allocation. That’s what the target date fund was for. I could have done worse, but I certainly could have done better.

Meanwhile, I was killing it in fantasy football. I won the 12-team league the first year I joined. Call it beginner’s luck, but I put the time in. Throughout the fall, I spent at least a few hours every week devouring statistics and optimizing my lineup. In eight years, I’ve finished in the top four (a.k.a. in the money) half the time. Meanwhile, I paid little attention to my finances early on, other than checking the balances every once in awhile.


Give Equal Time to Both


I won’t try to convince you to give up fantasy football or to spend less time on it. I will insist that you try to spend an equal amount of time on your own finances. So much more depends on it.

When you do your homework before the fantasy draft, read a book like Mr. Tobias’ $11 book, the Bogleheads Guide, or if you’re a doctor, The White Coat Investor.

When you pay your annual league entry fee, analyze the fees on your investments. Most investors who choose not to DIY are paying 1% to 2% or more. Fees can be as damaging to your portfolio as a blown out knee can be to your team.

When you set your ideal lineup, set your preferred asset allocation. By the end of the 15 or 16 weeks, you should have had time to develop a simple but complete Investor Policy Statement.

At playoff time, do some end-of-year tidying up. Is it time to rebalance? Have you maxed out your tax-deferred space? Do you have money ready to contribute to your personal and spousal backdoor Roth IRAs in early January. And please don’t tell me your ability to max these out depends on how well you fare in those playoffs.


But Not Exactly Like Fantasy Football


Your fantasy football squad will look a little different most weeks. You drop the underperformers, pick up the next big thing, and by the end of the season, your team scarcely resembles the roster you assembled on draft day.

This is exactly what you do not want to do with your finances. Dropping your underperformers will lock in losses. Buying into the next big thing is pure speculation. If you want to play the individual stock picking game, use your “play money,” which should be limited to maybe 5% of your portfolio.

Your roster of investments should look very similar at the end of the year that it did at the beginning. Beat most investors and professionals by selecting a simple three fund portfolio or similar lazy portfolio. Complexity is the enemy in this game.


What’s Your Fantasy Football?


You don’t have to be a fantasy football player, or fantasy anything aficionado to be guilty of similar distractions. If you’re choosing to trust your money to someone else, or just picking a few funds and setting things on autopilot, you’re deciding something else is more important.

Is it gardening?


Game of Thrones?

We’re all busy, juggling as much or more than we can handle at times. It’s nice to have a distraction. Hobbies are welcome and required to find a workable balance. I simply suggest you make personal finance one of them. It’s guaranteed to pay dividends.

Pun intended.



Are you also guilty of putting more time and effort into a fun distraction while ignoring your finances? What’s your fantasy football? If your fantasy football is fantasy football, how’s your team doing this year?

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21 thoughts on “Treat Your Finances Like Fantasy Football”

  1. I have never been interested in football beyond the background noise it provides… now I feel better, knowing I’ve been working at a suitable alternative, investing ???

    I admire your style in developing this analogy ??

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  3. Ha! No OSU panties showing up here. Or Panthers lingerie. But I’ve already bought so much of the stuff lately that Google probably figures I’m all set in the unmentionables category. Thanks, Google.

    A great read and fun perspective as always, and the key point you make is so powerful that I had to comment just to let you know how fully I agree: All this investing/finance stuff really can be a hobby. A super-lucrative, rich-making, yacht-bearing, fur-wearing, Cristal-popping hobby. By which I mean a really good one. And fun.

    Anyway, thanks for the good stuff here, PoF. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta go slip into something a bit more comfortable.

  4. No lingerie, just a list of books on investing (yay! financial porn!).

    I don’t know (or care) about football. I was once dragged to a Stanford vs. Berkeley game by a friend. Tailgating: two thumbs up. The actual game: meh.

    Your larger point is well taken though (and well written). We all too often in our lives spend a disproportionate amount of time and effort on things that yield low returns. A good recent example for me is the theoretical attempt to increase page views to my blog. What should I be doing? Understanding Pinterest strategy, making pretty pinnable images, and pinning like my life depended on it. What am I actually doing? Hanging out on blogs and forums that I enjoy and playing with spreadsheets (I did make one pinnable image on Canva. It was ugly. And that constituted the most boring 20 minutes of my day). Though at least in this case the returns on my happiness are pretty damn good.

  5. I love the Satan I mean Saban reference. Being from Wisconsin I am devastated we lost to Penn State. However, if I was a Penn State fan I would be very angry that they are not in the Playoff. How can the committee let Ohio State in when they weren’t even conference champion, and they lost to the conference champion! It’s like having the Patriots in the Super Bowl but they didn’t even have to play in the AFC Championship game!

    Anyway, I like the similarities you made to investing and fantasy football. For me in high school it was this computer game called Runescape. If only I learned about the stock market then!


    • As a Penn State fan: It’s not that upsetting. Ohio State had the better overall record, a slightly tougher schedule, and they didn’t get absolutely embarrassed by anyone all season (except maybe Penn State in the second half!), whereas Penn State looked like a high school team against Michigan and against Pitt in the first half. And not a high school football team, mind you, but a high school girl’s lacrosse team. Urban Meyer’s hypocrisy regarding his former emphasis on the importance of conference championships is annoying, but that’s about it. 🙂 Ohio State deserves the playoff. Penn State maybe deserves it, but not over Ohio State. Maybe over Clemson, who barely scraped by a lot of mediocre teams, and lost to the same Pitt team at full strength that we lost to with our entire offensive line and half our linebackers out? Or over Washington, who let Rutgers score?

      Anyway, I’m really leaving this comment to send a message to Andrew: You deserve it Andrew. You deserve to lose.

      • Let me add that Penn State required some fourth quarter heroics to force OT against Minnesota at home. The Pitt loss was a tough one.

        And Andrew, seriously, even this guy who doesn’t know you knows you’re doing it wrong.


  6. While I manage my portfolio a little differently than most, I will agree that you’ll get results where you put your time and effort.

    I sure don’t know anything about football, but I might have a few tricks up my sleeve when it comes to investing.

  7. My first year, I came in 2nd in our league. It really was beginners luck. Worked a little harder and won last year. It was a come from behind win, too. I was in 8th place about 1/2 way through. This year has been disappointing, but oh well. I’m not as in to it with the spoiled brats’ antics this year. :O)

    Boy, I feel left out on the ads, although, maybe they are getting blocked by my adblocker. Some Panther lingerie for the wifey…enough said. :O)

    My Spartan training was a big time commitment and now it is coaching, but both are rewarding and provide plenty of lessons that can be tied back to our finances so still a win I believe.

  8. The closest I’ve gotten to fantasy football was a March Madness bracket. I chose based on how well I liked the teams’ mascotts, then ignored the whole thing until it was over. It turned out that I beat my husband and all his friends who did all the research and spent all the time!

    We sort of do the same thing with investments- total market index funds then set it and forget it. I’ll keep you posted how it all turns out 🙂

  9. The ads I got are for items I recently googled and/or browsed at Amazon. So, when someone recently got OSU panty ads it may just be based on their shopping and browsing history. Just saying!
    The nice thing about personal finance is that in a sense it requires less attention than fantasy football: The plain, boring index fund will get you most of the mileage. Sure, you have to keep taxes etc. on the radar, but as I mentioned a while ago, the Pareto Principle applies here beautifully: 20% of the effort will get you 80% of the result. In contrast, in Fantasy Football you’re playing a zero-sum game and try to beat your opponents. That’s much harder than the FIRE game where we can all win and get rich.
    Great read, as always! Good luck in your league!

    • That’s what I said! [about the panties]

      I suppose you could combine the two. Have last year’s winner choose the investment for the league pot. Now it’s no longer a zero sum game. You could be splitting a larger or smaller pot, depending on how the investment does.



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  11. My alma mater (Texas Tech) was ranked number one in offense, but with the worse defense…and didn’t end up with a winning season. I think I’ll stick to personal finance as my hobby…I don’t think I have a choice. 🙂

  12. Nice analogy! I spent loads of time the first 5 years I played FF, and it showed because I was in the top 4 or winning it most years. This year, I didn’t do pre-draft research, haven’t made as many moves as in the past (my average is about 6 a week) and have had general bad luck in picking who has the hot hand this week. Bortles, what happened?! You were supposed to be a solid 8th round steal. My bench however, has been killing it. 🙂

    I hadn’t put nearly as much time into my personal finances those years, but fortunately that was helped out by Mrs. SSC killing it with background investing. This year I’ve put more time into my personalf finances than my FF team and it shows… Sorry Chompy Gators, I let you down!

    Next year needs to be a good balance of both, and I need to reclaim my spot at the top.

  13. Good one POF. Anything “guaranteed to pay dividends”, preferably growing dividends, is worth “putting your money where your mouth is”.

  14. No panties here, just some add for insurance. I personally do not do fantasy football, though I am a bit obsessed with watching my alma mater. Still your point is well taken, personal finance is not that hard. You just need to put in the effort like anything else.


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