As an 18-year old budding soccer star, there are plenty of options in front of you. There’s opportunity for lots of money, endorsements and partnerships to be made. One at that age may not think twice about long-term financial stability, but that’s exactly what life has become about for Amobi Okugo, now 26 years old. The eight year veteran, currently of the Portland Timbers, still has many years ahead of him in the sport, with tons of financial decisions to be made, and Okugo is fully prepared for them.
It may come as a surprise to some, but still as young as he is, Okugo has decided to dedicate much of his time to the realm of financial security. Having always been self-labeled as a frugal individual, Okugo has been as successful managing money as he has on the soccer field. Now, he is turning his attention to helping his fellow professional athletes in this area.
At the age of 15, Okugo caught the eye of John Hackworth, who was then in charge of overseeing the under-17 pool of national players. Hackworth recalled all of the skills he saw on the field, but most importantly and quite surprisingly, he noticed how intelligent Okugo was with his finances.
“He was a young man at that time — full of ambition,” Hackworth said via The Undefeated. “But I will tell you right off the bat that he was as frugal then as he is now, if not more so. He would get a pretty good teasing from his teammates for how he spent his money and how he didn’t. I’ve teased him for a long time for being flat-out cheap. But he had no problem with it, whether the teasing was from me, his best friends or his teammates. He would never apologize for it; that’s just who Amobi is.”
Okugo notes he has been this way for a while and it may simply be in his blood.
“I’ve always been pretty frugal growing up,” said Okugo, who comes from two Nigerian parents. “I’m not sure if it’s my Nigerian blood or what. I remember getting free Nike gear from youth national team camps and returning them to get cash or telling my mom to pack me extra chicken wings and selling them at lunch at school.”
In 2012, ESPN launched an eye-opening film called Broke, which depicted the lives and decisions of several professional athletes who had, in one way or another, lost much or all of the money they had made in their careers. Okugo finally saw the film and decided he would make a move to begin helping his fellow athletes.
“Broke was a big eye-opener for me because it really went into detail about how easy it is for athletes to go broke,” said Okugo regarding the film. “It wasn’t until I saw the documentary and saw the accounts of players I personally watched on TV detailing their experiences when it hit me. What caught my eye the most was how avoidable it was for athletes to not go broke but because of perception and lack of preparation, some athletes felt it necessary to spend.”
Okugo launched A Frugal Athlete in 2016, a website dedicated to providing in-depth analysis, media insights, financial pieces and consumer news that is useful to the likes of a professional athlete. What makes his goal unique, though, is that Okugo is not concerned with the superstars of the world who will most likely never have to worry about finances. He is more concentrated on those who will have to learn to manage their money more closely – the ones who could ‘run out eventually’ so to speak. One of the biggest problems in today’s society, as alluded to by Okugo, is the fact that many athletes don’t educate themselves in the area of finance. Too many of them get to the biggest stage and forget that they still don’t know how to manage their money well. This is an issue Okugo is out to tackle with everything he’s got.
“When I originally launched A Frugal Athlete, my goal was to highlight different athletes who are prudent financially — not superstars like the LeBron James and Tom Bradys of the world who will never have to worry about money in comparison,” said Okugo. “I also wanted to increase financial literacy for athletes as a whole, because that is a major issue as well.”
The MLS is still somewhat new, having just 28 players with a salary over $1 million. Now, of course that is a huge amount of money to the majority of Americans. But, in terms of a professional athlete’s lifestyle and spending habits, a salary under that amount can be taken for granted and find itself gone in a shorter amount of time than one may think. Salary and incentives included, Okugo made just over $190,000 last year according to his records.
“Amobi was 19 when he moved to Philly,” Hackworth recalled. “He moved in with Danny Mwanga, who was our No. 1 draft pick, and they both talked about making decent money for being young kids, but they had to figure out a way to manage it. Mwanga had that mindset too. But right away, [Okugo] was like, ‘Coach — I’m getting my degree. I don’t care how I do it, I’m going to get it.’”
Last December, Okugo achieved that goal. He earned an undergraduate degree in organizational leadership at the University of Louisville. After playing only one year at UCLA before he was drafted, and having parents who were very serious about Okugo getting his degree, this was a milestone for him.
At the moment, Okugo is currently open to offers from clubs. Whether he gets a call or not, he knows where he is headed after his professional soccer career is ultimately over.
“I would probably apply to graduate school and continue to grow A Frugal Athlete where it could generate revenue,” he said. “Depending on best fit, I would like to go for a dual MBA-JD degree.”
Count Okugo as one of those non-stereotypical professional athletes you don’t see too often. Before having a career, he seemed to always have a plan regardless of how soccer panned out for him. Hopefully he can continue to help educate athletes everywhere and help produce more minds like him in the future.