Personal-Finance Advice From the Gronkowskis

Papa Gronk shares his secrets for raising money smart kids. Step one: Having the five Gronkowski boys earn money to pay for their sports equipment.

(Image credit: © 2016 Luke Copping - All Rights Reserved)

Gordon Gronkowski (pictured) played football at Syracuse University and raised five boys who became professional athletes. Rob, the second-youngest, is a tight end for the New England Patriots. He and his dad recently teamed up with insurer MassMutual to promote financial fitness.

You worked hard to teach good money habits. How’d you do it? By instilling the value of a dollar. The boys never got anything unless they earned it. They all had a paper route. They saved money for hockey equipment, baseball bats; they had to buy that stuff. If you want something, you have to work hard for it. Even college. I went to school on an athletic scholarship. If they didn’t go that way, I had money set aside and I was ready to pay, but I told them they’d have to pay me back. I thought that if they paid, they’d get the most out of it.

Your kids all played professional sports. Was there a Plan B? Studies came first in our household. All of my kids were on the honor roll. Two graduated cum laude. One was a Rhodes Scholar nominee. They’ve all got degrees—in business, marketing, leadership—from good schools.

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What’s the most important lesson for athletes and others with big but unpredictable salaries? The average life span in the NFL is three years, so they better put money away for down the road. When I started making money, I had advisers teach me how to plan for retirement, how to plan for when Plan A didn’t work, how to pay for school, how to take care of my family if something happened to me. When my kids started making money, I made sure they learned, too. People think, I’m young, strong, invincible; nothing’s going to happen. But we hear so many horror stories from friends: Three years out of football and they’re broke already—they’ve spent it all.

Rob’s NFL salary remains untouched while he lives off endorsements and other income. How do you keep people who’ve received a windfall from spending too much? When Rob first signed, he put every penny in the bank. We’re not out there buying white tigers or Lamborghinis. Up until last year, Rob was wearing the same jeans he wore in high school. But we also have fun. It’s not like we hoard it all. We had a rule in our family: If you really want something, hold off for two weeks. If you still want it, go buy it. It’s funny—when my kids were growing up, they’d ask me to get this or that for them. I’d say, “You’ve got your own money. You could buy it today.” They never would. If I bought it, fine. If they had to, it was, “No, I really don’t need it, Dad.”

Anne Kates Smith
Executive Editor, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Anne Kates Smith brings Wall Street to Main Street, with decades of experience covering investments and personal finance for real people trying to navigate fast-changing markets, preserve financial security or plan for the future. She oversees the magazine's investing coverage,  authors Kiplinger’s biannual stock-market outlooks and writes the "Your Mind and Your Money" column, a take on behavioral finance and how investors can get out of their own way. Smith began her journalism career as a writer and columnist for USA Today. Prior to joining Kiplinger, she was a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report and a contributing columnist for TheStreet. Smith is a graduate of St. John's College in Annapolis, Md., the third-oldest college in America.