As part of our ongoing Off the Pitch series we spoke with Amobi Okugo of the Portland Timbers about his Frugal Athlete project and other ambitions.

Where did you grow up and how did you get into soccer?

I’m a first generation Nigerian-American. I was born in Hayward, California but raised in Sacramento, California. I’m the oldest of four siblings.

Soccer has had an impact on my life ever since I was old enough to walk. It’s the main sport back home in Nigeria, and all my uncles played it. So, it was only natural for me to as well. I still remember my parents running with me with a soccer ball in the park and watching Nigeria play in the early 90s.

What is Frugal Athlete in its most basic sense?

Frugal Athlete is a website catered to promote financial literacy and highlight prudent financial practices amongst professional athletes. I like to describe it as sort of a Player’s Tribune but focused on the financial and career development aspects of the professional athlete.

What drove you to start this project?

Growing up, I’ve always been interested in business, but it wasn’t until after I saw the ESPN 30 for 30: Broke that I was driven to start this project. I just felt that for all the many athletes that lose their money due to poor decisions and other unfortunate circumstances, there were also athletes that were smarter with their money. However, when I searched on the internet I kept getting directed to players that had lost their money. I felt it was important for athletes to have sort of a positive platform to look for when it comes to money management, especially considering the stigma athletes get that we must live this “high, luxurious life.”

Who helped you get this off the ground? What kind of support did you have, and how important was that support in getting where you are?

It was random how I actually started and got Frugal Athlete off the ground. Many times you have an idea and never act on it, but after talking about my idea with some close friends, I created a google doc business plan and sent it to a couple of my buddies and a couple people in the sports business field. The support was tremendous and it really pushed me over the edge to actually start it. One of my best friends, Ebun Olaloye created a logo and brand strategy plan. My brother and best friend, Akachi Okugo and Kyle Odister developed a list of contacts that I should put on my interview list. My girlfriend, Destinee Dickerson gave me a tutorial on all the social media hacks I would need to succeed. I hired a local company out in Portland to create the site and my good friend Dom Landry helped me set up an LLC for the brand.

It was truly a blessing to have my close circle of friends be so supportive to get this off the ground. I think that is what helped me get it to this point right now.

How has the response been from other athletes?

The response has been great. It’s great to hear from fellow athletes how they enjoy the page or love the content. Just from a support standpoint as well, having fellow athletes that have been in similar situations in regards to money management. It’s great to be able to relate to them.

I think with Frugal Athlete, the main thing is that we try to highlight every athlete and not just the big time athletes that really may not ever have to worry about life after their career is over. We’ve been able to provide information that an athlete may have had no idea about. I’ve received texts regarding certain blog posts thanking me for the info which is great to see because as athletes one of our main issues is financial literacy.

Does your audience extend beyond professional athletes? If so, who are those people and why do you think they are interested?

Yes, our audience extends beyond professional athletes. Not only are we trying to target professional athletes as well as college student athletes, but young adults and college students as well. Financial literacy is a common problem among young adults all across the nation. You see young individuals struggling to pay off student debt and going into the real world and not having a real plan on how to attack their finances. Whether it’s knowing how much to contribute into your 401k or starting a business or knowing what’s a tax write off when it’s time to do your taxes. Or you see the college student athlete who doesn’t end up going pro and struggles to find a job because he’s never done an internship or doesn’t know how to write a proper resume.  Frugal Athlete is intended for this demographic too.

Professional athletes are natural trendsetters in today’s world. Athletes have the ability to start movements which is why Frugal Athlete tries to show that side more. People are attracted to and follow what professional athletes do. Although athletes are programmed to live a certain way because of the money they have,  I feel like if we can change the narrative in how professional athletes spend their money, we will start to see changes in the individuals that follow them. You can see it more and more, that people are being more cautious with their money and it’s slowly trickling down to other individuals.

In working on this project, what have you found to be the biggest financial challenge for professional athletes?

The biggest financial challenges for professional athletes I’ve found are athletes trying to compete with their teammates, a lack of preparation for life after sports with their career earnings and a lack of financial literacy.

With Frugal Athlete we try to address these issues by providing information on certain financial topics and by sharing stories of other athletes that may have been in similar situations. We don’t feel like it’s our place to recommend or promote a certain financial advisor or money manager or investment on our page because everyone has their own preference. We will however provide insight from various financial advisors on how athletes can properly manage their finances better or personal stories on why a decision was made. Frugal Athlete is sort of a database in a sense.

For example, if I were to have an issue with a friend of mine asking for money. My goal for Frugal Athlete would be to be that resource where I could go on and see how did Lebron James handle friendships and money, or what did that one advisor from so and so bank say about making sure you get something in writing if you are loaning your friends money.

How hard has it been to balance working on this project with your life as a playing professional? How does this work fit in with the responsibilities of playing at the top level?

It’s been a test on my time management and procrastination skills. Soccer is most important so that comes first no matter what, but it’s been good to come home and have something to keep me busy. It’s been a process, especially as I’m trying to increase content, to properly plan ahead and coordinate with soccer, but it’s been fun.

Just like playing at the top level if you want to improve, you will find ways to get better and put the work in. Just like if I was trying to improve my finishing but never stayed after practice to shoot, how would I expect to get better? I have different ways to help balance working on this project while playing. Writing a daily schedule has been a major key.

You are also pursuing a degree right now. Tell us a little about that. What made you choose to take that on while still playing? Why that particular degree?

The only way I was able to leave UCLA after my freshman year was if I promised my mother I would finish my degree. They moved over here as immigrants from Nigeria so me and my siblings would have a better life. Growing up, soccer was just going to be a means to get college paid for, but as I got older it became more of a reality that professional soccer may be attainable. I was fortunate enough to get offered an MLS Generation Adidas deal which paid for school, and I convinced my mom to let me do it.

Pursuing my degree while playing has helped me stay focused off the field. Instead of sitting around playing video games all day or running around, it has sort of helped me wind down. As a soccer player, we have more downtime than we think and being able to take classes has helped keep my mind sharp.

I chose to minor in Business Administration with my major in Organizational Leadership because I have plans to be a CEO one day. Whether it’s for my own company or another that all depends. I feel that as athletes, although we have a lot of transferable skills, it’s still difficult to immediately jump in because of the lack of work experience. I didn’t want to spend the first couple years after I retire worrying about finishing school so I figured I might as well have my degree in hand now.

Do you see this project as a long term future endeavor? What other pursuits do you think your future holds?

Originally, I wanted to grow Frugal Athlete large enough and just sell it to the highest bidder. Now I see this project  as a long term ordeal. I think it has potential and could even be an additional resource for leagues to use to help players and students in their quest for financial peace and guidance. I hope it can grow to the vision I have for it. I wouldn’t mind a big company buying it and letting me still control the direction of the project/brand, but only time will tell what will happen.

Obviously I want to play as long as I can, but I definitely want to be involved in the sports business side of things after I’m done playing soccer.  God willing, I see myself being a GM or something along those line for a club in the future. The ultimate goal is to be an owner of a team. So, if anyone has the next Facebook startup lying around where I can invest, please let me know!

You can follow Amobi on Twitter at @AmobiSays or @FrugalAthlete and visit AFrugalAthlete.com for great information on athletes and financial literacy.