FOXBOROUGH — Joejuan Williams still remembers learning about mutual funds in a personal finance class he took as a junior at Father Ryan High School in Nashville.
“I just raised my hand and was like, ‘So, you’re saying we can sit on money and watch it grow?’ ’’ Williams, now 21, recalled. “[My teacher] was like, ‘Basically, yes.’ I was like, ‘Bet, sign me up.’ ’’
Williams has always been a saver, even as a kid growing up in public housing. When his mother would give him and his brother Deontre $5 apiece to buy food at McDonald’s, Deontre would use all $5. Williams would spend only a dollar and pocket the other four.
Whatever money came his way, no matter how much or how little, Williams saved it. He stored any cash he had in a shoebox in his bedroom. He opened his first bank account once he landed a job in high school, working for his cousin who owned a used car lot. The gig earned Williams a steady $300 per week, sometimes with an added bonus if he drove cars back to Tennessee from out-of-state auctions.
How he handled the money was just as important to him as the bills themselves. After watching his mom live paycheck-to-paycheck, Williams had developed fears of inadequacy and financial instability. “I’ve been stingy with money ever since I was young just because I saw what my mom had to go through,’’ he says now. So, he saved, and saved, and saved.
But saving money to earn more money? That was something new.
Taught by one of the assistant football coaches, Greg Carson, the personal finance class at Father Ryan introduced Williams to the basics of investing and retirement planning. He learned about hedge funds, 401(k) plans, certificates of deposit, and Roth IRAs. He learned how to budget and how to file a tax refund. He learned, most importantly, how to make smart choices.
“It changed my life,’’ Williams said. “It completely changed my life.’’
From there, Williams went on to study economics at Vanderbilt, and continued to research and pursue his interest in money management. Now on a four-year, $6.6 million NFL contract, he hired a financial advisor, a careful decision that required multiple interviews and references. His cash flow has obviously multiplied since washing used cars for his cousin, but his approach to money has also evolved. Instead of save, save, save, it’s save and invest, save and invest, save and invest.
Williams estimates he invests at least 90 percent of the money that comes in via game checks. The portion from the first few was a bit lower because he paid off his mom’s student loans and bought her a car. Other than that, however, the expenses are limited.
“I’m going to sacrifice now for me to be happy later,’’ Williams says. “I can go buy me a really nice car, I can go buy me a really nice house if I wanted to, I can go buy me a really nice chain — multiple chains — if I wanted to. But that’s not going to suffice me for when I’m 40, 50, or 60 [years old]. Who knows when I’m going to need that bread.’’
Turned off by the concept of spending money he doesn’t have, Williams hates using his credit card, although he recognizes the importance of building credit. The rare times he does indulge, he ensures he has the money to immediately pay off his purchases.
When he sees something he might be interested in buying, whether it’s clothes or shoes, Williams will wait two days before pulling the trigger — and usually, the time spent thinking will change his mind. But there is one thing that has always been on his radar.
“My main goal is I’m going to give my mom a home,’’ Williams said. “I’ve had that ever since I was a kid. I told my mom that when I was kid, when I was a kid-kid. That’s the only big purchase I have my eyes on.’’
Given New England’s tremendous depth in the secondary, Williams, drafted 45th overall, hasn’t seen the field much this season, though there’s intrigue surrounding his potential. Regardless of the upside of his career trajectory, Williams is prepared for the unknown.
“In the history of this league, there’s a higher chance that you’ll never see a second contract,’’ he said. “If you’re spending so much money, like, ‘Oh, I’m going to make it back next year. I’m going to make it back the year after that.’ If it doesn’t happen, then you’re back at square zero.’’
One day, Williams hopes to set up a formal financial literacy program so he can impart the knowledge from the class that first sparked his interest in money back in high school. He still remembers the differences in responses when he tried to talk to his friends about what he learned from Mr. Carson. His friends from home would brush off the ideas, arguing it’s too late to get started. His friends from Father Ryan, on the other hand, would say their parents have already set up various accounts on their behalf.
“They have a head start in this race,’’ Williams said. “For a lot of public schools in inner cities, it’s not required to take any personal finance classes to graduate or even learn about money in that sense. That’s not the real world. The real world revolves around money. It really puts a lot of inner-city kids who don’t have much at a disadvantage.’’
In the meantime, Williams will continue to lead by example.
“I want to be set in the future when I’m not working,’’ he said. “Grind now, sacrifice now, be happy later. I rather live like a prince for the rest of my life than live like a king for my NFL career and then go back to square zero.’’