Adrian Peterson’s Money Problems: 5 Lessons

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

Adrian Peterson (AP) made news lately. And it’s not because he is breaking records. In fact, he is breaking in a completely different way. The news that “broke” is that AP is, well, broke. Despite being one of the most prolific running backs to ever play the game, Adrian Peterson’s money problems are impressive. The story outlines how they feel that AP landed in such a bad spot, and I think there is a lot that high-income earning medical professionals can learn from his bad financial situation.

Don’t for a second think that these same things can’t happen to you. In fact, I’d argue that many of the mistakes AP has made are common among doctors, too.

Here are some lessons you can take away from AP’s situation.

1) Bad Advice = Bad Decisions

The article highlights the fact that Peterson trusted the wrong people and that this led him to make some terrible financial decisions. He has outstanding loans where he owes millions. In fact, it looks like he owes more than he will make this entire season despite earning >$5 million.

At this point, I’m not sure if I have heard this story more often about professional athletes or doctors. The truth is that I cannot count the number of times a doctor has told me that they received bad financial information that led them to make a bad decision.

Often times, this advice comes from an insurance salesperson masquerading as a financial advisor. This leads to whole life insurance purchases and investments placed in loaded and actively managed mutual funds. What makes this even more heart breaking is that many of the doctors that tell me these things are still swimming in student loan debt from medical school.

This is what happens when the medical education system fails to teach personal finance. When people aren’t taught this stuff, it shouldn’t surprise us when our future doctors are not properly prepared to deal with the financial industry. This leads to mistakes.

One way to stay away from this mistake is to purchase insurance products from independent and trusted insurance agents. This will prevent you from buying a disability insurance product with a bad disability insurance definition. That’s one of the ten things you need to know about disability insurance.

And, when you need financial advice, use a financial advisor who meets the gold standard of financial advising. They should be a flat fee-only financial advisor who acts as a fiduciary and has extensive experience working with physicians.

2) A High Income Will Not Save You

Peterson made close to $100 million during his NFL running back career.

While a high-income can allow you to make some financial mistakes. It doesn’t give you a pass on math. If you spend more than you make – which is common in our country – it will eventually catch up with you.

While we don’t earn $100 million during our careers, we do earn multiple millions. Yet, we see all the time that it doesn’t matter how much money doctors make. Many of us end up in dire financial straits, too. Remember that over 50% of doctors cannot retire at age 65 and maintain their current lifestyle.

Physician Retirement

3) Living in Debt

Another key thing to take away from AP’s situation is what got him there. He borrowed money in order to pay off other debts. The problem with conducting life this way is that the debt will eventually have to be paid.

Around 10-20% of physicians have recurring credit card debt. Of course, 80% of physicians also graduate medical school with an average student loan burden around $200,000. Many doctors also finance car loans.

At some point this debt will come calling. When we inflate our lifestyles to the extent that we cannot make serious headway on our debt, we must realize that it will come for us eventually.

Instead of taking a passive route towards dealing with debt, we need to make a plan.

Look at all of your debt and choose whether you’ll pursue a debt snowball or debt avalanche method to paying it all off. Choose to pursue public service loan forgiveness (PSLF) or refinance your student loans. If you don’t know which to choose, consider getting a student loan consult from an expert.

In fact, I encourage you to write down very specific goals. How much will you pay each month? When will it be paid off? Write it down, and then go be the same dedicated and determined person that got you into medical school in the first place.

4) Get Your Financial Education

A strong financial education would have prevented many of Peterson’s mistakes. Fighting against behavioral finance is challenging. Even for those of us who read and write about it.

If you don’t read solid financial books and continue to educate yourself, you will be 100% on the advice of others. I’ll refer you to point 1 above to see why that can be problematic.

Instead, educate yourself enough to become financially literate. That way, you can fight fair with the financial industry. And you’ll also be able to build a financial plan that works for you.

Further Reading: If you aren’t sure how to make a financial plan, consider taking the Fire Your Financial Advisor Course!

5) Give From a Position of Strength

I am not sure if this applies to AP’s situation, but many athletes spend too much money out of generosity.

Making it to professional sports is not a solo journey. There are people who took you to practices and games, bought the equipment, and others who coached you. There are also friends who stuck by their sides through thick and thin. When they finally make it to the big show, there are a lot of people who want a slice of the pie.

These days, professional athletes commonly buy the house for mom and cars or Rolexes for their friends. All of this spending catches up quickly. Even when you earn millions of dollars. When careers are cut short or they get called on their debt, many athletes end up as broke as when they got there.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with giving to other people. That’s not my point. In fact, I encourage people to give to causes that they back while they build wealth.

My point is that you need to take care of yourself, too. Make sure that you have paved a path to early financial independence, and that you’ve dealt with your debt.

Then, once all of your debt is gone, it will free up even more cash flow so that you can benefit others. If you start out giving away 10% of your take home pay, maybe you can go up by 1 or 2% each year after you pay off your debt. Pretty quickly you’ll be helping others more than you can imagine. And you’ll be doing it without the same risk of falling into financial ruin.

Give to others along the way, but remember to take care of your financial needs first. Then, give from a position of strength.

Take Home

Remember there is no amount of wealth that protects you from financial ruin if you don’t learn this stuff. Without a solid financial education, you are sure to make grave financial mistakes.

There is a better way, which is to get your financial education so that you can make a plan for your debt, know what good advice looks like, and achieve your financial goals.

Have you noticed that doctors make the same mistakes as professional athletes? Share your stories below, and what others can learn from them.



  1. Xrayvsn

    Lottery winners, professional athletes, singers, movie stars all can go broke quickly especially if they start having a huge enterouge of people around that don’t have their best interest in mind.

    MC Hammer had over $250 million and went broke. So there is always a way to spend any amount of money if done foolishly.

    One wonders if Peterson is still playing football because he has to and not want to. It’s definitely taking a toll on his body

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      That’s a great question! Hard to tell. AP is definitely past his prime. Does he continue to play because he must or because he wants to?

  2. SZ

    Great piece. The funny thing is I have tons of doctor friends who are sports fans and laugh at the Petersons and Antoine Walkers who go broke after prolific careers, but haven’t educated themselves financially. The parallels go over their heads. A good buddy sent me this Peterson article and couldn’t believe how this was possible, but he’s a second year attending with five figures in credit card debt who still takes lavish vacations (“investing in experiences” is what he calls it). Sometimes it’s easy to see the financial issues in others and hard to self reflect. But the parallels between doctors and athletes are strong.

    Great point on the difference between giving/donating as part of a plan vs just buying gifts for everyone who’s part of your crew. Really shows the importance of an investing policy statement.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      An IPS is a big deal. It helps direct us in our financial decisions. Giving without thinking about the ramifications on our own journey isn’t selfless, it’s uninformed. Giving from a position of strength is the way to go (though we should give a little along the way, too)

  3. Brent Lacey

    Great perspective! It’s sad to see these kinds of stories, but it’s a sobering reminder that this can happen to anybody. High income will NOT save you. You can always outspend your income if you’re not disciplined. It’s not about the math, it’s about behavior. We have to control our own spending and saving habits in order to reach our goals. It’s something that we all struggle with.


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