Quick -- what do you have in common with Latrell Sprewell and Evander Holyfield? An unusual name? Multimillion-dollar paychecks? No? How about being familiar with the path to financial ruin?

Lately, a few big-name professional athletes have gotten into big-time financial trouble. For example:

  • Evander Holyfield is facing foreclosure on his $10 million home, and he's being sued for overdue child-support payments.
  • Latrell Sprewell's yacht had a date with a repo man, and he is also facing foreclosure on his home.
  • Mike Tyson filed for bankruptcy protection, as did hockey player Darren McCarty and former NBA player Jason Caffey.

The NBA Players Association has even told current players that roughly 60% of NBA players run out of money within five years of retiring.

The average NBA player makes $5.36 million a year -- so what's going wrong?

Keeping up with the Sprewells
Just like many of us do, star athletes spend a lot of money trying to keep up with their peers -- and they ultimately spend beyond their means.

One NBA star reports that "a lot of players get in trouble because they want everyone around them to lead the same lifestyle. So you fall into a hole. You buy this big house now for those people, and they no longer want to drive the low-end car to go with the big house. So the big house leads to the big car, to the better clothes, to the better restaurants and stuff. It's a snowball effect."

Sound familiar? OK, maybe you're not contemplating having two cars to drive for every day of the week, but if your friends go on European vacations, do you start planning your month in Tuscany? If many of your colleagues own summer homes, are you thinking of getting one, too? If your neighbors drive $50,000 cars, are you ashamed of your $20,000 clunker -- and considering buying something spiffier?

No matter how much you make, spending beyond your means will eviscerate your ability to retire well.

Getting scammed
Just like many of us, many pro athletes grew into adulthood with little financial education -- and without financial education, it's even easier to be scammed by shady "advisors." Pro athletes have reportedly been charged $5,000 a month for bill-paying services and $100,000 to have their taxes prepared.

You might be paying annual fees of 18% to own a mutual fund or giving up 2% to 3% of your portfolio annually in commissions to your financial planner -- both of which will lead your portfolio to significantly underperform the market. And an underperforming portfolio is unlikely to give you the comfortable retirement you're aiming for.

So what can you do?
If you want to reduce the fees you pay and simultaneously produce good returns for retirement, consider a target-date mutual fund. Each is designed around a specific retirement date, and its investments are chosen -- and rebalanced -- according to a specific plan that gets more conservative as you get closer to retirement.

The Vanguard 2025 (VTTVX) fund, for example, is designed for those who plan to retire in 2025. It recently had 78% of its assets in stocks and 22% in bonds, while the Vanguard 2045 (VTIVX) had 90% in stocks and 10% in bonds.

Target-date funds invest in other funds in their family's lineup -- which enables them to both diversify assets and keep fees low. The Vanguard 2025 fund, for example, sports no load and a net expense ratio of 0.19%.

It recently had 62% of its assets in the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index (VTSMX), which is invested in the likes of Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM), Verizon (NYSE:VZ), Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT), and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ).

A further 9% of assets was invested in the Vanguard European Stock Index (VEURX), which invests shareholders in companies such as BP (NYSE:BP), HSBC (NYSE:HBC), and Nokia (NYSE:NOK). Combined, these give you global diversification.

The Foolish bottom line
Target-date funds aren't the only solution to a comfortable retirement -- and you don't need an NBA salary to achieve it. Don't spend beyond your means, don't get scammed by greedy advisors, and don't ignore it -- or you'll likely face a gruesome retirement scenario.

Our Motley Fool Rule Your Retirement service has everything you need to learn how to set yourself up for a successful retirement -- including how much you need to save and where you should invest it. A 30-day free trial gives you access to all back issues, retirement calculators, expert interviews, and model portfolios -- with no obligation to subscribe. Click here to get started.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Wal-Mart, which is an  Inside Value recommendation. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.