No matter your current stage of life, there are always opportunities to spend money on bettering yourself. These include things like continued education, vocational qualifications, or professional certifications. We pursue these despite the (often high) costs — through careful planning and smart student lending — in hopes that the money spent will pay dividends in the long run.
However, it’s important to remember that cash is not the only resource at your disposal when it comes to self-development. You don’t need to spend a ton of money in order to “invest” in yourself. In fact, any action you take that will result in better health, happiness, or financial well-being is an investment in your future self. Whether your focus is on eating well, increasing activity, organizing your home, or getting smart about your spending, it’s all beneficial.
One impactful area to consider is your future career. You can also make great gains here for free, or at a low cost. If you’re looking for ideas to help you invest in your future career, without spending a bunch of cash, here are a few to start.
Do you handle stress by simply avoiding your approaching deadlines, browsing Facebook or YouTube pages endlessly? Procrastinating eats valuable time like nothing else, and recognizing that you have a problem allows you to begin fixing it. Perhaps you’re miserable in your job, but the fear of jumping into something new keeps you from even exploring your options. If you only knew what you could be good at doing, you might make that leap — advancing your career and your happiness.
Really, truly getting to know yourself is a valuable way to plot your course to self improvement. By understanding your strengths and weaknesses, your preferences, and the environments in which you work best, you can make sure that you’re on the right course professionally.
The great news is that getting to know yourself is completely free. Aside from “real world” opportunities, there are a number of ways you can use the internet to gather ideas and make some informed decisions about what your future career options might be.
- Get to know yourself better with an online tool, such as 16 Personalities or Predictive Index.
- Check out what you think you know about yourself by actively seeking feedback from others.
- Use a tool like My Next Move to generate ideas about how your personal interests might overlay into your working life.
- If a new career is a real consideration, try an online assessment to see what might work for you.
Expect good things to happen
It might sound a bit abstract, but would you behave any differently if you really, truly expected to get a lucky break in your career sometime soon?
If you don’t think good things are going to happen to you in your career, then chances are, even if they do, you won’t be ready to take the initiative. In the world of work, success tends to attract success. So being ready to grab the chances that come up is a great outlook. Plus, it’s an investment in yourself that you can manage with zero outlay.
Imagine you meet your dream job’s boss at a party. Or you discover a friend of a friend is the manager at a company you love. You’re itching to find out more about their work, maybe even ask outright if they would consider you for a job. Would you be ready to introduce yourself in a way that creates a great impression and lays the foundation for you to ask for what you want?
- Learn about elevator pitches, and create one for yourself.
- Keep your resume sharp and updated.
- Maintain a professional online footprint on a site like LinkedIn.
- Have an answer to the question, “What do you do now, and where is it taking you?” as part of a broader career plan.
The benefits of reading include stronger analytical skills, improved concentration, a better memory, and a broader vocabulary. Since you’re here reading this article, though, you probably know that already.
Reading is one of the best investments you can make in yourself, bringing direct benefits and reducing stress. Even better news is that this applies across the board, regardless of the type of reading matter you choose. Devote just a little time to reading about the professional topics that interest you, and you ramp up the impact.
Related: The Top Personal Finance Books
What’s more, you can read in your “dead time,” which would otherwise be wasted, using a tool like Instapaper. Simply bookmark interesting articles to read later, and tackle them when you would otherwise be idling, such as standing in line at the grocery store or sitting on the train to work.
- Visit your local library to (literally) check out ways to stretch your mind.
- Read online issues of quality magazines covering topics like world politics, economics, personal finance, and business.
- Access condensed versions of non-fiction books with Blinkist or Four Minute Books.
- Follow people who inspire you, as well as the key voices in your industry on platforms like Twitter and Medium.
The internet is good for a lot of things, but the ease of access to ideas and information make it a perfect place to learn.
Whether you want to speak a new language, crochet a scarf, or pick up a new professional skill or qualification, you’re going to find what you need. In many cases, the courses you want will even be free, as long as you know where to look.
Learning new things can be a direct benefit to your professional career if you choose courses that apply to your field. But even if you feel like tackling something just for fun, the simple act of challenging yourself to develop a new skill is good for your brain.
- Listen to podcasts or watch TED talks online to broaden your horizons from your own home.
- Get clued up on coding with nothing more than your home computer with Codecademy.
- If you’re interested in managing your money better, try Learnvest courses or listen to podcasts like those from Dough Roller.
- Learn like you’re at MIT with their free online courses covering topics such as business and entrepreneurship.
Network with purpose
To get the most from this investment, learn to network with purpose. (With that said, remember to occasionally connect with others without any end goal, too!)
Networking with purpose means making it a priority to seek out and contact people who share your interests and ideas, or are working in areas which you aspire to join. You do not need to ask them for anything in particular, other than to share their experiences over a coffee.
You would be surprised how flattered people can get from receiving an email or a call — especially from a stranger — simply saying, “I think what you do is really interesting, and I would love to hear more about it.” If you are open and honest, people are likely to respond well to your requests. Even if they don’t make time to see you, you know you have made their day by asking. But you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so at least give it a chance.
- Find local Meetup groups, community gatherings, and industry associations that are relevant to you. Go along and make new friends.
- Try to find a mentor in your professional field or the one to which you aspire to move.
- Consider volunteering to improve your network, either in a local business organization (such as a chamber of commerce) or a charity operating in your industry.
- Remember to really listen to others. The purpose of networking isn’t to get people to do things for you but to learn from them and build a community.
Find your creative outlet
Happy people have a creative outlet. Getting creative is known to help balance stress and improve overall wellbeing, leading to a better quality of life and maybe even lower healthcare costs.
Learn More: How to Easily Save Money on Healthcare Costs
Of course, happy people are also more productive. So finding a way to get creative is also a great investment in yourself.
If you happen to have a craft or creative skill you can then use to build a side hustle, you can double down on the impact of this investment. You’re not only bettering yourself with an outlet, but selling your products will give your finances a boost. Think about craft fairs and online outlets like Etsy, or use your personal network to gift and sell your crafts to others.
- Use YouTube to challenge yourself to learn something new or further develop an existing, crafty skill.
- Ask friends who attend creative classes or clubs to take you along to sample their activities (something which is usually free).
- Think about ways you can use your creations — sell, donate, or use as gifts for friends and family, among others.
- Reflect on how you feel during and after creative activities. Does it help to clear your mind and relax you? Are you then more productive with work and in the home or happier with your family?
Get a time management system
Finally, the investment that might actually be the most valuable of all.
Time is — as we know — our only truly finite resource. And yet, it can feel like you actually have more of it by putting in place a time management system that works.
Remember: the disciplines that work for one person will not necessarily fit the needs of another. Getting the perfect time management process for you can take some adjustment. But once you have it in place, it has a multiplying effect on all the other strategies above.
Simply put, you will have more time to implement any of the other ideas you like. Therefore, you’ll increase your overall return on investment.
- Use an app like Wunderlist to keep track of the “To-Do List.”
- Be realistic about what you can achieve every day. Set an intention in the morning to do no more than three or five key activities, and then do them well.
- An app like 24 Me is the online equivalent of a personal assistant, reminding you about key dates, activities, and even bills you need to pay. It has the ability to win you back hours over the course of the week.
- Look for slivers of “dead time” you can use better, such as your daily commute.
Now, Put It All to Work
For many of us, the hardest part is starting. It can be difficult to invest time into coming up with the tools and habits that promote good time management. However, putting this in place is the key to unlocking all of the other personal development ideas above.
There are plenty of ways to seek personal and professional growth without breaking the bank. Plus, when the payoff can come in the form of better balance, a more satisfying job, a healthier paycheck, and stronger all-around well being? Well, there’s every reason to give it a go.
Try these ideas as a starter, and let us know your own tips in the comments.