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11 Best Ways to Invest in Yourself & Build a Better Life (Free or Low-Cost)

Here at Money Crashers, we talk a lot about investing: investing in stocks, investing in property, investing in art, investing in quality products and services so you don’t waste money — the list goes on and on. However, there’s another type of investing that can pay huge dividends: investing in yourself.

Investing in yourself provides a great return on investment, in a myriad of ways. It can improve your career prospects and help you earn more money. It can build your confidence, which can help you pursue your dreams and opens doors for new opportunities. It can enrich your life by introducing you to people, ideas, hobbies, and experiences you might have never encountered otherwise. And it will help you create a life that’s more satisfying and balanced.

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There’s another good reason why you should spend the time and money investing in yourself: because no one else will. You, and you alone, are in control of your life and career. If you don’t work on learning new skills, enriching your life, and expanding your creativity, then it’s not going to happen.

There is an endless number of ways to invest in yourself. Most involve things that you shouldn’t sacrifice to save money in the first place: health and wellness, relationships, and other domains outlined in this article from Life and My Finances. And many of them are free or low-cost, anyway.

You can invest in yourself in many different areas, including your physical health, emotional health, career, education, goals, creative pursuits, passions or interests, and relationships. Here are some ideas to help get you started.

1. Exercise Regularly

Couple Exercising Together Outdoors Stretching Running

Hands down, getting enough exercise every day is one of the best investments you can make in yourself.

According to Michigan State University — and countless other scientific and academic sources — daily exercise has been linked to more energy, more productivity, reduced stress, improved brain power, better memory, and even increased creativity. It’s the best way to maintain a healthy weight, improve your mood, ward off disease, combat mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, and improve your focus. Harvard Business Review states that the benefits are so great that regular exercise should be part of everyone’s job description. You’ll be a better worker, a better team player, and a better problem-solver when you make exercise a habit.

You don’t need to join a gym to exercise. You can exercise by going for a walk, doing yoga, or working out at home. Go dancing, swimming, for a hike, or take the dog for a long walk. It doesn’t really matter what type of exercise you do as long as it’s something you enjoy and can do most days. If you need help coming up with new workouts, you could try Aaptiv. They’re adding new workouts each week so you’ll always find something new and exciting.

It can also help to join a team. Research cited by Harvard Business Review found that exercise participants were more likely to keep going when other people depended on their participation — in other words, if you don’t show up, other people will suffer. For example, if you’re part of a soccer or volleyball team, you need to be there for everyone to succeed. You’re more likely to go when you know other people will be negatively affected if you don’t.

One Trick to Exercising When You Don’t Want To

There will always be days when you don’t want to exercise, when the couch and television look particularly appealing. So try this: Tell yourself you’re only going to exercise for seven minutes. That’s all you have to do — just seven minutes of exercise and then you can stop.

Once you’ve been exercising for seven minutes, you might find that it’s not so bad. So, set a goal that you’ll put in five more minutes. You can do five more minutes, right? Sure you can; five minutes is nothing.

Keep setting micro-goals for yourself like this. If, after 12, minutes you still feel tired or grumpy, then by all means, throw in the towel and hit the couch. But chances are that after 12 minutes, your endorphins will be flowing and you’ll have more energy, at least enough to make it 20 minutes — and then maybe 30. Before you know it, you’ll feel better, and you’ll have gotten your exercise in for the day.


2. Set Goals

Goals Notepad Meditating Vision Strategy

You may love them or hate them, but the truth is that setting goals will help you accomplish more. Once you’ve identified a goal and written it down, you’re more likely to change your behavior and take actionable steps to achieve that goal.

Goals help clarify what you want. Instead of having a vague dream or occasional wishful thinking, setting a goal helps uncover what you truly want and, more importantly, it’s the first step in figuring out what you need to do to get it.

There are thousands of books and websites devoted to the art and science of goal setting; try Michael Hyatt’s book “Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals” and John Doerr’s TED Talk “Why the Secret to Success Is Setting the Right Goals.”


3. Strengthen Your Current Skills

Skill Set Growing Strengthening Desk Office Supplies

No matter what you do, you already have and use a wide range of skills in your career and your life. But are you considered an “expert” in the skills or areas you rely on most? Probably not.

Honing the skills you rely on most is one of the best ways to invest in yourself. After all, you already have a foundation of knowledge in one particular area. It’s far easier to become an expert in a field you’re already familiar with than one that you know nothing about.

If the field you’re in now is one you plan to stay in, then it’s worth your time and energy to become the best at what you do. Daniel Coyle’s books “The Talent Code” and “Little Book of Talent” are two great resources for learning how to build expertise efficiently to maximize your time.

If the field you’re in now isn’t one you want to stay in, then analyze which skills will be useful in the field you want to go into. Skills such as strong communication, leadership, team building, negotiating, business writing, and public speaking are valuable in a wide variety of different fields. So focus on strengthening the skills you’ll use in your next career or business venture to build your confidence and marketability.


4. Learn a New Skill

Learn Something New Table Office Meeting Helping

Another great way to invest in yourself is to keep learning throughout your life. Learning a new skill not only keeps your mind sharp, but it also adds yet another tool you can use to perform better in your career, qualify for a promotion, or even start your own business.

First, think about what new skill would help you succeed in your current career or a career you’d like to have in the future. For example:

  • Learning more effective management techniques can help you create a more cohesive team.
  • Getting more organized, or learning how to manage your time better, can help you get more done during the day.
  • Learning public speaking skills can make you a more effective presenter when you’re pitching ideas to your boss.
  • Taking the time to learn a new language can help you land a new job or achieve a promotion. Look into services like Babbel who have over a dozen language courses you can take. You’ll be speaking a new language before you know it.

Other skills such as home repair, self-defense, gourmet cooking, playing a musical instrument, or learning to code may or may not affect your career, but they can add more meaning to your life and lead to greater overall satisfaction. You can also learn a hobby you can turn into a thriving business.

One way to learn a new skill is to sign up for classes at a community college or trade school. These schools offer courses on nights and weekends, and many of their students are working professionals doing the same thing you are: trying to improve their lives and career prospects. You can also learn a new skill on your own by reading books or taking online classes through platforms such as Udemy or Coursera.


5. Attend Seminars & Workshops

Business Meeting Speaker Seminar Tutorial Class Office Work

Seminars, conferences, and workshops are excellent opportunities for investing in yourself for a few reasons.

First, these events help expand your knowledge in an area or field you’re already familiar with. Advancing your knowledge and skills can help you build expert status and make you more effective and productive in your current role.

They’re also great networking opportunities. Meeting and chatting with other professionals in your industry is a great way to make connections and friends or find a mentor who can help you in your career.


6. Keep a Journal

Journal Woman Writing Notes Diary

Keeping a daily journal might sound like a surprising way to invest in yourself. After all, what will scribbling in a journal every day do to help improve your life? But daily journaling forces you to be more self-reflective. Writing out your thoughts and feelings gives you the opportunity to release them in a safe, non-judgmental space.

According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, daily journaling can help you:

  • Manage anxiety
  • Reduce stress
  • Cope with depression
  • Prioritize problems and cope with fears
  • Better identify negative thoughts and behaviors

Journaling can also help you cope with workplace burnout and stress because you can vent the frustrations and fears you feel while at work, whether you’re dealing with difficult colleagues or even coping with workplace bullying.

Writing your problems out on paper can also help you solve them more efficiently. Typically, we solve problems with the left side of our brain, which is known for logic and problem-solving. However, the physical act of writing activates the right side of the brain, which is known for creativity and intuition. Writing out complex problems, then, can help you come up with a unique solution that might not have occurred to you if you were only thinking it out.

Over time, daily journaling can help you develop more self-awareness, feel more gratitude, and identify dreams and goals you want to achieve in life.


7. Get Organized & Declutter Your Stuff

Declutter Your Life Cardboard Box Stamp Ink

How is getting organized and decluttering all the things you no longer want or need an investment in yourself?

First, being organized is a huge time-saver. You’ll always know where everything is, and you won’t have to spend time searching for lost items or scrambling because you’re late for another appointment.

Second, it feels liberating to declutter your home and only own and use items that you love. When you own less “stuff,” you might even decide to downsize your home, and living in a smaller home can save you a significant amount of money in the short and long term. It can also free up your time to do things you love because there’s less “house” to clean and maintain.

If you’re not sure where to start, read up on different organizing and decluttering approaches. The KonMari method created by Marie Kondo is incredibly popular for a reason; it’s a disciplined yet highly effective method for getting your entire life organized.

Pro tip: Once you have items that you no longer want to keep, you can use Decluttr to sell them for cash.


8. Break Your Bad Habits

Break Bad Habits Build Good Habits Post It Reminders

We all have bad habits. Some of us shop too much, while others drink or smoke too much. Some of us don’t get enough exercise, while others eat too much fast food or procrastinate. You might bite your nails, spend too much time on your phone, watch too much TV, or obsess over your worries at night. Only you know what your bad habits are. They’re the negative behavior patterns that hurt your physical, emotional, or social well-being. And if you’re like most people, you have a long list of things you’d like to stop doing.

Making an effort to break your bad habits can be incredibly liberating, and when you replace a bad habit with a good one, such as exercising consistently or getting enough sleep, it can transform your life.

Breaking a bad habit takes energy and persistence. It also helps to have a plan. Time magazine has some helpful tips, as does Judson Brewer’s TED Talk “A Simple Way to Break a Bad Habit.”


9. Read

Man Reading Book On Couch

Unfortunately, leisure reading is at an all-time low. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, only 43% of Americans admitted they read for pleasure in 2016. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2017 American Time Use Survey found that, on average, women spend around 33 minutes per day reading, while men spend 22 minutes. Of course, that’s the mean average; if you’re employed full-time, you only spend around 16 minutes per day reading. We’re reading less as a nation, but we shouldn’t be. Reading offers many important health benefits and is a great way to invest in yourself.

According to research conducted by Yale School of Public Health and cited by Reader’s Digest, people who read 30 minutes per day for several years lived, on average, two years longer than those who didn’t. Reading also keeps your brain healthy because it helps forge new pathways in all four areas of the brain. Over time, this stimulation and strengthening can help keep you sharp as you age, and according to ABC News, it might even reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Reading books is better for your brain than reading newspapers or magazines because it forces you to use critical thinking skills and make connections from one chapter to the next. This “deep reading” can help promote quicker thinking and help prevent cognitive decline. Reading can also help you develop more empathy and compassion and, according to research cited by The Atlantic, can help increase your tolerance for uncertainty — which can help you take more risks at work that might pay off in your career.

So how can you read more books? First, set a goal. For example, start by reading one book a month and devote at least 30 minutes a day to reading, perhaps right before bed. You could also use reading, which is a good habit, to replace a bad habit, such as watching too much TV or spending too much time on your phone. Instead of watching TV or scrolling on your phone when you have some free time, force yourself to read for at least 30 minutes first.


10. Find a Creative Outlet

Girl Hand Painting Creative Outlet Imagination Art

Want to know the world’s most sought-after job skill? According to data from LinkedIn cited by Inc. Magazine, creativity is the skill that everyone wants in 2019.

Many people think they’re not creative because they can’t draw a portrait or write a piece of music. However, that’s a very narrow way to look at creativity. Humans are, by nature, creative beings. Everyone, including you, is creative in some way.

There are creative accountants who come up with inventive and fresh ways for their companies to save money or invest it, creative sales professionals who find new and exciting ways to make great presentations, and creative managers who find novel solutions to old problems. Parents rely on creative thinking all the time; to prove this, watch any parent stop a crying 3-year-old in the grocery store without resorting to candy.

At heart, creativity is about solving problems or giving people a new way to look at an old or established idea. Learning how to be more creative will strengthen your reputation at work and bring more meaning and fun into your life.

You can learn how to access your creativity, just like you can learn any other skill. Start by making a list of some creative projects or hobbies you’ve always wanted to do. Take a painting class or learn to draw. Start writing short stories, take an improv class, or learn how to make puppets.

It also helps to just do random things, like doodling with your eyes closed or speed writing about whatever comes to your mind, without stopping to judge or edit what’s on the page. You can also play with your kids; kids are the world’s experts on creative thinking, and we could learn a lot if we looked at the world with their same wonder and curiosity.

There are several great TED Talks on how to be more creative. Start with Marily Oppezzo’s “Want to Be More Creative? Go or a Walk” and David Kelley’s “How to Build Your Creative Confidence.”

There are also plenty of books to help get your creative juices flowing. Danny Gregory’s “Art Before Breakfast” provides prompts that only take five or 10 minutes a day. Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist” is a classic, and his blog is also thought-provoking and full of daily inspiration.


11. Get Out of Debt

Debt Free Post It Sign Arrow

According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2018 Planning and Progress Study, the average American now has over $38,000 in personal debt, which excludes home mortgages; 25% of this debt is credit card debt.

Debt is stifling. It causes stress, prevents you from pursuing your dreams, can hold you back from taking risks in your career, and can negatively affect your relationships. It also costs a lot of money and can cause you to spend more than you can afford.

There are so many benefits of being debt-free. You can put more money toward your retirement. You can spend money guilt-free on things that bring meaning to your life, such as experiences. And you’ll have a higher credit score, which can lead to better job prospects and lower costs for a multitude of things, including car insurance.

If you’re currently carrying debt, come up with a plan to get debt-free fast. Try debt snowflaking or even stop using your credit cards for a while. If you have a lot of high interest debt, you can use a personal loan from Credible.com. This will help you lower your interest rate and consolidate your debts into one monthly payment. The feeling of freedom you’ll experience from eliminating your debt can’t be measured in dollars and cents.


Final Word

Investing in yourself means making small, continual improvements that enable you to do more, be more, grow more, and love more.

These little improvements can lead to immediate opportunities and long-term positive change. They can help you earn more money, discover the career you always wanted, follow your dreams, and uncover hobbies that fill you with joy. They’ll improve your health and relationships and make you a more interesting person.

So, how do you want to invest in yourself?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a writer with over 15 years experience covering personal finance, natural health, parenting, and green living. She lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina with her husband and two young sons, where they're often wandering on frequent picnics to find feathers and wildflowers.

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