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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 real estate, 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.

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, creating a better life, and expanding your creativity, then it’s not going to happen.

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.

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How to Invest in Yourself for a Better Life

1. Exercise Regularly

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

According to countless scientific and academic sources — including the Centers for Disease Control, National Institute on Aging, and the American Heart Association — 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, hiking, 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. When interviewed by NBC, Michael Yabut, training manager and national trainer at Title Boxing Club, explained that having a set group of people waiting for you can increase your motivation and accountability, causing you to stick with your exercise goals. A 2012 study in Annals of Behavioral Medicine supports the idea. In this study, participants who worked out with a virtual partner exercised twice as long as those who exercised alone.

You also might exert more effort if you exercise with a friend or colleague who’s already in shape. According to a 2010 study in the Journal of Social Sciences, study participants were assigned to three groups: biking alone, biking with a low-fit companion, or biking with a high-fit companion. Researchers found that the participants who biked with a high-fit companion exercised harder than the other two groups.

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. Seven minutes of exercise is better than nothing, and it keeps your exercise habit alive instead of letting yourself begin to slip.

Once you’ve been exercising for seven minutes, you might find that it’s not so bad. So, if you’re so inspired, 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 of movement, 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

You may love them or hate them, but the truth is 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 also help clarify what you want. Instead of having a vague dream or occasional wishful thinking, setting a goal helps uncover what you truly want. More importantly, it’s the first step in figuring out what you need to do to get there. Once you’ve set a goal you can focus your attention and channel your energy to achieve it.

When it comes to setting a goal that is meaningful yet challenging enough to keep you motivated, use the S.M.A.R.T. acronym as a guide. S.M.A.R.T. goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-Bound

Your goal should also be framed in a positive light rather than a negative light. This is called approach versus avoidance. A 2017 research article in American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine explains that approach goals help you move toward a desired outcome, while an avoidance goal helps you move away from an undesired outcome. For example, setting a goal that you will eat an apple every afternoon for a snack to lose weight is an approach goal, while setting a goal that you will avoid snacking on junk food to lose weight is an avoidance goal.

Although these two goals sound like they would have a similar outcome, in reality how we frame a goal influences how we feel about it. And this, in turn, affects how likely we are to stick with the goal. A 1996 study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that people who set avoidance goals evaluated themselves more negatively on measures of self-esteem, optimism, and depression.

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.”

You can also try using StickK, a goal-setting platform that forces you to put money on the line in order to achieve your goals. StickK is unique among apps that financially incentivize working toward your goals in that you choose what happens to your money if you don’t achieve your goal. You can designate it to go to a friend in need, or to support a charity or even an anti-charity — a cause or organization you can’t stand. Knowing that your investment could go to an organization you abhor can be a powerful motivator to stick with your goal.

3. Strengthen Your Current Skills

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 at least 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 into which you want to go. Skills such as strong communication, leadership, team building, emotional intelligence, negotiating, business writing, and public speaking are valuable in a wide variety of fields. You can also focus on building other highly valuable soft skills such as conflict management, time management, and persuasion skills. 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

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 day job 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 or to prospective clients.
  • Strengthening your personal finance skills can help you save extra money to start a business or side gig.
  • Taking the time to learn a new language can help you land a new job or achieve a promotion. Look into services like Babbel, which has more than 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 help you create a better life and lead to greater overall satisfaction. You can also learn a hobby you can turn into a thriving business.

One way to improve your skill set 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 at an academic institution or through platforms such as Udemy or Coursera.

5. Attend Seminars and Workshops

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 meet other like-minded people, or find a mentor who can help you in your career.

6. Keep a Journal

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, and this can be an important element of self-care. Writing out your thoughts and feelings gives you the opportunity to release them in a safe, nonjudgmental 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.

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 and Declutter Your Stuff

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 documents. Instead of constantly picking up clutter, you can use this extra time to invest in yourself in other areas, such as listening to an inspiring podcast, exercising, or taking an online course.

According to Mayo Clinic, having an organized office or workspace might help you focus and be more productive simply because clutter makes it harder for your brain to process information.

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 activities you love because there’s less house — and less stuff — to clean and maintain.

Getting organized and opting to live with less can benefit you financially. You can start a side hustle selling items you no longer want, and you can use this extra income to pad your savings account or emergency fund.

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 you no longer want to keep, you can use Decluttr to sell them for cash.

8. Break Your Bad Habits

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 tend to procrastinate. You might bite your nails, spend too much time watching Netflix, 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 behaviors 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.”

You might also want to use an app to help you break a bad habit. One option is HabitBull for iOS and Android, which helps you visually track the habits you want to change or improve.

9. Read

Unfortunately, leisure reading is at an all-time low. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, only 53% of Americans say they read a book for pleasure in 2017, the lowest level since the survey began in 1982. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2020 American Time Use Survey found that, on average, Americans between the ages of 15 and 44 spent 10 to 12 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 a 2016 study conducted by Yale University School of Public Health, 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.

Reading can also help you build skills that can improve your career prospects. For example, a 2013 study in Science found that reading literary fiction can help you develop empathy, which is a vital skill when you work with others.

If you have children, you can invest in their future careers with reading. According to a 2011 Oxford study, reading books at age 16 is linked with getting a professional or managerial position later in life. Another 2019 study in Social Science Research found that immersing children in book-oriented environments benefits their educational achievement and occupational standing later in life.

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 a 2013 study in Creativity Research Journal — 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 per 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 social media. 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.

Keep in mind that reading doesn’t have to be an expensive hobby. There are many ways to save money on books, like using the public library, downloading free ebook classics, and buying used books. You can also listen to audiobooks during your commute or workout session to explore more titles.

10. Find a Creative Outlet

Want to know the world’s most sought-after job skill? According to data from LinkedIn Learning, creativity was the skill that everyone wanted in 2020. This was the second year creativity made the top spot, so it’s likely that it will continue to be in high demand in the years to come.

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

There are creative financial planners who come up with inventive and fresh ways for their clients to save money or build a retirement nest egg, creative sales professionals who find new and exciting ways to make great presentations, and creative real estate investors who find new ways to invest. Parents rely on creative thinking all the time — 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 can help to start with doing some small creative task without stopping to judge or edit what’s on the page, like doodling with your eyes closed or speed writing about whatever comes to your mind. 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

According to Northwestern Mutual’s 2020 Planning & Progress Study, the average American now has over $26,621 in personal debt, which excludes home mortgages, and 33% are within three missed paychecks of having to borrow money or skip bills.

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 common expenses, including car insurance.

If you’re currently carrying debt, come up with a budgeting 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 debt consolidation through a personal loan from sources like 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 or start working from home, discover the career you always wanted, follow your dreams, and uncover hobbies that fill you with joy. They’ll improve your health and relationships, make you a more interesting person, and lead to a better life.

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.