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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By James Brumley, Contributing Writer
| February 3, 2020
When you hear the word "investing," you probably think about stocks, bonds, maybe commodities. It's far less likely that your reflex will be inward – but indeed, you can, and should, invest in yourself, too.
Investing is an enormous industry solely dedicated to the idea of using capital to create more capital. We highly suggest you do it. But in many instances, investing time and energy – which, just like money, are in finite supply – in yourself can lead to a meaningful payoff, too. And sometimes that payoff includes the accumulation of wealth.
It's just a matter of application, and making a plan.
To that end, here's a rundown of 13 different ways to invest in your career, your mind and your happiness that have nothing to do with buying low and selling high. Becoming a more marketable worker, earning a chance to be your own boss and simply broadening your horizons can yield rewards, too.
Spending time with a mentor is one of the best investments you can make. Mentors are plentiful. It doesn't cost much to talk with them – just the price of a cup of coffee, or maybe an Uber trip if your mentor works elsewhere. And they can provide you with a wealth of benefits: They can improve your current job skills, help you network within your field and potentially become an employer in the future.
What workplace mentorship looks like will vary from one employer to the next. But in almost all cases, it could and should involve a senior employee acting as a guide for a newer worker with less company-specific experience. In some cases where management is willing to provide time off and funding, leadership "camps" and team-building experiences can also make employees more effective.
But what if your employer doesn't facilitate such programs? Be the organizer of a formal, company-wide effort that pairs newer workers with veterans. It's not a difficult sell. Your boss will benefit from a staff that at the very least better knows one another, and they'll probably appreciate the subsequent synergies too. Meanwhile, you'll make new intra-office contacts.
You can find mentors outside of your workplace, too. A simple way to start is by simply reaching out to leaders and other knowledgeable members of your field for "informational interviews" – nothing more than a cup of coffee or lunch to talk about the profession.
Depending on the topic, you might be able to find more plentiful outside resources. For instance, small-business entrepreneurs have a host of options at their fingers, such as Score.org, which pairs individuals up with local SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) chapters to pair them with one of more than 10,000 volunteer business experts.
Many young college graduates might be happy working in the field they just finished studying, but some individuals further into their careers might be mulling a change – perhaps a pivot toward one of these top jobs of the future.
In many cases, however, these individuals don't feel they can because they lack a degree related to their new dream job. Or if they do "change things up," they make a move within the industry rather than taking on a whole new category – even when that new job could prove more lucrative.
Knight Kiplinger points out the benefit of such an investment in his "Keys to Financial Security": "A $30,000 pay hike can be viewed as an annual return on a capital investment, like earning a continuous yield of 6% on $500,000 of savings. You know how hard it is to save up $500,000. Maybe that $30,000 boost in salary is easier to achieve."
There's good news for the hesitant, however. More than 80% of people who changed careers after they turned 45 years old found success in their new field, according to the American Institute for Economic Research.
For some occupations, such as teachers and nurses – two of the most popular second careers for older rookies – might require a brand-new degree. But the advent of the internet has changed the way we learn. Traditional college classrooms are still an option, though career-changers with families who might need to work at the same time they're going back to school have plenty of internet options. Roughly one-third of college-level studies are now done online, and many employers see this classwork as credible.
In some cases, a college degree might not be the right kind of continuing education for you. Some employers are more interested in specialized skills and credentials. Company hierarchies in the modern workplace are optimized by a diversity of detailed, focused knowledge that sometimes comes in the form of a professional-level certificate.
And at the least, there aren't many industries that don't encourage the attainment of specialized credentials.
Take the finance industry as an example. Most career-minded jobs in the sector require a minimum of a college degree. But some of the most successful financial planners are Certified Financial Planners, with a CFP designation. Chartered Financial Analysts (CFAs) also enjoy a high-level of credibility within the investment management arena. There's even a professional designation for investment professionals that specialize in analyzing stock charts: Chartered Market Technicians.
The technology arena arguably offers the most, and most diverse, options for readily attainable certifications. Certificates aimed at demonstrating expertise in Cisco networking, Microsoft systems and coding languages such as Java and C++ can all be earned in just a few months.
In most cases, these certificates can be secured while you work a full-time job. Some employers will even pay the costs associated with them.
Even when Toastmasters International was in its infancy nearly a century ago, the organization invoked the occasional eye roll. Some outsiders snickered as the seemingly silly gathering of like-minded people that just wanted to practice public speaking in front of other members wishing to do the same.
However, the clubs – all 16,800 of them that meet regularly in 143 different countries – are no joke. Aside from a judgment-free, supportive environment where individuals can get comfortable confronting the one thing they fear more than death itself, Toastmasters is a chance to network with other aspiring business-minded individuals in the area.
And the organization certainly has its share of high-profile success stories. MSNBC's Chris Matthews, comedian and actor Tim Allen, the late iconic Star Trek actor Leonard Nimoy, and the late James Brady, former presidential press secretary, are all former Toastmasters members, along with a whole slew of other recognizable names that leveraged their Toastmasters experiences into successful careers.
Toastmasters charges $45 in semi-annual dues as well as a $20 new member fee. Meeting frequency varies by club but typically are held weekly or every other week, for one to two hours per meeting.
It doesn't sound like a way to invest in yourself. It sounds more like a chore, or even just a flat-out expense. But you might find that simply moving from one place to another can open all sorts of doors … and not just career-oriented ones. New locales bring new people into your life, new kinds of entertainment, lower expenses and new scenery that can make your life better in a myriad of ways.
The latest relocating-minded trend is an exodus from the nation's biggest cities and the establishment of new roots in less urban areas. Bustling New York City lost 76,790 residents in 2019, and 143,000 in the year before that, mirroring a bigger trend evident across the entire northeaster portion of the country. Lousy weather is cited as one reason for the growing disinterest in the region, though the bigger concern is the sheer cost of living in places such as New York City and Washington, D.C.
Conversely, there are still good reasons to head toward the pricier parts of the country, particularly for people looking for jobs in the financial and tech arenas. Most Wall Street-type jobs require you to actually live somewhere near Wall Street, and Silicon Valley in northern California is the nation's technological development hub. If you want to work there, you typically have to be there.
If you're broadly looking for a place to start, consider these states with the fastest rates of job growth. And if you're looking to figure out how much to budget, Moving.com says the average cost of a long-distance move (1,000 miles) is $4,890, based on a two- to three-bedroom move of about 7,500 pounds.
The idea of a "job" has changed dramatically in just the past few years. Gone are the days when individuals clocked in at 9 a.m., worked for an employer that was trusted to remain in business, and then clocked out at 5 p.m.
The new normal is ... well, there is no new normal, given the statistics.
Roughly one-third of U.S. workers claim they utilize "alternative work" arrangements as their primary source of income. That is, they don't necessarily run their own businesses per se, but rather are contracted, self-employed people that rely on middlemen to connect with a stream of customers. Think driving for Uber, completing projects through Amazon Mechanical Turk, or picking up regular work at a website like Freelancer.com. In some cases, these workers might see more income by being self-employed. But certainly, some see less.
It doesn't have to be an either/or matter for the entrepreneurial-minded, though. Side gigs can be managed without "giving up your day job" by doing work outside of regular work hours.
The effort is arguably worth it. A recent survey performed by The Hustle found that the average side-gig operator spent an average of 11 hours per week as their own boss, and earned $12,609 per year – an average of about $22 per hour. Real estate, management and money-related side gigs appeared to be the most lucrative, according to the survey.
The payoff can be more than in immediate income. You can use a side gig to hone new skills or test new ideas that can be used to fuel a career shift.
Whether you're self-employed or just one of the lucky corporate employees who are allowed to work from home, there's much to be said about a space that functions and feels more like an office and less like a bedroom or basement. Indeed, you might be more productive working at home, for yourself or for an employer.
Despite all the noise often made about the pros and cons of working from home, it's not as widely available an option as you'd think. Only 7% of employers facilitate work-from-home options, according to Fundera, even though the option saves companies an estimated $44 billion per year. Fewer than 4% of employees (including freelance workers) are allowed to work from home for at least half the workweek, says Small Business Trends.
In other words, if you do have an employer that allows you to work from home, be sure to perform just as you would if in an office setting. Companies remain broadly suspicious of the practice.
The one area where it pays to spend more than you might like to on a home office is on a new computer. It is, for better or worse, the centerpiece of the modern work world. Not only are computers used to create and store documents, they're also becoming the key means of communication with clients and customers. They're even replacing phones with apps such as Skype. An unreliable or underpowered PC can quickly turn into a nuisance.
The benefits of living a healthier lifestyle are clear: A longer life, feeling better and being able to physically do more are all good things.
However, there's a financial upside to eating better and getting more exercise too. More than one, in fact. Chief among them is the sheer cost of being unhealthy, and as such, needing to see a doctor more often.
As part of efforts to make health insurance, and therefore health care, more affordable for everyone, deductibles have soared in recent years. In 2008, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average deductible for a single-person health plan was $735. It has since soared to $1,655. Premium prices are up, too, at $7,188 annually as of 2019, and the maximum out-of-pocket expense in 2019 for an ACA-compliant plan was $7,900 for individuals, and $15,800 for family plans.
Although health insurance is effectively a must-have, using it can prove expensive.
The other financial upside to healthier living: Feeling better, or not being distracted by fatigue, lets your mind stay sharp during sales calls, when meeting new people and when simply being sized up (literally and figuratively) by someone interested in your work. Every interaction or connection is in some way an effort to sell something. Being at your best makes it likelier you'll perform well.
Most individuals who live disorganized lives, personally and professionally, would argue they don't have time to organize. In reality, it takes more time, energy and money to not be organized.
Did you know the average American spends 2.5 days per year trying to track down lost items? That's the case, according to a study by Pixie, a smart-location solution for missing objects. Did you also know that the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (yes, it's a thing) reports that between 15% and 20% of the average household's budget is wasted by buying items to replace ones that simply can't be found? Here's the kicker: NAPO also estimates that 40% of housework currently being done in the U.S. wouldn't be necessary if we were willing to de-clutter.
It's not just time and money. Your mental well-being is at stake, too. People who have successfully mastered the art of self-organization find they're less stressed, sleep better and ultimately end up being more productive. In the workplace, a more organized desk, office, briefcase or vehicle makes a good impression on prospective clients, co-workers, even your boss.
By many measures, it's a cruel trick. Never before have people been expected to stay as focused as they are now, yet never before has it been so difficult to prevent your mind from being overwhelmed by a constant barrage of digital data.
Your smartphone has much to do with that. We check our phones for no particular reason about once every 12 minutes; some of us, more frequently.
But the challenge extends beyond just phones. On average, says productivity expert Chris Bailey, we're distracted by something every 40 seconds. Bailey also says all the regular distractions we experience ultimately extend the time needed to complete a task by 50%. Plus, it can take several minutes just to resume the work being done before the distraction took place.
So, how do you keep your mind sharp in this kind of environment?
For one, try to put down the phone a little more often. Then, start following some of the other steps on this list.
Staying in shape isn't just a good way to cut down on medical costs – it also helps brain health as you age. Art Kramer, professor of neuroscience and psychology at Northeastern University, tells Kiplinger that people who do more aerobic exercise tend to be better at solving problems, have better memory and show lower rates of dementia.
You want to "network," too – but not just professionally. Being socially active has many positive effects on the brain, including areas that have to do with memory. So, as you can, try to interact with friends and family more often.
The upside of building your own professional website or portfolio will vary from one person to the next, and with the intent. But if there's any arguable reason not to invest in yourself in this way, cost isn't it. The hosting price for a low-end (though still professional-looking) website can be less than $10 per month; for those willing to make a longer-term commitment, requesting and registering the domain name is often free.
What you can do with even the simplest of websites, however, is almost limitless.
Chief among those options for a job-seeker is the use of a website as a digital resume of sorts. But a website can provide a potential employer with work-related details that might otherwise be difficult to present with just one sheet of paper.
In that same vein, a website could serve as a repository of past work for individuals who offer services on a regular basis. Writers, artists and architects are just some of the people who benefit from being able to publicly showcase their work.
And naturally, any entrepreneur with e-commerce ambitions will want to develop a website, and spring for a few more of the bells and whistles required to do business online.
Sometimes it's difficult to push yourself to the proverbial next level, whatever that might mean in your given field. Stagnation can sap creativity, and disappointment can quell drive. It's all too easy to become complacent and resign yourself to doing the exact same thing until it's time to retire.
A career coach might be just the kick in the pants you need.
But first, you need to understand what a career coach is, and what it isn't. Career coaches aren't headhunters. They also can't tell you what sort of job you should be seeking. And they most certainly won't be able to help if your impasses are personal rather than professional in nature.
A career coach can, however, help you identify your strengths and weakness as other people see them, assist you in formulating a career-advancement strategy and advise you on how to make a successful career change.
They're not necessarily cheap. On a per-hour basis, they can charge anywhere between $75 and $250. Some ask for a longer-term, multimonth commitment that can cost a total of anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500.
But they can be worth the outlay. A promotion-related raise or a job offer with a new employer can easily fund such an investment within just a year.
There's a universe of great information floating around, ready to be gleaned. Much of it can't be found at your workplace. Instead, it's at a bookstore – or, for the more economically minded, a library.
The statistics on the matter are nothing short of amazing. Fast Company says the average CEO reads 60 books per year. Ben Eubanks, human resources analyst with Brandon Hall Group, believes "people who are successful are often crazy about reading. They make time for that because they understand how important it is, and it's kind of like a secret weapon." However, a person in the United States only reads between two and three books per year, most of those purely for pleasure.
A lot of that has to do with time available, but if you have recreational time you aren't spending on reading, you might consider re-allocating it to hitting the books.
The upsides? Aside from the knowledge and perspective gained from teaching yourself about something new, reading also expands your vocabulary and opens up opportunities to discuss new ideas with your boss (current or prospective). There's something powerful about being able to say, "That's something I was just reading about the other day."
One word of caution: Reading a work-related book just for the sake of being seen reading a work-related book can easily backfire. Most experienced managers can spot an effort get the wrong kind of attention. They might not like the tactic. Just read a book on faith that it will eventually matter, even if that means with a different employer.