Most of us think of investing in terms of stocks, bonds, real estate, retirement plans, investment portfolios, investment allocations—the usual topics of discussion on the subject. When we get into this discussion, the concept of investing can be reduced to a math equation—how much do we invest here, what’s the expected rate of return, etc.
We need to invest money in financial instruments as a way of providing for the future, but traditional investments aren’t always as foolproof as we’d like to believe. For one thing, no matter what the get-rich-quick books, programs and proponents proclaim, relatively few people will invest their way to wealth. For another, while we can choose where and how much to invest, we have little control over what happens once we commit our money.
Is there a place we can invest our money if we’d like more certainty? Where the investment returns can be reliably higher?
Yes! Take a look in the mirror! Rather than looking to investment vehicles that are beyond your control and even understanding, take a close look at investing in the single best investment available: YOU!
If that sounds simplistic, consider that the vast majority of people will earn far more in their lifetimes than they’ll ever accumulate in an investment portfolio. Best of all, you have more control over the methods and outcomes of your investments in your own abilities than you can possibly have over a portfolio of stocks and bonds.
So how and where do you “invest” in yourself?
Career and business skills. This is the most obvious “investment” you can make in yourself—developing new work-related skills and improving on existing ones. Most of us hope our employers or clients will recognize the merits of our skills and reward us with promotions, higher pay or more business, but we can easily forget that no one will do as much until we demonstrate measurable improvements in our abilities and performance.
And how do we do THAT? By building on the skill levels that we already have and by adding new ones that increase our contribution to the bottom line.
Simply put, consciously work to be better at what you do and reach beyond your current skill set and reach higher. Take courses at a local college, attend seminars, buy computer programs, read books. Check out Youtube! There are thousands of free how-to topics presented there, and they’re used by people in different fields all the time. Think how you might advance your business or career by learning a new language—in an economy that’s increasingly global in scope, being able to speak with people in other countries—in their language—could open up vast opportunities.
Better health. Our bodies are the vehicles that will carry us through our entire lives; if that isn’t worthy of a bigger investment then nothing is!
Beyond the abstract notion of “better health”, there are tangible benefits to maximize your level of health. Energy level is one. Better health means more of it, and the more you have, the more you will achieve. That can translate into greater accomplishment, more creativity and ultimately, higher income!
And at an even more fundamental level is the connection between poor health and higher health care costs. Neglect your health and you will pay more to cure your ills and for health insurance premiums.
Knowledge. In any industry there are many practitioners but few experts—aim to become one of them! Learn your field, not only from the inside, but also from the outside by how it interacts with related fields and how it’s perceived by customers. Become a leader in your department. Most people rise to a comfort level in their job and often stop growing. Never stop learning and growing!
You can win by default just by having a little bit more knowledge than your coworkers or competitors. And that, once again, can translate into more pay or customers. But you won’t do that without an investment of your time, effort, and even money.
Networking. Many people think of networking mainly in the context of finding a new job, but there’s far more to it. Networking should be used to expand your web of contacts; the more people you connect with in your field and in fields related to your business or industry, the greater your reach and knowledge base.
People are a resource—connect with enough of them and you’ll be able to get information, connections and business opportunities that the unconnected only wish they had. Sometimes just knowing the right people or resource can lift you head-and-shoulders above your peers, and all kinds of benefits come with that.
Best of all, expanding your network is probably the least costly method of investing in yourself. Most of what it requires is a commitment of time, a spirit of curiosity and a desire to get answers; think you can handle that?
Money management. This is one of the most underrated skills of all. If you haven’t mastered your own finances, other efforts in your career or business can be sabotaged by mismanagement. No matter how much money you earn, it’ll never be enough. Money will disappear through the cracks of a weak or non-existent money management system.
Apart from the obvious potential to lose money through over-spending, excess debt and lack of savings, being out of control financially spreads to the rest of your life. Your mind can be consumed by concerns over basic survival—when you should be concentrating on advancing your career or business.
Mastering money management frees up your mind and your resources to move ahead. Is that a worthy investment? Most of what’s needed to gain control of finances can be found in the financial press, in books written by financial experts and on blogs like Fiscal Geek.
Am I suggesting that you abandon investing in financial instruments in preparation for the future? No. But it’s definitely worth diversifying some of your resources into the best and most reliable investment in your portfolio: you!
(photo credit: Shutterstock)
This post is from FiscalGeek staff writer: Kevin Mercadante. I’m very excited to have him contributing to the site. You can find out more about him at his own blog OutOfYourRut.com.