Personal Improvement

The Best Ways to Invest in Yourself

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We talk to you all the time about investing money. But money isn’t everything. If you invest in yourself, you can earn returns that will last your lifetime.

Invest In Your Mind

Some of us take meticulous care of our bodies, we go to the gym, we eat properly, exfoliate twice a week (you should do that if you aren’t). But we don’t spend nearly as much effort looking after our minds. There are small things we can do to better mind our minds.



Have you ever walked into someone’s home and not seen a single book? It’s scary! I would rather see furniture made from the human skin than no books. I don’t even believe it matters so much what you read. Sure, some things might be more beneficial than others, but I think the act itself, is what will improve your mind.

When you read, you have to be more focused than when doing something like watching television or messing around on the internet. We tend to read at quiet times of the day, first thing in the morning or in bed before going to sleep.

The quiet of the time spent reading and the time spent focusing on something pleasurable increases the benefits.

As I wrote, it doesn’t matter so much what you read but if you want to make reading count even more as a way to invest in yourself, read something beautiful, something inspiring, or something educational.

I keep a book of Percy Shelley’s poetry next to my bed and read a few pages every night so his words are the last things I hear before I fall asleep. If the last words you hear before bed are terrible headlines from CNN, give my method a try.

Create Order

Some people claim to work better with a messy desk and some people don’t seem to mind a messy house full of clutter. Science disagrees. Princeton’s Neuroscience Institute did a study on clutter and found,

“Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system.”

What that means in English, is that having clutter around you disrupts your ability to concentrate and process information. Even if all you’re trying to concentrate on is enjoying the book in front of you or your child speaking to you, having clutter around disrupts those things.

You don’t have to live or work in a sterile environment and you don’t have to have floors clean enough to eat from. It’s easy to control clutter and create order if you do it a little at a time. Every time you leave a room, take something that doesn’t belong there with you and put it away.

Use the time you’re waiting for something, water to boil, the microwave to heat your leftovers, to put something away or to wipe down a counter. Take five minutes before you settle into bed with your book and tidy up the kitchen and living room.

Coming home to, waking up in, and going to sleep in a tidy environment helps you focus and removes some of the “external noise” that we’re always bombarded by.


I actually hate doing this while I’m doing it and even though I do see some benefit after, I have yet to keep doing it consistently. But I keep trying! Because I know that it’s good for me.

Meditating is hard, at least, it is for me. I wriggle, I get intrusive thoughts, in my head, I make snarky comments to the voice in the guided meditation. I’m afraid meditating will make me one of those people, you know, the yoga people who reached max nirvana in the yoga realm so have moved on to meditation.

But there is a lot of scientific evidence that meditation has tremendous benefits. It reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, it improves concentration and memory, it can even help people struggling with addiction. 

If spending five minutes a day tidying your home can help improve your mind, spending five minutes a day meditating can do the same.

Get It Out Of Your Head

Do you sometimes lay in bed at night not able to sleep because you can’t stop thinking about all of the things you have to do the following day? Write a to-do list before you go to sleep.

Getting that list out of your mind will help you fall asleep easier. You won’t forget anything between night and morning because everything is down on paper.

It’s still January and your resolutions are probably (hopefully) still fresh in your mind. You’ve had the same few hanging around for a while now, but this is the year you will finally accomplish them.

Resolution is just another word for goal. And there is evidence that the simple act of writing down your goals increases the chances of reaching them.

A researcher at Dominican University found that people who wrote down goals, shared them with a friend, and sent a weekly update to that friend, were 33% more successful when compared to people who merely stated goals.

If you think your friends aren’t interested in your weekly updates, join us in the Community. We love this kind of stuff and will cheer you on.

Don’t let those thoughts rattling around in that big empty head of yours. Get them down on paper so you only have to think about them when you’re in a position to address them and not when you should be working, relaxing, or sleeping.

Would You Say That To A Friend?

The way we speak to ourselves internally can be brutal sometimes. Think of some of the words you do use or have used to describe yourself in a low moment; stupid, lazy, fat, failure. You wouldn’t dream of saying those things to a friend. It would hurt them and it’s not constructive.

So why on earth would you say those things to yourself? It’s no more helpful or healthy to speak to yourself this way than it would be to speak this way to a friend. Believe me, I’m not an acolyte of the “Everyone gets a trophy, everyone is beautiful, love yourself no matter how crap a person you are,” school of Tumblr.

Everyone has an area they need to improve in and some of us have a lot of them that need a lot of improvement. But you can acknowledge the need for improvement without using nasty, hateful language toward yourself.

Invest In Your Body

Some of us are in the opposite position described above, we tend to our mind to the detriment of our bodies. But one is not worth much without the other, so we need to get them in balance. If you’ve been neglectful of your body, there are some small but impactful things you can do to change that.


Get A Full Check Up

This is a money blog so let’s use a money analogy. If you don’t know how much money you have coming in or going out, you don’t know how healthy your finances are and what areas you need to address.

If you’re one of these people, it’s probably because it’s scary to look at those balances. You suspect there is a problem and you’re afraid to find out how big the problem is.

Do you see the parallel? This is why a lot of people don’t go to the doctor regularly. They suspect there is a problem and Drs Google and Web MD suspect cancer. It’s probably not cancer but you can’t be sure until you go to the doctor.

Even if you don’t suspect anything is wrong, you’re no doctor! In the likely event, there is nothing catastrophic wrong with you, a good doctor can help you achieve a much higher degree of feeling well than you may currently have.

Having certain vitamin deficiencies can make you feel low energy, can make it hard to concentrate, and can even make you feel mildly depressed, but most deficiencies are easily and cheaply addressed and can make a big difference to how well you feel.

Start A Habit

Just one, a little one because we already covered the big ones when we wrote down our goals earlier. But little habits can make a big difference to your health. Flossing is a good one.

It takes almost no time, effort, or money but has lots of benefits. There is still debate as to whether or not gum disease is correlated to heart disease, but why not be safe instead of sorry? At the very least, your breath will be improved and you will save yourself painful dental appointments.

You probably don’t drink enough water. Being even mildly dehydrated can make us tired, give us a headache, and make us think we’re hungry when we really aren’t. You don’t need to drink eight glasses a day though.

Some food, like vegetables and fruit, contain a lot of water and that counts toward your intake, but it won’t hurt to drink a little more. Never leave the house for an extended period of time without a full water bottle. Keep a glass on your desk. Drink a glass of water with your meal. Having water always to hand will make the habit stick.


Like water, you probably aren’t getting enough of this either and what you’re getting might be poor quality. This is a big, big one. If you can get enough, your life will improve.

If you chronically aren’t getting enough, your life can become hell. It’s bad for your heart, your sex life (what more convincing do you need?), it can even contribute to weight gain.

Go to bed early. I’m in bed by 10:00 most nights and I wake up naturally around 5:30. And I don’t feel tired or grumpy, I’m ready to be up and awake. We get our deepest, most restorative sleep between the hours of 10:00 pm and 2:00 am.

What are you doing after 10:00 anyway? Fair enough if you’re on a date or at a party. But most nights when you’re up late, you’re probably not doing anything you couldn’t do during your mornings which you will have more of if you get up earlier!

Sleep in a pitch dark room. If your curtains let light in, get a sleep mask. I’ve had this one for years and its great. It’s concave so your REM eye movements aren’t hampered. Sleep in a cool room, 65 F is ideal.

Turn off electronics an hour before bed. The blue light they emit hinders melatonin production which is a hormone tied to sleep. If you want to read on your Kindle, download f.lux. It’s a program that will change the color of your screen’s display to adapt to the time of day, warm at night and bright during the day.

Try to keep the times you go to sleep and the times you wake up consistent. If you love sleeping in on weekends, I know how crazy this sounds. But the reason you love sleeping in is that you aren’t getting enough sleep. It has nothing to do with hating to get up early.

Front Load Your Day

Because I’m a morning person, it’s when I’m at my best. I work out for 90 minutes, I drink my spinach smoothies, eat my high protein breakfast, get several productive hours of work done, eat a healthy lunch. Do some more work. And then my day starts to deteriorate.

Maybe I have an extra glass of wine or order take out or buy shit on Amazon that I don’t need. I don’t know why this is, I just know that it happens so I cram as much good stuff into the start of my day as I can. I ordered pad thai for dinner but at least, I’ve already worked out and eaten my days allotment of vegetables and fruit!

I think as the day goes on, the events of the day start to weigh on us and we lose our willpower to resist life’s little urges. Front load your day and half your guilt load.

Don’t Sit All Day

I hate this recent trend of comparing everything “bad” for us to smoking. Not enough sleep is as bad as smoking. Bacon is as bad as smoking. Hot dogs are as bad as smoking. The latest thing to be as bad as smoking is sitting all day.

Almost nothing is as bad as smoking unless maybe you’re in one of those religions that drinks strychnine and handles snakes.

But sitting down all day isn’t ideal. It makes your posture worse, it makes your joints ache, it makes your butt hurt. A lot of us have jobs that require most of our time be spent in front of a computer. But presumably, you’re allowed to get up now and then. And that’s what you should do.

Go for a walk on your lunch break, drink lots of water so you have to refill your glass a lot and have to pee a lot. Choose a bathroom on a different floor if you can and take the stairs each way.

As soon as I get settled in New Orleans, I’m going to buy an adjustable standing desk platform. If you talk on the phone a lot, pace while you do it. You feel low energy when you stay in one position for too long. Even five minutes an hour can help.

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This is a money blog after all.


Learn One Practical Skill

It doesn’t have to be something that makes you money, but it certainly can be. It can just be something to save you money. Learn to cook so you aren’t spending so much on eating out.

If you can read, you can cook so there is really no excuse. Budget Bytes is a great site for those who want to cook in order to save money (and be healthier).

Learn to do some basic car or home maintenance so you don’t always have to pay people to do things like change your oil or fix an appliance. If it needs fixing, there is a Youtube video to walk you through it.

You might even be able to turn this money saving skill into a money-making skill. Which brings us to our next point.

Start An LLC

I have listened to every single episode of LMM, closely too, since I write the show notes. Taking notes and everything! I’ve learned a lot but I think the episode that had the most impact on me was the one we did with Natali Morris about how to turn your family into a business.

That episode inspired me to get serious about freelancing so I could start an LLC and reap the tax benefits. In less than a month, I’ve had six freelance jobs! Waiting to get to Nola to start the LLC but I already have the clients which is the hard part.

If you think you don’t do anything that would be considered LLC worthy, go back and listen to that episode again. Do you babysit on weekends, give music lessons, tutor? Then you can do it.

Get the LLC set up, it’s easy using Legal Zoom, and then get serious about hustling for clients. Remember what Adam Carroll told us in the (also awesome) HELOC episode? Your biggest expenses over the course of your life are taxes and interest. Not all of us own a house but almost all of us have a skill we could turn into a business and use to reduce our taxes.

Fund Something

Pick one thing, an emergency fund, a retirement account, a college fund, a vacation fund. Anything that you can set up a dedicated account for so that money is not mingling around with the money in your checking account that you use to pay living expenses.

Because you know what happens to the extra money you leave in your checking account? You spend it on dumb stuff. Even better if you can have that money auto-debited from your account so you never even miss it.

Kill One Debt

If you can entirely rid yourself of one debt, it pays off in a few ways. It gives you more money, obviously. But it can give you a nice psychological boost too. You know that little feeling of satisfaction you get when you cross something off your to-do list? Killing one debt will give you that.

It might also give you momentum. Paying off that debt felt good! And you want to have that feeling again. So you might pay off another and maybe another after that. Those little victories are important.

Consider A Job Change

Getting a raise is great, but the average raise in 2015 was 3%. Inflation is 3.22%. So your raise sucked! If you want to make more money, change jobs, often. If you stay in a job longer than two years, you will earn 50% less over your lifetime than if you had job hopped.

Write a killer resume and start looking. Network every chance you get. Even if you’re happy at your job, it never hurts to be on the lookout for the next thing. It’s good to practice your interview skills and if you get a great offer, you can ask your current employer to match it.

Three percent a year is going to do nothing to improve your financial situation. Don’t let a misplaced sense of loyalty get in your way. Odds are you work in an at-will state and you can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. Your first loyalty lies with yourself.


You can invest in yourself by investing in relationships, or sometimes taking a loss and moving on. All the money in the world won’t keep you company.


Get Rid Of Bad Ones

Some people are draining. That friend that forgets about you when she has a boyfriend but comes crying when the relationship blows up. Some people are poisonous. They mistreat you in really damaging ways. And some people are perfunctory.

You maintain a vague relationship, maybe because you’ve known the person for a long time, but you wouldn’t really miss them if they were no longer in your life.

You can cut these people out of your life. You can. I give you permission to do it. And nothing bad will happen when you do. You will just be relieved. You will have more time for the people who really matter.

This advice goes for family too. There is a big stigma around cutting a family member out of your life. But consider if you would let a stranger treat you the way this person treats you. You wouldn’t.

Or at least, you shouldn’t. Being related to you is supposed to be less of a reason to treat you like shit, not a pass to do it. Cancer cells share your DNA too and you wouldn’t hesitate to cut them out.

Find A Community

The more social relationships you have, and the more kinds you have, the healthier you will be, mentally and physically. Most of us have family, friends, and co-workers. This year try to add one more group.

Volunteer for a cause you care about. Doing so has its own benefits. Helping others makes us happy in a way buying things never will.  Need to shape up but hate the thought of the gym? Join a rec sports league. Want to improve your career? Attend some meetups related to your field.

The wider your social circle, the more opportunities you will have coming your way. Need a new apartment? The lady who schedules the volunteers at the animal shelter owns a duplex and the second half is about to become vacant.

Looking to meet the boy or girl of your dreams? He or she is playing kickball in the local league. Fed up with your job? The organizer of the real estate meet up you go to is looking to hire for her firm.

Record A Relative

If you have a parent, grandparent, an aunt or uncle, anyone you love who is getting on in years, make a video of them. I did this with my grandmother a few years before she died. I set up a camera in the kitchen where we had spent many happy hours and asked her to tell me the same stories I always liked hearing.

Mostly stories about the times she and I spent together when I was a little girl. How we used to take a picnic and eat it by the creek near the first house I can remember living in.

How we used to walk down the road she lived on and burst tar bubbles in the hot tarmac (I wasn’t always the urban sophisticate I am now, okay?). How her mother, my great-grandmother, told her it was perfectly fine for me to eat nothing but meat which is all I ate for about a year when I was four (my Paleo roots are old and deep).

None of these things will probably make it into the scandalous biography someone writes about me one day, but they were, they are, happy memories. I bawled writing this. I have that video, now transferred to DVD.

If my apartment were on fire, it would be the only thing I would risk smoke inhalation to save. I might be brave enough to watch it one day. This has nothing to do with money but it might be the best piece of advice I have to offer you.

Pick Up The Phone Or A Pen

I don’t love talking on the phone. I think a lot of people in my age range and younger feel the same. And we almost don’t have to do it at all. I can go weeks without talking on the phone if you don’t count my front desk calling up guests.

But every now and then, it’s nice to get or make a phone call. It’s nice to hear that voice on the other end. And I’m going to have to have to start doing it more. I’m leaving a lot of good friends here in NYC whom I’m accustomed to seeing pretty often.

As that won’t be possible, we are going to have to start doing, at least, an occasional phone call. My best friend and I have spoken on the phone exactly once. Joey, you’re on notice.

It’s even better if you can Skype. I did this for the first time with my folks a few months ago. I’m a big girl now but the look of happy surprise on their faces, when they saw me on Skype, gave me a  pretty good feeling.

Writing a letter can be more meaningful than a text or an e-mail if for no other reason than almost no one does it anymore. A friend sent me a handwritten card over the holidays and I was delighted. It takes time to write a letter and it’s a tangible reminder of someone.

The next time you’re going to dash off an e-mail to someone you care about, pick up the phone or write what you wanted to say in a letter. They’ll appreciate it.

Rekindle An Old One

Not an old romance for cripes sake. That is almost always a terrible idea. But there are people who were once in your life who are no longer in your life for no better reason than you are both terrible at keeping in touch. I am so guilty of this and with the move imminent, I am determined not to let it happen again.

It’s not hard to keep in touch. A text, an e-mail, a Facebook message. But if you’ve lost touch with someone you care about, reach out to them. They will probably be delighted to hear from you.

Sometimes, though, both lives change and you don’t have the same connection you had before. That’s okay. Some people are in our lives at a particular time for a particular reason. Things change and the relationship isn’t the same. But you tried and that’s worth something.

Invest In Yourself

Not every investment starts with money. Some things are just as important. Don’t forget to tend to them and to yourself as well.

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Candice Elliott - Senior Editor Candice Elliott is a substantial contributor to Listen Money Matters. She has been a personal finance writer since 2013 and has written extensively on student loan debt, investing, and credit. She has successfully navigated these areas in her own life and knows how to help others do the same. Candice has answered thousands of questions from the LMM community and spent countless hours doing research for hundreds of personal finance articles. She happily calls New Orleans, Louisiana home-the most fun city in the world.
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