Smart Ways To Further Your Career for $20 or Less

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FG Trade / Getty Images

If you want some career advice, consider this: You don’t need to shell out big bucks to get ahead professionally.

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“These days, many people think that investing in your career means spending thousands of dollars on fancy one-day professional retreats, or taking business contacts out to expensive meals,” said career coach and TV contributor Elizabeth Koraca. “Don’t get me wrong, these things can be helpful and make a difference. But there are also many ways to invest in your career that cost very little or nothing at all.”

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In fact, Koraca and other experts said there are ways to invest in yourself for $20 or less if you want to reach your career goals. Keep reading to find out how to improve and grow your career without spending a lot.

Last updated: Sept. 28, 2021

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Take a Client, Mentor or Colleague Out for Coffee

  • Cost: $6 for two cups

That latte — or a basic cup of coffee — can actually be a worthwhile expense when it comes to your career. “Taking a client, mentor or colleague out for coffee costs a few dollars but can make a huge difference in nurturing a network connection that will benefit you for years to come,” Koraca said. “You never know when someone is going to have your next key piece of advice, connection with your dream company or perfect job offer.”

Read: 5 Tech Skills Everyone Should Learn To Grow Their Career

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Learn To Negotiate

  • Cost: Less than $20

Negotiation is a key skill for advancing your career and increasing your pay. But it doesn’t come naturally for many people. However, you can learn to be a better negotiator with a variety of books recommended by Koraca. All of these books are available on Amazon for less than $20.

  • “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss
  • “You Can Negotiate Anything: The World’s Best Negotiator Tells You How To Get What You Want” by Herb Cohen
  • “Fearless Salary Negotiation: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Paid What You’re Worth” by Josh Doody
  • “Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create and Lead” by Tara Mohr

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Assess Your Strengths

  • Cost: Less than $20

One of the best investments you can make in your career is to buy the “StrengthsFinder 2.0” book by Tom Rath and take the assessment to find your top five strengths, said TEDx speaker and coach Scott Asai. “It’s not an exclusive career aptitude test,” he said. “Instead, it focuses on who you are in your professional and personal life to find work that fits you.”

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Make the Most of LinkedIn

  • Cost: Free

If you’re not already on LinkedIn, sign up for a free account on this social network for professionals. “Your LinkedIn profile should offer as much information and keywords as your resume because hiring managers are searching LinkedIn every day for candidates, and your next job could be because they found you on LinkedIn,” said Debbie Winkelbauer, CEO of recruiting firm Surf Search. And include a contact email in your profile summary so hiring managers can contact you directly.

Build your LinkedIn network by connecting with all of your colleagues, clients and others in your field. “You are likely to be hired for your expertise and industry knowledge,” Winkelbauer said. “The bigger your LinkedIn network, the more likely you will be found when someone in your industry is looking to hire.”

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Create Digital Business Cards

  • Cost: Free

Having a business card can improve your credibility and, of course, make it easier for potential clients or employers to contact you. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend a lot — or anything — to create one. Mark Anthony Dyson, the founder of The Voice of Job Seekers blog, said the free Inigo app is a great way to create digital business cards — and to store business cards. “Many professionals prefer the electronic version rather than the traditional,” he said.

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Improve Your Time-Management Skills

  • Cost: $11.99

If you feel overwhelmed by everything you have to do at work, you might benefit from taking a time-management course. Career coach Lindsay Gordon, owner of A Life of Options, recommended the “Time Management Mastery: Do More, Stress Less” course on Udemy, which often is on sale for $11.99. “It helps you identify your productivity preferences, how to do task management, plan your work and more,” she said.

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Follow Inspiring Individuals on Social Media

  • Cost: Free

Social media can be a useful tool to advance your career if you follow inspiring individuals who share valuable advice, Koraca said. For example, as a career coach, Koraca offers weekly professional advice on her Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts on everything from beating burnout to giving a presentation with confidence. If you’re selective about the people you follow, you’ll get more out of social media, she said.

Read: 24 Job Skills You’ll Need To Grow Your Career This Year

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Seek Informational Interviews

  • Cost: $0 to $10

Every week of her senior year of college, Tori Dunlap went on an informational interview to grow her network, learn about potential job opportunities and understand the scope of her potential career field. “By interviewing entrepreneurs, marketers, PR directors, and more, it lead me to working as the head of communications and marketing for a company of 5,000 right out of school,” said Dunlap, who now is a money and career coach at Her First $100k.

Setting up informational interviews with professionals can cost nothing — or less than $10 if you buy a cup of coffee for the person who is offering their time and advice to you, as Dunlap did.

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Join Your Alma Mater’s Alumni Association

  • Cost: Varies

A great way for recent college graduates to invest in their careers is to join their university’s alumni association, said career strategist Carlota Zimmerman. Then attend as many events as possible to make connections and grow your network. However, before attending the association’s events, prepare yourself for networking by having a pitch about yourself and business cards to distribute, she said.

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Subscribe To Magazines Related To Your Field

  • Cost: Less than $20

Another way to stay on top of trends in your field is to subscribe to magazines related to your career. “This is an easy way to impress your superiors and come up with new, innovative ideas to help your company grow,” said Matthew Ross, co-owner of sleep and mattress review website The Slumber Yard.

For example, Ross said his company’s video production manager pays for a camera and photography magazine so he can stay current on the latest technology, editing software and lighting techniques. As a result, the employee is constantly coming to Ross and his business partner with new ideas on how to improve the quality of their videos. “I can tell you that my business partner and I really appreciate how on top of everything he is,” Ross said. “It definitely does not go unnoticed.”

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Join a Toastmasters International Club

  • Cost: $20 membership fee

One of the best career investments that Mark Webster, co-founder of Authority Hacker, said he has made was joining a local Toastmasters International club, a nonprofit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills. “It’s the kind of environment that challenges you to develop everything from the way you posture in front of others, to how well you can observe and interact with other people,” Webster said. “It’s also a great place to network and find lasting friendships or business partnerships.”

Toastmasters International has a $20 new member fee. Plus, you pay dues of $45 every six months.

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Learn How To Solve Problems

  • Cost: Around $15

Problem-solving is an important skill to learn to help advance your career. Fortunately, there’s an affordable way to enhance your problem-solving skills. “Every person and career seeker needs to invest $15 for ‘Designing Your Life,’ a book that shows you how to use design thinking to solve problems,” said Dr. Charlene Dunn, a career coach with Infinity Educators.

The authors, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, show how to address problems and challenges as designers would by using creativity, improvisation and reframing. The bigger aim of the book, though, is to help people design and build a career and life they love.

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Sign Up For Newsletters

  • Cost: Free

If you want an edge over other job candidates, you have to continue to increase your knowledge about the industry in which you work. A good way to do this is by signing up for newsletters on blogs related to your field or industry, said Ciara Hautau, lead digital marketing specialist for Fueled.

“Newsletters are great in that you don’t have to go digging for new trends and information,” she said. “The blog that you choose to sign up with will do that for you. Just staying up to date on trends and unique tactics that can positively impact your company can take you so far.”

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Send Handwritten ‘Thank You’ Notes

  • Cost: Less than $20

Taking the time to thank a potential employer or mentor after an interview or meeting can pay off. But don’t rely on email to show your gratitude. Instead, invest a small amount — $20 or less – in stationary and send a handwritten note, said Megan Gorman, founding partner of Chequers Financial Management. “I can count on one hand how many handwritten thank yous I’ve received — and it tells me a lot when someone takes the time to send a written note,” she said.

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Find a New Mentor

  • Cost: Free

Connecting with a mentor is a smart investment of your time, and it doesn’t cost a dime. You might be able to find a mentor at your current workplace, or you could connect with one through a free network such as MicroMentor. “Volunteer mentors from all industries all over the world are available for virtual or local one-to-one relationships to help support mentees through the difficulties of entrepreneurship and small business ownership,” said Olivia Boone, partnerships and service officer at MicroMentor. “Mentors offer their expertise across business strategy, leadership, project management, business planning and cash flow.”

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Build Your Personal Brand Online

  • Cost: Less than $20

Even if you don’t own a company or sell a product, you should build your personal brand to stand out in your career field. “Build your brand online by creating a professional website that showcases your best works,” said Joe Bailey, former business development consultant at My Trading Skills. “There are many free programs online that allow you to build and maintain a professional website, and even the paid ones can offer you a subscription of less than $20 a month.” Free website building services include Wix or Weebly.

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Learn Strategies for Becoming a Leader

  • Cost: Less than $20

For less than $20, you can buy the paperback or digital version of the book “Rise” by Patty Azzarello. “In it, you will learn three practical ways of advancing your career, standing out as a leader and enjoying your life,” Bailey said. Azzarello, who was the youngest general manager at Hewlett-Packard and then became the company’s CEO at age 38, shares insider secrets for moving up the career ladder.

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Use Meetup To Network

  • Cost: Free

Networking with other people can lead to job opportunities you might not otherwise hear about. A great resource to find gatherings and events where you can network is the free website and mobile app Meetup, said David Bakke, a personal finance expert at Money Crashers. “You might need to buy a new outfit or pay for a drink or two, but the connections you can make at these types of meetings most certainly have the potential to advance your career,” he said.

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Listen To Career Podcasts

  • Cost: Free

You can get valuable career advice from experts for free by listening to podcasts. Devon Horace, the founder of Horace Consulting, said his favorite podcasts are The Art of Charm — which focuses on achieving success through better communication — and Entrepreneurs on Fire. Find one that resonates with you by searching online for “career podcasts.”

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Start Your Own Podcast

  • Cost: Free

You can create your own podcast for free using BlogTalkRadio or create a video podcast using Zoon, said Bruce Hurwitz, founder of executive recruiting and career counseling company Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. Having your own podcast can help build your brand. And it can help you connect with leaders in your field by interviewing them on your podcast. Think of it as a networking tool, Hurwitz said.

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Take Online Courses

  • Cost: Varies

You can improve your skill set or learn new career skills by taking courses online. For example, Coursera partners with universities and companies to offer courses and even degrees. Horace said you can find classes on this online learning platform that are $20 or less. You can even audit courses for free.

Some employers also offer their employees access to LinkedIn Learning courses for free, Horace said. Check with your company’s human resources department to see if this benefit is offered at your workplace.

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Learn To Influence People

  • Cost: Less than $20

Dale Carnegie’s best-selling “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a classic that has helped countless people advance their careers, including Horace. “’How to Win Friends and Influence People’ taught me the valuable lesson in work politics and networking,” he said. The book shows you how to win people over to your way of thinking without seeming manipulative or self-serving.

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Form a Career Study and Support Group

  • Cost: Free

You can grow and improve your career by creating a support group with other people in your workplace, your field or even among your peers. “It’s free and, if you’re a group person, you get objective feedback and insights from people whom you know and trust and whom you share a history with,” said Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of “The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide: Success Secrets of a Career Coach.” “Over time, you can also turn to this group for a reality check when you fall off track or lose your focus.”

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Focus On Grooming

  • Cost: $20

Having your hair cut and styled can easily cost more than $20. But if you set aside that much each month, you’ll have the cash on hand to pay for a visit to the stylist before a job interview or important meeting. It’s a worthwhile investment for your career, Cohen said. “First impressions are powerful and can often make a difference in whether you move forward in your interviews or get the promotion you deserve,” he said.

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Improve Your Health and Fitness

  • Cost: $10 or less

Steve Adcock, the creator of the ThinkSaveRetire.com blog, said one of the best ways to invest money into your career is to spend money on your health and fitness. “Healthy and active people are typically more energetic, take fewer sick days and might even be more creative because they just feel good,” he said. You could join a gym such as Planet Fitness for as little as $10 a month, Adcock said. Or you could simply run or walk for free.

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