Getting a Tax Refund? 6 Low-Cost Career Upgrades

Are you excited about getting a bit of money back from the IRS this year? If you’re one of the lucky ones, you might have some extra cash on your hands this month. Instead of rushing out to the store to buy a new outfit or electronic device, consider using the extra cash to invest in your career. Investing in your future might lead you to new skills, knowledge and opportunities that owning a new accessory or device cannot.

Here are some suggestions:

Online Learning

There are many opportunities to increase your knowledge and skills right from home. You could learn a new computer program, programming language or skill such as email marketing by taking classes at one of the sites listed below. If you do invest in a course or membership, take advantage of community features that ask you to submit homework. A little extra accountability helps the learning sink in and makes you feel less alone.

  • Lynda – technology, creative and business skills
  • Skillshare – a wide range of classes in photography, design, gaming, entrepreneurship, cooking and crafts
  • Creative Live – classes in photography, video, art, design, crafts, marketing, and business skills
  • Coursera  – university style classes in almost every subject
  • Udemy – emphasis on technology classes, and offers classes in arts, languages, health and fitness as well
  • Udacity – offers industry-recognized “nanodegrees” in technology skills such as web development and programming

Local Learning

Online learning isn’t for everyone, and sometimes it’s great to have the accountability of showing up in class. You also might meet new people that lead you to your next job.

  • Your local community college – Registering in community college classes is easy and often more affordable than other options.
  • Your local university extension – These are usually more expensive than community college but may offer certificate programs in a subject you want to learn.
  • Your city organization – Many cities offer classes in computer skills and business skills. For example, Austin, Texas, the city I live in, offers a low-cost small business development program.
  • Local experts – In many cities there are individuals or organizations that offer structured classes. For example, the Writing Salon in San Francisco offers classes in fiction and publishing, among other topics.

Public Speaking

No matter what your career field, you can benefit from learning public speaking skills. You may be asked when you least expect it to speak in front of a group.  Learning how to teach, persuade or entertain an audience is an invaluable skill.  Many of the sources listed above offer public speaking courses.

A low-cost option is Toastmasters International, which has locations in cities around the world. I completed a certification in 2006 and enjoyed the structured, supportive environment. I met people from many different backgrounds whom I would have never crossed paths with otherwise. At only $72 per year, plus local meeting fees, it’s a big bang for you buck if you commit to going every week. 

Career Coach

The most successful people have coaches and mentors. There’s no reason you shouldn’t, too. A career coach can help you be more effective in your job search or on the job by suggesting communication strategies and helping you gain clarity about your goals. While it may seem expensive, making this investment shows that you are committed to career success.

Before hiring a coach, research the individual to make sure you get a good fit. This article shares some tips.

Personal Development and Self-Care

While not directly related to your career, any investment you make in therapy, meditation, yoga classes or bodywork such as acupuncture or massage can pay off for your career in the long run. Gaining clarity about who you are and reducing tension in your body will help you be more effective on the job. If you feel stressed, or your personal life weighs you down at work, consider investing in yourself on a personal level. A tax refund could buy you a weekend meditation workshop or a package of massage sessions. Use the Internet to find resources in your local area.

Do Something Fun

If there’s a skill that you’ve always wanted to learn or a course you’ve always wanted to take just for the fun of it, don’t be afraid to use your tax refund for that purpose. Making art, playing music, dancing or learning a new language can bring you a sense of joy that you might not get on the job. When you go back to your job (or sending out cover letters if you’re still looking), you’ll have a smile on your face—and it will make you more productive. After all, the ability to have more fun experiences is something to work for.