10 Ways To Improve Yourself While Broke

By Alex Shalman

October 18, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

I’m going to start off by being very honest, I’m currently broke. I was expecting to get a scholarship that I didn’t get, went on a trip that I probably shouldn’t have gone on, and bought a certain someone special a present I couldn’t afford. That’s $4k in the hole, and no regrets, but a bit of a mess to clean up after.

I’m proactively trying to get myself out of the hole before I start dental school next year (see update). Once I start, I’ll be about $70K-$90K in the hole per year, so it won’t really matter, but it matters now. My goal is to get my credit card paid off, save up a small emergency fund, and establish a few passive streams of income before school starts and I’m a slave with no spare time.

I’ll get into a couple of ways I’m earning money right now, but the general point is that self-improvement doesn’t have to stop just because you’re broke as a joke. Some ways to improve yourself are free, some are cheap, and some actually earn you money!

    1. Talk is cheap.
      Actually talk can be worth anywhere from a few cents a minute on skype to free if you’re face to face. Being broke is a perfect opportunity to work on your relationships. You don’t have to take your friend, or romantic interest on a super expensive date, you can do something simple like get to know what they’re really about and what’s going on with them. People like nothing more than to talk about themselves, and they’re willing to pay professionals a lot of money to just listen to them, so you could be delivering a lot of value to your friends for free! 
  • Exercise burns.
    Exercise burns your calories, but it doesn’t have to burn your wallet. You can invest in a $30 pair of cross-training sneakers, which can last you awhile if you don’t run through swamps and they’re practical for several sports. I maintain a really good deal at Bally’s for $15 a month for life (after paying $60/month for 3 years awhile ago), so I don’t see myself canceling that. However, you can create a 30-minute morning routine without any weight, using just kalesthetics, and maintain a healthy lifestyle for nothing. 
  • Bottle it.
    Invest a couple of bucks towards a large waterbottle, or reuse a plastic one you bought earlier, and fill it up with filter/tap water. Drink nothing but the water, avoiding alcohol and coffees which dehydrate you, make you fat, and add up in cash-money if you’re a consistent consumer. It’s a great way to keep your organs optimally hydrated while saving a lot of money.
  • Explore.
    Find areas around your house, such as local parks and landmarks that you can go to for free. You’re out there getting your daily walk, taking in the fresh air, and paying nothing to enjoy mother nature. This is a great way to spend time alone, with a friend, or to get to know a special someone. You’ll be surprised how much 30 minutes of walking can improve your overall health, focus, and feelings of well-being. I actually journaled how I felt for 30 straight days of 30 minute walks and it was enlightening to see the full progress after the 30 days. 
  • Reading is free.
    That’s a big statement to make considering I have shelves and shelves worth of self-improvement books in my room that have a combined cost of hundreds of dollars. However, there’s always the library that has a large selection of great books and audio tapes that I like to frequent. Return books on time and it doesn’t cost you a penny. 
  • Work on skills and talents.
    Some skills and talents are quite expensive to indulge in. Painting requires expensive utensils, racing requires fuel, singing may require instruments or recording equipment. Other skills can be worked on while saving or earning you money. Want to practice social skills? Work at a nightclub on weekends. Want to improve your cooking skills? Volunteer to cook at an elderly people’s home in your spare time. Use your imagination and find a creative outlet that works for you. 
  • Cook your own.
    The best way to get healthy food into your system is to cook that food, instead of eating out at a restaurant. Find a cheap place, such as a farmers market, to purchase fruits and vegetables. Make these the cornerstones of your meals, taking up at least 90% of your caloric intake. You’ll save money, you’ll fill yourself with nutritious food, and you’ll be able to impress friends or a date with a frugal meal that you created with your own hands instead of spending money on restaurants. 
  • Character development.
    Use this opportunity to do some journaling and introspection. Decide what kind of person you want to be, with what kind of virtues and ethics. Decide how you want to be seen by people, and how you would like to treat others. Create a list of rules that you will not budge from which will slowly but surely take you towards your goals. 
  • Volunteer.
    This can be a very fulfilling way to pass time while meeting some kindhearted and down to earth people. You’re actively spending time improving the quality of someone’s life while absorbing joy from the experience. Wow, what a great deal. They should start charging to volunteer. In my case I’m volunteering/interning twice a week at one of the dental schools I applied to. There’s no doubt that I’m helping them out there but I’m also learning a lot and most importantly networking with great contacts. 
  • Writing Pays.
    Invest a little bit of money into a personal website. You don’t have to pay more than $3-5 per month, and you can find a free theme to use. Either create a blog about something you’re passionate about, or use it as a portfolio of your writing. Survey all the websites that write about topics you would be interested in, and start submitting your writing. Unleashing you’re creativity through the process of writing is an excellent way to improve your train of thought. 

I’m pretty much doing all 10 of these, and more, to the best of my abilities. It might not be the best situation and having to say no when your friends go out somewhere expensive isn’t fun, but it’s what needs to be done. I might not have always done this, but I know for a fact that the best way to see the big plus on your balance sheet is to live below your means and building positive habits should begin with as little as $1 to our name.


Written on 10/17/2008 by Alex Shalman. Alex is an avid reader and is constantly learning how to improve his life. You can catch him at Practical Personal Development . Republished 10/18/09. Photo Credit: stuartpilbrow
Alex Shalman

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