Some of the most successful people in their field reveal the best investments a person can make—ones that don’t just add to your bottom line, but also make you a richer person.
We’ve all heard the expression, Money can’t buy happiness. Or can it? We polled a handful of experts, in fields ranging from food to finance, and asked them to talk about ways you can spend your hard-earned money to achieve prosperity—not just the cash-in-your-pocket kind that comes from a profitable business, but also the kind of abundance that enriches your life and feeds your soul. And once you get right down to it, isn’t that the kind that really matters?
Invest in education.
When it comes to spending money to enrich your life, education should be a greater priority than entertainment, says Steve Siebold, speaker and author of How Rich People Think. “The world class knows that college is just the beginning of lifelong learning. That’s why you’ll see the great ones attending seminars, workshops, etc. The more financially successful they become, the more successful they believe they can become,” Siebold says. “Put your money toward classes, seminars and books that will make you more successful.”
We’ve all heard the tip: Hire an assistant. But David Siteman Garland takes that advice a step further. “Hire virtual assistants who are specific experts,” says Garland, who is the host of ABC’s The Rise to the Top and author of Smarter, Faster, Cheaper: Non-Boring, Fluff-Free Strategies for Marketing and Promoting Your Business. “For example, I hired one virtual assistant who is a master of online publishing to help manage my website and another to be my czar of scheduling and handling administration work. Both are affordable, versatile and, more importantly, independent. It frees you up to focus on the things you are best at and that make you the happiest. Outsource everything else.
Hire the best.
Kimberly Palmer, author of Generational Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending, Investing and Giving Back, says you shouldn’t stop at hiring help for the office.
“Paying for a cleaning service, grocery delivery service and other services that save you time means you have more time and energy to focus on what matters most to you,” Palmer says.
“Working with a personal shopper who understands timeless style, as well as the latest fashions—and can select looks that work for you—can boost your confidence and help you make a positive impression in the workplace.”
Finally, Palmer says a crucial investment for any business owner is hiring a professional coach, which she says usually starts around $200 an hour. A coach can help you get unstuck from a career rut, make a dramatic change or simply help you get some new strategies for building your business and productivity. “Be sure to write down your goals for the session ahead of time so you get the most out of your time together,” Palmer says.
Speak their language.
“If you have international clients or want to grow your business internationally, learning other languages is a wise investment of your time and money. While it takes time to become fluent, your understanding of the client’s culture and ways of doing business will deepen, giving you an edge over the competition. Besides, even if you’re not fluent, your clients will see that you’re making an effort. That goes a long way in establishing an excellent long-term business relationship.” —Sarah Elaine Eaton, professor at the University of Calgary, and principal consultant at Eaton International Consulting
Protect your brand.
“Spend money to protect your name,” says Lisa Merriam, brand consultant and author of Merriam’s Guide to Naming. One of the first things new business owners do is select a name. But are you investing the money to protect that name? “Once you have chosen a name, surround it with a protective perimeter,” Merriam advises. “First of all, get a trademark. It can cost under $500 if you do it yourself, and there are many low-cost services that can do the paperwork for you as an alternative. “Next, reserve your name in the digital realm. You want to buy the dotcom and every variation you can think of. If your brand is Pet Source, then buy PetSource.com, Pet-Source.com, PetsSource.com, PetSources.com, etc. Buy the .org, .net and .biz domains. Think of misspellings and buy them, too. Buy as many URLs around your name as your budget allows so that competitors can’t get near you. Then don’t just sit on them; make sure they all redirect to your main website. Money spent to protect your brand is money well spent.”
Invest in messing up.
“Invest in making mistakes at work,” says Andy Smith, co-author of The Dragonfly Effect and principal at Vonavona Ventures, an advisory and consulting firm specializing in helping early-stage enterprises. “Spend time and money testing hypotheses, failing, learning and trying again rather than planning things out in detail before seeing if they will work. The experience you gain from a month or year of actually doing something is much more valuable (and likely to succeed in the long run) than a lifetime of considering every detail before taking step one.” Ask yourself, What problem am I trying to solve? Who has the problem? and What are their lives like?
More Than a Homepage
“Small business owners should stop spending on websites and start investing in web solutions. A web solution is more than an attractive website; it communicates who you are, what you do, and who you serve both visually and textually. Successful entrepreneurs know that a website is more than a virtual handshake. I always tell business people to think of themselves as Batman, the fearless leader representing their company, and a smart web solution as Robin, the trusty sidekick who has your back and is working for you when you’re in the field.” —Lorrie Thomas, CEO of Web Marketing Therapy and author of The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course: Online Marketing.
Ongoing Professional Investments
Making small investments at every stage of your career can up your return down the line. Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a co-founder of career coaching firm SixFigureStart, has these tips:
“Budget money to update your attire, briefcase, stationery and office supplies.”
“If your résumé needs work or your interview skills are rusty, hire a professional to work with you—don’t practice on prospective employers.” “Budget for professional association dues—you want to build your network before you need it.”
“Plan to eat out at least once a week. It’s more expensive than brown-bagging it or eating at the office cafeteria, but it pushes you to get outside and interact with other professionals.”
“Budget money for fun activities. We are so much more interesting when we have interests outside of work, so take an improv class, join your Y’s intramural basketball league, mentor a kid in the community, volunteer at your alma mater.”
Pay it backward.
“There is an indescribable joy we feel when we help someone out, do an unexpected random act of kindness. I call it stepping into the flow of humanity. Like paying for someone’s parking behind you, paying for the next person’s coffee, paying for someone’s groceries, buying some art supplies for a local school. We have to give and receive. Pass it on and take it in. Giving of yourself and being thoughtful is essential to feeling alive, purposeful and connected to people and yourself.” —Sherri Ziff Lester, founder of RockYourLife Coaching
Give a little.
Making charitable contributions in smaller denominations helps others and boosts your own well-being. Research shows that giving a relatively small gift of $20 or $5 makes a person happier than receiving one of the same amount, says Jennifer Aaker, professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and co-author of The Dragonfly Effect. “This is contrary to what people in the test expected would make them happy,” Aaker says. “Further, the amount of the gift ($20 or $5) had no impact on the receiver’s reported happiness.”
Aaker says this is a principle people can apply in both their personal and professional lives. “Startups, as well as large companies like Intel, apply this principle when they create and fund small spot-bonus pools. By encouraging employees to hand out company-funded peer recognition gifts to each other when they see a co-worker going above and beyond, employees get to both give as well as get a boost for below-the-radar efforts that often go unrecognized. Whether the gift is a $10 Starbucks card or a $100 restaurant certificate doesn’t really matter much: The result is a happier workplace with better morale and better teamwork.”
Investing in your kids’ futures.
If you want to help your children become high achievers, invest early in their passions. “Parents could consider vacationing with these interests in mind,” says Ellie Kay, author of The 60-Minute Money Workout and Living Rich for Less. “For example, if your child wants to be an astronaut, then look at going to the Houston Space Center. If they want to be a vet and work with animals, then take them to the zoo and invest in the summer programs that some zoos offer for children. Be focused on our children’s passions as well as their abilities, and strategically invest in their future by helping to motivate them with mentors in the same field.”
Purchase memories, not mementos.
When you go on vacation, you may be tempted to spend all your extra cash on souvenirs or trendy shopping, but try to look at the bigger picture. What’s the most valuable thing you get from a vacation, other than the stress relief and time with family? The memories. So invest your money in experiences with those you love.
Instead of investing in products that will sit on a shelf, Aaker says, “Invest in products that aren’t an end in themselves but that make pleasurable experiences possible. If you’re looking for excitement, this could take the form of a convertible for top-down driving on California’s Pacific Coast Highway. Better yet, rent a convertible full-time for all the experience without the monthly payments.”
On a romantic couple’s weekend, you could skip the expensive night out and instead plan an excursion that creates a bit of risk. Try rock-climbing or zip-lining. The experience of sharing and pushing through anxiety will further bond you as a couple and create lasting memories.
“Don’t just spend money on a humdrum vacation,” says Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, best-selling author of 10 Conversations You Need to Have with Your Children. “Try to focus it on a theme. For example, make a worthwhile investment in visiting places of great natural beauty. Get children to appreciate a wide-open meadow, a pristine lake, a national park, a hike on a mountain. The more our children are immersed in nature, the more natural and settled they become and behave.”
“In terms of investing in your health, my advice would be to hire a personal chef,” says Rania Batayneh, certified wellness coach. “As a busy professional, you have long, hard days and need to make sure that you are properly fueled. And having delicious, properly portioned food at home or at the office can make the difference between maintaining your weight and gaining weight, which can lead to a myriad of health problems.” A variety of companies provide gourmet meals customized for your tastes or dietary needs. Purchase items of multiple serving sizes for about the same price as cooking comparable meals on your own.
Know your numbers.
Investing in a yearly physical is essential. But if you work with a personal trainer or nutritionist, you may want to ask for additional testing that can help these experts target their strategies to your particular needs. “Have your metabolism tested,” suggests Batayneh. “Your resting metabolic rate [RMR] is an indication of how many calories your body burns naturally on a daily basis not impacted by food or exercise. It’s done under a fasting condition, and the number reflected from the test is in calories. From here, you can work with a nutritionist to factor inactivity and develop an eating strategy with the proper balance of protein, carbohydrates and fat. It is one of the key vitals we should all know in 2022.”
Upgrade your grocery list.
If you’ve been clipping coupons and watching for your favorite cereal to go on sale, listen up. Experts suggest spending a little more on your groceries to get more out of the foods you eat. “Spend on high quality, fresh ingredients. Your food will taste so much more delicious and will be higher in nutrients that are better for your health,” says Shara Aaron, registered dietician and co-owner of NutCom, a nutrition communications company. “You’ll also savor the flavor so much more that a smaller amount will satisfy you.
“Some examples of ingredients worth the spend: locally grown produce, fresh herbs, fresh fish, organic meat, poultry and high-percent cacao dark chocolate (70 percent or more). Quality dark chocolate is a great example of a worthwhile spend. It tastes richer, so smaller portions will suffice. And it’s much higher in the flavanol antioxidants that offer numerous health benefits.
“The American food culture is based on ‘more is better’ and the idea that processed food from a box or a fast-food restaurant is a meal. This has led to an obesity epidemic and rampant health issues. If people started spending a little more on good, quality ingredients and cooking more, not only would food taste much better, but it would help solve many of these health issues.”
Know when to buy organic.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says pesticide exposure from residue on foods can be riskier for kids. If buying organic across the board is outside your budget, consider the 12 foods that retain the highest pesticide residue, according to the Environmental Working Group.
The Dirty Dozen
Sweet bell peppers Grapes (imported)
Do you know where your food comes from or who makes your favorite wine? “Take the time to experience great food and wine, not just eat to satisfy a hunger,” suggests Maria Liberati, chef and author of The Basic Art of Italian Cooking. “Enrich your life by having an authentic food experience that enriches mind and soul, as well as being healthy for you.” Plan a trip to your local winery where you can enjoy a tour and tasting. Or take your kids to a local farmer’s market or orchard. “This is the type of experience that has been lost in our mass-produced world,” Liberati says. “Unfortunately, with mass production of foods and wines we cannot connect to the food or know its origin, and besides being unhealthy, the foods and wines coming to us are not in their truest form. Enrich your life with a true food or wine experience and taste food as it was meant to be.”
This article was published in March 2011 and has been updated. Photo by @Colour_Your_Life/Twenty20