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Learn new skills without taking out student loans

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No matter whether you’re still finding your footing in your first job or a seasoned pro in your field, there’s always an opportunity to hit the refresh button, set new goals, and learn new skills. Mastering new expertise doesn’t just help keep your mind sharp, it can also boost your confidence, motivation, and flexibility to take on life’s challenges.

We all know that traditional education models can be expensive for adults, especially when they involve taking out student loans. Fortunately, there are money-free and low-cost alternatives that don’t require you to take on a financial burden when furthering your skills. 

Here are a few ways to kickstart your learning without breaking the bank.

Learn a new trade

Perhaps you want to learn a new hands-on skill or craft like woodworking, hair styling, cooking Thai food, or finally figure out what you’re actually looking at when you pop the hood of your car.  

If you’re not already obsessed with YouTube, then this is your first stop. You can find thousands of free videos that provide easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions for a huge range of topics. Whether it’s a how-to for a simple task or a series of increasingly challenging tests, online videos can help you learn foundational skills that are easily repeatable, especially for those of us who are visual learners.

It’s also a great resource for when something goes wrong in your home or with your car and you want to DIY, like repairing your kitchen sink or fixing a tail light.

One drawback with learning via YouTube is the lack of feedback and space to ask questions. However, sometimes the comments sections can be useful for communicating with others in the same boat, or even with the video creator.

Another suggestion is to look into local collaborative or co-working spaces, such as teaching kitchens or shared woodworking studios. Membership-based industrial workshops have started popping up in cities across the country, and they often offer classes to members and non-members alike.

If you don’t live near one of these spaces, you might be able to connect to an online-based class or with a local tradesperson who’s open to a work trade. Perhaps you could clean a mechanic’s garage in exchange for a quick lesson on how to change your brake pads.

Continue an academic pursuit

While enrolling in a college or university class can be expensive, there are other ways to pursue academic studies. Classes tend to be much cheaper at local community colleges (i.e., junior colleges), and you could receive credits and various certifications for your work.

It’s also worth looking into local community college and university auditing policies. Some schools require that you be an alumnus of the school or restrict which classes you can audit. You also won’t have any official record that you took or passed the class, but you may find that auditing a course could be a great way to attend a class in person and learn something new for free.

There are also a variety of great options for free or low-cost online courses. Some may only require you to pay a small fee to get a certificate of completion. Coursera and Udemy are just 2 of the many that offer such services.

Of course, public libraries are also a haven for free resources, and you might be surprised at how much you can learn at your local branch. In addition to offering books, magazines, and documentaries, many libraries now let you virtually check out ebooks, audiobooks, movies, and other digital content.

Some libraries also offer free in-person or online courses. You might be able to learn a new language and connect with a group where you can practice public speaking. Or, you could learn all sorts of different skills, like how to create a budget, use specific computer programs, or even knit and sew.

If you're looking to give your money management skills a boost, personal finance podcasts are a great way to learn while commuting, working out, doing chores, or relaxing at home.

Up your fitness game

For those eager to learn a new physical ability like a sport or type of dance, check out your local community centers and organizations. The YMCA has over 2,700 locations across the country, and even a low-cost membership could get you free access to a variety of classes right in your own neighborhood. Class options vary, but often include fitness, swimming, and dance.

Other low-cost and often free options to look out for include classes hosted by local retailers. You could check bike shops for organized group bike rides, while meeting others who share a similar interest and have knowledge to spare.

Larger outdoor stores, like REI, also offer free and low-cost classes and outings, where you can learn how to prepare for a backpacking trip, stay safe in avalanche territory, or join a group for a kayaking adventure.

Whatever you set out to learn this year, remember that half the fun is the journey. Enjoy the opportunity to broaden your horizons by getting creative with how you go about learning your new skill and connecting with the people you meet along the way.

Unless otherwise noted above, opinions, advice, services, or other information or content expressed or contributed by customers or non-Varo contributors do not necessarily state or reflect those of Varo Bank, N.A. Member FDIC (“Bank”). Bank is not responsible for the accuracy of any content provided by author(s) or contributor(s) other than Varo.


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