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young girl sitting on bench wearing ripped jeans and a hat, holding a stack of books on her lap.
young girl sitting on bench wearing ripped jeans and a hat, holding a stack of books on her lap.

Learn New Skills Without Taking Out Student Loans

Louis DeNicola

The new year offers an opportunity to hit the refresh button, set new goals, and learn new skills.

While saving money was a top goal for most people last year — a Varo survey showed 53% of people made it a resolution — another top goal people said they wanted to accomplish was learning a new skill or hobby.

We all know that traditional classroom learning can be very expensive (ahem student loans). Fortunately, there are money-free and low-cost alternatives. Here are few ideas to kickstart the Education of You in 2019.

If your goal is to learn a new trade…

Perhaps you want to learn a new hands-on skill or craft and try out 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 hundreds (perhaps thousands) of free videos that take you step-by-step through a process. They can help you learn foundational skills and the specifics you need to know to accomplish your task.

It’s also a great resource for when something goes wrong in your home and you want to DIY the handiwork (like repair your kitchen sink).

A drawback from the DIY YouTube learning option is the lack of feedback and space to ask questions.

A suggestion here is to look into local collaborative or co-working spaces, including teaching kitchens or shared woodworking studios. Membership-based industrial workshops have started popping up in cities around 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 with a local tradesperson who’s open to a work trade. Perhaps you could clean the mechanic’s garage in exchange for a quick lesson on how to change your brake pads.

If you want to 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 can get credit for your work.

There are also the free online courses that were a big hit a few years ago. You can still find many great options for free, or pay a small fee to get a certificate of completion—for example, you might check out Coursera or Udemy.

But sticking with the course can require a lot of self-discipline, and you don’t truly get classroom experience.

Another option is to look 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 a few options and auditing a course could be a great way to attend for free.

Of course, public libraries are also a haven for free resources and you might be surprised by everything you can learn at your local branch. In addition to offering books, magazines, and movies, many libraries now let you “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 speaking. Or, you could learn all sorts of different skills, like how to knit, sew, keep a budget, or use specific computer programs. 

If you’re looking to increase your own money skills, you might start by listening to some of our favorite podcasts that have to do with personal finance.

If you want to up your fitness game…

For those eager to learn something involving physical ability this year, such as a sport or 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 class at any Y. The class options can vary but include fitness classes, swimming, and dance.

Another low-cost and sometimes free option is to look for classes hosted by local retailers. For example, Lululemon stores often offer a free community yoga class every week. You could check bike shops for group bike rides, where you can meet others who share a similar interest and have the knowledge to share.

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.

2019 is here, it’s time to get started

Whatever you set out to learn this year, remember that half the fun is the journey. Enjoy the opportunity to get creative with how you go about learning your new skill and make a point to connect with the people you meet along the way.

Louis DeNicola is a freelance personal finance writer and credit enthusiast. You can find him on Twitter @is_lou.

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