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What’s the best investment you’ve ever made?

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As you know, I think people who try to save money on everything are fools. I’ve previously written about how this woman should spend $2,000 on a computer course, and how you should stop being a loser and pay money to save money. I’ve also written about the best $20 you can spend.

Today I want to know this: What’s the best investment you’ve ever made? Not a specific fund or stock, but a personal investment (a course, a book, a trip, etc) that helped propel you beyond everyone else.

Some examples of investments

  • My friend Paul Singh puts aside $3,000 per year to travel and meet interesting people. Any time he needs consulting work, he makes a phone call and he has a new job.
  • Charlie Hoehn invested his time into working for me for free — as well as Tim Ferriss, Tucker Max, and many other people — and has done work that none of his peers can match. (He then wrote an ebook about how he did it.)
  • In college, I flew across the country to meet Seth Godin, which led to an internship, which led to 2 published books, TV exposure, and much more.

So, 2 questions:

What’s the best personal investment you’ve ever made?

And why are people so obsessed with cutting their spending instead of investing in themselves for a potentially much larger reward?

* * *

What is the I Will Teach You To Be Rich Boot Camp?

Stay tuned…

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67 Comments

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  1. Haha, your book definitely ranks up there! Not in terms of money, but I’ve made a commitment to invest 1-2 hours everyday working on side projects I’ve always been interested in.

  2. Hmmm….well a recent one was to enroll in and complete a CFP(R) course. Even if it doesn’t lead to a successful career change, I am MUCH more informed about finances and estate planning and retirement than I was before. And related…joining a related organization and attending meetings. Great networking, getting to know more about the biz and people. Thinking this will all reap great dividends (and now my face/name has been in front of potential employers more than my classmates).

  3. Hard to say, but off the top of my head:

    $80/year for web hosting (plus $10/domain). I have a variety of projects, some successful, some not, but together they make more than enough money to pay for the hosting, and then some! So totally worth it, and I roll my eyes at people who want to start blogs or websites for money, and then use a free service like Blogger or whatever. Yeah, maybe you can make it work on Blogger… but it’s so worth it to pony up the money and strike out on your own!

    $1000 or so to move out on my own and get started in a new city. I could have stayed in the city where I was born and raised, and there would have been advantages to that (family support structure, local network, etc.), but there’s something to be said for building a new life from scratch and expanding my network. Already, after two months, I’ve found rewarding work that is expanding my skills and paying the bills.

  4. You nailed it. Invest in yourself.

    My best financial investment was a class I took to receive a particular computer certification. I was one year out of college and making $36k at the time. After completing the class and passing the test, within one month I had a job for $75k. That was ten years ago. Since then Ive received numerous other certs but none made such an impact on my financial life as that first one.

  5. I’m not suprised that the three examples you gave were essentially investments in relationships. You, Paul, and Charlie all wanted to get to know certain people and were willing to fly out and offer your time.

    As you know, I just spent a week in SF getting to know some people better. And while the trip wasn’t specifically “the best of all of them,” it was another wise investment of my time in relationships. And to this day that sort of investment seems to be the most valuable I’ve made and will continue to make.

  6. Surely your best personal investment hasn’t been related to business relationships or your career…or is it?

    One would hope your friendship and family “investments” have outweighed your business/career investments.

    Personally, my time and energy investments in my friends and family have made me a far better person than any career investments I’ve made.

  7. Saved $20,000, took a year off, traveled the world, and offshored myself. Now making $6,000 a month as an independent contractor while living on $500 or so a month, and paying minimal taxes. I can pick up and leave any time I want.

  8. Joe Vitale talks about this; he calls it “prosperous purchasing.” I like that term.

    The best investment I ever made was taking a $15,000 inheritance and rolling it into my web hosting business. I turned that into over a million dollars.

    When most people get a windfall, they put it toward debt or buy a house — both low-ROI investments. I will never regret using mine to grow my business.

    -Erica

  9. Besides graduating from college, I have work for free on various projects which led me to making more money than I dreamed of.

  10. Investing in self.

    Life is a learning experience.

  11. Bought my first dj set up because I always wanted to learn how to spin. Spent $2000 to get set up back in 2006 and now I make anywhere from $5,000 – $7,000 a year in extra cash, doing something that I love.

  12. I spend 3 hours per week cooking and distributing food to homeless and poor people in my area. This actually costs me nothing but my time (yes, I know that time is money, but these are evening hours that I would most likely be spending on the couch relaxing). Not only does it give me good perspective on what is really important in life, but I’ve also met many other successful people who have decided to give back to our community. You can learn a great deal both from the people you are serving with, and the people you are serving. I’ve also found that potential employers respond positively when they see volunteer activities on resumes.

  13. The best investment I’ve ever made actually came as a surprise. After graduating from college this past May I took a 6-week backpacking trip around Europe. I’d wanted to go for years but never really had the time, money, or guts. Finally, as May approached, I realized it was a now-or-never situation. I had a full-time job lined up beginning in August and knew that I would soon have a steady income. It might not be enough to blow thousands of dollars galavanting around Europe, but whatever. I went. I would deal with the financial consequences later.

    I set a budget for myself, basically emptied my savings, and used my credit card for the rest. In the end my debt wasn’t TOO terrible – the entire trip cost me about $5000, but it was $5000 that I didn’t have.

    I started work, I got paid, and I managed to pay off my credit cards within a few months. That was a great feeling. But even better was realizing that it was probably the best $5000 I’ve ever spent. It’s paid me back 10-fold already and it’s only been 3 months since my return.

    It’s not really a traditional investment, but I would recommend it to anyone.

  14. There have been many investments that I have made in my life which have already paid their dividends (and will continue to for years, like my wife and family). There are others that have years, maybe decades before they mature. But there is one step that helped put me on the path I am on today. I took 15 minutes to write a letter to a DI college hockey coach about who I am and why I should play for his team. That letter (and years of hard work, blood, sweat, and tears) initiated a relationship that would grow into hundreds of friendships and opportunties. Many more of these situations have occured in my life, but that one got the ball rolling. Ultimately it comes down to being willing to put yourself out there and then investing the time and energy it takes to seperate yourself from the pack.

  15. Learning how to take a vacation.

    My work is so much more creative (and fun to do) when I regularly just get away. I’ve discovered that I have to go pretty far (usually requiring a plane trip over an ocean) to fully disconnect, but the cost of the trip pays itself back in spades via a clear head and new ideas. I haven’t been on a vacation for almost 2 years and I’m feeling the creative lethargy start to creep in…

  16. Ramit,

    This is your strongest post yet. You must invest in yourself before expecting results with your life. I’m currently in the process of saving for 12-months of living expenses for an opportunity to travel for a couple months and then work for myself – not for the ‘man’.
    Thank you for the encouraging post.

    Eric

  17. Getting into and working my way through pharmacy school. Cost about $8000/year and countless hours of studying when my friends were out having fun, but I’ll get out next year and be making $100k+/year.

  18. Answer to your question: cutting spending has concrete, easily predictable results. If I save $5 on my groceries today, I’ll have saved $5. Simple. Investing gives the promise of some vauge outcome in the future that is not gauranteed.

    Similar to why some people might make paying off their morgage a higher priority than getting into an investment portfolio. The investment portfolio might make more, but if they pay off their debt they know the exact return they’ll get.

    My best investment was choosing the right program and the right university that allowed opportunities for things like two international exchanges and coop semesters while gettting a practical degree. Nothing too different.

  19. Hey Ramit,

    The best investment I made is in myself.

    That might sound cheesy, so let me explain. I focused on developing myself and growing. I focused on finding clarity and direction. I focused on improving my writing and music-making skills. I focused on building my ideal lifestyle.

    I invest in myself as a holistic approach, rather than anything specific. And I feel that has been paying off greatly, even at the early stages with my new website and lifestyle. It let me figure out what I’m passionate about, can do well, and can create value of that people would be willing to pay.

    In other words, I started building a “business” where it doesn’t feel like work at all, and living a life that I wanted rather than what seems “right.”

    This is in sharp contrast to all my jobs and businesses I pursued in the past. I’d invest a lot of time and energy for not much results. Not very effective.

    Great question for your readers. A brief moment of reflection for me this morning.

    Best,
    Oleg

  20. My aunt made an awesome investment in giving me her old car when I was in my last year of college. It was a 9 year old Honda, and she had purchased a new one without trading it in or donating it to a charity. Because she didn’t make me pay for it, I was able to start saving money for a car as soon as I started working. A year and a half later, I paid her back by donating the car (in her name) to a charity that was important to both of us. She was able to get the tax credit, and I was able to start off my career without consumer debt. She completely set me up to be financially responsible at a critical time in my life, and that investment she made on my behalf has carried me through quite a few large financial decision.

  21. My best investment
    1. Took ‘fundamentals of investment’ from community college, which boosted my financial IQ from 0 to well above average.
    2. Lent a friend $30,000 at 4.5% APY to buy an apartment in Beijing 3 years ago, when the exchange rate of US$ to RMB was around 7.89. Now the exchange rate is around 6.82. The debt has been paid off last year, to my parents, and all the fees related to wire transfer and currency exchange were paid for by the borrower. All in all, what started as a simple act to help out a friend turned out to be a great investment with an annual return rate of 13%.

  22. My best investment – your book.

    $10 later I went from no savings to multiple savings accounts and a roth IRA. I didn’t think I had the money to save until I read your book. Now I save effortlessly.

    Seriously, thanks :)

  23. One of the best investments for me was traveling for 4 months after university. You realize people live so many different lives out there, more to life than that bubble life of the home city. Not only did I meet some of the most interesting people, but also toughens you up, learn a lot about yourself – way better than buying a new car (if given the choice!).

  24. My best investment is $80/mo in a year-long training course that has made me happier and inspired me to pursue all kinds of further opportunities.

    The reason people are obsessed with saving is that it’s something that is relatively predictable and easy to control; spending to grow a business or seek opportunity doesn’t always pay off.

  25. One of my best investments was getting a library card and staring to read and learn from books on the personalmba.com. It has already changed my life. I am continuing to work towards my personal mba and am always trying to learn new things.

    One things I am learning is to not be afraid of failure. I started volunteering this year with tutoring at a homeless shelter to help men get their GED’s and prepare to enter the workforce. This has been so much fun and I have learned a ton about how to help facilitate the learning process!

  26. I spent money to study my husband’s (fairly obscure) first language in an intensive college setting. I got 2 college degrees on scholarship and have never been in debt, but it was still a great feeling to pay cash in exchange for knowledge I cared about. The difference it has made in my life, being able to understand and participate in the conversation around the house when his family is visiting, is priceless.

  27. The best investment I’ve made is being an active member of a professional organization in my field. As an electrical engineer I joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the IEEE as a freshman in college. I’ve found a number of good mentors, carrer advice, industry contacts, and friends at SWE Conferences. The IEEE has been a good source of whats coming up and contacts in my field.

    Note: You can’t just pay the money and put a line item on your resume… for maximum benefit you have to go to the meetings, check out the articles on the websites, maybe volunteer depending on the organization or the needs of your local chapter.

  28. Loved the comment that the best investment is a library card!!! Libraries are good for everyone! I just changed careers and became a librarian. Haven’t found a job but I’m happy in my new career and I just keep learning.

    My best investment though was maxing out my 401k contributions each year. Truly – the money is out of sight out of mind and grows and grows and grows (except of course when the market tanks…but hang in there)

  29. Why are people more concerned about saving money?

    WM and Sarah are on the right lines: people tend to look for certainty.

    You might spend (say) $20,000 on a postgraduate qualification, only to find out (despite the feedback you were getting from recruiters) that wasn’t really what was stopping you getting the higher-paid job you were seeking.

    But the money you save is money in your pocket. So saving $5000 a year can be a guaranteed equivalent of getting a job that pays $10,000 more (yes, there are places where people pay around 50% taxes on relatively modest incomes), and there’s no risk of being worse off.

  30. Best Investment?

    Isolating myself from my past. Being able to get away from the people, places, things, and memories that held me down.

    I’m 24, now, and have been in college for about a year. I am majoring in Business Management with a focus in finance. I found a full time job working at an investment advisory firm and am spending any free time I have studying for the Series 65 exam.

    Dividends? None, yet. A guy can hope, can’t he?

  31. Joining two Roller Derby teams (one to Ref, one to play).

    1) It keeps me in fantastic shape
    2) It gets me out of the house
    3) I’ve became friends with some *fantastic* people
    4) It’s GOBS of fun
    5) Me and my friends (that joined with me) because even closer because of it
    6) Away games means TRAVEL!
    7) It distracts me from the fact I don’t have a decent job, I’m still living with my parents, I have tons of debt and I live in a very crap town.

    Monetarily it’s a giant black hole. I get nothing back from it at all and it eats a lot into my finances (Derby teams are non-profit, you have to pay to play). I could easily have thrown the money I’m using toward paying off my rather hefty debt and in fact quite a bit could have been paid off at this point.

    But you know what? I don’t really care. I’ve never been happier in my life.

  32. Some years back, selling a Utility Van, ridding myself of its payments and taking the $1800.00 in equity and investing in Nursery Stock to start a Wholesale Nursery that then grew to provide a full time income.

    Another time, when IRS rules changed on Company Cars, took a buyout of $1000 from my employer [instead of taking the Vice President's wife's Vista Cruiser] and purchased a new Pickup @ 2.9%. Over four years all payments, insurance, gas and maintenance were fully paid by employer reimbursed miles. When I left that Company I had a vehicle fully paid off and still worth several thousand dollars. One of my fellow employee’s had the Vista Cruiser and when he left – no vehicle. Gotta love billable miles.

    I then took the equity in the Pickup and used it to Purchase a Skid Steer Loader that was paid off in two years.

    I then had the pickup and a skid steer loader paid off. Then by using the loader to automate many of the Nurseries Processes including mixing my own growing media. I was able to save even more money by not employing as many people part-time. Many processes were palletized, cutting out the heavy lifting and repeated restacking.

  33. The best investment I ever made was quitting my day job back in 2006 and going out on a limb to partner with a friend in a new startup. Investing time and money up front has definitely been worth while.

    After the first year we were profitable and I was already making more than my old day job, now three years later have annual revenues of over $2mil and profits of ~$500k/year. I have a “job” that I love and work with a team of talented people that I never could have imagined at my former day job.

  34. The best investment was turning $3,000 into about $160,000 one year out of school back in the late 90′s. That was pure LUCK. It’s too bad I didn’t have more money to invest then in the dot com bubble.

    The second best investment was just going to business school and investing in my eduction. I really think that education is key, after your own drive and work ethic.

  35. The best investment that I can actually defend with real numbers was spending $600 on a Mac Mini and a week using it to write an iPhone app that’s made $10,000 so far.

  36. Best investment was an ipod nano. Working as a temp I could barely afford it at the time.

    I prefer to load it with Podcast instead of music, had it running 8 hours a day at work–while I did data entry–learning about everything.

  37. to poster #9, Sam: I idolize you, you have the life I dream of.

  38. $100 on running shoes. I could barely afford them at the time but decided to buy them anyway. I rekindled my love with distance running and ultimately ended up losing 20 pounds. Not only did I pick up another great hobby, but my quality of life really improved.

  39. Quitting my $200K a year job, to go for my masters degree at an ivy league and to come back and make $80K a year….not kidding! :)

  40. I really loved comment #5:

    $1000 or so to move out on my own and get started in a new city. [...] There’s something to be said for building a new life from scratch and expanding my network. Already, after two months, I’ve found rewarding work that is expanding my skills and paying the bills.

  41. Best investment was buying Michael Porter’s “Competitive Advantage” because it completely changed my perception on business there after (thus buying more and more books.)

    I think many people are frugal because the returns on being frugal are extremely reliable – investing is a hit-and-miss affair, especially investing in yourself (I’m staring at the pile of books yet to be read… I’m staring at the bigger pile of books that didn’t do anything for me….)

  42. The best investment I’ve ever made is getting a Masters degree. It’s already paid for itself many times over. It took two years of my life and about $12K but I have no regrets about getting it. That is easily my best investment of time and money.

  43. Like many others who invested during the recent US financial crash last October, my “best investment” was in the stock market. Many people, myself included, made money hand-over-fist off all of the volatility – including more than one stock that made a few friends and I a 5x gain in less than a week’s time.

    Be greedy when others are fearful. Most people would rather invest in what they think are “safe bets”, especially during a time of national crisis. Some of us ignore that thinking and go after the big wins. Erica Douglass (comment #10) did that and is now a millionaire. You figure it out.

  44. Best investment ever? Easy – the Landmark Forum. 3 days, a few hundred bucks, changed my life completely.

  45. What’s the best personal investment you’ve ever made?

    I bought a web business building toolkit for $299 per year. Within 12 months I broke even, made profit and paid off all my credit card debt. In the next 10 months (aka right now), I’ve now earn enough to cover my living expenses. In the next 2 months I’ll be able to walk away from having a job and never turn back.

    Total time getting off the rat race = 24 months

    And why are people so obsessed with cutting their spending instead of investing in themselves for a potentially much larger reward?

    They subscribe religiously to self-limiting beliefs. One of the biggest is fear of losing what they already have. Their material possessions among other things own them.

    Freedom can be had. There are 4 steps:

    Why (to do it)
    What makes it work (the theory behind it all)
    How (to do it)
    What if / can I do right now to get started

  46. quitting my job and moving to an island. i’m back where i started now but the life lessons and friends i made have changed my life for the better. and it wasn’t cheap, but well worth it.

  47. Started reading personal finance books, acquiring basics to decide better and have stronger opinions.

  48. The best investment I made is in my GPS! LOL I rarely waste time now getting lost, I can take it with me wherever I go, don’t have to print out maps or use my phone to get directions anymore.

    Joining Pam Slim’s Quickstart program was a great investment for me also, it’s where I was able to build a strong foundation for my business venture.

    Going to Spain for a semester before I went to college was also one of the best investments I made; I saved money to prove to my family that I wasn’t particularly crazy to travel across the country before I turned 18 :)

  49. Taking the GMAT ($250) and applying to business school ($50-$100 per application). Just by virtue of dominating the test and making a credible bluff at leaving my job for business school, I was able to bag a $10,000 scholarship and a $20,000/yr raise from my employer. I ended up pursuing the MBA part-time…on the cheap and making MBA coin before I even started the degree…

  50. The best investment I ever made was the Public Speaking class I took at the community college, the summer before my junior year at the university. I never knew I had it in me to speak in front of a group of people until I was forced to give 4 speeches in that class. I’ve never been afraid of it since then.

    My second best investment was buying, reading, and doing the exercises in “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway” by Susan Jeffers. It was the first self-improvement book I ever read. Having lived 20 years protecting myself in shyness, it was a real catalyst to changing my self-esteem around.

    In retrospect, both investments (about $100 and $20, respectively) ultimately proved to be of enormous value as TOOLS to achieving whatever life I wanted, then or in the future. I have relied on these two “skills” to get me through change, over and over again in the past 15+ years.

    Real value in an investment is determined in if and how the consumer chooses to use it after the purchase. If it’s just going to sit on the shelf collecting dust, it doesn’t matter if I spent $1 or $1000 on it until I can determine how it’s made my life better.

    My personal experience with favoring spending cuts vs. investing:
    It’s not an excuse, but I grew up a child of immigrant parents who worked AND SAVED very hard to get my brothers and I through college, like their parents did. That was their ultimate investment. My primary generational training in investing is centered around necessity – vs. value. Cutting spending and saving what isn’t spent is the easy part, because it’s cash-based. If there are numbers after the dollar sign, you have the choice spending it or saving it.

    Honestly, “spending vs. investing” is a conflict I’m still challenged with. I see that I have invested in myself, but I can’t say that I knew how valuable that class was going to be at the time. I just remember needing to make it absolutely count toward something.

  51. The best investment I made was $300 in clothing from Express last October. After I got home and took a look at the receipt and all the money I had spent and it hit me. From then on, I got serious about saving and that is about the time when I found your blog along with all the other PF blogs that I still read. Since then I have gotten serious about my 401k, maxed out my Roth and started savings accounts for my wedding, car, vacation, etc. It was the wake up call I needed before potentially plunging into the world of credit card debt. Plus I still have all of those clothes and the coat continues to look fabulous (no, I didn’t return any of it).

  52. The best investment I ever made was an investment of time and money into starting my first business. Another thing that is up there on the list was paying out of my own pocket to get my MBA and my CFP(R).

  53. 1) Stumping Ramit with a question.
    2) Because that is how people have been conditioned.

  54. 1. The best investment I ever made was dropping several grand on an engagement ring and a wedding ring.

    2. I prefer saving money to earning money because people expect me to actually do something in return for giving me money. Saving money, on the other hand, means not doing something. I am lazy. I would much rather not do something than to do it. Plus, at the current tax rate, a penny saved is about 1.5 pennies earned.

  55. Spending money in starting my business to become a freelancer

    I love working for myself, even though 2009 was a tough year!

  56. Have to admit that the 4-hour workweek was the best investment I ever made.

  57. @ #58 Daniel

    Hear hear on that one. I’m now 24 with my own business setting it up to be a muse. Should be able to not need a job in 2 months.

    That book is awesome.

  58. My two best investments:

    Working for free. My current and past two jobs have been unpaid internships. I’m now a sophomore in college and have more opportunities and a better resume than 95% of my colleagues, including many juniors and seniors.

    Losing a couple hundred dollars investing in stocks using an etrade account. I began investing about two years ago and was smart enough to pull my money out before the market completely crashed. I lost some money but learned a great deal about money, investing, and the markets, and was able to make the decision to pull out when it mattered most.

  59. Ramit, what’s the best investment you’ve ever made?

  60. Thanks for a great blog. A few years ago I paid my sister 5000 SEK, about 700 USD, to quit smoking. It was a lot of money at the time since I was a student but totally worth it. I had spent so much time worrying about her health (as a smoker she also maintained a crappy diet since smoking reduces hunger) and biting my tounge watching her light up, I felt desperate enough to offer her money. I was very surprised that she said yes and quit a month later. Aside from peace of mind from fantasies about her dying from lungcancer, I learned a valuable, valuable lesson of how important the right incentives are. There were so many negatives for her to have a smoking habit; being smelly, having bad nails, getting winded when running, supporting the ruthless and immoral tobacco industry, being stigmatized as a disgusting and undisciplined person and the potential future threats of illness. On top of this she was studying to be a nurse and felt she would lose a lot of professional credibility if she couldn’t stop. Despite all of these negative aspects she kept smoking, putting quitting at the bottom of her to-do list in a distant future. The minute I offered her a reward that was big enough for her to buy really nice shoes she gained momentum to achieve her goal. Prior to this I had used punishment to get myself moving, no going to the concert if the paper is not fininshed and similar, which worked sometimes and sometimes I just ended up procrastinating, feeling miserable for missing out on the fun and having written no paper. Rewards are much, much more effective than punishment for meeting goals, they give you energy to get moving. I would never have used this strategy on someone else because a) I’m not mean and b) I wouldn’t think it would ever work, yet I did it to myself.
    I’m not sure how much this investment has earned me in absolute numbers but I’m sure it is a lot since my efficiency has increased enormously. This is why I love your blog, you go to the bottom of why people, even smart people, do things that are not in their best interest when it comes to money but it can really be applied on several areas. I’m pretty good with money so I often feel smug reading personal finance blogs, but the advice you give here is really thought-provoking and reminds me of the importance of living consciously. Thanks again!

  61. The best investment that I’ve made is recent which has been to understand personal finance better. And I’m so glad that I stumbled onto your site [ I've yet to buy your book..I'm seriously hoping to coax an 'autographed' one out of you! :) ] which validated the part about automating one’s savings. It feel so good now about “saving effortlessly” as Rachel Tera (commenter # 24) mentions above. The ‘CEO’ concept that you propose has been an eye-opener to me!

    Thanks, seriously! :)

  62. My house and a website I purchased has been the best investment I have made so far. My site paid itself off within 6 months(better than any bricks and mortar business) and it continues to make money. And my property over the last 2 years has increased in value by 105k which I am thrilled about. It also is large enough for a development to occur on it in the future.

  63. My best investment has been a $14.95 purchase of a domain and hosting account to start a personal finance blog that is now earning me a nice additional monthly income. Which is why I’m now starting a second one :-)

  64. [...] 9:47 PM on February 26, 2010 Personal finance blog I Will Teach You To Be Rich has an interesting post about personal investments, with a few good examples of things not normally considered to be investments, but that have paid [...]

  65. [...] So, why spend a month on the road, spending my own money (and more importantly, time)?  In short, I believe very much in investing in yourself. [...]