Why the lady sitting next to me should pay $2,000 for a computer class

Ramit Sethi

I’m sitting at my neighborhood coffee shop listening to two women talk about their careers. Yes, I eavesdrop.

One of them is complaining about her job, but says that she can’t get another one because she’s uncomfortable with her computer skills. Which led me to this post.

If you take a $2,000 computer class and it lets you get a job with a $10,000 salary bump, you should do it. No question.

If you buy one book per week, for $20 each, that’s $1,000 per year. If you get one good idea per week, my friend Paul told me, it’s worth it. If you apply that idea, I can’t even guess how much it would be worth.

If you buy a new car for $8,000 more than a used car, it can sometimes be worth it.

Put the numbers in context and look at value, not just cost. A $2,000 conference sure sounds like a lot. But if you make $80,000 off it, it sure looks like an investment. (Which is exactly what another friend, Erica, just did.)

Of course, the excuses will come. I don’t have that kind of money. (Answer: Save up.) How do I know if the class will get me that better job? I could probably take the same class for $100 somewhere else. All this stuff is free online, anyway.

You don’t know. That’s part of deciding what’s valuable and what’s simply a cost. But remember, buying something is not just about a number. If the value exceeds the cost, do it.

Investing in yourself: the best kept secret in living a rich life

We love pointing to real or imagined “advantages” that successful people have. Luck, family legacy, inheritance. Sometimes these things are true and sometimes they aren’t, but what’s telling is they all have one thing in common. They absolve us of responsibility for improving our own lives.

And they ignore the effort successful people put into bettering themselves: acquiring new skills, taking calculated risks and automating positive scripts.

Alibis vs. Achievements

American philosopher Eric Hoffer has an excellent quote about this:

“There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life.”

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  1. Vered - MomGrind

    I agree. I get irritated once in a while when a woman’s magazine advises me to “invest” in a clothing item (although I guess you could argue that could land me a better job too). But education is most definitely an investment, and being uncomfortable with your computer skills will get you nowhere these days.

  2. Ben Bleikamp

    My favorite example of this is buying a bigger or a second monitor for people who spend their days at the computer. The productivity boost you get helps the monitor pay for itself.

  3. Ramit Sethi

    Vered — great, great point. There are so many idiotic recommendations to “invest” in new clothes or a vacation to rejuvenate. Get real. You’ll know if it’s an investment because you’ll have a clear way to measure whether it provided ROI or not.

  4. Paul Singh

    This is a classic case of separating the “talkers” from the “doers” – it’s pretty clear these two women fall into the former category. I call the “talkers” the “woulda’, coulda’, shoulda'” crowd – don’t spend too much time with these people, they will suck the life out of you. Work on making yourself a “doer” and you’ll find that similar people will find their way into your circle of friends.

    A couple of things come to mind here:

    1. Complaining is for lazy people. If you want to succeed in life, just get started – today.
    2. Ramit’s absolutely right – once you can apply even one thing you’ve learned, you’ve immediately increased your value. Don’t underestimate the importance of this.
    3. A story (because I love stories):

    A few months ago, I ran into an old college buddy at a bar back in Virginia.
    After a few drinks, he started having a similar conversation with me – something along the lines of “I really should take that XXXXX training but [insert 873654 excuses here]…” I thought nothing of it until a few days later when he gave me a call:

    Old Buddy: “Paul, I realized that I could totally learn that stuff if I worked with you! Can you give me a job?”
    Me: “So I should pay for your training?”
    OB: “Well, I mean, I could be an intern or something.”
    Me: “You won’t even invest in yourself, why should I invest in you?”
    OB: “Oh. I guess you’re right. Bye.”

    Yes, I felt a little guilty for a few days until I overheard the same guy two weeks later pitching his “I want to learn” story on someone else at the same bar.

    For whatever reason, this guy wasn’t willing to put his own money/time/whatever on the line to obtain the training he wanted – if he didn’t believe in himself, why should I?

    If you want to get ahead in life, start today.

  5. Welcome new I Will Teach You To Be Rich Readers « Paul Singh

    […] on April 22nd, 2008 If you’re visiting from the latest I Will Teach You To Be Rich post on Why the lady sitting next to me should pay $2,000 for a computer class, […]

  6. Emilie

    This aversion to risk is just fear of failure. It’s human, not quantitative.The fearful part of the ego says, “What if I can’t be more competitive even after I take the expensive class? Better not to try.” So we opt to stay stuck and complain. Or just buy a nice suit and hope it compensates. Your point may be enough to get a few chickens to see past it. Just don’t call anyone stupid for it, because in one sphere of our lives or another, everyone is vulnerable to it.

  7. Jonathan

    Great post. Although cars are rarely an investment, putting a few extra dollars towards a vehicle that is reliable and safe is well worth the extra effort and sacrifice you may have to experience to afford it.

    Sounds like a class in seeing the bigger picture is a good place to get started. I think in a lot of these cases there’s just no experience outside the comfort zone and so there’s huge amounts of doubt.

    Go back and wait in that coffee shop until she comes back in and you can encourage her!

  8. Nathan

    1. Complaining is for lazy people. If you want to succeed in life, just get started – today.

    I just wanted to quickly point out to Paul that some people both complain and do…

    Working in the corporate world I’m bombarded by idiocy all day long. As such, I spend a fair amount of time complaining. Complaining about process, people, positions, you name it. At my young age, (fortunately or) unfortunately I’m fairly cynical. But it doesn’t stop there, I guess we’ll see years from now how long relative youth can give me the energy to combat the idiocy head on, because that has not stopped me from being extremely successful and being a valued resource for my peers and coworkers.

    I agree with you to an extent, I hear a lot of idle complaints, but I would specify that most of the time these seem to center around people, themselves, etc. “I can’t do this….” “They didn’t let me do this….” Which is obviously much different than other types of complaints which I would argue can inspire renewed motivation.

  9. Paul Singh

    Nathan – great point, thanks! I agree that “self-centered” complaints are useless – as long as folks are getting motivated to take action, I don’t care how they do it. 🙂

    I do find it interesting that your consciously making an effort to “battle idiocy” head on at your workplace. I’d love to hear more about why you’ve made the decision to stay at your current workplace rather than moving on to someplace that would require you to complain less – feel free to comment here or contact me at paul [at]

  10. Jennnnnnn

    I agree, Ramit!

    There is a word missing from the column, however:

    I could probably [take / attend / enroll in] the same class for $100 somewhere else. All this stuff is free online, anyway.

    Thought you’d like to know.

  11. Ramit Sethi

    Fixed, thanks.

  12. Saravanan

    Usually this is what I do:
    If it is something related to computers that I have to learn then I make sure that I don’t go waste money and learn it from someone else or some place where they teach. I try to gather information from the internet and also resources to practice my skills after learning it. This way I make sure I learn it and understand the concepts. I agree this is the hard way of doing it but if I do it this way I am involved to a maximum extent and the knowledge gained will be substantial rather than going to some classes. I prefer doing this not because I am a software engineer, but I feel that computers and related concepts can be easily grasped by many people without much effort. But if you try to learn by yourself you should be dedicated to learn it else I am sure you can’t and its better to attend classes because you are forced to be dedicated. 🙂

  13. Frugal Dad

    You make good points. Too many people get hung up on the upfront costs of things like this and fail to consider the return on the investment down the road. ROI’s are not just for business – they make sense applied to our personal/professional experiences as well.

  14. Ben Casnocha

    In other words, do a cost-benefit analysis on your opportunities.

  15. irene

    Perfect timing on this post, Ramit. I just put down my deposit for graduate school. Yeah, it’s a ton of debt, because I’m going straight into school from a bachelor’s, but it’s debt that’s going to be working for me in two years when I’m graduating and have a higher-quality skill set to show for the investment in myself. Compare that to say, my fellow intern, who is going into the same amount of debt (!!!) for her wedding this fall. I wish your blog was a book already so I could smack her upside the head with it.
    And isn’t eavesdropping fun? If you’re ever in Ann Arbor, I’m buying you coffee.

  16. S

    “I wish your blog was a book already so I could smack her upside the head with it.”

    If that is not worthy of being “advance praise” for your book I don’t know what is!!! I’m rolling with laughter. Good one Irene.

  17. Sarah

    Great post, but I totally disagree that clothing as an investment is “idiotic”. As a professional woman, it makes much more sense for me to spend more on a few items of well made, classic shoes and clothing that will last for years than to spend the same amount on more items of lower quality. Not only does it force me to spend conciously (much bigger decision to spend $400 on a pair of shoes vs. $39.95 on a pair on sale), but I do believe it ‘s helped me career-wise too. I realize that might not apply to more casual work settings (and I certainly don’t apply this logic to casual clothing), but this is where the argument for clothing as “investment” comes from.

  18. Amy

    My favorite part of the story is that the cost is not relevant to this woman. This is a classic example of failure to “buy in”. The class could be $500 and it would be expensive. Sometimes I will ask people who say this — how much would it have to be to be commiserate with what you think it’s worth? — and they stare blankly, stupefied. In such cases this statement of “it’s too expensive” is a statement of priority, not of fact.

  19. Just Me

    “All this stuff is free online, anyway”
    If you are talking here about a total ground zero woman with computers, well… You know… It’s embarrassing to comment. about it…

  20. Tim

    I was very young and every professional staff had adminstrative assistants. The professional staff weren’t even to make copies ourselves. My secretary was complaining to another how much she hated copying. I said get a better job. OK, I said I was young, did I mention not tactful? She hated me for that. But really, take some personal responsibility. People talk about the investments they have as their assets. You based on your future earning stream is probably your biggest asset when you are young. Take the steps necessary to get the highest return on ‘you’ that you can.

  21. Amber

    The worst part is that people like that don’t put any work into actually looking into any options. For example, I worked at a library for three years- where we offered a FREE series of 15 computer classes designed for people who knew absolutely nothing, and wanted to become computer literate.

    We started from “This is a mouse” and went to more advanced Internet and Office functions. I still can’t believe the shear number of people who would still make excuses why they couldn’t make time to improve their skills with those.

  22. SavingDiva

    I kinda wonder what would be taught in a $2k computer class. I would guess that you could probably get the same experience with a DVD and a teenager! 🙂

  23. Chris

    I actually think that spending $2k on computer classes would be a pretty bad idea. People who think they need good “computer” skills generally don’t, unless they’re looking to become an IT technician. What they do need is skill in using whatever particular application they need to do their job.

  24. Dr Wright

    For women, sometimes, its more fun to complain than to actually take action. Your solution makes total sense, but she wasnt after a solution. She just wanted to be heard by her friend. She didnt want a new job enough to go after it, she just wanted to talk about it.

    She didnt want change, she wanted to talk.
    Investing in yourself costs something besides money. You must also take time to read the book and implement the ideas. You must have something internal that drives you to follow through. A lot of people are unable to follow through. They know it, so they just talk about it.

    I realize that just because someone talks about it,. Doesn’t mean they really want to DO anything about it.

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  30. James

    Ten years ago, I was working in a lumber yard. I asked myself, “What do I want my life to be like in five years?”.

    I knew two things: that five years would pass, and that if I didn’t do anything different my life would still be the same (ie, I’d still be poor).

    I took computer classes. I picked the hardest classes with the fewest students. That would put me in a smaller pool of people with those skills, increasing my value.

    In five years I went from making 20k /year to 90k /year. I had to pay for the classes myself, but I’ve never regretted it and I’ve never looked back.

    • Ramit Sethi

      James: That’s one of my favorite comments on this site.

  31. Don Jervast

    James, I’d love to know what computer classes you took! Seriously, I’m interested–thanks.

  32. Nora

    My mom told me the other day that she is willing to invest in a new wardrobe for me so I can land a job, but I felt she should have said on computer / software courses or the work visa I want to get to work elsewhere! Hmm, I have started to watch some podcasts about courses and meet with friends who have taken classes to learn some of the software I want to get better at so that I can borrow their books and learn from them things. I think having friends who are also driven on intellectual wealth before physical looks REALLY helps me out at times, but I am sure the better wardrobe doesn’t hurt too.

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