3 Terrible Ways to Invest in Your Future

Joanne Poh


As a broke young person eager to make your mark in the world, it soon becomes clear that you’ll need to cough up some money even before you earn your first dollar—all in the name of your future. The most obvious example of such an investment is a sound education. Still, as with most choices, there are smart ones and then there are stupid ones. Here are three investments in your future that might result in a major fail.


1. An education that doesn’t pay off

I’m all for the idea of education for the sake of learning rather than simply to funnel students into careers. But from a purely financial point of view, there are certain types of education that pay off better than others. You have only to look at the average earnings of medical grads as opposed to, say, those of people who majored in social work. Still, everyone’s personal situation is different, and some people can make more out of a particular course than others.

So when you’re trying to decide between which course to study at tertiary level, bear in mind that you want it to pay off for YOU. If you pick something you have no aptitude for, a professional degree in something you find dead boring or simply a course which would only make available to you very low paying careers, you might want to think again and pick an alternative that would offer a better return on investment—again, given your own interests and personal situation.

But of all the poor educational choices one can make, the worst undoubtedly is spending a lot of money on an expensive course that one does not end up completing. Unfortunately, a lot of the monetary value of a course is derived from the certificate you get out of it at the end.

If you complete three years of a four year course and then fail to graduate, that’s three years of fees with a very poor or even negligible return on investment. This also means that if you find yourself enrolled in a course you hate and are certain you won’t be able to see it through to completion, you should mitigate your losses by bailing earlier rather than later.


2. Excessive image crafting

If you’re going to be working at an office where you’re more likely to spot clothes from G2000 than Topshop, then yes you will need to invest a bit of money in the standard CBD uniform.

But as a rookie in the corporate world surrounded by people who are keen to show just how much richer and more powerful than you they are, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking you have to spend thousands of dollars on an ongoing basis just so you look “good” enough to impress your boss and your clients.

Believe it or not, I actually know someone who bought a BMW because he was convinced it would help his career by impressing his clients (it didn’t—turns out his clients were more concerned about the quality of his work). I also have friends who channel about 1/3 of their monthly salary into buying new clothes for the following month at work.

Now, unless you work in an industry where your appearance directly affects your performance (eg. you’re an actor or model), there is such a thing as over-investing in your appearance. You’re not going to get fired if you’re seen wearing the same outfit twice, you know, unless your boss is some kind of Devil Wears Prada-esque demoness.


3. Unpaid internships

I’m not sure when it happened, but it seems that university is no longer a time of lazy, hazy summers spend backpacking, working part-time at an ice cream shop or trying to write your first novel. No, nowadays it seems like uni students spend all their holidays running from one corporate internship to another in hopes of snagging a high paying full-time position prior to graduation.

But if you’ve been offered an unpaid internship, you might want to slam on the brakes and think long and hard about whether you’re willing to invest the time and resources to doing something that might not even do much for your career. A US report revealed that students who had taken on only unpaid internships fared even worse than those who did not undertake any internships at all.

Obviously this isn’t true for every single person and there are always exceptions. If you are thinking of working for a business owned by a family member, relative or close friend, interning makes a lot of sense whether or not you’re paid.

But the fact remains that most quality internship experiences are paid—in fact, some quite generously. On the other hand, companies that don’t pay their interns usually do not have in place a good internship programme, or are in industries that are not doing well at the moment. It would probably be a better use of your time to just take up a volunteer position elsewhere instead, or get a real part-time job and save up some money.

Have you made any investments in your future you now regret? Let us know in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.