Cheap Ways To Learn And Feed Your Brain

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2007-06-1929

Education is pretty costly but we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to learn without having to spend too much in the process. So how about trying these methods for feeding the brain cells. Not all of them will grant you a diploma (though some will), but you’ll walk away more enlightened.

Cost Effective Ways To Learn Or Get An Education

#1 Go to the library and borrow some books.
You can read up on anything and everything at the library for free. The computers there are free to use as well. Libraries have saved me a bundle by being the source of books for my children, who enjoy the variety afforded by their inventory. This way, there’s no need to outgrow anything! Members of my family are also avid readers who partake of this free service at our local community.

#2 Sign up for online classes.
You can sign up for virtual classes and they’re usually much more affordable than attending classes on site at colleges and universities. Some are even free! Just check out the facts over in this article: Technophilia: Get a Free College Education Online. Some universities are going this course as well!

#3 Audit some classes.
Certain universities allow you to drop in and check out their classes. Some allow you to audit their classes based on their policies. This means you can attend the lectures, but you will not be responsible for homework or exams, and you will not receive credit for the class. Often, your cost for doing this is a fraction of what it would normally be to take these classes (e.g. 30% – 50%) but can also be full tuition in some cases, so you’ll need to check with the school’s office about their programs.

#4 Have your employer pay for it.
Some companies have a wonderful benefit that allows you to take classes on their penny. I’ve known co-workers who took their MBA while being employed along with me! Some schools also offer an online mba program. This was a benefit I didn’t partake of, unfortunately. For me, it’s because of my perennial excuse of not having enough time!

#5 Get a business deduction for your learning materials.
If you have a business, you may be able to take tax deductions on learning materials that you actually apply to your venture. For example, if you’ve set up a real estate company and on occasion go to training for the work you do, you may just be able to qualify for a tax break. But you’ll need to check with your CPA about this.

#6 Attend college extension classes.
A cheaper way to get a similar education from a university is to sign up for their extension classes.

#7 Pay tuition through someone’s 529 account, even yours!
A few confessions: The reason why many of my colleagues have refused to start a 529 account was because they feared their kids would bail on college and the 529 would go to waste. I argue that they should strongly reconsider. The 529 account saves you all sorts of tax on this education. For the worst case scenario, you can consider this alternative: if your kid refuses to get a higher education, you can jump at the chance to use your 529 funds on yourself! The money here happens to be transferable onto other eligible candidates such as yourself or other kin. There’s a lady named Nola Ochs who proves that you can never be too “old” to get a higher education. I know this idea could be a stretch for some people but I honestly feel that the “risk” of the 529 is worth taking and that my children will indeed be attending college one day.

#8 Get used or free books from stores and fairs.
There are stores and various places that give away books. In fact, there are those places that can’t give them away fast enough. Be there to get a piece of the action. Big discount chains have piles upon piles of books for sale so cheap I can’t help but stock up on some on occasion.

#9 Get used courses/books from eBay or other online sources.
Craigslist, my ever favorite online classified site gives a lot of stuff for free, even educational materials. You can even subscribe to your chosen channel for easy pickings. Definitely a great idea if you have something like this in your local area. Ditto for eBay and other such sites.

#10 Use audio tapes/courses.
Every so often, I receive an intriguing package in the mail, and it’s some kind of invitation or advertisement on multimedia learning covering actual courses taught in institutions. Or so they claim. But for a few hundred bucks you can take these courses and apply some self-education at a fraction of what you would get from the universities themselves. Even without the fancy degree, you’ll still get the knowledge.

What Kind Of Student Are You?

So just how much important is education? Learning is so highly valued that there are those who’ll pursue it even when they’re way past their physical prime…. I mentioned an admirable woman named Nola Ochs, who decided to go to school.

Oldest Graduate

To me, it’s a highly admirable thing.

Graduating in May 12, Nola Ochs is the oldest person to ever get a college diploma, at 95 years old.

Or there are those who’ll do most anything, even the most outrageous stunts to fulfill a dream. Or maybe it’s not as much their dream as it is that of their high-achieving families. Case in point: Azia Kim, the fake Stanford student who pretended to be part of Stanford’s class of 2010.

Azia Kim

Azia wanted so much to be a Stanford student that she “faked” her way into classes and wormed her way into the student body. Imagine that! Not that her scheme was unique: I knew students who spent entire semesters “auditing” classes at my college by sitting in large lecture halls where you could for the most part, blend in anonymously. They did this in order to take a class without a grade and/or with permission from a professor. As far as I know, there’s nothing unlawful about registered students doing this. Just don’t try living on campus grounds for free or fleecing the school off their dorm food.

Copyright © 2007 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracey June 19, 2007 at 8:32 am

There are free podcasts via iTunes from major universities now as well. Yale University offers a whole series of classes.

Rich Minx June 19, 2007 at 8:44 am

This is a great article, very inspiring and with helpful tips on learning. I would also add that local community center courses can be dirt cheap: something like $40 for 10 Spanish classes or something.

I love stories about seniors who are still learning and trying new things – makes me less afraid of getting old.

Journal Writer June 19, 2007 at 11:44 am

Good post – re #10, I’ve bought and listened to a few from The Teaching Company and have enjoyed them all.

It’s better than a lot of the “stuff” I could listen to on my drive to and from work. The downloads are pretty cheap.

Lazy Man and Money June 19, 2007 at 11:50 am

The reason I haven’t done a 529 now, is that it’s a minefield of confusion. It’s almost impossible to figure out what is the best plan.

Dr T June 19, 2007 at 10:08 pm

a less formal but interesting site is the MIT Open CourseWare
It is just a publication of MIT course materials. I find it somewhat difficult to follow but fun to check out.

60 in 3 June 20, 2007 at 8:54 am

To add to what Tracey said, iTunes offers a whole host of learning material online. Some of it is university courses from some of the best schools out there. Other material can include podcasts and audiobooks and most of it is free. I’m currently expanding my Spanish vocabulary this way and planning to work on Chinese next.


Amanda Paige June 27, 2007 at 7:38 am

Also most state universities offer free tuition for senior citizens. I think here it was 60 but I think they increased the age since it was so popular. Also our local medical school offers classes for lay people during the year-I think mainly the spring and summer. Free classes but limited registration.

Until Debt Do US Part September 26, 2008 at 8:57 am

Great post.

Lifelong learning is the key to successful living.

The resources that you outlined above are great. The local library is the best and most obvious but far too few people use it and yet these are the same people who will complain when life deals them a bad hand that they don’t know how to deal with it.

Jj December 26, 2008 at 10:06 am

And it truly never is too late to learn! Wonderful and inspiration article, thank you. In this world there is ALWAYS something to be learned, don’t you think? I do! 🙂

2009 Love Horoscope January 15, 2009 at 8:29 pm

Its never too late to learn! Thanks for the article.

perdere peso January 22, 2009 at 4:31 pm

great post,

It’s never too late to achieve something worthwhile.

Was looking for information on the oldest woman to get a diploma, guess i found it now.

Mystic Madness April 8, 2009 at 1:31 am

nice article. Also the pictures are very good. For me apart from everything, Internet is the best resource. however other pointers by you is also helpful.

Mitch May 4, 2009 at 6:54 pm

I know you don’t get college credit for listening to podcasts, but I’ve learned alot about internet marketing for free this way. I listen in the car or on the riding mower or in the shower (not).

Early Retirement Extreme May 28, 2009 at 12:09 pm

Nice list albeit somewhat “college”-oriented 😉 I am currently learning watch repair because I have wanted to learn a “real” skill for a long time. Now, it turns out, the at least for watch repair (but I imagine it also holds for other trades, like bicycle repair) there are companies that collaborate with tradesmen in building a course and indicating which tools are needed. You buy the course (or sometimes get instructions for free, like, which acts like a correspondence course (for the internet age), and the tools, and proceed step-by-step to learn to use them. Eventually I hope to be able to earn a little money on this, not so much to actually earn money, but more because I see it as a (market)validation of my skills. Normally, I would consider such courses a waste of money, but seeing that I have no experience with tool use (beyond that of the amateur handyman) it helps me to get started—for college courses I would simply get the books from the library because I already know how to learn “college-style”.

Scott Lovingood July 1, 2009 at 11:29 am

One suggestion I got from Gary North – The best way to learn anything is to prepare to teach it. However you are getting the information, take it and pretend to teach it to someone else. Even if you are talking to your mirror it will force you to think differently about the information and knowledge. You will dig deeper into it because you will find areas that you can’t explain. If you can’t explain it you don’t really know it. Set up a free blog and teach it if you want to up the ante and exposure.

If you have time, consider an unpaid internship at a local business that you are interested in. You can learn a great deal that way as well as develop some new connections.

For everything you learn, determine a way you can implement it in your life. Knowledge without application is a waste.

Find a mentor is another way to increase your education as well.

Annie July 20, 2009 at 8:03 pm

I love visiting the library and waiting for just the right book to pop off the shelf. I believe that you’ll be drawn to just the right book for the right information you need.

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