Personal development and learning do not end with your formal education. In order to compete in the world today, you need to invest in continuing education and personal development. Taking the time and effort to do so will not only move you forward in your career but it will also broaden your knowledge base and what you have to offer the world.

You may think that professional development has to cost a lot of money to be effective. That may be the assumption because professional development can often be considered synonymous with an advanced degree or pricey learning programs. This is not the case. Oftentimes there are great resources that don’t cost you much out of pocket and resources within your organization that you aren’t taking advantage of.

Here are some tips on low cost ways to invest in your professional development:

Read, read, read. There’s a saying that says readers are leaders. There are so many amazing books written and published for your field or general self-improvement. Looking for recommendations? Check what is at the top of the NY or Amazon Bestsellers List. Also crowdsource on social media for suggestions. I always get a wide variety of responses.

Find a mentor within your field who is five to ten years further along in their career. I find formal mentorship programs within companies to be awkward and impersonal. Instead, find someone within your field at work that you gravitate towards and you respect. First, make sure you develop a genuine relationship with this person. Maybe ask them out for coffee or lunch as a way to break the ice. As the relationship forms, there’s a comfort level that is built and you can feel confident going to this person for next steps in your career path.

Take advantage of the internal training offerings at your place of employment. Many companies offer an internal learning center where employees can sign up for trainings offered in-house. Some of them may be online while others are in person. Not only can you build your knowledge and skill set but you may also meet new people within the organization and expand your network.

Talk with your manager about external training opportunities that may be reimbursable from your employer. Maybe there is a degree or certification you have wanted to pursue but you don’t have the financial means to do so. Check with your human resources department to see if your company offer a tuition reimbursement program. Talk to your manager about which degrees or certifications would be beneficial for you to pursue to reach the next level.

Take on special projects at work. Some of the best professional development I have experienced was taking on extra projects in my role. I was able to get hands-on experience with new skills that not only added value to the company but also increased my professional knowledge and experience. These new skills allowed me to apply for other positions, both within the company and other external opportunities.

Attend networking events outside of work. Networking events are generally low cost or free to attend with attendees. It’s a great way to meet others in your industry or other industries outside of your organization. Networking can lead to new prospective clients, people or companies to partner with, or a possible new job opportunity. Check out Meetup.com to see what kind of networking events are available in your area.

What are some ways that you invest in professional development?