13 Simple Ways the Average American Can Build Wealth

Breaking Bad characters lying on a pile of money.
Want to be content with your wealth, like these Breaking Bad characters? Invest in yourself. | AMC

Increasing wealth is a lofty goal — one we all probably have. But if you’re the average American, you might not know how to start if your expenses don’t leave much room for investing. Finding ways to generate income doesn’t always mean stocks, investments, and portfolios. Using a little creativity, we can invest in ourselves using very little money. Here are 13 ways you can increase your wealth by investing in yourself.

1. Declutter: It’s good for the mind and wallet

woman packing a clothes donation box
Donated items often result in a tax break. | iStock.com/LuminaStock

You’d be amazed at just how much money is lying around your home right now. Instead of tossing your unwanted items in the trash, try selling them for cash. Items, such as clothing, computers, cellphones, jewelry, furniture, and toys are all fair game.
Consignment stores often take unwanted clothes in good condition and give you a portion of the profits. And online retailers, such as eBay, Craigslist, and LetGo, make it easy for you to manage the resale of your items via your computer or smartphone.
You can also get a tax break on goods you’ve donated to charity by claiming charitable deductions based on the item’s market value. Goodwill Industries offers a value guide for items typically sold in its stores to help you calculate costs during tax time.

2. Exercise more

man works out at the gym
Healthy people save more money. | iStock.com

Healthy people spend less on health care. It’s that simple. In a study published in Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found people who work out spend hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars less each year on health care than people who don’t exercise.
Dr. Khurram Nasir, the senior author of the study, said you can also forgo that gym membership, as raking leaves, house cleaning, or walking can be considered exercise. The study revealed that those who engaged in “adequate physical activity” were saving loads of money on hospitalizations, medications, outpatient visits, and more, just by breaking a light sweat five times a week.
That’s great, but maybe you still need to be convinced before you sweat. Well, money talks. The average savings for a person getting enough exercise totaled $2,500 — more than enough to make a difference in your personal wealth.

3. Put some effort into your appearance

man decides between two shirts
Your appearance affects your pay. | iStock.com

There have been studies proving those who are deemed more attractive get paid more. So does that mean you should place emphasis on your appearance as a result of this so-called “beauty premium”? Yes and no. Before you go spending money on plastic surgery and gym memberships, a newer study from the Journal of Business and Psychology found there are other factors that influence our paychecks, as well.
The beauty premium does exist, but it’s a result of other unmeasured traits correlated with physical attractiveness. Things, such as your overall health, intelligence, and personality type, influence how attractive another thinks you are. So the moral of the story seems to be that the more effort you put into yourself as a whole, the better off you’ll be financially.
To be fair, the Journal of Business and Psychology study also showed those deemed “very unattractive” earned higher wages than those considered average, but let’s forget about that. No money in the world would make us feel better about being known as “very unattractive.”

4. Shop around for better bank rates

woman withdrawing money from ATM
High bank fees can be a drain on your savings. | iStock.com/guruXOOX

One of the easiest ways to pad your wallet is to monitor your money efficiently. According to a recent study, a staggering number of Americans are losing money by just withdrawing what’s rightfully theirs. CNN reported that banks cashed in on over $6.4 billion in ATM and overdraft fees in 2016.  The average fee for using an out-of-network ATM was $4.57. If that’s not disheartening enough, overdraft fees were even more profitable for banks, averaging at about $35 per charge.
But knowledge is power, friends. Money-conscious Americans can and should shop around for no-fee banking that limits any frequent charges. You are able to avoid overdraft fees by making sure your card gets declined when attempting to withdraw money that isn’t there. Also, consider linking your checking and savings accounts as an extra layer of protection against overdraft fees. Credit unions are also great alternative methods for savings with their higher interest rates.
But most importantly, you should budget and monitor your money. You can sign up for email or text alerts should your account fall under a certain balance. And it definitely doesn’t hurt to check your banking statements daily just to make sure everything’s running smoothly.

5. Learn how to negotiate a raise

woman takes notes while talking to a colleague
Know your value, and negotiate for it. | iStock.com

Making more money would increase your wealth, no doubt. But fighting for it can be daunting and stressful. Most negotiations are done at the start of hire, but if you didn’t bargain at that time, you haven’t missed the boat just yet. Marc Cenedella, founder of the career resource, Ladders, says that providing a reason for a raise and using polite persistence are two keys to negotiating.
Tactics, such as ultimatums, word-vomiting about your debt problems, comparing yourself to co-workers, and other emotional responses, are surefire ways to get rejected — and possibly fired. It’s better to walk into a negotiation levelheaded and armed with facts. Here’s a list of other things you should never say when negotiating a raise.

6. Sleep more

man falling asleep while feeding a baby
Getting more sleep than this guy will help improve memory. | iStock.com

Those who get the recommended seven hours of sleep a night tend to see a boost in performance at work. However, in the largest consumer sleep study, researchers revealed that 79% of people get less than that a night. Not only does that turn you into a walking zombie at the office, but your judgment suffers, as well. You are more likely to make bad decisions, overreact to problems, and forget important meetings without a solid night’s sleep. That doesn’t sound like someone who is in line for the next big promotion, now does it?
Sometimes, even the strongest cup of coffee can’t cure your grumpy moods and tired brain. So instead of spending all that extra dough on venti lattes, just go to bed on time.

7. Take a walk

three friends walk in a park
Walking helps to improve well-being. | iStock.com

We all know the feeling we get when co-workers won’t stop talking or can’t quit complaining about something trivial. And even though you want to, telling them to “take a hike” might seem a bit confrontational. But this article from PayScale claims that suggesting they take a walk could actually mean you care about their well-being. Walking in the fresh air helps you think while enhancing your creativity. You’ll sleep better, too.
Investing in your health and well-being is the same as investing in your wallet. Stanford’s Graduate School of Education conducted a study that says something as simple as walking on a treadmill can produce more useful and practical ideas while increasing your energy levels throughout the day.

8. Stop thinking you’re poor

Sad woman looking down through a car window
Unhappy thoughts lead to poor cognitive abilities. | iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Those who experience poverty for an extended period of time often show a decrease in cognitive function. This is certainly not shocking, as we know too well that poverty weighs heavily on humans. But what’s most interesting is those who aren’t actually poor, but feel poor, perform just as badly on cognitive screening tests as those who are poor.
So maybe this all shapes down to a lesson in perspective. Instead of thinking about everything you want that’s seemingly out of reach, focus on everything you have. What are the things in life you place value on? What are you thankful for every day? That small shift in positive thinking might just might make a difference in your wealth.

9. Eat better

healthy green juice
Eating better can save in health costs. | iStock.com

We’re seeing a dramatic shift in the way Americans are eating today compared to 20 years ago. While our intake of meats, diary, and sweeteners are down, so are fruits and veggies. Today, we eat primarily out of two food groups: flours and grains, as well as fats and oils. This means as our bodies are getting fatter, our wallets are getting skinnier.
Eating better can help prevent thousands of dollars in hidden obesity costs that can add up quickly. Health insurance premiums are higher, and obese people are less likely to be working at full capacity as a result of health-related issues. Bloomberg reports that obesity raised medical-care costs by $315.8 billion in 2010, amounting to about $3,508 a year for each obese person.

10. Focus on mental health and happiness

friends drinking beer together
Focusing on your friends can increase happiness. | iStock.com

Thinking about our financial situations can often dominate our thoughts and overtake our lives. You begin to think if you could just make $10,000 more a year, you’d feel more free. Yes, money can make us happier by way of less stress, but it isn’t everything.
The London School of Economics found, on a scale of 1 to 10, doubling someone’s pay only increased happiness by less than 0.2%. On the other hand, happiness rose by 0.6% if that person had a partner in life, suggesting the quality of your relationships has a greater influence on your overall well-being.
So try focusing on mental health first, and you’ll find everything else falls into place.

11. Make reading a priority

Deadpool character reading a note
Even Deadpool reads to stay educated. | 20th Century Fox Films

What was the last book you read? If you’re drawing a blank, you are not alone. About 27% of Americans have not read a book in the past year. With the rise of e-books and other digital reading devices, you’d think we’d be turning pages every night when, in fact, we’re not. That’s a shame because reading benefits our health and wealth. Not only does it allow us to decompress after a long and stressful day, it can also be a huge source of education. Just ask Warren Buffett.
Yes, the king of money spends roughly 80% of his time reading. He says having an “information advantage” is what allows him to make such smart money decisions. Train your brain to detect patterns, and make informed decisions simply by reading. If your goal is to be more financially stable, then hunkering down with a book on investing, finances, or money management is well worth your time.

12. Don’t keep money secrets

hipster couple talking in cozy cafe
Couple talk about money. | iStock.com/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

The experts at TD Bank say millennials are twice as likely to break up with their partners if they discover a financial secret, such as hidden debt or bank accounts. Talking about money can be uncomfortable — but not as uncomfortable as divorce. So creating a precedent for frequent money talks can improve your relationship and decrease stress.
Without this open dialogue, your financial burdens can be cause for health issues. Aging research shows people with money stress look older than they really are, and it also leads to higher mortality rates. So it’s safe to say no money secret is worth it.

13. Create an emergency fund

Coins in glass money jar with emergency label
Extra change can add up quickly for your emergency fund. | iStock.com/GreenApple78

The same TD Bank Study shows millennials are pretty good about saving for unexpected expenses or scenarios. One of the best ways to increase your wealth is to create a cushion for emergencies. This fund does not have to amount to tens of thousands of dollars by any means. In fact, $500 is a good place to start, according to NerdWallet.
To be clear, your emergency fund is for just that: emergencies. Running low on funds for an upcoming vacation or night out doesn’t qualify.
Consider setting a monthly savings goal or generating extra income from a side hustle. Even collecting loose change from your daily transactions can add up fast. Once you’ve collected a few bucks, open a new savings account that keeps this money separate from daily use.
Follow Lauren on Twitter @la_hamer.