So you want to get certified and you want to be at the very top of your profession. You are not rich, however, and the certification stack you want is very costly. How do you balance the right certification with the cost, and also save money on study materials and the actual exam?
Here are seven tips to make your precious dollars stretch and help you save big on that long climb up the certification ladder:
Beg, borrow, and plead (do not steal)
Let’s use the Project Management Professional (PMP) exam as an example. For starters, there is a wealth of PMP prep material that is free to read on the internet. Suppose, on the other hand, that you are not at good self-study, and that you really want formal training. Ask a friend who is already PMP certified.
I recently taught a class for potential PMP candidates, and though they had to pay for the class, my friends did receive all of the material that I had developed for the class. I actually sat down with one of my coworkers and taught him the class. He passed the exam later.
I had a good friend sit with me and go over flash cards for my CISSP. He was already a CISSP and his knowledge and generous friendship is what eventually earned me my CISSP. I ended up not paying for any training material.
To wit: When you are looking for ways to save money, look to your friends and coworkers. Their hand-me-downs, experience, and knowledge will be of great benefit to you. In the case of those who are not put off by your request, you will gain the added benefit of knowing who your true friends really are.
Look for lesser known study items and deep discounts
Second, to save money on your cert climb, you need to become a master internet browser. Look for obscure study guides, like the Sunflower guide for the CISSP. It is a boiled-down guide of all of the test points, and is a lifesaver of a study guide. It really helps and you will not have to buy any study guide or book after that.
Additionally, you should also always search for steep discounts one the tests themselves. Oftentimes a training outlet or boot camp will have paid for a bunch of tests that they haven’t been able to recruit students to take. These folks are easy pickings for a savvy shopper looking to knock 20-to-50 percent off the cost of an exam — or maybe pay the full cost of the exam, but get the boot camp thrown in for free.
Pay attention and surf the internet, but also steer clear of brain dumps and pirated test questions. If nothing else, you need to still be able to look yourself in the mirror after certification.
Get the boss to pay for it
Third is oldie, but still a goodie. Ask your boss to pay for you to get certified. A lot of employers have money already budgeted for training or conferences. Be assertive with what you want, be sure and write up a good case.
Be creative with your ask: If your employer pays for conferences, then simply ask if you can convert that stipend to a boot camp for the certification you want. I had a friend who recently passed on attending a conference in Las Vegas but got his manage to approve a PMP boot camp instead. I think it’s the smartest thing he could do.
Also, be conservative with what you spend. Make use of the other tips in this article so the company doesn’t have to buy anything for your but the tests. This will make your budget stretch further and, if you keep passing the tests, the company will not bat an eye at how many you ask for.
Ask friends or family to give you an interest-bearing loan
I personally am not a fan of asking family or friends for money. And any amount you borrow must, of course, be paid back. So this bright idea doesn’t really save you money so much as it speeds up your overall timeline. Apply this advice sparingly, or when trying to land a huge-paying job with a long list of certs. Most family members will at least try to help you out, but don’t take advantage.
Get an actual interest-bearing loan
For bigger certs, you may in a pinch consider getting an actual bank loan. I have actually witnessed people take out a loan to pursue an entire string of certification. I had a friend who simply got a “small” loan (depends on your perspective, I guess) from the bank and worked his way all the way to Cisco’s coveted CCIE cert.
My guess at a glance is that Cisco’s top-tier CCAr would take most people about 18 months and a bank loan to earn from scratch. Actually, that sounds like a challenge. I think I might use this tip myself.
Simply save up
The option to save money is always available, and also prudent. I have saved for certifications by dividing the days of study by the amount of the test. I save a fraction of the money every day I study and, soon enough, I have the amount needed for the test. Make an “exam jar” or a “cert jar”, rather than a “swear jar” and you will have the money you need before you know it.
You can always buck up rather than save up, and take the money needed out of your savings, or put it on your favorite credit card. Be smart, however, and only do this if the test will get you something in return. Do not go into debt or spend money for no return. If a new job requires the certification, then get it — but if your existing job doesn’t, and will pay you the same, then simply save up.
Search LinkedIn for discount houses that guarantee a pass
Lastly, LinkedIn has a ton of clearing houses for training and certifications. They offer steep discounts and unlimited tries at the test, all for one low fee. They have funny names like “My Career Cube,” so be careful you have some knowledge of what company you are paying.
Do a PayPal transaction instead of using a credit card. I was recently offered a TOGAF Level 1 and 2, with two retakes, for the price of a single TOGAF test. Such money-saving options are out there, but you need to search them out and not be afraid to connect with people.
A worthwhile investment
Whatever the cost ends up being for you to become certified, certification is proof that you know your business, and it’s something no one can take away from you once you’ve gotten it. These are just a few tips for your travels up the certification gold road, and I hope you take them along and someday make your own. As always, happy certifying!