How to Learn a Trade on the Cheap

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Learning a trade on the cheap. That was my goal, but it seemed out of reach. I knew I needed to find a part-time job, and I wanted it to be a skill set I could pick up and take with me wherever I may go. The problem was this: if I already needed a part-time job to pay bills as it was, how on earth was I going to get the money to pay to learn a trade as well?

It seemed like a catch-22!

I needed to learn a trade to earn some money, but I needed to pay money (which I didn’t have) to learn a trade.

Like me, the majority of people I’ve met seeking to learn a trade are men. They have families to raise, bills to pay, and a job already that’s just barely letting them live. Thankfully, I ended up getting my training, passing my license exam, and learning a trade on the cheap before 2020 robbed me of my main job.

Here are a few tips I learned along the way.

Work underneath of a pro in an entry-level position.

This is hands-down the best way to learn a trade. You’ll learn everything you’ll need to know, and will actually be paid for your time, rather than paying a school to learn. This is the route I chose (rather than going to a 3-month program) and it saved me roughly $5000 in tuition, let alone the cost of not being able to work those hours I would have been in a classroom.

The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of tradesmen in your area who are not only looking for help but who are more than happy to teach you what you need to know along the way. Hanging drywall, welding, HVAC – there’s always going to be somebody who is willing to teach you along your way.

Many of these guys will even pay for your license fees down the road, should you choose to stay with them. I actually applied several years back with a plumber’s assistant position. The job taught you everything you needed to know about plumbing (the boss was adamant about that), the pay was around $15/hour, breakfast was provided every morning, holidays were paid, the shop closed at 5pm, and your license fees were covered 2-3 years down the road.

I don’t know if you’ve had to hire a plumber lately, but they make good money. Imagine being able to make that kind of money within three years, and you’re being paid to learn along the way.

If you’re in high school and you’re reading this, you need to understand that fast food doesn’t teach you anything other than to hate fast food. Take your first job learning a trade. Not only will the pay be better, but you’ll graduate high school able to take care of yourself financially.

Let’s say your first job is when you’re 15. By the time you’re 18, you could have 3-4 years of trade experience under your belt. You could potentially hang your own shingle. Would you rather graduate high school broke and clueless or with – at the very least – a backup plan to make a comfortable living right off the bat.

Make an offer with an employer

Perhaps your particular trade won’t allow you to work as an apprentice without licensure/certified training. If this is where you stand, contact a local company and see if they won’t foot the bill if you sign a contract saying you’ll work for them as an employee X years after you graduate.

Trades are in constant demand, and a lot of guys have trouble finding help. In exchange for several years of guaranteed labor. Contracts I’ve seen are 2-3 years, with five years being the longest contract for such an offer that I’ve ever seen.

The Mike Rowe Work Ethic Scholarship Program

Sometimes, you just have to go to school to work in the field you want to work in. If this is where you find yourself, I would highly recommend checking out the Mike Rowe Work Ethic Scholarship Program. This can serve as a great way to help you to pay for your training so that you can get the job you need to better provide for your family without feeling as if you have gigantic financial hurdles to jump through to get there.

There are actually several other trade scholarships out there as well. Look for them. Be persistent. They could save you thousands.

Buy Quality Tools Used

There’s an old English proverb which states, “I’m too poor to buy cheap tools.” When you first start getting into a trade though, it can feel as if you need a massive collection of tools. It can also be tempting to skimp on quality.

Either way ends up costing you in the end.

Here is my advice:

Let’s say you want to be a mechanic. Start putting a bug in peoples’ ears that you’re looking to start a new trade but that you’re needing tools. Do they know of any mechanics around who are retiring and may be looking to sell their stuff cheap?

Eventually, you will find somebody.

Can you do the classwork online?

Right off the bat, I’ll say that online school won’t teach you anywhere close to what you’ll learn in person. However, if getting that little piece of paper that says “diploma” on it is all that’s standing between you and an entry-level position with your employer, going the online route is a much cheaper means of getting from Point A to Point B.

If I have limited funds and can get to my goal of an entry-level position the $300 path or the $3000 path, I’ll choose the cheaper option, thank you.

I’ve found that if your employer is willing to hire somebody who just graduated, they’re also doing so with the understanding they’re going to have to train you to some degree. It’s the willingness to work hard, learn, and be honest that I’ve found employers seem to be looking for. Sure, if you’re a whiz on top of things, that’s great.

But I’ve also seen guys who were geniuses with what they did, but who nobody wanted to work with because they were lazy, jerks, or refused to learn. If you can save money by getting the online version of the government-stamped diploma rather than the classroom version, just be ready to work as soon as you walk through your employer’s door.

If you can do that, you’ll have met your goal of learning a trade on the cheap.

Learning a trade on the cheap is possible.

Learning a trade can be a pretty hefty learning curve, but it doesn’t have to be something that smacks your wallet across the room. If you find yourself in a tight spot and looking for a stable job with good prospects, just know that you can make the transition without first digging yourself even deeper into a financial hole.

It worked for me, and it can work for you too.

Do you work in trades? How did you get your education? Do you have any tips to share? Let’s talk about learning a trade in the comments.

About Aden

Aden Tate has a master’s in public health and is a regular contributor to,,, and Along with being a freelance writer, he also works part-time as a locksmith. Aden has an LLC for his micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has two published books, The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American on Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

How to Learn a Trade on the Cheap
Aden Tate

Aden Tate

About the Author Aden Tate has a master’s in public health and is a regular contributor to,,,,, and Along with being a freelance writer he also works part-time as a locksmith. Aden has an LLC for his micro-farm where he raises dairy goats, a pig, honeybees, meat chickens, laying chickens, tomatoes, mushrooms, and greens. Aden has two published books, The Faithful Prepper and Zombie Choices. You can find his podcast The Last American at Preppers’ Broadcasting Network.

5 thoughts on “How to Learn a Trade on the Cheap”

  1. Often you can find quality tools at pawn shops. Don’t be afraid to offer (with confidence) a less amount. It can’t hurt and can save you money .

  2. In my early years after high school I took a different approach. Having grown up on a farm and having gotten decent math grades in high school, I hired on at a machine shop during my first college summer. They paid me to learn how to machine out aircraft and missile parts from raw sand castings, although I did have to buy a few tools. Had I not needed to go back to school that fall for a heavy 19 hour course load, I could have continued being a machinist for many years. Learning how to measure and accurately cut out parts to 4 decimal places of tolerance was a skill that’s stayed with me.

    Other college summers I did some door to door marketing of various consumer products. Again I didn’t pay the companies for the needed training. I just had to spend some time learning the ropes as the companies badly needed people to market their products.

    In later years while doing aircraft maintenance management so Lyndon Johnson in his retirement years could routinely break federal law (with altered tail numbers) and fly down into Mexico to check on his ranch property… in the evenings I rented some private off-base warehouse space and worked a deal with some guys who had the fiberglass skills I didn’t have so we could build and sell dune buggy bodies from that warehouse. Again although I did have to buy some tools (which I still have) I didn’t ever pay anybody for the learning.

    In later years I had better financials to work with and so the kinds of deals I could work then go beyond the purpose of today’s article for beginners with minimal resources.


  3. We operated a painting contracting business for many years. We always had trouble finding help. We required that a person show up on time, look presentable, be willing to learn and sometimes bring a lunch. No experience necessary, male or female. It was a bonus if they had transportation, painter whites and could speak English. Much of the work was prevailing wage in California. Big $$. Most of the time is we could only find one or two people (or none) to work. We could have always used many more. Our son took over the business 12 years ago and has had worse trouble than we ever did. He has no one right now and two that will work part time occasionally. Everyone can stay home and collect biden money. He would welcome all the help he could get.

  4. I love this! If I were younger it’s probably what I’d want to do. I don’t mind working with my hands, it can be fun. I worked with a gunsmith for a while, learning how to do finishing at first but eventually starting to do polishing and grinding and sanding and even some basic milling operations. Sometimes I miss that. I could see it being a career if I had taken another path in life but was one of those things where you really had to know somebody. I hope a bunch of people read this.

  5. In my area (Frederick MD) there are a large number of very reputable companies that hire apprentices with no experience, They provide the training and pay for any state required exams. Electrical, plumbing, & HVAC trainees are in high demand. Starting pay is a lot more than you’d ever see flipping burgers (which I did in high school). Automotive techs are very highly paid but typically require formal trade school training (pricey).

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