I spend quite a bit of my time volunteering. I serve on the board of a charitable organization. As I mentioned yesterday, I coach youth soccer. I collect aluminum cans and bottles for our local area’s annual civic festival.
All of these things have a few factors in common.
First, they’re all free. I don’t have to spend a dime (other than maybe a bit of gas) to participate in any of these things.
Second, I deeply enjoy participating in each activity. I have fun when I’m doing these things. I come away feeling as though my time was really well spent.
Third, I help others in the process. The kids I coach in soccer are in a better position. The charitable organization I work with provides housing for the local food pantry among many other things. The local civic festival provides free and low-cost entertainment to the public in part because of our family’s can and bottle collection efforts.
Finally, and perhaps best of all, I build a lot of new relationships and friendships in the community. I now know a lot of people in my town and in nearby towns that I would have never known otherwise. Some of these people have become friends or at least close enough acquaintances that we spend time catching up twice a month or so. In some cases, these people have helped me in other aspects of my life.
The time I spend volunteering is time well spent.
How can you get started?
The first step is to think of a cause that you care about. Do you care about kids and want to make sure that they have safe after-school activities? Do you value the homeless and want to make sure they have food and shelter? Are you concerned about the elderly? Do you want your community to be a safer and nicer place for all? Which one of those things (or another thing you might think of) really strikes a chord with you?
Once you know something you care about, find an organization in your community that works in that area. Care about kids? Stop by your parks and rec department and find out about after-school programs. Care about the homeless? Stop by your local food pantry or soup kitchen. Care about the elderly? Stop by a retirement home. Care about the community in general? Stop by city hall and ask around.
Almost any charity you come across in this search will be glad to have your efforts. You’ll spend your time on a cause that you truly care about, directly improve the lives of others with your time, build some connections with like-minded people, and not spend any money doing it. At the end of the day, you’ll feel really good about what you’ve done, too.
This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “,” which is available and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of , the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.