My time is just as important to me as my money. Perhaps even more so because while my income has increased, I still have the same 24 hours in a day that I always did. Recently I made the decision to give up one workday a week to doing volunteer work. It’s been a tough adjustment and I have had to turn down paid work to make it possible, but I don’t regret my choice for a minute.
I’ve come to realize that my time spent volunteering doesn’t only benefit those I’m helping, it’s also helped me in many other ways. If you’re at a place in your life where it’s feasible to volunteer a few hours of your time, I urge you to consider it. You’ll not only be making a difference for the causes you believe in, the time you spend volunteering are also a wise investment in your personal development, which in turn will help you meet your financial goals.
1. Volunteer work helps you gain knowledge, experience and wisdom.
If I had a motto in life it would be “if you’re not learning something new, you’re not taking full advantage of life” (pretend that sounds pithy). As we settle into adulthood, a lot of what we do becomes routine. We’ve become proficient at our jobs and have settled into a certain way of doing things in our personal lives. Volunteer work is an opportunity to take a break from these routines and give our minds the joy of learning something new.
It might not be glamorous, but it will be useful. A lot of volunteer work involves going down into the trenches and doing the dirty work. If you keep an open mind and humble spirit, it’s amazing what you can learn by taking a turn serving food to 50 people then washing up afterwards or hosing down a dozen kennels or addressing 100 envelopes. Every unfamiliar thing we do adds to our mind’s bank of experiences and helps us to see the world in a new way.
In my case, one of my volunteer jobs is helping out in the lunchroom one day a week. I never thought I’d be the kind of person to help 500 noisy children eat, tidy up and remember the rules. It is loud, it can get chaotic, but I love it. To get them to settle down and eat, I have to stop and look at the world from their perspective and come up with reasons that make sense to them. I have learned to make peace with the noise and not let it distract me from my focus. Most people would not be impressed if I put “lunchroom monitor” on my resume, but I know the experience is helping me gain wisdom.
Go into volunteer work with a positive attitude and an open mind and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll learn to see things from new perspectives. You’ll also learn more about how different organizations operate, workplace politics, how to manage people and the most efficient ways to get big jobs done.
2. Volunteer work helps you meet new people.
On my volunteer days, I interact with everyone from grandparents to kindergartners. From school administrators to the janitors. It’s been a particularly beneficial for me, as I work alone all day as a writer, but having the opportunity to meet new people regularly can benefit anyone, even the most introverted.
It’s easy to be around people all day and still lack human contact, as many of our daily interactions follow a script. Volunteer work helps us break out of our bubble and come into contact with people we might never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.
The more practice we have with talking to and working with different people of varying status and stage of life, the more comfortable we start to feel in our own skins. If you’re the kind of person who has trouble asking for help or directions or clarification (and so many more of us are than you’d suspect), volunteer work is a great antidote for that. You’ll be thrown into unfamiliar situations and the only way to get the job done is to figure out who to ask for direction. After a while, the nerves go away and you find that asking becomes second nature.
On a more practical note, the more people you meet, the wider your network becomes. You have that many more people to ask for leads on a job or recommendations for a new babysitter or reviews of local businesses. You don’t have to become best friends with everybody, since even relatively weak ties can be mutually beneficial. Having a strong personal network has been shown to help maintain good health, relieve stress and provide assistance during times of need. Strengthening your social capital via volunteer work will pay off dividends for years to come.
3. Volunteer work can help you feel appreciated and useful.
We all go through times when we feel like not much that we do matters. Our families might seem to take us for granted, our colleagues and superiors at work treat us like a machine and even the other drivers on the road don’t seem to see us. While it’s a very bad idea to go into volunteer work thinking it will be all applause and thank yous, seeing the good that you are doing in the world can give you an immense sense of satisfaction. While you’ll almost certainly get thanked by someone for your hard work, often what really makes us feel appreciated is seeing that our actions really did make a difference.
This warm feeling isn’t only good for our spirits, it can also be the fuel that keeps us motivated to reach our goals. We can channel our feelings of frustration, low-self esteem, insignificance into doing something positive instead of indulging in negative habits like over-spending, drinking and eating too much or otherwise over-indulging our own wants.
Volunteer work is not only a frugal way for us to give back to the communities, it’s also a frugal way for us to enrich our lives, improve our spirits and invest in ourselves in a way that will pay back dividends for our entire lives. What could be better?
Note: I know that I am extraordinarily lucky to be able to make the choice to devote one day a week to volunteer work. I’ve also had years when I had small babies at home and a husband who traveled for work where I let others shoulder all the burden. We all can give different things at different times in our lives and sometimes we might even have to be the recipients of charity or aid. There is no shame in it if you can’t give your time or money now, but it’s something I’d urge you to consider if it’s feasible because of the reasons I listed above and because the need is so great in many of our communities.