Friday, 22 July 2016

Weekly Column: Volunteering is Cheaper Than Therapy

Volunteering: it’s cheaper than therapy

When people sit down to consider how they can cut back on their spending it is usually obvious that shopping trips, vacations, new toys for the kids (and the parents) need to be cut back. Perhaps rather than a warm winter vacation you are seeing the local sights this year. Maybe you are making do in a tent although you have had your eye on a new camper. Maybe you have even given up some of your more expensive pastimes and sold some of your extra things to generate a bit more money. You’re doing what you have to do to get by, but is a constant sense of austerity truly sustainable?

Most people would admit they get a rush from spending money--if not the actual act of spending it, then from the new, exciting things they have just purchased. Whether it is a new truck on display in the driveway or some new clothes hanging in the closet, it is natural to feel happy and proud of what you have worked to buy yourself. The trouble is, the new wears off and you are left looking for that happy, positive feeling and may not know how to find it without spending more money. It can become a vicious cycle that spirals into debt, guilt, anxiety and stress. So how do you get off the spending treadmill?

It's not the spending that makes you feel good

 Having new things might impress the neighbours and will definitely look good on your Facebook page, but if you have cut back your lifestyle you may be left feeling like you make sacrifice after sacrifice with no relief. But this is simply not the truth. Rather than searching outwardly for material things that make you feel inspired and rewarded, perhaps it is time to look within for something that gives you satisfaction and joy that money cannot buy.

In stressful times, there is nothing worse than feeling isolated and alone in your struggles. But one needn’t look far in today’s world to see others in a far worse situation. Becoming a volunteer is a way to get to know like-minded people and feel a part of the community. There are a number of ways to get involved that needn’t cost you much money. If you have time to spare maybe filling it with a volunteer position would help fight the urge to spend money and replace the rush you get from new things with one that is free, long-lasting and maintainable.

So many ways to help

What are your interests outside of work? Are you good at organizing? Have you always wanted to teach? Are you an avid outdoorsman or woman? Are you handy with a hammer? Explore how your interests can lead you to an organization that needs your talents. Whether it is Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Ducks Unlimited, The SPCA, The United Way, Special Olympics, tutoring literacy or English as a second language—the list of volunteer opportunities in the area goes on and on. Most organizations require a police record check and some paper work but the process is worth it. 

Understandably, donations from big oil companies are lagging this year so many groups are getting creative to fund the projects in their communities. Although money might be tight there is no reason why community spirit should be in short supply. There is a good chance that getting involved in a cause that you believe in will benefit you as much as it benefits those you are setting out to help.

Do what works for you

Volunteering needn’t be organized and your commitment can be as much or as little as suits you. Finding a meaningful pastime that doesn’t cost you money can be as simple as visiting at a retirement home, checking in on an elderly or house-bound neighbour, or babysitting for a busy family. Feeling like you have stepped in to help someone who needed it will give you a sense of satisfaction that no amount of spending can imitate.

From consumerism to volunteerism

Creating a frugal lifestyle is much the same as a diet: you are no further ahead if cutting back for awhile results in a binge of spending and so-called rewards for your efforts. Just like with food, you need to replace your old habits with new, healthy ones. Having new things can be exciting and make everyone happy, at least in the short term. But rather than looking to consumerism to give your life joy and meaning, maybe it’s time to take the focus off ourselves and see how much better we feel when we are part of a larger, community-minded group. Ask around and check out local websites to find the opportunity that works for you.


  1. Oh you hit the nail on the head with this post. People who have never volunteered do not know what they are missing. My biggest obstacle right now is my inability to commit to something because my schedule is all over the place. if I worked a 9-5 and knew I'd be out of the office at a decent hour it would make it so much easier. And I'd love to volunteer again since it is less stressful and more enjoyable to me than just donating cash.
    ~ Pru

    1. Volunteering really does add value to life. I wish more people would give it a try when they feel down and out!