One of my most frequent pieces of advice, which comes up for numerous reasons, is to get involved in your local community. I regularly recommend getting involved in local civic groups (like the Lions Club), local Meetups, local churches and other religious organizations, local charities, local parks and recreation activities, and even local politics. You can usually find such groups by checking your city’s website, visiting the local library, or stopping by city hall.
I offer such suggestions because there are several key reasons for doing so, each of which is helpful to your financial state. Let’s walk through them.
The activities themselves are usually free and provide a great source of entertainment. The vast majority of things going on in your community are free to attend, so, on a surface level, they provide a free source of entertainment. In just the past year, I’ve attended several concerts, a few lectures and presentations, and a ton of group meetings of various kinds, and none of them have cost me a dime. Almost universally, I’ve enjoyed and been entertained by the experiences, even if they didn’t turn out to be something that I continued to be involved with.
Even living in a small town, it would not be hard for me to fill out my calendar with free events in my town and in nearby towns. Civic groups, free concerts, free sporting events, Meetups, and countless other things can easily fill every night of the week, even if I’m being selective.
They provide a powerful opportunity to learn of more things going on in the local community. Although you can get a pretty lengthy list of events and activities going on in your local community via the above strategies and have more free entertainment than you can imagine, there’s often another “layer” of activities going on that isn’t as easy to find, whether it’s due to poor advertising or due to such events being under the umbrella of a particular organization or some other factor.
Often, such events are made known via word of mouth at other community events. For example, you might find out about a community potluck dinner only by going to a Lion’s Club meeting, or you might discover that there’s an ultimate Frisbee league only because you happened to show up at a 5K walk/run.
In other words, not only are the events themselves a free form of entertainment, they also often reveal more activities that you’re not even aware of and likely would have never heard about if you stuck to just looking at the listings online.
They provide a great opportunity to meet people and build friendships. A community event is a perfect time to meet people and build acquaintances and even friendships. You have people congregating in a single place with which you already have two things in common: you live near each other (meaning you have shared interest in the local community) and you have an interest in that particular event. That alone provides more than enough material with which to get to know lots of people.
The value of having personal friendships and acquaintances in the local community cannot be overstated. They can become people you barter with or hand off unused items to or borrow things from, all of which can save you money directly. They can become people with whom you share information and local bargains, which can often save money.
As friendships grow, you can start doing things like swapping child care, helping each other with projects, keeping an eye on each other’s homes while you’re traveling, and so on. The savings of having a good local friendship is quite large, and it only gets better if you have lots of local friends.
In terms of opportunity, having local friends can help when you’re looking for work or need a reference. Friends often serve as a point of reference or introduction to new people in the community as well, which further grows these benefits.
They provide a great opportunity to discover a new low-cost passion in your life. Most of the time, when I go to a community event or a meetup or a lecture, it’s good enough for an afternoon or an evening of entertainment. Every once in a while, however, it sparks a new interest in me, giving me something to learn more about and practice and dig into in my own time.
I discovered ultimate Frisbee and disc golf at a community meetup several years ago, both of which have provided many hours of entertainment for me and my friends over the years. My passion for hiking was spurred on by an outdoor club I discovered in a town that I lived in many years ago. My passion for board games was strongly aided and encouraged by a local board gaming group.
Each of those experiences has brought a ton of value into my life. They’ve turned into hobbies that I’ve followed on my own beyond the community event itself and, in most cases, the community event showed me how to do it at a minimal cost.
They provide resume building and leadership experiences. If you begin to get involved in a community group, you’ll eventually find that there are ample opportunities for leadership and taking on projects for yourself. Not only are these projects often enriching for their own sake, they tend to make wonderful material for resumes under the “Other Interests” section.
Not only that, your efforts in such an activity are likely to be noticed by others in the community, which can open up professional doors for you. I have personally witnessed someone’s performance in a civic organization directly lead to a new job for that person and, in another situation, witnessed a person get a job thanks to “help” from another leader of that organization.
Even if you never gain any direct career value from such connections, the leadership and organizational skills you can learn from stepping up in a civic organization can have a direct positive impact on your work performance, as well as giving you the courage to step up for leadership positions in the workplace, both of which can lead to an increase in income.
They regularly drop unexpected opportunities in your lap. A few weeks ago, I showed up at a free community event where there was a raffle going on. I dropped my name in the hat and won a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
About a year ago, I went with my kids to a free community event that also had a raffle. My kids put their names in the raffle and they won a movie and book bundle.
I served on a community board a few years ago where one of the members cooked dinner for us before every meeting, simply out of kindness and an effort to team build, and she was a marvelous cook. Another member of the board started bringing along a dessert every month. One month, when the usual cook wasn’t available, I stepped up and made chili for everyone – yes, it cost me as much as $10 there – but I had free meals once a month for a year.
I’ve been at community events and meetings where the organization provided free pizza or beverages for everyone. I’ve been at meetings where everyone in the room got a free book.
That’s just the freebies. Through community events, I’ve found out about unadvertised estate sales. I’ve been given furniture. I’ve had someone loan me a car when ours was in the shop. One time, a person gave me several thousand Magic: the Gathering cards because she heard that I used to play and listened to her talk about her son who had passed away unexpectedly; she actually went home, dug them out of her closet, and brought them back to give to me. I’ve received countless coupons and snacks and, on at least one occasion, an Entertainment Book for the community that was loaded with certificates for various free and highly discounted activities.
What’s the common thread? I showed up at free community events and got involved in a few organizations. My cost was next to nothing beyond my time.
I consider getting involved in one’s community one of the best little financial moves a person can make. It’s a subtle thing that rarely shows up on a balance sheet, but it’s time well spent at no cost (or occasional low cost) that adds up to far, far more over time.
Get involved. You won’t regret it.
More by Trent Hamm: