Volunteering in Retirement: How to Get Great Freebies
'Ultimate Cheapskate' Jeff Yeager explains how retirees can help out — and score great perks
When you’re retired, volunteering for a nonprofit or another cause you believe in is its own reward. But there are also a lot of volunteer opportunities that come with some nice perks. If you’re a "cheapskate" like me, you might be interested in signing up. Here are some of my favorites:
Film festivals Most film fests, including the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and the Toronto International Film Festival, rely on hundreds or thousands of volunteers to keep the cameras rolling. By volunteering, you can save serious money. Passes to Sundance, for example, are priced at $300 to $3,000. Volunteers typically get complimentary access to screenings and other special backstage events, along with all kinds of other goodies. They sometimes even receive discounted or free lodging. Festivaltrek.com is a great source of information for film festivals in 2013.
Music festivals I doubt that I’m the only ex-hippie who grew up in the ’70s and still regrets that he didn’t drop everything and sign on as a roadie for Aerosmith when they passed through the Toledo Sports Arena in 1975. But it’s never too late to reap similar rewards.
Most music festivals, including major events like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Lollapalooza and South by Southwest, put volunteers to work in exchange for free admission and other perks. That's an easy way to save $50 or more every day you volunteer.
You can find a directory of music festivals at the groovy website, Musicfestivaljunkies.com, then contact the festivals directly to inquire about volunteer opportunities. Rock on!
National and state parks About 10 years before I wanted to be a roadie for Aerosmith, my childhood dream job was to work as a park ranger. If you have a similar hankering, look into volunteering through the National Park Service or the many state park systems across the country.
The National Park Service has a particularly robust volunteer program, offering opportunities to do everything from building trails and guiding nature walks to staffing information desks and designing park websites. In addition to free admission, you may also be able to get housing and reimbursement for your out-of-pocket expenses.
Search for volunteer opportunities at nearly 400 national parks at the National Park Service website (click on “Get Involved”). Check with state parks directly for their volunteer programs.
Theater and concerts One favorite pastime of cheapskate retirees who have an interest in the performing arts is becoming a volunteer usher at theaters and concert halls. Arts facilities that use volunteers as ushers — and many do — let you see shows for free and often invite volunteers to backstage events and other special functions.
I know one woman who has volunteered as an usher for 10 years and estimates she has saved at least $12,000 in ticket costs, something she’s all too happy to sing about.
Volunteer vacations and volunteering abroad Helping others while seeing the world is a dream of many retirees and there are several reputable programs and groups that can help make this dream a reality. But be forewarned that loads of outfits promising meaningful travel experiences are, in reality, just commercial tour operators trying to make a hefty profit off your altruistic intentions.
Some of the legitimate programs for overseas volunteering offer free or inexpensive room and board. Transportation (other than getting around locally), is rarely provided or subsidized, however.
I also recommend you read Bill McMillon's book, Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others.
Sporting events No, you’re not going to score free tickets to the Super Bowl or most other major-league sporting events as a volunteer. But some minor-league and collegiate sports programs get you in the gate for free if you help out.
(MORE: 10 Best Ways to Have Fun in 2013)
Check directly with your favorite teams and college athletic programs. You might also contact the state or municipal sports authorities where you live, since they’re responsible for attracting sporting events to your area and often have lists of available volunteer positions.
There are also many rewarding volunteer opportunities through sports organizations that are part of the U.S. Olympic program. For more information, contact the national governing body that administers the Olympic programs for the sport that interest you. The website Teamusa.org has contact information.
Conventions and conferences Eager to learn the latest wisdom from experts in a field that interests you? You might normally pay $50 to $100 a day to pick up those insights at a trade group’s convention. But volunteering a few hours each day might get you a free pass or at least a significant discount (and probably a free T-shirt).
Check with the organization sponsoring the conference or the company managing the event to see if it needs volunteers. Also call your area convention and visitors bureau, since this type of agency frequently coordinates volunteers for local events. Who knows? By becoming a volunteer at a conference or convention, you could make contacts that lead to retirement income opportunities. Then you can use that extra money to travel somewhere great to volunteer again.
Excerpted/Adapted from the book How to Retire the Cheapskate Way by Jeff Yeager. Copyright © 2013 by Jeff Yeager. Published by Three Rivers Press, and imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.