In an economy where most people cannot afford to ever retire, let alone by the age of 65, many of the retirees are in a significantly better financial position than others.
One of the core tenets of wallet activism is aligning your money with your values, and that almost certainly includes finding ways to give something back, be it right outside your door in your community or on a national or global scale. You may not have heard all of these ideas for giving back. And most of these ideas can apply to people who have not yet retired. Don't hesitate to get involved if you can do more now, no matter what stage of your life or finances you are at.
Read: What Jimmy Carter, 97, Can Teach Us About Retirement
The greatest way you can make a difference with your money is by simply donating it. Funding meals for hungry people, computers in schools for children who otherwise don't have access, or advocating climate change with state and federal lawmakers – all of these things make a real difference. When you have the resources to contribute, there is no better way to align your money with your values than to donate it directly to the organizations that work directly for the causes that matter most to you. Depending on your tax situation, you can even deduct your donation money from taxes. If you've never donated so much and you're uncomfortable with the thought, remember: giving is muscle that you need to build. Start small and make a commitment to do more over time.
Read: Are you planning to retire early? Watch out for these tax traps
Funds advised by donors
If you are planning ahead for retirement and expect to have more disposable income now than you did in retirement, but also want to donate wisely in the future, a donor-focused fund is an option worth considering. As with your own mini-foundation, a Donator Advised Fund (DAF) lets you donate money in one or more large chunks, get the tax deduction on the contribution when you make it, and then pay that money out over time, regardless whether you have excess money in your budget to give this year or not. As with any investment account, find out about management fees before signing up with a DAF supplier and make sure you choose one that suits your donation approach. For example, some allow you to grant amounts as low as $ 50, while others have much higher thresholds that are only suitable for those looking to make larger grants. Also, be aware that many DAF owners do not spend their funds on time and often pass those funds on to someone else to manage them after they die. That misses the whole point. The goal is to donate money and not keep that money forever in an account where it only benefits the investment company that charges on it.
Meaningful volunteer work
There is a long list of ways you can volunteer to help your community, but doing basic volunteering doesn't turn the lights on at a nonprofit like donating money does. While organizations need people walking shelter dogs and serving soup to people affected by homelessness and hardship, look for volunteer opportunities that can really save local organizations money, which is draining their budget and making them more effective. For example, if you have some accounting background from your professional career, could you volunteer to do the bookkeeping for a local organization? If you've been in public relations or marketing, could you offer some public relations work to help a local nonprofit achieve an important goal? If you've worked with boards of directors, could you offer local nonprofits to train board effectiveness? Using your unique skills and hard-earned expertise to promote causes that are important to you can make these organizations more effective and save them money, both of which are hugely beneficial.
Reduce your impact
Older Americans are the biggest consumers of almost everything: electricity, food, transportation, water, and so on. If more retirees were to focus on reducing their consumption and thus their environmental impact, this could greatly reduce the aggregate demand for fossil fuels and other natural resources and slow the climate crisis. Having more free time makes it easier to reduce your impact, and most of the time it also means cutting your expenses, which will help your retirement budget go further. Some ways to reduce your impact are:
Downsize your home so that you use less energy for heating and cooling.
Replace a water-hungry lawn of grass with a garden that also relieves the pressure on the local food system.
If you are physically able to do so, advocate driving less and walking, cycling or using public transport more.
Buy secondhand and give away experience instead of creating more demand for newly manufactured goods.
Make fewer and longer trips to reduce the demand for climate-damaging air travel.
Local political engagement
While many are reluctant to get involved in local politics, most local governments desperately need volunteers to join committees that oversee useful programs like recycling, parks and recreation, and town planning. Whether you join a citizens' committee to contribute to local initiatives or simply commit to attend city council meetings to take oversight, your involvement is a real service to your community.
Simply leaving the workforce after saving enough to live humbly but comfortably is a powerful act. Our capitalist culture encourages people to amass as much as possible just because they can, but this mentality leads to that wealth hoards among the lucky few and many others find themselves in need. If you choose to stop accumulating after meeting your needs, it opens up employment opportunities for others and ensures there is enough for everyone.
I bet you never knew retirement is so altruistic.
Tanja Hester is the author of Wallet Activism: How to Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn, and Save as a Force for Change and Work Optional: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way, moderator of the Wallet Activism podcast and creator of Unser Next Life blog.