The end of your formal working days is approaching. You likely understand your finances; your housing plans are set perhaps you've laid out some travel plans or visits with the grandkids, but one big question looms: how will you spend your time?

One answer for many retirees is to volunteer in their communities. Offering time and talent can support an organization while also giving structure to your days, and that feel-good sense of achievement and connection that you might miss once you've left the working world behind. Volunteering can also offer an outlet to explore your passions by providing hands-on experience working for a cause like the environment, animal welfare, or mental health.

Like other retirement decisions, volunteering in retirement takes some thought and planning, but it's clear many retirees choose this path. According to a recent survey from Statistics CanadaOpens a new window in your browser, almost 41% of Canadians aged 55 to 64 volunteer — and they spent an average of 203 hours each year doing it. Here's why.

The benefits of volunteering

Studies have shown that people who donate their time feel more socially connected, less isolated and have better physical and mental health, as noted by Harvard Medical Schoolopens a new window in your browser. Volunteering with friends is a fun social activity, and volunteering on your own can be a great way to meet new people and create a sense of belonging. It lets you use or develop new skills, which has cognitive (or mental) health benefits. A growing body of evidence suggests that people who give their time to others might also be rewarded with better physical health, including lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.

When Canadian retirees contribute their time, talent and expertise, the nonprofit organizations and businesses they serve benefit as well by expanding capacity, leveraging professional skills, and improving the diversity of their workforce. Communities become more cohesive and resilient. Society as a whole benefits when citizens are more engaged, involved and informed.

How and where to volunteer

Start by identifying causes or organizations you're passionate about. Perhaps you've been involved with them in the past, or there are new ones you'd like to get involved with. Here are some ideas to inspire you:

  • Digging in at your local community garden, growing fresh vegetables, herbs or flowers
  • Helping people improve their literacy skills (check out Frontier Collegeopens a new window in your browser)
  • Feeding the homeless in overnight shelters
  • Working with, or mentoring, at-risk youth
  • Delivering meals to those needing help through Meals On Wheelsopens a new window in your browser
  • Working as a greeter, docent or fundraiser at a museum, gallery, or performing arts institution
  • Driving cancer patients to chemotherapy appointments through the Canadian Cancer Society's Wheels of Hopeopens a new window in your browser program
  • Sitting on your condominium board
  • Visiting the elderly in their homes or doing hospital visits for the sick; many religious organizations have a list of members seeking visitors
  • Joining a committee through your professional membership organization; for example, accountants can volunteer with their national (CPA Canada) or provincial (CPA Ontario, for example) governing body

Know your limits

Helping others is great, but not at the expense of your own retirement wellbeing. Consider all the logistics required to volunteer, such as how you'll get there as well as your availability. Do you have other commitments, such as family caregiving, work or hobbies? You've worked hard for your retirement, and it's okay to put your needs first now.

And don't forget finances. If you incur out-of-pocket expenses in connection with your volunteering, or if the organization expects a significant donation, make sure your income can handle those expectations. Speaking with your financial advisor could ensure you can have it all in retirement — supporting your community in a meaningful way while still enjoying your hard-earned time.