Make Sure Your Vision Includes Joyful Generosity

When you imagine looking back on your life, what do you want to be remembered for?

While we’ve been retraining ourselves to think like budget-constrained people, which is what we’ll be when we quit our jobs next year, we’re continuing our never ending search for good advice from all corners. That’s what led us to talk last week about times when it makes more sense to think like rich people than like budget-constrained people.

One of the things that has always been appealing to us about people with excess wealth is that they have the ability to give money to whatever causes are important to them, to spend time advancing those causes and to spread the word about them. And we’ve definitely been around some who are doing it right — giving generously, but also doing the little day-to-day stuff that matters, too. Being kind to everyone, expressing appreciation for good service, tipping well. Reaching down to help someone pick up that thing they just dropped. Holding the door open for a stranger. To us, it’s those completely non-financial moments, those moments of kindness and shared humanity, that stand out most.

Unfortunately, we’ve also been around rich people who viewed generosity as merely a tax write-off, not as something ingrained in their souls. Or who think that doing one good thing (maybe writing a big check to charity) means they’ve done their part and they can be jerks to everyone now. Who let their bank balance or their house size convince them that they’re too important or too good to see themselves as equals with all the regular people around them.

Man, what a bummer of a way to live! How draining that must be to feel like other people are beneath you, that you’re surrounded by riff raff. This is when you get into that sticky, icky zone of “deserve.” Thinking you deserve more than others, you deserve better. That feels like a super crappy recipe for happiness.

Research tells us that the people who are happiest are not those who think they deserve whatever they have in life, but those who are most thankful. And that’s a mindset you can consciously choose, not one that’s predetermined for you.

But back to that question of what you want to be remembered for.

Anyone with kids probably wants to be remembered as a good parent. Those with an entrepreneurial bent likely want to be remembered for their gamechanging ideas and business savvy. But I’d be willing to wager a hefty sum that none of us want to be remembered for being misers, for being selfish or for helping others only begrudgingly. For being those unhappy “deserve” types when we could be the happier “thankful” types.

Thinking about how we want to be remembered, we always come back to this idea of leaving the world in better shape than we found it, even if it’s only in little ways. Everything in our life’s purpose is about appreciating this awesome planet of ours, and finding a way to serve the planet and its occupants. As early retirees, we’ll be in a unique position to do that, because we’ll be able to spend most of our time on causes that are important to us, that help our community, instead of focusing solely on earning a living.

That’s not just a privilege, that’s great power, and as the uncle of our friend Spidey would say (or maybe it was Voltaire):

With great power comes great responsibility.

— Ben Parker, or Voltaire

We take that responsibility seriously. And that’s why we think everyone’s plan — whether it be for financial independence or early retirement, or for any other audacious goal — should have generosity built in. And not just plain old generosity, but joyful generosity.

OurNextLife.com // Make sure your vision for financial independence includes joyful generosity -- early retirement, social good, volunteering, charitable giving, mentoring

What is Joyful Generosity?

Think of joyful generosity as the expression in action of gratitude. It’s what naturally happens when you allow yourself to feel thankful for everything good in your life, and to share that feeling with others. It’s the combination of that great responsibility with  a deep-seated appreciation for your blessings in life, without comparing your blessings to anyone else’s. It’s generosity that comes from an open-hearted place, not a begrudging one. And — best of all — it’s generosity that not only helps others, but helps those who give it, too. Generosity with no strings attached, where any potential tax write-off is just the side effect. Generosity that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

It can look like a million different things, and it isn’t even necessarily about money. We can each decide what that joyful generosity means to us, and what we want it to look like in the world.

Generosity and FI

Reminding ourselves that generosity doesn’t have to be about money is the best way to make it jive with the principles of financial independence. Because we’re not suggesting that anyone give all their money away, or at least not while they’re living. We’re not suggesting that anyone jeopardize their financial stability by writing a bunch of checks to charity.

But we are suggesting that generosity should be fully baked into your vision for your life, especially after you reach your big financial goals. If you plan to retire early, and won’t have much money available to give, maybe you can devote significant time to volunteering, or even to starting a new effort in your community to help people or animals or your local environment or whatever else feeds your soul. Maybe it’s about choosing to spend a lot of time with extended family, and helping out those who need it in non-money ways. Maybe it’s simply about making the conscious decision to be nice to everyone, strangers included. Maybe it’s also about money.

Related post: What we want to do when we grow up // Becoming more useful in early retirement

Mapping Out Your Generous Vision

If any of this is feeling weird to you, think about the last time you smiled at someone, and they smiled back, and how good that felt. We’re just talking about taking that same idea and ramping it up. Finding more ways to spread good in the world that will also feed your own soul. That will put lots of good vibes out into the world, and leave you happier at the same time. There is pretty much zero downside to thinking this way.

To structure a vision for joyful generosity in your own life, it can be helpful to break it down into the big and small elements:

Lifetime — What do you want your legacy to be? (For example, we want to leave a big bequest to causes that are important to us.)

Years or months — How will you spend your time to help others? (We want to spend significant time volunteering with organizations undertaking projects that speak to us, as well as coaching local nonprofits to be as effective as possible.)

Day-to-day — How can you contribute positivity to the world? (We are making the conscious choice to be kind and appreciative to everyone. If we see someone who needs help with something, we do our best to help. And we make a habit of tipping well.)

There are plenty of great role models in our PF space who are living the spirit of joyful generosity every day. I continue to be amazed by Eric, AKA Mr. FIRE Station, who recently retired early, and who worked a whole extra year to save a fund for future charitable giving. Yes, while I’m trying to find ways to shave weeks off of our working career, Eric hit his full FIRE number and then kept working to save a “one more year” fund to enable him and his wife to donate to charity and invest in social good ventures through their whole lifetimes, not just during the working years. That’s amazing.

What I like best about Mr. FIRE Station’s example is that it isn’t just about giving away money. It’s about the generosity of spirit that’s baked into the very idea. Eric didn’t decide to work an extra year and save that money because he was just thinking about the tax write-offs he’ll enjoy for years. There was clearly a lot more to it, all coming from a place of gratitude and a desire to help others meaningfully. And I’m sure that he got a ton of satisfaction from watching those paychecks roll in to build up that fund. Just as he’ll derive some of his happiness from now on from being able to give and invest in such positive ways.

What Does Joyful Generosity Mean to You?

What do you want your legacy to be, and how can generosity help you achieve that vision? What are some little ways we can all be more generous? Do you have a big vision for generosity in your life? What are some ways to be more generous even before you reach your big goals? Let’s chat about all of it in the comments!

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72 replies »

  1. The “day to day things” is often overlooked by people hustling around the work place. Always say good morning to the cleaning crew and thank you to the bus driver on the way off.

    I don’t know if I have a specific legacy in mind, but want to be known for doing the “right” thing in all aspects of my life.

    Thanks you for a positive-upbeat post on my bus ride this morning!

    • You are totally speaking my language! The people who don’t make eye contact with cleaning crew staff or say thank you to the bus driver make me a little nutty — it’s so ungrateful. And I think wanting to be known for doing the right thing is a great goal! :-)

  2. Although many do think that any sort of charity means giving money, it doesn’t. Working hard and retiring early allows you to have more time to spend volunteering or giving back your time. Great twist and reminder on what is truly important in life.
    The Green Swan

    • Thanks! We’d argue that giving at least some money is important if possible, because orgs also need financial support. But none of us should feel like we can’t make a real contribution if we can’t afford to donate much. There are lots of ways to spread positivity!

  3. Being a Spiderman fan since I was five I’ve also associated the quote. “With great power comes great responsibility” to Ben Parker.

    I love stories of random acts of kindness, paying it forward. paying for the next guys cup of coffee at the drive thru, or toll at the toll booth. During the Holidays I purchased a Starbucks gift cards and handed it back to the cashier and hand then buy some coffees on me.

    Giving your time is a great way to generous. Thinking about getting gifts for family members, often a mom, dad, grandparent, just want to spend time with you. I’ve been volunteering in my local community for sometime now it’s great to help out, but feels just as rewarding in return.

    • Let’s assume it’s Ben Parker. :-) I love random acts of kindness, too! And we try to also be kind to those who aren’t as likely to benefit from those random acts, such as people who can’t afford to buy Starbucks. It’s why I always tip well to hotel maids. And I love all the stuff you’ve written about doing in your community — especially the financial literacy workshops you’re now doing. Keep it up!

  4. I’m with you. A sound early retirmement plan should include some plans to give in a way that you’re able. Money and/or time. Giving makes us happy, and happiness is the goal. Improving our community is a nice bonus.

    One of my mental hangups with my early retirement plan is the amount of money I’m walking away from, and all the good that could be done with it. To address that insecurity, I’ve decided to build up our Donor Advised Fund to 10% of our own nest egg prior to retiring.

    I’ll be working ~18 months longer to achieve the goal, but then I’ll have a sizable pool of donated money waiting to be doled out over the course of our lives. It might be the single best aspect of our retirement plan.

    • Agree 100%. I’m convinced that people who don’t have a giving mindset just don’t understand how good it makes you feel! That’s awesome that you’re doing that donor advised fund, and working 18 months longer to do so! That’s so generous of you.

  5. We think about this topic a lot. As you know, we don’t give money to charity. Ever. Instead, we feel that our *time* and *effort* are far more beneficial than just forking over some cash to organizations, not truly knowing where that cash is going to wind up.

    We will use our mobility in the near future to get more involved in volunteer opportunities around the country, especially in animal shelters. We already have a couple mapped out, but everywhere we go, there will be opportunities for us to give our time, or our knowledge, or experience, or whatever happens to be needed in that area of the country. If an opportunity sounds particularly interesting, we’ll be able to relocate ourselves in order to address that need.

    We’ve been accused of “living off of the fat of the land” in our desire to retire early and enjoy much more of life than most people ever get to, which is an incredibly pessimistic [and probably jealous] way of looking at early retirement. It’s the thought that if you aren’t cluttering our nation’s streets by commuting to some job and spending lots of money on stuff you don’t need, then you aren’t truly “contributing to society”.

    The truth of the matter is we early retirees are in a much, much better position to give back and get more involved in generosity than working stiffs could ever imagine. :)

    • Food for thought: http://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2014/mar/03/which-would-you-rather-have-time-or-money. Apparently orgs have plenty of volunteers, but they actually need more money to even be able to properly train and use the volunteers. So it’s worth reconsidering if never giving is really the best move. There are great services out there like Guidestar (https://www.guidestar.org/Home.aspx) and Charity Navigator (http://www.charitynavigator.org/) that tell you which philanthropic orgs use donated funds well, and which don’t.

      • I can definitely see where giving money instead of time will help more – but of course, this depends on the circumstances at the time and the organization that you’re giving to. And certainly, one begets the other – money helps the organization to stay alive and train volunteers, but volunteers are also an integral part of a charitable organization’s ability to positively affect the greatest number of people.

        Because the majority of Americans GIVE rather than WORK (according to this survey: http://www.gallup.com/poll/21430/americans-more-likely-donate-money-time-charities.aspx), there are entities that exist who badly need volunteers. We will be targeting those particular entities the most. We tend to stay away from the larger organizations like the Red Cross and others and instead focus on more localized opportunities with, at times, unique needs.

        In the end, charitable organizations need both money and volunteers. We choose to focus on volunteering with those organizations who need it most rather than writing checks. To us, writing checks just seems way too impersonal.

        Of course, your mileage may vary. :)

  6. This is a toughie for me, given that I didn’t retire when I planned, but rather several years earlier. Fortunately there’s room in the budget, though not a lot of it, for charitable giving, although not nearly at the level as when we were both working. We do have time, however, to donate to worthy causes. Toward that end, we recently decided to free up one day per week from any appointments of any kind after we noticed we seem to have a time commitment for ourselves or our pets nearly every weekday, and that makes it difficult to commit to anything outside of those appointments. We’d like to volunteer our time and years of experience to worthy causes without constantly having to reschedule because an appointment cropped up. In the meantime, I practice random acts of kindness and generosity whenever and wherever I can, something that continues to brings me great joy. I’d love to donate buckets of money to every worthy cause, but since that’s not possible I donate what I can, when I can and try to move through every day life with an attitude of gratitude. Every gesture of kindness is a reminder to me of how fortunate we are, whether it’s returned or ignored, and I love that great feeling of just being nice to everyone I meet. There are many ways to make the world a better place, and fortunately most of them actually don’t require money.

    • I think you’re still doing lots of good! Volunteering every week and having an attitude of kindness to everyone is already contributing a LOT to our collective good. So that’s awesome! I can only imagine how tough it is to know you can’t give as much as you once did (we will experience that very soon!), but I hope you know that you’re still contributing plenty. :-)

  7. 100% agree that everyone should make a practice of gratitude and from that will flow generosity.

    For us, the ability to give financially is one reason I’ve been hesitant to resign from full time work even though I know that the local charities I give to also need volunteers, but I’m making the leap so I am excited to see how this plays out in an un-fi temporary early retirement

    • Hi Hannah — Hope you and the baby are doing well! That’s incredible that wanting to give charitably is a key motivator to keep you working. Look forward to hearing how everything goes in your new world order. :-)

  8. I still love the One More Year fund. It’s such a great idea! I recently read a Kevin Spacey quote (or Abraham Lincoln… darn internet as you point out!) that said “If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” I really, really like that image and analogy. Reaching the top is hard, unfair, and comes with lots and lots of perks. Getting up there allows you to be in a position to send the elevator back down. It’s important to do so.

  9. I think everyone can and should give time and money as often as possible. There are certainly situations where time makes more of an impact, and there are times when dollars do. For instance, volunteer all you want, but if a food pantry or after-school program doesn’t have funding, it’s not operational. Remembering that so much of life happens outside of just ourselves is such a lovely benefit of giving.

    • Agree with everything you said, Penny! And I love how you put it — remembering that so much of life happens outside of just ourselves. Amen to that! :-)

  10. Thanks for the call-out on OurNextLfe.com! The “One More Year Fund” has been fun to develop. A couple weeks ago at my retirement party, my boss said he had no idea that it was my last year – that I certainly hadn’t ‘mailed it in’. I said our OMY Fund idea kept me honest – on days when I didn’t feel hugely motivated, I remembered I was working for something important. Worked for me – glad it inspired you to some degree.

    Also … your Voltaire / Spiderman quote as deep roots … the Gospel of Luke says “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”

    (BTW … I was going to take this week off of blogging and suddenly I had a HUGE amount of traffic coming from your post).

    • So funny — I was going to use the Luke version, but figured that some of the more “bootstraps” thinkers would take issue with the “given” part. So I went with the updated power and responsibility version, since that’s harder to quibble with. :-)

      And glad to send you some traffic — I LOVE your one more year fund, and that you actually stuck with it even though you didn’t have to. Super inspiring. I don’t think I could do that, but you’ve inspired us to figure out other ways we can keep contributing financially after we’ve quit our jobs. :-)

      • Yes – I guess “given” implies a bit of un-deserving, yet divine good fortune. We’re getting close to using a chunk of the OMY Fund to support a start-up healthcare company. In due diligence now.

  11. Great post, as always, ONL! Our plans beyond our near-term travel include work in social service and volunteering. To me, that’s one of the most rewarding things our FIRE-enabled free time will allow us to do. Cash giving is important to us, too, and I’d eventually like to open a philanthropic account with Vanguard Charitable to support that long-term.

    In the meantime, I’m spending most of my side hustle time these days working with a for-profit but very much mission-oriented startup in a space that’s important to me. It’s cool to see a mindset of generosity applied in the business world as well — financial security and mission-oriented leadership enable decisions to be made based on what’s right, not necessarily what’s right for this quarter’s financial statements.

    • Thanks, Matt! ;-) We have got to check out the Vanguard charitable fund options — we keep hearing about them, and it seems like a perfect vehicle! I love that you’re so focused on generosity in all pursuits — I love for-profits that have a real social good mission (not just some greenwashing tagline), and often think they can drive more change than nonprofits can. So awesome that your work gets to support that!

  12. I can understand to some extent the differences of opinion in some of the replies, that’s all good. A freedom that we enjoy when so many others don’t.
    At the end of the day, those in need don’t care whether it is money, time, effort or some combination of the three. Just giving something is what the needy are crying out for.

    • People who are hungry need food. But absolutely, giving time or effort is far better then giving nothing! And if more of us gave of our time, the world would clearly be a better place. :-)

  13. Oh gosh, I’m terrible about donations these days. It’s gotten to the point where I’m only giving if it’s a two-for-one situation, such as:
    – giving $10 to the local NPR station when they are promising to enter all donators into a drawing for a trip to the Galapagos (sadly, I have never won).
    – giving one of my parents an “in honor of you” donation to a charity as a birthday gift or Mother’s/Father’s Day gift.

    I definitely hear you about the joyful giving, but I also like this story that I once heard about a wise rabbi who was asked if it’s better to give $1 to charity out of the goodness of your heart or $5 to the same charity because you want other people to think well of you, and the rabbi said that definitely the second situation is better because the charity gets $5 instead of $1.

    Also, this is (tangential but) interesting: https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pallotta_the_way_we_think_about_charity_is_dead_wrong?language=en
    It’s about how everyone always wants to give to charities who promise to put all your money towards helping people and very little of it towards fundraising, but this is logically unsound because the only way a charity can get bigger and better and ultimately help MORE people is to…do more fundraising.

    • I agree with the parable! It’s better to give the $5 even if it’s for the wrong reasons. But I also think people who would give $5 for the wrong reason are unlikely to exhibit those smaller, everyday generosities, and that’s where I think people with means have to step up on their responsibilities. It’s shocking how many people I see at nice hotels who don’t tip. At all. Not okay! Or they’re jerks to everyone — also not okay. And yeah, I’m with you on the nonprofits. I will share Charity Navigator and Guidestar all day long with those who seem wary of nonprofits, but I definitely get that the ones with no overhead are going to have a much harder time creating structures to do their work, or building anything that will last and grow. And as for your giving, please don’t feel bad about that! You’re at a huge time of financial transition, and have a lot of years ahead of you to focus on that. Just tip people well when applicable, and then as your time and finances allow, you can gradually give more. :-)

  14. I am working toward sponsoring a child for next year for summer camp. The cost for one camper is $653, so for 10 months, I will put away $65.30. I have seven more months to go. It will be so awesome to hand over the money and know that a child without the means can still go to camp.

  15. What a beautiful and encouraging message about giving! We use to give money to various charities here and there, but our journey towards financial independence has changed our ability to give the way we used to.
    However, we still believe that human generosity and acts of kindness can reach people in some very important ways and help make the world a much better place. We are also huge supporters of the “pay it forward” mentality and look for opportunities to make a difference there as well.
    Mr. FE has donated a great deal of his time to food kitchens, and I am a member of the “volunteer team” at work and help advertise various charitable events for the company. Not being able to give as much monetarily has taught us both a little more about the “true” art of giving.

    • Thanks, OFE! Same boat for us — we give less than we used to, just because we’re funneling so much into savings and investments! But we still try to make it a priority, especially at year end, since we know that most cause-focused orgs need drastically more funding than they have. But I love that you guys are making a big effort to volunteer so much — and to spread the word about! High fives for you! :-)

  16. I think so many people associate “generosity” with money, but it encompasses so much more: volunteering at your church, gathering your neighbor’s mail when they’re out of town, just being POLITE. Practicing those habits when you don’t have money to spare will just further your generous spirit when you do. I’m impressed by the example in your post – Mr. Fire Station has the right mindset!

    • YES, politeness! But, my goodness, how sad that just being polite counts for something these days. Sigh. But it does, and being polite and kind go a long way, especially with people who aren’t used to getting much respect from society. And yes, check out Mr. FIRE Station! What he’s doing is so awesome.

  17. Yet another good question.

    The thought of my legacy is unanswered, it might stay like that for while I fear.

    On the other hand, spending time to help others is part of our life goals. I have been into volunteer work a long time. I like it. The fact that a bunch of people with various backgrounds work together on a common project is joyfull. You spend time and a little money a cause you believe in and value. In the past, I volunteered working in other countries for local charity/poverty causes. I also like being active in local communities, be it a sports club or the local school.

    In the day to day life, for me, it comes down to look at the positive things of an action. Even if it goes totally wrong, try to add a touch of joy to it.

    AM I a saint? nope. Ask my kids, I occasionally jell at them, when they push me over the limit? I might not help as much as I could because of a lazy feeling.

    • I don’t think the legacy question is one you have to answer anytime soon. The fact that you volunteer actively and have worked abroad to fight poverty is wonderful, and counts for so much. None of us are saints, but focusing on the positive as you do is huge. :-)

  18. This is a lovely post, thank you. Like some others here, we aren’t necessarily in a position to build in too much to be generous, except with our time. I already give my time to a disability arts theatre as treasurer and the management committee of our building as secretary and plan to do more when we retire. I have worked in lots of volunteering positions for organisations and it is a great way to get that feel-good sensation. Volunteering is such a different experience to being a paid wage slave.

    • Given what you’re already doing, pre-retirement, it sounds like you have a great mindset around volunteering. That stuff is super important, and certainly contributes a ton to society. So it’s wonderful!

  19. I was at chipotle yesterday (I had a free coupon!) and this woman next to me was such a bitch talking to the girl building her burrito. “I said MORE salsa!” Really?? I was thinking to myself that this woman could have taken a radically different approach and make this poor girl feel less crappy about her self, but now she might have started a ripple affect of negativity. No matter what your financial situation, there is always a budget for just being nice.

  20. I think most people underestimate the power of smiles. Every morning I cross this road and see busy/grumpy faces behind the wheels, but I’m always courteous and I smile and mouth “thank you” to them as they let me cross. The immediate change in their faces always make me feel accomplished – “okay, my work’s done here” – it feels nice to be able to put a smile on other people’s faces and it sure feels nice to know it will probably change their mood for the day.

    In terms of long-term giving plans, I guess you guys already know my stand on this. I’m lucky enough to be with someone who has the same outlook in terms of giving back. We too would like to make the world a better place and at this point, even the smallest act of kindness will do that job. We are still working hard to earn a bit more and cut our spending so we have more to give. And like you, we find happiness in doing this. :)

    Thanks for writing this post. I enjoyed reading this, as always. :)

    • Smiles — YES! I believe that we all have a responsibility to spread positivity in the world. And that’s exactly what you’re talking about, which I love. But, it does make me a little sad that saying something as simple as we should all smile at people and say thank you is sort of a revolutionary idea. :-) But keep up the positivity! I’m sure you’re making lots of people’s days.

  21. This is a great topic and there are definitely a few causes that are important to us and we contribute when we can. Since I’ll have a lot more free time soon, I’m hoping to find some volunteer opportunities in our new community.

    I usually try to be extra polite to customer service type workers. They really have the toughest jobs, usually with low pay and little appreciation. Some patience and a thank you could make their day.

    Lastly, my wife and I have tossed around the idea of adopting from time to time over the years. It’s hard to see kids who been dealt a tough hand when you have so much abundance. Obviously that’s a life changing decision. At a minimum, I could see youth mentorship or a Big Brother/Big Sister-like role in my future.

    • It sounds like you guys have the right, generous mindset. That’s awesome! And I love that you take time to volunteer, and our building that into your plan for after you’re done working. And wow! Adopting would be a huge deal. You guys are awesome people for even considering it.

  22. Love your blog. It’s a constant reminder that even though I’m doing good w/ money right now – that there’s a lot more to life than money or even retiring early. I want to leave a good legacy for my family too :) I do need to make a little more room in my budget and life to be generous.

    • Thanks, Vic! I think that should be our new tag line: “There’s a lot more to life than money or even retiring early.” :-) I think you said it better than we did! And generosity doesn’t have to mean donating money, though we’d certainly say that those who can afford to give *should* give. And just those small generosities like tipping well and helping out a stranger in need are things that kids need to see, too! That would be a great legacy to leave all on its own!

  23. I try and be nice to everyone everyday, from the people working at the store, waiter staff and my crabby patients or coworkers. Letting them go ahead of you in line might just be they need in their busy day and doesn’t negatively affect me, nor does that extra couple bucks for wait staff

    • Amen to all of that! And yeah, bad tippers might just bother me the most, because it’s, what?, a few extra bucks for the customer? But that server is essentially not getting paid by their employer, so a bad tip hurts them a lot! :-)

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