Do you have a mission statement that guides you in your financial journey, or in your life? Mission statements are something that virtually all companies have, but that individuals or families rarely define for ourselves.
Mission statements are something I often help clients write, if not for their organizations overall, at least for whatever process they are undertaking. And though mission statements are sometimes too abstract for their own good, when developed thoughtfully and written well, they provide a compass to help guide a person or an organization when they inadvertently wander off the path.
This past weekend I did something amazing, at least for me: I finally responded to every email in the ournextlifeblog [at] gmail dot com backlog, one day ahead of email debt forgiveness day. The reason I mention this is because I noticed a common theme in many of the notes:
There are a lot of folks who get stuck at some point in the FI journey and don’t know how to move forward.
Maybe it’s a question of how to apportion funds to investments versus debt. Maybe it’s how much money to keep in cash versus in stocks. Maybe it’s dealing with something bigger like a job loss that makes them feel like they’ll never reach their goals.
Any of us could end up at a crossroads, and while having a map (your financial plan) is helpful, it’s even better if you also have a compass (your mission statement).
The Typical Organization Mission Statement
A basic organization mission statement should answer four questions:
- What do you do?
- How do you do it?
- Who is your audience?
- What is your unique value?
A fictitious company that builds spaceships might have a mission statement that reads:
Rad Spaceships is committed to building the galaxy’s most stoke-inducing rockets for those who know the difference.
- What do they do? Build rockets.
- How do they do it? With commitment to creating something exemplary.
- Who is their audience? Discerning space travelers.
- What is their unique value? The rockets fuel the stoke.
This mission statement serves two important purposes, one internal and one external:
- It tells potential customers or other interested parties (news media, prospective employees, potential investors) what Rad Spaceships is all about, and
- It tells Rad Spaceships itself what it is all about, so that if, for example, one of the top executives has an idea next week for the world’s best surfboard, it’s an easy call to pass on that idea, because it’s not part of their core mission.
A good mission statement is as much about what something is as what it is not.
Your Financial Independence Mission Statement
Unlike Rad Spaceships or any other company, you are not in this to sell a bunch of stuff, but rather to reach whatever monumental goal you’ve laid out for yourself. So your mission statement should answer different questions:
- What is your goal?
- How will you achieve it financially?
- Why do you want to reach that goal?
- Who ultimately benefits if you reach your goal?
It could read very simply:
“I am on a journey to [GOAL] by [FINANCIAL STRATEGY OR PHILOSOPHY], so that I can [DO SOMETHING AWESOME], to [BENEFIT SELF OR OTHERS].”
Or you could go a step farther, making your mission statement both aspirational and practical, and encompassing the purpose you’ve laid out for yourself. (Like doing consultant-y exercises like this? Then you’ll love our purpose exercise.)
“I am on a journey to retire by 40 by investing in rental properties so that I can have more time to train to run a marathon in all 50 states and pursue personal happiness.”
Retiring by 40 and investing in rental properties are practical, and running 50 marathons and pursuing personal happiness are aspirational.
Ultimately, if you include what you are doing, how you are doing it and why, you’ll have a solid compass to help you make the best decisions for you. (And it’s okay if yours is longer than a typical organization’s mission statement — humans are more complex than most corporate missions!)
When You’ll Use Your Mission Statement
So much of pursuing early retirement or financial independence is just waiting it out, and if you’re automating your saving and investing, you won’t be faced with all that many decisions along the way. The non-decision-making times are not when you need your mission statement, though it’s still a pretty thing you can print out and hang on your wall, next to your giant Your Money or Your Life graph (just kidding).
When the mission statement shines is when you find yourself at a crossroads, or when a big opportunity comes your way.
A good mission statement will help you make decisions more quickly and with confidence, and it will help you avoid decision fatigue from having to make too many choices.
Let’s say your mission is that last one, with investing in rental properties as your core financial strategy. If a great opportunity arises to invest in a friend’s startup as an angel investor, you have your compass already set to “passive income from rentals,” and it’s easier to know that angel investing might not be right for you — not because it’s not potentially lucrative, and not because one of the biggest of them all just quit, but because you’re not an expert in venturing your capital, because it’s not core to your mission.
A mission statement should not be rigid, and it’s not unchangeable, but at a minimum, it gives you a starting point for making decisions that’s not zero. Without a formalized mission statement, it can be tough to separate great opportunities from great opportunities that are right for you, but with one, it’s easy to remember where your expertise lies, as well as to remember what it’s all for.
Our FI Mission Statement
There’s a lot of stuff we know about ourselves: We’re deliberately pursuing early retirement, not just financial independence. We define our purpose as service, creativity and adventure. We want to retire early by 40ish to pursue projects that fit within that purpose umbrella. We’re lazy investors who don’t want to do much research, so we’re all about index funds. But we also care about helping people we love, so we’ve incidentally diversified our portfolio to include a rental property and a personal loan. We’re not super frugal and don’t ever plan to be, but we also don’t need a lot of stuff to be happy — plus we hate waste. We don’t believe in living like misers today to retire sooner, and we think happiness is a choice we make every day. We care a ton about making a positive difference in the world, and really hope to be able to leave a big chunk of cash behind to benefit important causes, as well as donating our time and money along the way.
It might be easier for me to articulate all of that stuff because I’ve written 250+ posts about it all here, and because we’ve taken the time to define our purpose and think through our financial philosophy in real world circumstances. But even knowing all of that stuff about ourselves, it takes some thinking to boil it all down to the most essential, directional core mission. Here is our current best effort:
The ONLs are saving without sacrificing dramatically for early retirement through index investing and strategic investments in people we care about, to live a mindful life of adventure and purpose now and in retirement, and ultimately to leave the world in better shape than we found it.
Our mission statement rules out a lot of things that aren’t core to what we’re about. Like we’re just never going to be dividend investors, because that’s a lot of work that we’re not interested in doing. So if someone comes to us with the most kick-ass dividend investing opportunity, it will be easy to pass, because even though it might be a great opportunity for someone else, we don’t have the skills or knowledge to verify that, and we’ll save time by dismissing it quickly.
But our statement also rules a lot of things in: the flexibility to adapt our plans if it allows us to help others, the focus on saving without sacrifice, the life of purpose and adventure.
Just having the mission statement doesn’t automatically get us to our goals, but it gives us direction if we ever start to feel lost.
What’s Your FI Mission Statement?
You know we weren’t going to go through this whole exercise together and then not make everyone share! So share, share away! Anything you find yourself wanting to include in a mission statement that is surprising to you? Anything you find yourself not including that’s a surprise? Does thinking through your approach in mission terms give you any new clarity about choices you’re facing? We’d love to hear all about it!
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Categories: the process
Great idea ONL. My mission is to achieve financial independence by 40 – by investing in index funds, being mortgage free, and funding my three kids college compacts. My goal is centered around security, freedom, and the ability to do whatever I want in life while still helping my children succeed. I also have a strong desire to help others – first moms like me, who either have a strong desire to become financially independent themselves, or who have had a rough start in life and need help to succeed; and second kids/teens, who may not have anyone in their lives to guide them financially.
Thanks! And that’s a great mission statement. If you were forced to shorten it, do you have an underlying vision of your purpose that drives all of your “why” pieces? Like if you achieved this stuff — helping moms and helping kids/teens — would your work here be done? Or would there be more you could accomplish that aligns to your underlying purpose or philosophy? (Just curious!)
A Mission Statement, that is exactly what I need right now! I have reached a plateau (good is some areas, bad is some areas). As I strive for the next level, a Mission Statement will help to make sure I do this in the correct way, thanks!
Glad this is helpful! And please come back and share what you come up with. :-) I do think most of us have hit that plateau on the way to FI, so know that you’re not alone!
“So much of pursuing early retirement or financial independence is just waiting it out”–isn’t that the truth? It definitely helps to have a mission or purpose statement there to remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing! Ours would be something like: “To achieve location independence by the end of 2019 by doubling our net worth and becoming remote employees, so that we can travel extensively as a family and create meaningful memories together in the few years until our kids leave for college. In the end, we hope to live lives that demonstrate an appreciation for people not things, help others benefit from saving more and consuming less, and show that we were good stewards of our time and our earth.
I completely love everything about your mission statement. And if you were a client, I’d force you to make it more brief (which of course you don’t have to do — haha), but if you DID have to choose, which elements here would you say are the absolute most critical?
Family, travel, financial independence!! ❤️I love that you’re coaching me through this!! 😍
Love it. :-D
I love the idea. The hardest part of the thing we call building to financial independence isn’t starting. It’s keeping going when you in the vast middle with years ahead of you. You need a mission statement and mini milestones to remind you of why sometimes.
Soooo true! The middle is the hard part, absolutely. Starting is exciting, being near the end is exciting, but the middle is where it’s easy to get off-course. And totally agree with celebrating the milestones in addition to having a mission statement!
More homework for July ;) We have our big end goals in mind, but lots happening in the next few weeks in terms of the path to get there. We have meetings with 3 realtors for 3 different properties and we even found a property manager that might work for our complex. That changes everything. How does this affect our mission statement? If we sell it all – we’ll be focusing on us (very important) but if we keep the properties – we might be able to give like we have never given before. And that is so exciting to consider! More soon…
Please come back and share your mission statement after you have time to sit down and think about it! And good luck navigating all these big decisions in the near term!
I will!! WOW – so low on “bandwith” for anything extra right now….
Oh I totally understand! I don’t have the things on my plate that you have on yours, but different things. Too much, too much! ;-)
This is like, bantam-weight heavy. Thought provoking, but not “waoh” level heavy.
I recommend JD Roth’s article Finding Purpose (http://moneyboss.com/finding-purpose) to help write a mission statement. He’s got excellent advice with regards to exercises you can do if you’re not sure what you want out of life. My mission statement goes something like this: “By saving diligently and investing in index funds and real estate, I will retire before 35 to pursue artistic endeavors , travel, and volunteer in my local community.”
The heavy one is today! ;-) And LOL “woah.” Can we all just agree to spell it “wo” if we don’t know how it’s actually spelled?! Hahahaha. And you know I love your mission statement — short and sweet, with your WHY very clearly stated. :-D
I love this: “We don’t believe in living like misers today to retire sooner, and we think happiness is a choice we make every day.” I think this is sadly missing from some of the messages out there about FIRE, even if it’s in subtle ways.
We know we want to free ourselves up to devote more time and money to the causes we feel called to help (including but not limited to the people in our lives). There is a lot of flexibility in our plan–when we’ll reach FI, and what precisely we’ll do at that point, but since we are helping along the way as you said, I’m confident it’ll be clear when the time comes.
It is SO interesting to me how few people talk about happiness, or at least the fact that happiness isn’t something happens because we become FI, given that that’s the whole point of FIRE! And as for your mission statement, I think it’s so much easier to write one when you have a strong sense of purpose, as you guys do. I have no doubt that things WILL become clearer as you get closer. ;-)
That would be akin to me turning my personal life into corporate life. No way could we ever do that.
Also if it’s a lifestyle why would you ever need one?
LOL — Is having a personal mission statement all that it takes to make real life like corporate work?! ;-)
Ha, ha, no I would also need to add in endless and pointless conference calls and special buzzwords that only would be spoken in Corporate America. :)
Okay, phew! I wondered if you might have the best job ever, and if so, why you’d want to retire from it. ;-)
This is a terrific exercise. I’d love to see a bunch of these from PF bloggers and see how many of us are writing them in the spirit of abundance and how many are writing them in the spirit of scarcity. I know I’m pursuing FI from a fear of unemployment. If something happens to my job, then my savings can sustain me. I mean, I can always get another job, albeit maybe not with health insurance or that pays as well. But, I still carry the scars of family fear of losing jobs and my own bout of unemployment. I don’t want that to be my MISSION though. I do have things I want to pursue in FI, and many that are at the service of others.
I think this is a good exercise for blogging focus, too. That question about audience is so important.
The spirit of abundance vs the spirit of scarcity is really a ‘shaper’ of life choices more than we realize. Writing a mission statement can be a way to expose that mindset.
When I was unemployed as my company down-sized 20+ years ago, I vowed I’d never work for anyone else again. I built my business from fear of job loss. Now that I’m financially independent, I get to share abundance by teaching other to do the same.
Sooooo true! The idea of scarcity thinking also applies to today’s post on freedom, though I don’t explicitly say that. And good on you for turning your scarcity mindset into one of abundance!
I would love that, too! (PLEASE SHARE YOURS, PEOPLE!) ;-) And you’re making me wonder with your perspective about whether part of your FI mission statement is actually about shedding that scarcity mindset? I don’t see why that couldn’t be a part of it! (And YES to bloggers doing this exercise, too!)
“I am working towards financial independence and early retirement by saving more of my income. I will do that by working to eliminate mindless spending and investing in index funds. I may also consider investing in rental property or replacing my single family home with a multi-family home to cut housing costs. I will do this while also helping my daughter go to college and establish herself as a young adult.
I am pursuing financial independence because I want to devote my time to causes and groups that I believe in. I also want to spend more time making things with my hands and learning new things. I want to be a good example for my daughter who wants to pursue a creative career rather than a more lucrative path. I want to show her that a good life is possible with less.”
I love that statement! If you were forced to condense it all a bit, what pieces would be most important to you, the indispensable ones? Forcing yourself to choose could be a valuable exercise!
What I love about this, is that it will give you focus. Something that isn’t always that easy to obtain. I’ve noticed over the years that because there so many possibilities and projects to work on, you want to do it all and keep yourself too busy with too many things at once.
Better is to have a something you can refer to, like a mission statement. Going to work on this one, because it will be a lot more simpler than writing a whole investment strategy (or I hope).
YES. Focusing on too many things at once is a huge problem, especially given all the research that says we can’t actually multitask. Far better to do fewer things and do them well. And I’d love to know what you come up with after you do some thinking about your mission statement!
I look at it a little differently. First off, we DEFINITELY have an Investment Policy Statement. That takes the most dangerous person (me) out of the decision process and puts things more on autopilot. Vision, Mission & Culture statements are fascinating at work & I do get that they might have a place for personal guidance. But there have just been so many of these that I’ve seen that have been complete garbage. Written once, not specific enough, not inspirational, not binding, forgotten. There is also confusion on the difference between vision and mission. I believe the vision side of it (for a company) is never changing. Mission statements are more tactical and can change based on where the company wants to go at a particular time. If vision pivots significantly, then it is a different company. The best explanation of vision (and I think applicable to this discussion) is the following. “Where are we headed? The answer to this question is your vision. Vision — This is the destination, the point of reference that you are always working toward, the ultimate picture of success. If all your plans and goals are fully accomplished, this is where you would be. Your vision is completely unchanging and should be written in ink.” Finally, I find why to be a much more interesting question to ask and answer. Anybody can describe what they are doing, fewer know the details behind the current … but the answer to why can be truly enlightening. For that, there is no better investment than watching Simon Sinek’s TED talk, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sioZd3AxmnE. As always, really appreciate your journey so far. It is highly focused on the run up to the next chapter and I’m really looking forward to see what unfolds next!
I laughed because I have seen tons of terrible mission and vision statements, too! But just because others’ are worthless doesn’t mean yours has to be. ;-) I also think the framework of mission vs. vision statement is an artificial distinction that we don’t have to incorporate into our real lives, which is why I combine them into one here. They might work for companies, but I don’t believe real people actually need to keep them separate. :-) But agree with you all the way that the WHY should drive everything, and not just be an afterthought, the way it might be in an investor mission statement. (Though I also love yours — taking the most dangerous person out of the equation. Haha.)
Great idea! It’s important to determine your values and goals before setting off on a grand adventure (like getting out of debt). For me, it’s all about living the good life while saving money and minimizing harm.
Thanks! I’d love to know more about your “minimizing harm” definition — what does that mean to you?
This is a great idea! I’ve done something similar, using JD Roth’s guidance (that Gwen mentioned above), but I think it would be useful to have a specific FI mission statement too. I really love how it helps make the tough decisions no-brainers.
I do think it’s worth doing a specific FI mission statement, just as you said — so that you can automate your decision-making, or have an easy way to say no to things that will take you off-course.
This exercise is a great way to focus your energy and develop a mantra to use when motivation is running a little low.
Our financial mission statement would be something along the lines of: We’re focused on achieving financial semi-independence – a life where we have flexibility to pursue our passions and focus on family – by living frugally, paying down debt, and building up assets (including passive income) that will support us once we escape from the demands of full-time work.
That’s the rough draft at least . . . something to tweak.
Totally — to me, this is all about keeping your motivation high and avoiding those time-sucking rabbit hole questions. I love your mission statement, too. If you felt like it, you could winnow down your “assets” portion to be more specific, but there’s no NEED to do that if you like keeping it broad. ;-)
Very simple: Generate enough cash to live healthy, study, give, travel and enjoy life to reach to our death day in bankruptcy.
That’s a wonderful start! What’s your “why”? And what’s the benefit to you, to others or the world of your plan? Great to keep letting these things develop! :-)
Great idea. I am going to do this. It seems like it will help with keeping focused on what I am exactly trying to achieve by becoming FI. Having a written mission sounds like such a useful tool.
Excellent! I’d love to know what you come up with once you write it.
My mission is to have enough passive wealth that I can continue the work I value while spending time with the people and communities I love. Perhaps not focused enough, but I am still at the far end of the learning curve on wealth-building. There’s room for it to narrow with experience.
I love that mission! And I don’t think you need to get super narrow at this stage. I love how you put it, too, “room for it to narrow with experience.” :-)
A goal without a plan is just a wish. Applying a mission statement to a long term goal makes so much sense. Great read, thanks for sharing!
Well said! Glad you enjoyed it. :-)
To the spam box! No, really I am a human! :)
Well, anyway, I finally got around to writing my own mission statement! And I must say your process and questions were great! I kind of… enjoyed doing this exercise.
Here is what I ended up with:
EARN 100% until 2025. SAVE abundantly without sacrifice, and INVEST lazily. ENJOY and share MY TIME with family, hobbies, and the world!
Or, the four word version: EARN. SAVE. INVEST. ENJOY!
I’d love to hear your feedback! Thanks! :D
Thanks for resubmitting! Sorry about the human-and-tech glitch. ;-) I like the succinctness and clarity of your statement! If I’d change/add anything, it might just be to make your WHY super clear. Why share your time? What is the end goal? Great stuff! :-D