Your journey to financial independence can be a little lonely if you’re doing it all by yourself. Even social media, podcasts, and videos are poor substitutes for hanging out with people who share your goals.
This post will cover different ways to get a little boost of FI endorphins to last for months… or at least until the next boost. Better yet, you’ll build a network of new friends who can help you stay motivated– and accountable.
It’s even more fun to do these conferences and meetups after you’ve reached FI. In 2019 my spouse and I put together a monster travel year around them, with four of them in the last six months. We were off-island for a total of four months over two trips.
If you’ve wondered what you’ll do all day in financial independence then sit down, strap in, and follow along with us.
Which conference is the best?
This is like asking which of your kids you love the most, so we’ll avoid this perpetual debate and review them chronologically.
The big conferences make it easier to meet more people (and more sponsors, if that’s your goal) while the small conferences make it easier to hang out with friends and have deeper conversations about FI.
How big are they?
Here are the numbers.
FinCon19 was over 2500 people. The four-day conference has grown more than an order of magnitude since the first one in 2011 (225 people), and I’ve attended every one since 2012. FinCon20 might approach 3000 people. This time it’s held 30 September – 3 October at the Long Beach conference center with room blocks at six adjacent hotels.
Military Influencer Conference started in 2017 with “only” 250 people. In 2019, MIC sold nearly 1000 tickets. MIC20 will be in “Military City USA” San Antonio on 23-26 September. That could help it grow to 1500 military servicemembers, spouses, and veterans who are entrepreneurs, non-profit executives, and other creators.
Camp Mustache and CampFI are typically 50-70 people over a weekend. They’re held in rural locations like retreat centers and church camps, and they have great opportunities for in-depth conversations with new friends. The popular spots sell out within a few weeks after ticket sales begin, but you can also add your name to a waitlist.
FI Chautauqua is even smaller at about 30 attendees. It’s billed as “interesting conversations with interesting people in interesting places”. It has a one-week itinerary in various locations on other continents. It seems to sell out in just a few days, and sometimes in only a few hours. Again, sign up on the waitlist and stay flexible.
During 2019 I attended my fourth CampFI, my eighth FinCon, my third MIC, and our first FI Chautauqua. I didn’t make it to a Camp Mustache.
These weekends are for everyone from all walks of life, whether you’re just learning about personal finance or you’re already financially independent. They’re family-friendly, although there’s no childcare.
CampFIs are held around the U.S. mainland in a half-dozen locations. (I’ve attended four of them over the last two years.) Church camps and retreat centers offer inexpensive lodging with meal service for roughly 50 people from a Friday evening to Monday lunch. All of the camps offer some hotel-style rooms, cabins with bunkrooms, RV hookups, or a few spots to pitch your tent.
Friday evenings are spent meeting everyone and group socializing. You’re probably already following the speakers from their blogs, podcasts, and videos. You might have met the other attendees virtually in a Facebook group for the event. If you’re at a local CampFI then you may already know some of the attendees from social media, or other personal-finance meetups, or just from carpooling to the site.
The weekend’s presentations are a couple of hours each morning with another session or two each afternoon. There’s plenty of free time to enjoy the camp facilities. Early mornings may include nature walks and workouts. After dinner you’ll stay up way past your bedtime talking around the fire circle, playing a new board game, or embarrassing yourself with a karaoke group.
You’ll enjoy the facilities and the entertainment, but you’ll also have plenty of opportunities to discuss in-depth questions about personal finance, financial independence, and lifestyle. Maybe you’re trying to pay off your student loans more quickly, or growing a portfolio of investment rental properties, or choosing a better asset allocation. Most of the camp weekends include a chance to record a podcast episode as part of a panel or by asking questions from the audience.
My spouse and I typically anchor our globetrotting itineraries with family and financial events, and then we fill in the remaining weeks with slow travel. In early April we caught a military Space A flight from Oahu to Norfolk for the third wedding anniversary of our daughter and son-in-law. We capped off that trip at CampFI Mid-Atlantic over Memorial Day weekend.
If you’re military then we can sit down for a full financial & career discussion. Over that Memorial Day, my spouse and I had several discussions about retirement with another military couple. First, they reassured themselves that their financial plan would work, but then we talked about lifestyle and what they could do all day. They already had a great plan, and they were able to check all of their details against our knowledge & experience.
At an earlier CampFI we did an entire financial review with another military camper over several talks: comparing the Blended Retirement System to the legacy High Three pension, analyzing the cash flow on one of their rental properties, discussing the transition process and their VA disability claim, and reviewing all of the next steps for affiliating with a Reserve unit. They literally changed their life that weekend because they put together the right environment with plenty of time to discuss all of the right questions with each of the right people.
It’s not just nerding out about personal finance. At CampFI Mid-Atlantic we spent Sunday afternoon on the James River. The surf sucked (flat to two inches from passing boats) but I enjoyed coaching a half-dozen new standup paddleboard surfers. I also finally met Justin McCurry of RootOfGood in person after knowing him online for over a decade.
By the way, CampFI is a non-profit affair. There are no corporate sponsors, although you might spend the weekend with people from ChooseFI. The organizers are not enriching themselves from the ticket sales, and they’re doing the work for free. They’re at CampFI for the same reasons as the rest of us: sharing our journey to financial independence and boosting each other along the way.
The three volunteers who put together Camp Mustache have created the model for CampFI. The big difference is that the original Camp Mustache is the same Memorial Day weekend every year in the same location outside of Seattle. (You may also find other versions on the east coast or in Canada.)
Another gigantic difference at Camp Mustache is the butt-kicking four-mile hike up the 4000 feet of Mount Si. (It’s another four miles back down to the lodge.) It’s not just an incredible view of the countryside but also a rite of passage in determination and persistence.
I enjoy Camp Mustaches at least as much as CampFIs. Speaking as a Hawaii guy, though, it’s still kinda chilly up there in late May. It’s also very popular among Mustachians, and I feel as if I’m hogging a ticket if I go there every year.
I didn’t go to Camp Mustache in 2019. My spouse and I were already on the east coast for Memorial Day, so we planned the weekend around CampFI Mid-Atlantic.
Officially, FinCon is where money and media meet. We’re all discussing personal finance while leveling up our skills at blogging, podcasting, video, writing books, building audiences, and growing revenue.
After eight FinCons I’ve met a lot of people and made many friends. It’s unofficially billed as the nation’s largest gathering of money nerds, where it’s our chance to discuss everything in person instead of online.
And when I write “discuss”, I mean “talk ourselves hoarse”.
The FinCon exhibition hall is one of my favorite parts of the conference. Dozens of sponsors have gathered there to inform and educate. (Many of them want to pay you an affiliate fee or a commission, too.) I learn a tremendous amount about the financial industry, from corporate fintech all the way down to the startup entrepreneurs with their great ideas and innovations.
The FinCon presentations have expanded to over a hundred different sessions in the areas mentioned above as well as niches like publishing, advisors, journalism, freelancing, and coaching. It’s impossible to choose among all of the simultaneous events and still have energy left over for the lunches & evening socials. (Let alone the early-morning group workouts or the 2 AM Pizza Club.) Best of all, though, everything is professionally recorded. Your FinCon ticket can include a virtual pass to the video archive, and after FinCon you can view everything multiple times from anywhere at your own pace.
We’re also busy recording our own content. FinCon19 included at least two podcast stations and two video booths staffed by other FinCon volunteers. All we had to do was gear up, sit down, and start talking. In three days at FinCon, I personally recorded two videos and four podcast sessions. (One of my podcast sessions was filling in for an absent guest… with 90 seconds to get ready. I had a great time.) I got to record with rockstar podcasters and other panelists who I’d never spoken with before. If I’d done this during any other time of the year it would’ve taken weeks to arrange.
As a result, a surprising number of us FinCon attendees never actually attend a presentation. We’re too busy talking to people at the booths, or sitting in the hallways or the lounges, doing peer tutoring, or just catching up on life. We’ll catch the presentations later with our virtual passes.
I’m apparently FinCon’s only middle-aged balding ponytailed surfer from Hawaii, so I’ve also helped a lot of people plan their next trip to the islands. A few visitors at a time, we end up having FinCon Hawaii meetups just about every month during the year.
The best part of FinCon19 was finding a publisher for the book that my daughter wrote with me. Our project started from a question during a CampFI (Little Rock in 2018), and we tested it on the crowd during CampFI Mid-Atlantic in 2019. I’ll write more about that in another post.
FinCon20 will be held in Long Beach, and a few of us surfers are trying to put together an afternoon surf session for 20-30 people on the days before & after FinCon. Please contact me if you know a great surf school near Seal Beach.
While we were still buzzing with the endorphins from FinCon19 and a USAA meetup, we rolled right into…
Military Influencer Conference
I’d like to think that I helped with the genesis of MIC, although that happened because I was too late for the old MilBlogging conference. The last one was in 2012 and MilBlogging13 was canceled with only a few months’ notice.
You can read more about Curtez Riggs rebooting MilBlogging into MIC. When he called me with questions in 2016, I suggested (along with others) that he contact Philip Taylor about pairing up with FinCon. Curtez was already a USAA influencer, and they came into MIC as a headline sponsor. MIC17 got off to a roaring start in Dallas right before FinCon.
In 2019, MIC hosted over 900 people during the three days after FinCon. That’s nearly 300% growth in only three years. It’s startup-worthy progress for a conference that encourages entrepreneurialism and public service among servicemembers, military spouses, and veterans.
I enjoyed my third MIC, but again I only went to one keynote presentation. I spent the rest of the conference with the sponsors & exhibitors in the exhibition hall, at the roundtable discussions, and in the lounges. It was another three days of discussions with servicemembers and spouses about their military careers and their transitions, and how to reach financial independence along the way.
During the conference, Curtez announced that MIC is splitting off from the FinCon schedule. (A new conference will probably join the FinCon contract and grow like MIC.) In 2020 MIC heads to San Antonio on 23-26 September. USAA’s headquarters campus is there, and Curtez lives in the area. He’s developed many local contacts over the years and can bring much more value to MIC with lower prices for food & lodging.
On the last day of MIC, my spouse and I drove a rental car to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and caught a military C-5 Space A flight to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany. We worked our way through Trier and Luxembourg to Lisbon. After a leisurely recovery week in Lisbon’s Alfama and Baixa quarters, we took a train up the coast to Porto for our first FI Chautauqua.
I’ve looked forward to this conference for over five years, but we could never line up the dates… or get tickets.
We spent the first night of Chautauqua in Porto at the Zero Box Lodge. It’s one of the best executions of “frugal urban hotel” that I’ve ever seen. It’s built into a high-rise which used to house a bank, and they preserved the original vault space. The “rooms” remind me of submarine berthing, but in a good way. (There’s a reason it’s called a box lodge.) It’s worth touring the hotel just to experience its combination of hyper-efficient design, hipster common spaces, and sardonic financial commentary.
Our first night also included the usual socializing and group dinner. I already knew our hosts and presenters, and I’d met a couple of the other attendees at a CampFI. Almost all of us had joined our Facebook group a few months earlier, so we already knew a little about each other before our first meeting in person.
The next afternoon we headed to the main location of Chautauqua: the Douro41 resort in the valley a couple hours up the Douro River. That resort is laid out to offer a quiet, luxurious, unplugged concierge experience. I’m pretty sure the other guests were not very happy to have 30 FI nerds running around at all hours of the day (and night) discussing their finances and lifestyles.
The presentations were outstanding:
- JL Collins talking about the simple path to wealth, and how Chautauqua would support our path,
- Jessica Collins (Jim’s daughter) on growing up with FIRE,
- Kristy Shen & Bryce Leung of Millennial Revolution,
- Scott & Taylor Rieckens on the making of and life after the “Playing With FIRE” documentary, and
- Alan & Katie Donegan on the PopUp Business School.
Those events took up 2-3 hours per day. We spent the rest of our time in small roundtable seminars, or having 1-to-1 “Ask Me Anything” conversations with our presenters. Of course, there was plenty of unstructured time for us to enjoy the resort, talk story, and sample all of their farm-to-table (and ocean-to-table) cuisine. The Douro River did not have surf, and the resort didn’t even have stand-up paddleboards, but there were kayaks. My spouse and I had a great paddle on the river and a good time exploring the resort’s hillsides.
Along with interesting people and interesting conversations, Chautauqua delivered on “interesting places”. One morning we toured a Porto port cellar (with free samples) and another afternoon was spent in the small yet ancient town of Guimaraes. We dined at several very nice restaurants as well as the resort’s dinner pool party.
A personal theme of FI Chautauqua was a flurry of e-mails with my daughter. We had been ready to self-publish our book, but when we read over the publisher’s royalty contract we realized that we could do much better with their existing audience and their marketing experience. By the fifth night of the Chautauqua week, all of our publisher questions had been answered and we were ready to sign.
Fortunately, my daughter and I had already finished the manuscript, so “all that’s left” is editing. I knew that wouldn’t start for another week, which meant I was entitled to kick back and bask in a warm glow of accomplishment. I’d spent over six years writing my first book, but the one with my daughter took us only a year!
That warm glow lasted about 12 hours. The next morning, as we gathered for our group presentation and discussion, my spouse looked around the room and suddenly asked me “Does anyone here have more FI experience than you & me?”
About a third of the group was already FI. There were a few people older than us, and there were lots of people who we predict will accumulate a higher net worth than us. But our 17 years of FI turned out to be nearly a decade ahead of the runner-up. My spouse uttered those fateful words again: “Nords, there’s another book in you about staying FI for life.”
Then she started loading me up with bullet points from everything she’d learned that week. She’s very good at making the decisions and then delegating the assignments. Now that I think back on 2018, it’s how my daughter and I ended up writing our second book too.
That afternoon, Alan Donegan guided us through an exercise in creative thinking (while suspending criticism). We sat down with five other Chautauquans and spent a few minutes helping each of us come up with ideas for our big life questions. Mine was:
“What advice should I give people to thrive during 50 years of FI?”
In the next few minutes, I got 31 post-its with free-form written answers.
We authors call that a “chapter outline”. Now I’ll be working on the third book when I’m not working on marketing for the second book… or making the edits for the second book.
I’m pretty sure my spouse is smiling as she reads this! One day I will too… after I finally finish the copy edits.
Chautauqua turned out to be even more exhausting than FinCon. By the fifth day, I was catching afternoon cat naps, collapsing in bed early, and sleeping hard on those luxurious resort mattresses. As the bus took us back to Porto and the Zero Box Lodge, I was secretly relieved to catch a break from the intense mental & emotional pace. I thoroughly enjoyed hanging out at the ZBL’s cafe with the next group of Chautauquans arriving for their week, but I was also very happy to spend the next five nights in Porto recovering in our AirBnB.
Was Chautauqua worth the time, effort, and expense? Absolutely.
Would we do it again? I’d love to, but I’m not sure that my older body has the stamina. (And no, I don’t know how Jim Collins does it!) The shorter conferences are much easier to handle on my limited energy budget. Anyway, with only 30 people at each week, I’d feel as if I was hogging another ticket.
I’m glad I made the Chautauqua effort, yet a four-day FinCon or a three-night CampFI is much more my speed.
Your Call To Action: What conference would you like to try?
CampFI: at every stage of your FI journey, but especially if you’re just starting it!
FinCon: personal finance, blogging, podcasting, video, freelancing, and building your business.
MIC San Antonio: military servicemembers, families, and veterans who are building their businesses and non-profits.
FI Chautauqua: approaching FI, travel-hacking to resort destinations, and diving deep on the transition to your next life.
For my spouse and me, 2019 has been one of the busiest retirement “slow” travel years of our lives. In 2020, our Ohana Nords plans include FinCon20 at Long Beach (possibly with group surfing lessons) in September, and hopefully CampFI Southwest at Joshua Tree in October.
Otherwise, our only other confirmed plan for 2020 is to get better acquainted with our first grandchild. And to regain our diaper-changing proficiency.
As I said, 2019 has been one of the busiest years of our family’s lives!
The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement Price: By Doug Nordman: This book provides servicemembers, veterans, and their families with a critical roadmap for becoming financially independent.
My public Facebook album “Europe 2019 #2” with more photos (and captions) of our conferences.
FinCon – The Financial Media Conference – How a Small Investment Can Return Dividends
Military Influencer Conference 2018 – A Gathering of Like-Minded Veteran Entrepreneurs
Military Space Available Travel: Tips for Flying Space-A The Navy Way
CampFI And Camp Mustache Are Worth Your Time (And Money)