FinCon – The Financial Media Conference – How a Small Investment Can Return Dividends

It’s that time of year again: people are looking at conference dates and their travel budgets. They’re wondering why in the world anyone would want to spend hundreds of dollars to talk about financial independence.

Well, let’s take a look.

Why I Go to FinCon

I’m frequently asked why I go to FinCon and whether it’s worth the money. What’s the big deal?

My top reason for attending is the other attendees. I enjoy reconnecting in person with people who I’ve only known online, and I like meeting new people. I’ve made a lot of friends at FinCon who I never would have met any other way.

My second reason is a skills refresher with a battery recharge. (Maybe that’s two reasons?) I can attend presentations and workshops on every area of writing, personal finance, and social media. (This year promises to have the most in-depth discussions yet!) I might attend the top-level writer’s workshop in one hour (maybe even as part of a panel) and in the next hour, I’ll sneak into the back row of the “Pinterest For Beginners” presentation. (Hey, I’m a guy who’s still struggling to “get it”.) While I’m at FinCon I’ll catch up on the projects of my peers & friends, and we recommit ourselves to do an even better job with our skills before the next FinCon.

A third reason is the location. It’s a chance to vacation on the Mainland, perhaps in a city where I’ve never been before, and to make extra time for sightseeing. Denver, or St Louis or New Orleans, Charlotte… I’ve enjoyed them all. (I’m still waiting for a FinCon in Waikiki or on Maui. Maybe next year?) My spouse comes along to luxuriate at the hotel, explore the city, and investigate the thrift stores. She’s also highly amused to watch me talk myself hoarse by the evening of the first day.

If I wrote a top-twenty list, the other 17 reasons would all describe the fulfillment and fun that I get out of the week.

But enough about me.

Why Other People Go to FinCon

Why should you go to FinCon, and why should you spend hundreds of dollars on the experience?

Let’s start on the ground floor. If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about personal finance, this conference will cover every aspect of the field. If you’re curious about a career in writing or financial advice or if you’re starting your own business, then you’ll be among 500 other people who are already doing those things. (As you walk down the hallway listening to the chatter, you could cut the entrepreneurial spirit with a chainsaw.) By the third day you’ll have answered your “Should I?” question and started working on the Whats and Hows. You’ll also find a group of mentors and supporters whose advice you can tap all year long.  You’ll also form mastermind groups to help keep you focused and motivated.

Two years ago I watched a military retiree attend FinCon12 to research blogging and social media techniques that could help him start his own financial planning firm. By the second day of the conference, we’d already rubbed elbows with Michael Kitces and networked with some well-known financial planners from USAA. That night he was sharing a few frosty beverages with Rick Ferri (who’s also a military retiree) and swapping sea stories. By the end of the conference, he was convinced that he was on the right track, and he knew what he needed to do. Today he’s running his own financial planning business and earning money from customers. He uses his social-media skills and his blog to attract military clients from all over the world.

If you’re already in business, then FinCon will help you boost your strengths and fill in the holes in your skills. You may even find partners and freelancers who’d be glad to help you outsource your chores so that you can focus on building your business.

If you’re already an expert in your craft, then FinCon will connect you to the entrepreneurs who are disrupting the business model. You’ll meet new clients (in a new demographic) and you’ll even find people who can help you leverage your talents. That last phrase is not just copywriting boilerplate– FinCon attracts a crowd of fintech entrepreneurs. Several of them are already millionaires from their previous ventures, and they know what it takes to build the next multi-million-dollar business. If millionaires are attending FinCon, then perhaps they have very good reasons to be there.

One final factor: this is our conference. We get to suggest most of the presentations (as well as the “Ask The Experts” sessions) and we deliver most of the content. When was the last time you could shake hands with the conference director and introduce yourself? Could you e-mail them a topic suggestion or nominate a keynote speaker? Could you post to the Facebook group about travel logistics or the dress code for the afterparty? PT takes our suggestions and (with a lot of volunteer labor) turns them into a conference that we’re all proud to be part of.

Paying for FinCon

The perennial FinCon question: is the cost “worth it”?

Wrong question.

Ask yourself how long it’d take for your business to earn back the FinCon expenses. Then consider whether the extra fees (for the pro networking pass and the Digital CoLab) would make you commit to work even harder at your projects.

If you’re serious about frugality and a high savings rate, then spending money on a conference seems to be the antithesis of pursuing FI. Why, what if it’s just a bunch of slimy-selling bloggers pushing their affiliate commissions and their online courses?!?

We’ve seen this thinking before:

Yeah, what a scam. Why, $500 invested today in a Vanguard index fund will be worth at least four times that much in 20 years!! I’m not wasting my money to see them in person when I could read it in my free time– for free.

Heck, I could sit at home and watch FinCon videos, or listen to podcasts during commutes and workouts. Why go to all the trouble of traveling to a conference room when frugal YouTube is right there on my smartphone?!?

Well, I can help with those questions. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on the research around the country, and I’ll share the answers in this post. Let’s start with a FinCon recap video!

I’ve been to six FinCons since 2012, and I’ll be at FinCon18. (26-29 September 2018, Orlando.) Last year I was lucky to watch Curtez Riggs reboot the MilBlogging Conference (after the previous founder’s five-year hiatus) and this year I’ll be at the rebranded Military Influencer Conference. Better yet, MIC is a twofer on 23-25 September at the same place as FinCon.

Image of FinCon logos from FinCon12 through FinCon17. | The-Military-Guide.com

I collected the whole set.

I may be biased, but I’m experienced. For FinCon18, while I was still at FinCon17 I pretty much handed over my credit card and trusted the organizers to do the right charges.

You’re not the only person who wonders about conference value. Whenever someone recommends FinCon or MIC on social media, someone else ripostes that “it costs so much money”. The tickets and travel expenses can’t possibly be worth the presentations! Or can they?

That skepticism has turned into perpetual blog fodder as we try to explain the difference between “frugal” and “cheapskate”.

Let’s break down the benefits, and then we’ll have a section on “Frugal FinCon”.

FinCon18 (26-29 September, Orlando)

My first FinCon (2012, Denver) had just a few hundred people, and the founder was hustling to get enough speakers. I’ve watched it grow to multiple tracks (2015, Charlotte), when the organizers weren’t sure that they’d have enough audience for three simultaneous presentations in three different rooms. When FinCon crossed over 1000 people (2016, San Diego) the resort paid attention to its size (and revenue) and kicked in a bunch of extras. I’m pretty sure that the sponsors paid for even more extras that year, which crammed a ton of value into the same ticket prices.

Last year (2017, Dallas) FinCon hosted over 1800 people. If it gets any bigger then we’re going to run out of large conference facilities. Everyone enjoys having FinCon hop around the country to their back yard (2021, Waikiki?), so hopefully this is as big as it gets.

Big conferences attract much more money from resorts & sponsors. FinCon attracts everyone you’d want to network with, and the financial industry’s leading celebrities will save the date. The sharing (and the collaboration) is incredible. Today’s FinCon is big enough that you’ll find someone who’s doing everything you want to learn. Better yet, FinCon is still small enough that someone (like me!) will sit down to teach you one-on-one.

You’ll stay in touch with these people all year long. Next year you’ll return to pay it forward with a new group.

I’ve seen the scarcity mentality at other conferences. The organizers (and presenters) were reluctant to “give it away”. Many of the talks were blatant protracted product pitches into sales funnels, and the ticket prices were simply paying for access. Other attendees didn’t want you to poach their proprietary techniques, so you had thousands of individuals each pursuing their own goals while shutting down any cooperation.

FinCon has offered “abundance” since the day it was created— even including volunteer community projects. It’s the world’s largest gathering of money nerds, er, peer tutors and mastermind groups helping each other.

Over the years I’ve hung out with a couple dozen rockstar bloggers and podcasters. They’re happy to chat with newbies and going-to-bes. I’ve asked the Internet’s leading experts some of the world’s dumbest questions about writing, advertising, audio techniques, video gear, and e-mail lists– and they’ve happily showed me how to do it right. These folks don’t have any reason to talk with me because they already know I’m not buying anything from them. Some of them are already financially independent, yet we still end up sharing stories, beverages, and even meals together. Many of them are my friends.

Hopefully, you can tell that I’ve applied FinCon’s expert advice about writing better blog posts and growing an audience. I’ve certainly learned how to publish my next book. I know what mic and webcam to use for a podcast. I’m much more comfortable with interviews and video. I’ve even learned how to organize a public speaking career. Of course, my only topic is military personal finance, and my only product is the FI lifestyle.

I’m already financially independent and I’ve stopped looking for a job. But if I was starting a business, FinCon has shown me how to gross over six figures of revenue. FinCon has also shown me how to grow my wealth even faster.

Now it’s your turn.

What can you get from FinCon?

If you’re the average person who’s saving for FI, then FinCon might not be for you. (If you’re near Orlando on Friday the 28th, there is a one-day “Your Money Meetup” with a separate ticket.) The absolute cheapest way to experience the FinCon stage is the $99 community pass. You’ll get into many of the FinCon events and figure out if the rest of the conference is for you.

I’ll also write a separate post for you about other conferences like CampFI and Camp Mustache.

But maybe you’ll decide that FinCon is still for you! The second-cheapest way to find out is to buy last year’s virtual lifetime pass to FinCon University, watch some of the videos, and consider whether you want to learn more from these people.

If you’re more than the average person– if you’re turning a side hustle into a business– then FinCon is worth your time & money.

It’s for authors, freelancers, bloggers, podcasters, vloggers, YouTubers, virtual assistants, public speakers, movie producers/directors, accountants, RIAs, CFAs, CPAs, CFPs, rental-property investors, financial advisors, travel hackers, software developers, financial non-profits, and fintech startup founders.

You’ll learn everything about those businesses from over 200 presenters, a hundred exhibitors, and the rest of us. Sponsors include Fidelity, NEFE, USAA, AARP, Ally Bank, CFSi, XYPN, TD Ameritrade, and MediaVine. They want to meet you and find out how to work together to reach more people.

Image of Doug Nordman The-Military-Guide.com at FinCon17 table for a meetup of bloggers who are "Fabulous at 50+" | The-Military-Guide.com

Just one of many meetups.

You’ll attend how-to talks, one-on-one mentoring sessions, and freelancer’s marketplaces. You’ll meet the leading corporations and entrepreneurs in personal finance. (The swag is outstanding.) You’ll get to hang out with us at early-morning events, meals, evening socials, and all the way through the 2 AM Pizza Club.

Are you near financial independence and wondering what’s next? Join us at an informal meetup of the Millionaire’s Roundtable and ask questions. (It’ll probably be Thursday afternoon.) It’s for millionaires and also aspiring millionaires. Show up early– last year we surprised ourselves with over 60 people.

If you’re just starting your site, then FinCon can save you a lot of fumbling and frustration. If you’ve been blogging for a while and want to add more, we can raise your game. If you’re an entrepreneur ramping up to a five-figure annual revenue then you will definitely learn online marketing from FinCon.

If you’re curious about podcasting & video, you can watch live events in the exhibition hall or try out the gear of the people who make six figures from it. Ask your dumb questions (they’ve already heard them from me) and attend more presentations on it.

If you want to boost your side-hustle income 10x then FinCon is full of literally hundreds of people who’ve done that. Quit your day job? Reached financial independence and still want to keep going? We know how to do that too.

By the way, FinCon’s food add-on is not about the food. It’s about the convenience of networking among people with whom you might never otherwise connect. You’ll sit down at a table among random strangers and finish the meal with your new friends. You’ll realize that you’re swapping business cards with nationally-known bloggers, corporate sponsors, and freelancers who have six-figure incomes. (You might even run across a keynote speaker or “Big Idea” presenter.) You’ll ask questions and pick up enough tips to earn back the cost of the upsell.

If you’re still on the fence then FinCon18 has eight new things for 2018.

If you can’t make it to Orlando on those dates, then you can still see all of the FinCon18 breakout sessions with the $199 Virtual Pass.

Still not sure? Check out this video interview of FinCon founder Philip (“PT”) Taylor by CFA Joseph Hogue. (Joe’s a Marine vet– see his shadowbox in his video background?) Joseph is a location-independent author, blogger, and video expert who’s earning six figures a year online. Guess where he’s learned how to do this. PT explains the logistics of hosting a conference and how to build your community. He’s making a profit from FinCon, but he’s also working for a tiny little salary. His real FinCon benefit comes from the same one you’ll get: networking with your community and the brands.

One final FinCon success story: Did you read the post by WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg about a recent WP conference? We FinCon attendees report dozens of those experiences every year from rideshare drivers, resort staffs, and even random hotel guests who wonder whether there’s any money in this blogging stuff.

Frugal FinCon – How to Save Money on Your Conference Experience

You’ll get the most value for your FinCon dollars from the passes. Don’t skimp here– it’s a capital expense with a return on investment. If you want to cut your expenses, then get frugal with your logistics.

When you buy your pass and join the FinCon community on Facebook, the pinned post from Jessica has your savings info.

It starts with a room-share spreadsheet. Yes, you and a half-dozen of your closest new friends can turn a resort hotel room into submarine crew berthing. If you’re the kind of person who wants to hang around the lobby late into the midwatch, then it’s worth staying at the resort. Otherwise, some FinCon attendees will be renting offsite AirBnBs or redeeming points at nearby hotels. You might put together your own 2 AM Pizza Club there instead of at the resort.

If you want to carpool or rideshare then post to the Facebook group. You’ll find someone driving from nearby, or you’ll learn advanced travel-hacking techniques to save on airfare. Credit-card hacking? Save your Uber credits for this part of the month. You can also use the FinCon mobile app or the Slack channel to share vehicles between the airport and the resort.

There’ll be plenty of yummy Florida cuisine at FinCon, but I’ve even seen people pack a frugal food loadout.

FinCon may be a tax-deductible expense for your business. (I don’t know your business, but the CPA attendees can help you answer that question.) Spend the money for the pass, and then figure out how to save money everywhere else.

Here Are Some Other Ideas for Your Long-Term Planning:

  • You can ask a corporate sponsor for a media pass (perhaps in exchange for your post or video about their FinCon presence).
  • The Plutus Foundation might hand out a grant or two.
  • You can enter the FinCon 2019 scholarship competition. (It’ll be announced in spring 2019.)
Image of FinCon16 panel discussion on "Money For Mature Audiences" with Liz Weston, Mary Beth Franklin, and other rockstar journalists and CFPs. | The-Military-Guide.com

Liz Weston moderates our “Money For Mature Audiences” panel.

To maximize the leverage of your frugal FinCon experience, then attend only the presentations you really want to see and spend the rest of the time networking. Your pass includes access to the professionally-recorded videos which will be released a few weeks after FinCon. I attend at least one FinCon presentation every year (um, mainly because I’m on the stage) and then I spend the rest of my time in the exhibit hall to learn & network.

Your Call to Action

Have you been on the fence for a while? Don’t know how to get started? Tried blogging and got nowhere? We’ve all been there, and we know how to get somewhere. We can help you figure out a better approach.

These conferences (and their price tags) help you make the personal commitment to apply what you’ve learned and to grow your business. You’ll have the resources, the contacts, and the community to make it happen– not just at the conference but all year long. You’ll want to come back next year to show everyone what progress you’ve made, and to figure out how to level up.

Buy one of the FinCon tickets (or a virtual pass), buy a Military Influencer Conference ticket, and learn how to change your life. It’s still hard work, but you’ll be doing the right things in the right directions.

If you’ve been to FinCon or MIC, please share!

Let us know what worked for you– or even let us know why you hated it.

Previous FinCon Notes

FinCon 2017: Bigger Than Ever.

Image of logos of all of the FinCon conferences on a meetup table along with Doug's keyboard and coffee cup. | The-Military-Guide.com

“Collect the whole set!”

FinCon started out in 2011 with a couple hundred financial bloggers. Six years later it’s grown by nearly an order of magnitude: 1750+ attendees filled the Sheraton Dallas and the adjacent convention center.

This year the keynote speaker was David Bach, and he hung around for the rest of the conference to sign books and record podcasts. (He attracted a large crowd, and he’s fun to listen to.) Darren Rowse of the seminal ProBlogger gave another keynote about the early days of blogging, back when posts were carved out of a block of HTML with dial-up landlines and a 28.8 kbps modem. He also hung around for the rest of the conference and even attended the Plutus Awards ceremony.

They’re celebrities, yet they’re totally approachable. It’s a surreal experience when your elevator doors open to admit one of the global pillars of entrepreneurial blogging, who then introduces himself as though nobody has ever heard of him.

Me (turning my badge toward him): “Good morning, I’m Doug Nordman.”
Darren: “Good morning, Doug, I’m Darren Rowse.”
Me: “Um, yes, I know. I’m looking forward to your talk.”
Darren: “Thank you!”

Our ride ended before it occurred to me that I could deliver an elevator pitch. On the other hand Darren was just enjoying the conference experience. I’m pretty sure that he and David are financially independent, but I don’t think they’ll ever stop doing what they love.

As compelling and entertaining as the keynotes and presentations were, this year I spent a lot more time answering questions than sitting in the audiences. I joined the panel discussion “What’s Wrong With Being On FIRE?” with Tanja of OurNextLife, Gwen of Fiery Millennials, and Scott Trench of Bigger Pockets. Only at FinCon do we congratulate half the panel members on their imminent unemployment (Scott has no reason to quit either) and then talk about real estate.

I heard more compliments about that panel than any other FinCon event I’ve ever done. Either I’m getting better at panels or I was sitting at the All-Stars table. (Hint: it’s not me.) I’m looking forward to next year’s discussions.

Image of FinCon17 niche meetup sign "Fabulous At 50+" with Doug Nordman waiting for anyone else to show up. | The-Military-Guide.com

This niche meetup had a slow start.

I thoroughly enjoyed the traditional FinCon events: the Pro Networking session (speed-dating a dozen companies in two hours), the freelancer’s marketplace (more networking), and blogger mentoring. I attended several niche meetups, including the Millionaire Roundtable and even a group from this year’s Camp Mustache. Please contact me if you’d like more information.

I spent the rest of FinCon doing what *I* love: answering hundreds of questions. Sure, we discussed the finer points of blogging and publishing during one-on-one mentoring sessions. However, we also dove deep into the details of reaching “The Number”, market volatility versus portfolio survival, rent versus own, tapping retirement accounts before age 59.5, and the military’s impending Blended Retirement System.

I was hoarse before MilBlogging even ended, let alone before starting FinCon. By Saturday night I was exhausted.

200 business cards barely made it through the week. I did several interviews and a video (I’ll post links when they’re released) and I set up more podcast guest spots. I met an entire battalion of military servicemembers & veterans. We covered a huge range of career & lifestyle questions. Of course, a few of us just wanted to talk oceanography, hydrodynamics, materials science, and kinesthetics surfing.

Image of the FinCon17 Plutus Awards ceremony nominees for Best Military Finance Blog. The Military Guide was nominated. Winner was The Military Wallet. | The-Military-Guide.com

“And the nominees are…”

Thank you to all of you who nominated The-Military-Guide for its second Plutus Award! Ryan Guina of TheMilitaryWallet won the trophy (he’s having a monster year), and the rest of the pack is right behind him. We had a fantastic group of nominees for all of the awards, and you should add a few of these sites to your reading list.

Now it’s time to gear up for MilBlogging18 and FinCon18: 23-25 and 26-29 September in Orlando. Tickets will sell out (especially MilBlogging), the resort lodging will overflow to surrounding AirBnBs, and the prices will just keep going up from now until September.

Related articles:
FinCon17: What The Hell Just Happened?
The Power Of Community At FinCon17
Five Themes Of FinCon17
Five Lessons From The FinCon17 FIRE Panel
#FinCon17 Via Twitter
Nine Game-Changing Blogging Takeaways from FinCon 2017
FinCon17:  The Conference That Doesn’t Sleep
Links to 38 Other Recaps Of FinCon17
Update:  Get still yet even more FinCon recap posts here!

WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

2 Comments
  1. This is great! I am going to let some of the FI locals here in Florida know about the community pass. I have heard several people mention that they want to go to just be part of the excitement and meet their favorite bloggers, but because they themselves aren’t bloggers they are unsure of the cost. The community pass sounds like a good option for them to still get something out of the conference.

    • Thanks, MK, I hope to see everyone there!

      Of course they could also make the thousand-mile trek from Florida to Little Rock for the 7-10 September CampFI South, but I’ll write a separate post about that.

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