I’ve just returned from FinCon16, my first time at the financial bloggers conference, and I’m completely brimming with excitement about it all. My vision for this blog is a lot more clear (so excited to share that with you guys over time!), but most of all, I was continually floored by the warmth, openness and generosity of the entire community there. I was a teensy bit concerned going in that, as a newbie attendee, I might struggle to find folks who’d talk to me, but that worry was completely unfounded. Instead, I had the time of my life, got way too little sleep because there were so many great conversations at all hours, and left with a renewed commitment to fostering more connections across the FIRE community — and not just among bloggers.
So today, a recap of #FinCon16, and a look at other ways we can all create our own communities.
Last year, I found out about FinCon only a week or two before it happened, and I was so bummed to miss it that I bought my ticket for 2016 as soon as the 2015 event ended. On the plus side, my registration was only $160ish, while last minute registrants paid something like $400. Yay for our wallets. (Also yay? My free flights, thanks to e-certificates from volunteering to be bumped off oversold flights.) But I had virtually a whole year to build it up in my mind, which can often mean going in with overly high expectations.
Fortunately, nearly everything about the conference exceeded my hopes, except for the crummy weather in San Diego the first day. Once that cleared up, though, it was a spectacular location — that header photo is the view from my hotel room with very little filter. I know. But from the moment I arrived, it was clear that we were not only all in a beautiful place, but that I was going to be among my kind of people. #MoneyNerdsUnite
Though the other thing I realized right away was that this anonymous thing was going to be hard. I tweeted out pics of what I was wearing to try to make it easier to spot me — since, you know, no one knew what I look like.
And right away, I started finding people we’ve connected with online. The first three I met were Pia from Mama Hustle, Claudia from Two Cup House and Liz from Ms. Liz Money Matters, all awesome ladies whom I loved hanging out with, which is also true for Abigail from I Pick Up Pennies and Revanche from A Gai Shan Life. But, that anonymity thing got strange awfully fast, as soon as the first person said, “But what’s your real name?”
And it didn’t get easier.
So I did end up telling some people my name, because we’re all humans and stuff, and I think it will be fine. Though if I told you my name, Mr. ONL would appreciate if you would keep that information to yourself, at least until we’re “out” sometime next year. ;-) Thankfully it was easier to dodge photos than it was to avoid sharing my name.
FinCon has a lot to do during the conference, and on paper the breakout sessions and keynotes look like the most important elements. But they aren’t at all. I’d probably call the sessions and keynotes the weak points, actually, with some notable exceptions, and were often aimed at a beginner level (or were too male-centric… more on that later). I found pretty quickly that the other stuff going on was a lot more interesting.
In addition to watching some podcasts get recorded, I did a few rounds at the expo hall, where I surprised myself with how much swag I actually wanted to take home. I normally don’t like crappy quality free stuff, but the swag was legit. Good notebooks, great quality t-shirts and all-stainless water bottles — even a beach mat and a quality beach bag from Vanguard that everyone loved. It was no small feat to get it all home without checking a bag.
Speaking of free stuff, I got this lovely gift from the Sheraton to make up for some pre-check-in hassles. I do not turn down free wine and chocolate. (I later contributed this stuff to parties at the houseboat rented by Go Curry Cracker, Millennial Boss and Fiery Millennials. Jeremy and Winnie from GCC are awesome — Jeremy is my favorite new teddy bear, and Winnie is hilarious. And I loved all the time with MB and FM too.)
Though speaking of food, the conference food was definitely on the minimal side (as in, breakfast disappeared before the end of its allotted time each day, and food was hard to come by at a few of the cocktail receptions). And worse than that, it was all so… beige. I was craving green food, beyond the Trader Joe’s veggies I had bought right after landing. After a few days, I convinced fellow health nut Tonya from Budget and the Beach to venture out with me in search of kale and seaweed. (This food was most definitely not free.)
The Best Part: The People
I’ve said it plenty of times, but I feel it even more strongly now: Our community is beyond amazing. From the people who write in other personal finance niches whom I met on the airport shuttle to the hotel, to the big deal bloggers you’ve definitely heard of, I was floored by how genuinely friendly everyone was.
And not just friendly, they were genuinely interested, ready and willing to share what they’ve learned and give advice, and open to making new friends, which surprised me because I assume the folks who’ve been going to FinCon for years would already have full dance cards. But that was rarely true.
Probably the best part of all of it was connecting with some of my favorite PF ladies and learning that, yes, we also click in real life, not just online. My heart is full thinking about the time I spent with Kara and Taylor at multiple times during the conference, and I feel happy being able to drop the “blog” from “blog friends,” and just call each other friends. (Same goes for Gwen, but we’ll get to her later.) ;-)
Then there were my fellow anonymous bloggers. We weren’t planning to take a picture because, you know, anonymous. But then Tawcan and Maggie threw down the gauntlet on Twitter, and a few of us went for it. I’m pretty sure I’m now on a terrorist watchlist. Whoops.
It wasn’t a surprise that I would love all the friends I’ve “met” online before but not in real life. But what was a surprise was how shockingly welcoming the big deal FIRE bloggers were.
I tweeted this photo (thank you, Twitter, for adding the emoji feature to photos), and it’s not just a photo opp. This was most of the conference, bonding with the big names in the FIRE blog space, and making plans to get together outside of FinCon. (Plus, Mr. and Mrs. Money Mustache replied to my tweet, so I’m pretty much world famous now. Hahaha.)
When it came time for the Plutus Awards, our whole category sat together (along with RBD, who was up for best investing blog) and cheered for each other. When Brandon/Mad Fientist won, we were all happy and may have shocked the rest of the room with how loudly we cheered. Then we cut a rug at the Plutus party. (You guys, Liz/Mrs. Frugalwoods can get down).
And just like that, FinCon was over. It felt long and short. I had time for real conversations with a lot of different people, but also wanted more time to talk to new people I only briefly met. I got barely any sleep and felt exhausted, but was also energized by all of it and could have kept going. Though I’m not sure when my voice will be fully recovered.
The best last minute surprise was running into Gwen, who writes Fiery Millennials, on the airport shuttle the last day, for a last goodbye to cap off the conference. She is an incredibly brave social butterfly and will talk to anyone. Which means that she knows everyone despite it also having been her first FinCon, and she introduced me to the FIRE crew. (Pro tip: If you’re not an extrovert, attach yourself to one.) And did I mention Gwen’s 25? She would tell you she’s almost 26. ;-) She’s also a hilarious sprite and a beautiful soul, and I’m so glad I know her now.
With that, I got on my planes home, booked tickets for FinCon17 in Dallas in late October 2017 (fingers crossed we will have given notice by then and won’t have to be anonymous!), and then hit the store for an epic produce binge. I missed my green things!
Creating Our Communities
FinCon exists not because someone wanted to create something massive or make a ton of money, but just because the PF bloggers of six years ago wanted a way to gather. It was born out of that desire to build community and help it flourish. FinCon clearly accomplishes that, and it has grown every year because of the infectious spirit it fosters.
But FinCon is not the only way we can all connect, especially the non-bloggers among us who I know would also love to talk FIRE with like-minded people. I did FinCon fairly inexpensively thanks to the early bird ticket and free airfare (though I splurged on a solo hotel room, just because I wasn’t sure whether I would need a sanctuary), but I still spent almost a thousand dollars all in to go. That’s not realistic for everyone, nor is taking three days off work and being away from home for five.
Coming out of FinCon, I want to help support our community to get together more, and we’d love to hear your ideas for making that happen. After we retire, we definitely want to start doing more free meetups around the country for FIRE enthusiasts, but we’d love to do even more than that. We’ll keep thinking, and send us your thoughts!
Space for PF Women
One of the themes that emerged loud and clear for many of us at FinCon was the need for something that better reflects how women want to connect and learn. Pretty quickly, I deemed FinCon “the sausage fest,” because the overall energy was definitely heavy on the testosterone. Most of the keynotes and session leaders were male, women on panels sometimes felt like they were just there because someone thought, “Oops, we need a chick,” and there wasn’t anything focused on how women relate to PF as the primary financial decision-makers in terms of purchasing, but also the ones who are often thought of as second fiddle when it comes to “real” decisions.
I was not the only one to get this vibe, and several women started the #FeministFinCon hashtag to discuss how women specifically can gather to talk about all of this stuff, and what it’s like to write in a male-dominated sector. I definitely encourage women bloggers to follow the hashtag and engage!
Not Just for Bloggers
This is a bit of a call to action to the non-bloggers. We mostly hear in the comments from people who write their own blogs, and much as we love that, we know that we’re missing the perspective of a lot of you guys. So for those of you who don’t blog, do you want to meet up with other people pursuing FI and early retirement? How far would you be willing to travel? Or do you prefer connecting online? Or are you good just doing your own thing without meeting others? We’d love to hear from you guys!
We’d love to hear from everyone — bloggers and non-bloggers alike. What is the community you most want to create? What would you most like to be able to discuss with people that you don’t get enough of now? Anyone else go to FinCon and want to fill in gaps in my recap? We’re already at 2100 words, and I left a lot out! ;-)