One year on: 10 things that changed for the Reluctant Chautauquan
My husband and I spent A LOT of money going to a Chautauqua last October – so one year on, was it worth it?
What on earth is a Chautauqua, and how do you even pronounce it?
For those who have never heard of a Chautauqua you should start with this post. The short version is that my other half dragged me along to a ‘Finance Conference’ in Greece a year ago. Specifically, a ‘Chautauqua’ (pronounced Sha-taa-kwaa), the brainchild of a certain JL Collins, author of The Simple Path to Wealth. A book about why personal finance is not complicated.
I agreed to attend on the pretext that the ‘seminars’ would be short and I could spend most of my time beside the pool eating Greek food. The added, or more specifically, the ‘incentivized’ bonus was to escape my multiple (but beloved, oh so beloved) offspring for a week.
Things did not go as planned. I did not spend enough time by the pool. But I did meet some cool people, had my mind blown, joined a cult and the rest is history. Sorry correction, I DID NOT join a cult. Financial independence (FI) is NOT a cult.
It turns out that a Chautauqua is a good place to make life-altering decisions
At the Chautauqua we were challenged to step out of our comfort zone. But we received the assurance we needed that we had the means to do so.
One of the speakers spent some time running our numbers with us. We were surrounded by big ideas, other people’s experience and wisdom. There were long conversations with people who had already done or were doing what we wanted to do. And we listened to advice, received constructive criticism and sought extensive help in some areas.
Meeting people from all different walks of life who had attained various levels of financial freedom was inspiring, but also comforting in its normalcy. The big life changes that we had occasionally dreamed of, but in reality, subconsciously felt were unattainable, now seemed achievable.
So, in summary, A LOT has changed for us in the year following that Chautauqua. Some were decisions that we had been mulling over for a while but needed a gentle nudge on. Some changes were new choices that were inspired by people at the Chautauqua. While other changes have been knock-on effects since then, connected but more tangential.
10 things that have changed in our lives since attending the Chautauqua:
1. We made the decision for Mr Chaos to resign from his job
That decision was complex, made over a period of time and for a variety of reasons. Reasons that were not brought on by the Chautauqua by any means. The Chautauqua did, however, provide an extended opportunity to talk about that decision as a couple, with sufficient headspace and time. It helps when you are not continually interrupted by a stream of tiny people with requests like ‘where are the matches?’ But this decision was made easier for me, by having people other than my husband tell me that financially we were in a healthy position.
2. We decided to have a year-long family sabbatical from ‘traditional’ work
Again, this was possible because we had comfort that our finances and savings were in a decent state. We collectively made a decision not to rush out and look for the next job. Instead, this would be a year to recalibrate, recuperate, review what’s important, focus on each other and our kids, assess our spending and slow down.
We are certainly are not going to get bored or twiddle our thumbs. We have four children, no further explanation required. But we also have plans for side hustles, voluntary work and maybe some consultancy to keep our hand in the game.
But so far, the biggest benefit of these changes is, by far and away, Mr Chaos’ state of mind. He is present, available and more relaxed than he has been in years. The kids now yell for him to attend to their owies and wipe their bottoms, so I am obviously thrilled with this particular outcome.
3. We decided to move to Spain
Or more specifically spend our sabbatical here. The majority of our family lives in the UK, as do many of our friends, and we owned a house there.
So how did we end up in Spain?
Well, I had a fair bit of reticence about returning to the UK despite the strong pull of family and friends… Mostly because my mental health depends profoundly on my kids spending the majority of their time at home, outside. The UK, and in particular Scotland, is not conducive to being ‘outside’. Unless of course you enjoy repeatedly (I cannot emphasize this enough) putting on boots, socks & coats, and love the smell of permanently damp laundry.
But from a cost perspective, we were fortunate enough to spend some time with Millennial Revolution at Chautauqua. They have mastered the art of slow travel for the last couple of years. They reliably informed us that Portugal and Spain were by the far the cheapest places to live in Europe. I did not need much convincing from a
food weather perspective. Mr Chaos, having grown up in South America, was delighted at the possibility of our kids learning Spanish at a young age. So, Spain it was.
4. We moved all our money into index funds
Yes, all our money. Up to that point, our money was divided between a number of different accounts and investments, with way too much sitting in cash.
And prior to Chautauqua, I didn’t even know or care what index funds were. If you are new to index funds, then this is a good place to check them out. Basically you are investing in a large collection of companies traded on stock exchanges. It’s a lot less risky than investing in a single company, and should one company crash, you do not lose everything. And as long as you leave your money there, index funds are shown to outperform managed funds blah, blah… This is what a finance conference does to you. Arms you with dull investing information.
5. We sold our house
And gave all our money to the cult. No. We did not. For the record, the money will go into index funds.
But the fact that we are no longer homeowners has been liberating, rather than terrifying. Which is perhaps a little strange considering we have 4 kids and are both on either side of 40.
Liberating because renting out our house and not living in it was complicated, a poor investment, and limited our access to the capital. And frankly, it just hung over us. In particular, my house guilted me with snarky comments like ‘Why aren’t you living here? … Don’t you care about my worn-out decking or the boiler that needs replacing? …’ Maybe that’s just me.
And with the benefit of hindsight / frustration, we now know that if we had stayed in our perfectly adequate two-bedroom apartment and instead invested in index funds, we would have been rolling in the moolah. Not literally rolling, because that would have been unhygienic, but it would have taken years off our ongoing journey to financial independence. Anyway, that particular financial mistake is another blog post in itself.
But considering we both have a wandering spirit, for us, our money is way more productive in index funds rather than a house.
6. I am more connected to our finances
My husband is delighted that I now care about our finances. I have always had a frugal edge in regard to spending but never kept track of how much we were saving and was totally disinterested in investing.
But this year we are really keeping an eye on our spending. If we can make this sabbatical work financially, then we can possibly extend it. And if not, the worst that happens is that one of us needs to get a job.
Furthermore, I now know where the cash has been stashed, should I need it. Macabre but necessary. Though perhaps Mr Chaos slept a little safer knowing I was completely unaware of where our finances were set up.
Finally, I am not going to panic when the stock market takes a hit. I had some one-to-one sage advice from the godfather of FI at the Chautauqua in regard to stock market volatility. His punch line, borrowed from Ulysses, is embedded in my mind… ‘Tie me to the mast’. For when the market crashes, which it will do at some point, DO NOT MOVE YOUR MONEY. It will recover in due course.
At least Mr Chaos and I are on the same page now. But talk to me during the next financial crash, and see whether I am holding the course…
7. I am evangelical about financial independence
It’s true, a one-week conference and I am spewing out my views on personal finance. To be fair, prior to the conference I still spewed out my views – I just had none on financial independence….
Apologies to those who have been on the receiving end. If you are looking for signs that I joined a cult there is another tick in the box. But a couple of core principles are really close to my heart, so I tell people who show the slightest bit of interest. Live smaller and spend your money and time, mostly time, on things that really matter to you.
8. Our kids are at an unconventional bilingual school
It’s a bit of tangential / consequential change, but one of the things we heard about at Chautauqua was world schooling – which was fascinating.
Prior to the Chautauqua we had been looking at ways to educate our kids a bit differently, to inspire them and hopefully foster the 8 Competencies identified by Ken Robinson in his book Creative schools such as Curiosity, Creativity, Critical thinking, Compassion, Collaboration etc but were nervous about the long term consequences particularly in regard to college applications.
Anyway, following the Chautauqua we have tapped into different alternative schooling communities and have educated ourselves about the different options for our kids. We can see the results that people in these communities have achieved and will use this year to try something more unconventional for our own progeny. We’ll keep you updated.
9. We started a blog
Yeah, so that is probably Mr Chaos’ biggest disappointment this year. He envisioned us writing two blog posts a week. BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. This is my second. We moved continents. I was busy. Anyway, now our kids are at school, and I have more time on my hands… Previous statement still stands: We have four children, no further explanation required. But yes, I do have more time, and especially if my plans to systematize and train my minions to look after themselves actually materialize, that time will only increase. So, fingers crossed (for us) that we allocate some of our time to more regular blog posting.
10. Random people we met at Chautauqua came to visit us
I say random because we met them at a finance conference, but I really like them, a lot. Having met 30+ other personal finance nerds, I now realize that my husband is not a complete nut job.
We met some exceptionally awesome people, many of whom we are still in contact with. For instance, Alan Donegan, presenter extraordinaire, spent 2 hours coaching Mr Chaos for a presentation a couple of months ago, with no conceivable benefit for himself.
Then two lovely Chautauqan girlfriends came, from across the world to visit us last week and we spent ages catching up. Shared values seem to draw people to each other. And Chautauquans have lots of common values, which seem to result in them having more time for people. We are privileged to be part of a bigger community and are lucky to have their advice, encouragement, accountability, and friendship.
Was it worth it?
So back to the original question. Mr Chaos asked me last week if the Chautauqua was worth the cost, and oddly enough I took a minute to respond. He did not get the resounding YES he was probably expecting. And that is because I never let go of money easily (unless I lose it, which has been known to happen
on multiple occasions). Yes, the cost still lingers in my mind. It was a lot of money, especially when considering the grandparent babysitting costs involved…
However, after I had had my minute, my answer…. Absolutely, YES.
Yes, because although it was a lot, in the grand scheme of things the positive changes it has brought far, far outweigh those costs.
Yes, because where we have ended up is such a great and inspiring place to be, not just the physical location but in an all-encompassing sense.
Yes, because I can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.
Yes, it is new and scary, but we are doing it together, as a family, and that is amazing. It’s a blessing and a privilege to have the means and the time to do this now rather than when our kids are at college. And without the Chautauqua I don’t think we would have had the courage or the belief that is was financially possible.
Quick Disclaimer: PLEASE READ
Please DO NOT, based on my advice, go to a Chautauqua and THEN quit your job, sell your house, move to a different continent and try and make your kids learn a second language…
A lot happened this year, and the Chautauqua was certainly instrumental in triggering some changes, but not ALL. Many of these decisions have been chewed over for years. We did not suddenly get brainwashed into rebooting our life. I am an engineer & Mr Chaos is an accountant and so we rarely make big life changes that aren’t extensively thought through, prayed about (because that’s who we are) and supported by multiple spreadsheets. Multiple Spreadsheets.
So, considering that attending a Chautauqua has in fact proven to be life-changing for us – I end now with the same closing words from my previous post:
To those of you who have never heard of FI or a Chautauqua – Your journey starts now! We are more than happy to point you in the direction of some great resources.
For those of you who have heard of a Chautauqua and have the financial means, but have been on the fence about whether to attend – My suggestion to you is, GO!
Like I said, life-changing.
Head to the official FI Chautauqua site for all the latest info or to get on the mailing list!