So what do you do when your other half suggests you spend a lot of money to save money? Not with
my our money, you don’t. But then my husband proceeds to tell me about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet with some of the founders of FI and get one-to-one advice at a 1-week conference, a Chautauqua. Chatta-what? FI? What now?!!
Moving Towards Financial Independence
Mr Chaos never does anything halfheartedly, all or nothing. Earlier this year he stumbled across the Financial Independence (FI) movement, having spent a while looking at side hustles (a story for another time). I have since heard him talk about it soooooo many times that I used to summarize for our friends (my beloved, but very nerdy husband usually takes too long to get to the point):
- Reduce your spending
- Start saving as much as you can
- Invest smart
- Work because you want to. Or not.
(When you hit the magic savings amount that is 25 times your annual spend, blah blah, index funds, blah blah, flexibility/freedom/retiring, blah blah.)
Points 1-4 serve as a short introduction, but the whole conversation is more nuanced. Mr Chaos wrote a great article about discovering FI, and why it is most definitely NOT a cult.
So Let’s Go to a Chautauqua
Back to the story. Mr Chaos having been convinced of the merits of FI, set off on a journey absorbing any and all FI information like a sponge. All while trying to encourage me to join forces with him. In all honesty, it was not a hard sell. I have Scottish roots, so frugality comes naturally to me. Therefore ‘simpler living’ makes sense. Saving money makes sense. Not working yourself into the ground while life passes you by, makes sense. Investing in index funds makes sense (actually, not initially – my eyes glazed over when he got to that part.)
What does NOT make sense, however, is spending a significant sum of money on a one-week holiday halfway around the world to attend a ‘Chautauqua’ and hear people talking about Financial Independence.
So, what is a Chautauqua?… pronounced Sha-taa-kwaa. JL Collins, the Godfather of FI and the founder of these events, described a ‘Chautauqua’ as a place for like-minded individuals to come together and learn from each other. Interesting, one might say.
Twisting My Arm
However, the conversation between my husband and I went something like this: Where did you say this one was happening? Greece. Niiiiice, how much? $$$$$$. Woah. Well, it is Greece and the hotel looks awesome. What about the kids, all 4 of them? We’ll fly your parents here to babysit. Seriously, MORE money? But 7 nights away from our children… Hmm, how many people? 25 attendees. That sounds intense, how long are the lectures? Just 2 hrs a day…Why do I need to come? We need to do this together, or not all.
Needless to say, it took no small amount of convincing. Primarily from a cost viewpoint, but I was also wrestling with whether it was
possible responsible to leave my kids for a total of 9 nights. (7 nights + another 2 nights on a plane). Don’t get me wrong, any parent who says that they wouldn’t like to spend at least a couple of nights away from their kids is probably lying. But more than 5 nights, and you start to feel sorry for the people you left them with and worry that your relationship will be irrecoverably damaged. However, after much debate and once the grandparents were onboard (so naïve) – the lure of sun, sea, Greek food and uninterrupted sleep was too strong to resist. So, I went. On the assumption that I would spend the majority of the time beside the pool or in bed 😉. Things DID not work out as planned.
Not What I Envisaged…
On arrival, we were encouraged to go and ‘meet’ everyone downstairs. Whaaaaaat?! After a long flight, I just wanted to shower and go to sleep. It turns out that ‘meeting everyone’ and networking was a key part of the event (refer back to Chautauqua definition, which I had not bothered to clarify in advance).
As a closet introvert, I have always found networking uncomfortable. For me, it’s not dissimilar to being a cow at auction. Are you interesting enough or useful enough to be worth anyone’s time?
So, to find out that this event was largely about networking, rather than passively sitting in a few lectures was very disturbing. It just felt a lot like hard work (mother of four speaking, I have enough ‘work’). However, as it turns out, I had a lot to learn…
10 weird things I discovered about Chautauquas and the people who attend them…
- Probably 2/3 of the attendees were retired or 5-10 years away from retirement but the majority were in their 30s and 40s. No Zimmer frames or shuffleboard to be seen.
- But none of these retirees are doing (planning to do) what normal retirees do i.e. sitting on a beach drinking Piña coladas/watching daytime TV. They all have numerous ventures on the go, whether it be writing, traveling, volunteering and setting up their own businesses. The very nature that has motivated them to get out of the rat race means that they are intrinsically very driven and competent.
- Some of the people who attended/spoke at the conference are rock stars in the FI world. I, however, had NO idea who they were. ‘And your name is?’ Jim Collins. ‘Hi Jim, is this your first time at a Chautauqua?’ Oh, this is my tenth… I like to think that my added value was keeping everybody humble.
- The careers of the group were incredibly diverse, not everyone was a finance geek or worked for Google: engineers, teachers, bloggers, administrators, entrepreneurs, project managers…
- The dress code was at least one notch down from casual. I bought all my ‘nice’ clothes with me. (You know, the ones that haven’t been smeared in my offspring’s ketchup/chocolate/snot – I use them a couple of times a year for weddings and dates.) I felt overdressed the first night and thereafter aimed lower. Just to fit in.
- Considering the number of millionaires in the group, these people sure do travel light. Some only had hand luggage. I on the other hand, with my unnecessary evening outfits, maxed out on my luggage allowance.
- The lack of mobile phones was conspicuous. Yes, you read that right. Lack of. People certainly owned them, I saw them occasionally, but they barely used them. In fact, the lack of designer-anything was very conspicuous. Gucci handbag? No thank you.
- These people do not lightly spend $5 on a single beer. Most attendees bought their drinks from the supermarket, much to our up-market hotel’s disappointment.
- The people were friendly. Like too friendly. It was almost unnatural. Seriously the world doesn’t operate like this. Why are we sharing life stories when I have only just met you?
- And helpful. Far too helpful. Willing to spend hours looking at your numbers, reviewing your options, assisting with your tech challenges, offering advice, hooking you up with their contacts. So much so that I began to question their motives. Maybe they just want to sell more books…
Finding a New Community That I Was Not Looking For
Which actually brings me to the point of my long winded post. There was something exceptionally unique about this group of people. All the people there were down to earth, authentic and honest. They were all willing to spend inordinate amounts of time genuinely getting to know you and the details of your life. And more surprisingly, there was no hidden agenda.
And I struggled to articulate ‘why’ this was at first, as it is so counter-cultural. But I think I have since figured it out (with help): All the people there have the same value system.
By that I mean, the way they see the world. For them, money is a tool, but most certainly NOT the aim. They see past materialism, consumerism and the need for things. They are living ‘smaller’ than the norm for someone in their position. Smaller houses, smaller cars and a smaller amount of stuff. Their values are centered on people and relationships. They are also highly motivated to do something useful and productive with their time – if they have indeed ‘retired’ from a traditional job.
Time = Money ?
Usually we are so busy earning money, that we do not have time. Time to invest in people and relationship is scarce and so is closely guarded. Therefore, that type of networking that I hate, the narcissistic kind has to be all about what I can gain from it, or you are literally not worth my time/money.
However, for this group of people, the Chautauquans, money is not a priority, it’s just a tool to help them live the lifestyle they choose. In fact, the majority of them have a surplus, through frugal living and shrewd investing. So now their time is not equated with money. And as most of them are retired or nearly retired, they have plenty of time. Time enough to genuinely get to know people they have only just met.
It was extraordinary and contagious. I have been part of a church community for many years and so community in itself is not unfamiliar to me. But I know that many people struggle to find it, particularly in today’s world. I know that the older generation (probably mine ☹) struggles to find community because we are just too busy and the next generation struggles to form deep relationships because of the shallowness of social media. But here I was, connecting with people on a level that I would not have thought possible. Sharing details with them that I hadn’t even told close friends. And not just about finance. We shared information about the past, future aspirations, marriage, kids, life-shaping events. Building community. A new tribe. It was truly unique and unexpected.
A FI Chautauqua Review
So was being ‘dragged’ along to a Chautauqua worth it? To be honest, I wasn’t really dragged. The promise of a 20 hr flight without children, with wine and back-to-back uninterrupted movies was enough. But it was with some skepticism I attended. My natural pessimism doubting that the expenditure would justify the outcome.
But now having been…? Having had an incredibly relaxing holiday in one of the most stunning hotels I have ever been in, at one of the most exquisite locations, the base Mount Olympus on the edge of the Aegean Sea… Having eaten my body weight every day in blow-your-mind delicious Greek food… Having met dozens of people, that I thought I would not have much in common with – genuinely amazing people, that I hope will come and visit us and us – them, wherever we may be in the future …
The Chautauqua was, in fact, life-changing for us. Not to put too much spin on it. But it was. There, together as a couple (which was my husband’s intention all along, to do this together) – we made decisions about our future. Decisions that we spent hours discussing with people we had only recently met. Decisions that I know they will continue to support us through in the longer term. Decisions that will change the path we choose to travel as a couple and a family. Truly remarkable.
Gratitude and Thanks
So, I end here, with grateful thanks to the organizers of the event and the speakers for all the time and energy they invested and for having such a profound impact on us. The talks were outstanding and the personal one-to-one advice, priceless. So a massive shout out to Katie & Alan Donegan from PopUp Business School, Jim Collins, Millennial Revolution, Mr 1500 and ChooseFI . To the people who attended, thank you for taking the time to get to know us, for the honesty, the authenticity and the friendships formed. Friendships that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. We look forward to staying in touch and reconnecting with you whenever our geographical locations coincide!
To those of you who have never heard of FI or Chautauquas – 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 Chautauquas 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.
And if you want to find out what happened in the 12 months after we attended – just click HERE!
Head to the official FI Chautauqua site for all the latest info or to get on the mailing list!
Photo Courtesy of @bigoxlittlebird and @danmanwaring – Thanks Dan!