Takeaways from FinCon18 That Anyone Can Apply to Their Money & Their Lives

Flamingo money advice

Y’all, where do I even begin with FinCon18? First of all, #shoutout to the folks on Twitter who convinced me to go despite my insane work and travel schedule, who voted on whether I should buy the cheap or expensive flight, what hotel I should book, and whether I should dress like my avatar for the conference (spoiler: I did!!) 

FinCon is “Where Money and Media Meet” for those readers who aren’t in the personal finance content creators bubble. It’s designed primarily for people who are looking to grow a business or readership, but you get all kinds of people. Mostly bloggers and podcasters, but a surprising number of lurkers (lurkers are blog readers/podcast listeners who don’t really comment and definitely don’t produce their own content. Sometimes it’s cool, sometimes it’s…

Crazy GIrlfriend.jpg

Anyway, I hopped on a plane Tuesday night, DRAFTED A POST (!!!) landed at 12AM Wednesday morning, got SUPER LOST on the way to my Hotwire’d hotel (who knew there were 4 Extended Stay Americas in a 3-mile radius? I DO NOW….), and crashed.

Wednesday morning I got a slow start, ran a few miles, picked up my avatar photo print at Walgreens, which I used to maintain my anonymity in photos at the conference, and headed to the conference center.

At first, I was overwhelmed and worried because I was staying with two girls I didn’t know for the first night, and because I blog anonymously, literally no one knows what I look like. What if people think I’m weird? What if I think people are weird? What if I’m too busy with work to do anything? 

 The avatar face cover is my Batman costume to hide my inner Bruce Wayne.

The avatar face cover is my Batman costume to hide my inner Bruce Wayne.

But it was amazing. Lifechanging. From meeting my internet besties to birthday dinners with chocolate piñatas to podcast interviews in the pool to very intimate life details on the Orlando eye to overpaying for weak hotel cocktails, I had the best time getting to know some of the most encouraging, motivated, talented people on the planet. I also got a good bit of validation about my work product, which was huge, and I now have tons of ideas for moving my blog forward. 

To those of you who I met, thank you, thank you! Some people I spent the most time with: Lisa from The Give and Get, Emilie from Wise Mind Money, Stephanie from Poorer Than You, Josh Overmyer, Penny from She Picks Up Pennies, Jamie from Mr. Jamie Griffin, Krystel from All She Saves, Tori from Victori Media, Kitty and Piggy from Bitches Get Riches, Liz from Chief Mom Officer, Stefanie O’Connell, Ryan from FinanciaLion, Erin from Reaching for FI, and Military Dollar. I also met Jenny from Good Life Better, Women’s Money Talk/Women Who Money, The Frugal Fellow, Matt from Optimize Your Life, Apathy Ends, Kevin from Financial Panther, Charles and Bethany from His and Her Fi, Living Life, Loving Us, I Pick Up Pennies, and SO MANY MORE. I met legends like JD from Get Rich Slowly, Joe from Stacking Benjamins, Bobby from Millennial Money Man, Emma Pattee, J.Money from Budgets are Sexy, Pete from Do You Even Blog, Gwen from Fiery Millennial, Chelsea, Lauren & Annie from The Financial Diet, and SO MANY MORE!

I also got Rockstar’d for the first time (Minimalism is Not a Virtue), and Josh, Penny and Jamie experienced the moment with me when I almost fell over from excitement after checking my analytics for the first time that day and seeing thous.ands. of views. The same piece made it into The Financial Diet’s weekly roundup as well!

What a week.  

So instead of navel-gazing about the conference in a way that non-attendees can’t relate (not that those posts aren’t wonderful too; they super are!), here’s a list of five takeaways from FinCon that you can use in your life and your finances, regardless of whether you’re a money blogger or a reader or both! 

1. Plan Ahead or it Might Cost You

I bought my ticket pretty early, but I waited until the very. last. minute. to book my flight, my hotel(s) and even to check out the FinCon app and schedule. It didn’t end up costing me a ton of money, but I’m sure it cost me a ton of learning opportunities at the conference. I literally went to ONE session.

I didn’t plan ahead and so I lost out on a lot of the cool Expo giveaways and lots of session information. I didn’t miss out on brainstorming with fun people, but I wish I’d taken a couple of hours to review the conference schedule and consider my goals and priorities. 

Similarly, planning ahead with your finances is a great way to build things into your budget and life that you value without breaking the bank. For example, if you want to take a fancy vacation to Europe next summer, you can start hacking credit card points now to pay for a lot of the trip. Or if you want to buy a special a luxury item, you can plan to save a certain amount each month so that it doesn’t break the bank when you do purchase it. If you don’t plan ahead with your finances, you could end up like me: metaphorically stranded without a place to stay until one day before. This could be a job loss or car accident with no emergency fund in place or missing out on years of compound interest in your retirement accounts!

2. A Good Squad Makes All the Difference

You. Guys. These FinCon people. I am sure a few of the attendees sucked, but I truly didn’t meet any of them. Attendees ranged from brand-new bloggers like me to OG blogger legends and rising stars. 

And every single person was thrilled to sit down and brainstorm ways to collaborate, improve each others’ content, share their own successes and failures, help make a connection, or offer a word of encouragement. People genuinely wanted to lift each other up and in a group of such badass people with fabulous ideas, the tide could only lift all ships. My accidental roommate Emma Pattee and I basically conquered the world in our PJs before breakfast on Thursday morning. 

No one was too cool or too big to just hang out. It was a blast. It feels weird meeting “your friends from the internet” for a second, but then it’s just “your friends” and the fun time you’re having with whatever it is you’re doing! Which was definitely not sleeping, I can tell you that much…

Your Vibe Attracts Your Tribe, or so the #basicbitch workout shirts will tell you…but it’s definitely true, including with your money!

If your tribe doesn’t build you up, encourage your goals, and support your financial decision making, it’s time to find a new one. Focus on surrounding yourself with people who aren’t constantly draining you.

This doesn’t mean a gang of Pollyannas who are always happy no matter what, or a cheerleading squad of endlessly peppy people. This means people who are on your team and who have your back (and vice versa). People who are moving in the same direction as you: forward, even if it’s at a turtle’s pace. 

Surround yourself with motivated people and some people who have gone before you in success, and you’ll be part of a cloud of motivators who take care of each other and spur each other on.

If you don’t have these people now, you can find them. I mean, I just met 150+ randos from the internet and they were all pretty spot-on. They’re out there. Go get ‘em. 

3. Explore Your Options (But Don’t Get Overwhelmed!)

FinCon is technically an Expo, and there were probably 100 vendors set up in the main auditorium ready and waiting to talk money and throw prizes at you from 20 feet away. I only made it into the Expo Hall once, and my primary goals were to do a quick walk around to decide where I wanted to return, and to get the Ally and Vanguard cookies. I accomplished those things, but then I didn’t end up actually returning to any booths for in-depth looks or conversations with any of the vendors (not to mention I missed out on some pretty cool swag!)

With all those choices, I became overwhelmed and didn’t know where to start. Instead of quickly glancing at all the booths in person, I should have reviewed the vendor list and chosen a few to visit that interested me and would benefit my readers. Instead, I wandered around accomplishing nothing (again, except eating cookies because YUM).

 insanely delicious cookie. (photo courtesy of wise mind money bc i took one photo at fincon. #liveinthemoment, y’all.)

insanely delicious cookie. (photo courtesy of wise mind money bc i took one photo at fincon. #liveinthemoment, y’all.)

At some point exploration becomes fruitless and it’s time to take action.

Researching investment vehicles, savings accounts, best place to purchase your living room furniture, car, home insurance, whatever…could go on for weeks. Months even! Once you’ve scanned the options, choose a few that appeal to you and compare and contrast those. Give yourself a timeline and then pull the trigger. I’m the BIGGEST culprit of this - Paralysis by Analysis is basically my middle name.  

I’m trying to train myself to be more decisive or to remove unnecessary decision making stress from my life. For example, on my recent group trip to South Africa, I used a travel planner to deal with all the logistics. Our group provided the activities we knew we wanted, and the travel planner took care of the service provider decision making, the booking, and 99% of the stress…all with no fee! If I’d done that myself, it would have added so much stress to my life (despite the fact that I generally enjoy and am good at planning; but damn, do you know how many hotels are in Cape Town?!)

I mean, look how amazing this was! And we did almost no work!

Take my advice: eliminate ongoing decisionmaking as much as possible. Do the front-end research, optimize, then get on with your life (until it’s time to rebalance).

4. Don’t Chase Squirrels! What’s Important to You (Building Business, Budgeting, etc.)

My key takeaway from FinCon came from a speech Stefanie O’Connell gave, which was also a general discussion among bloggers: Figure out what you want your business to look like, and reverse engineer your plan to get there. Don’t chase the squirrels of success other people are having. 

This was HUGE. It got me thinking about what I want long term for my blog and I’m going to spend some time brainstorming along those lines before digging into what types of social media and audience-building strategies I want to take. 

My main goal is to produce useful content for my readers; I do know that, and I never want to lose sight of that.

You can apply this to life and your finances in the obvious way: decide what you want you life to look like in 1, 5, 10, 30 years and back into a plan to get you there. Don’t get distracted by other peoples’ plans and priorities. The squirrels can be various types of budgeting, value-based purchases (or choices not to make certain purchases), frugality vs. not, minimalism vs. not, cable vs. not, and so on. 

Once you have a general idea of how you want your finances to look, you can buckle down in areas that will help you reach your goals!

5. Keep Learning!

One thing that struck my (in the single session I attended) was Get Rich Slowly talked about how he sometimes takes writing courses at community colleges to keep learning and sharpen his skills. This man has been writing for decades! He went to school for writing! What is this madness!

I tend to avoid trying to learn new things, as stupid as that is. Don’t get me wrong, I like learning ABOUT things. But actually learning to do something is difficult (reading about the American Revolution: good learning; learning to build a website: stresssssss)

Even in school, I almost viewed tests as challenges to see how much of the material I could naturally understand without putting in excessive effort. So I’d study and do my homework, but I wouldn’t often dig in on things I didn’t completely understand. This was a bad strategy in terms of learning how to learn (which means learning to do poorly sometimes before getting better), but I was a natural, so it didn’t matter that much in terms of my GPA.

Same with my writing! I’m naturally pretty good at it, but I know I have tons to learn and could improve. Why does doing that work scare me? I don’t know; I should probably write about it until I figure it out. And also take a few writing courses or at least read some copywriting blogs.

Learning is scary! Similarly, many people (perhaps you) feel overwhelmed by the thought of learning about money, much less learning what to do with it. 401ks? ETF? IRAs? Taxable Income? Investment Accounts? Life insurance? It’s all too much, right? 

My challenge to you: Keep learning about money management. Read more. Try things. Take calculated risks (like moving that 3-6 month emergency fund into a low-risk index fund or high-interest savings account. Nobody needs .01% interest in their lives, yall!) The more you do something that you aren’t comfortable doing, the better you’ll get. It’s annoying, really. 

Bonus: There is such a thing as “Too Many Freebies”

Here’s a little easter egg for ya: There is SO MUCH STUFF at the FinCon Expo. It can be easy to swipe every T-shirt, mug, bumper sticker, journal, pen, cookie, or whatever the booths have on offer. BUT DON’T do it! You’ll have to go on Hoarders just from the conference.

Same in life. Don’t always eat the free food in the office, or take anything anyone gives you! You’ll have to pay for it somewhere….

Please note: this does not apply to Ally or Vanguard cookies because they. are. bomb. Anyone want me to do a post in which I recreate those Ally cookies? Post in the comments!

And more importantly, if you went to FinCon, what did you take away? If you didn’t, what did you learn from my personal FinCon takeaways? Anything? Share below!