Lessons from the Chautauqua

If I’ve learned one thing during my 25 years on this Earth, it’s that people are full of advice.

Some of that advice is terrible. Some isn’t really applicable to your life.

However, other tidbits offered by people have the potential to change your entire life. That was the case at the Chautauqua last week. There was an incredibly diverse group of people tossed together, ranging from refugees of war to your typical small town American. Everyone had at least one thing in common though, and that was each of them had been 25 at some point (ranging from fairly recently to um…. awhile ago). There were 3 moments of advice that stand out very clearly to me from the rest of the week.

The first moment came when I was on the bus seated next to Jim Collins, the mastermind behind the excellent FI blog jlcollinsnh. We were chatting about various topics like how did I get introduced to the FI concept, how did I hear about the Chautauqua, why I wanted to go on it, how I started blogging and then more personal topics like dating and how my mother felt about me flying halfway around the world to meet up with a bunch of strangers from the internet. He understood both sides of that issue, as someone who has traveled around the world and as the father of a daughter who went to join the Peace Corps. He told me, “I try not to let my fear get in the way of her spreading her wings.” For some reason, that struck me as particularly insightful, and I’m writing down in the hopes that I remember that for the future should I ever have kids. He had lots of other great advice to offer as well (even if he did make fun of me for being distracted by a cow. You’d think someone from the Midwest wouldn’t get excited by a cow, but it’s not everyday you see one on a leash being walked next to a major highway!)

Our first dinner together
Our first dinner together

The second moment came on the last day. I was circulating around the group saying my goodbyes when one of them pulled me to the side. He told me (and I’m paraphrasing here) that if I ever have a moment of self-doubt, I should know he doesn’t have any doubt in me whatsoever. He wasn’t the only one to tell me something like that either. To be surrounded by such a supportive and encouraging group of people for an entire week…… I don’t know if I can describe the impact it had on me. It was literally life changing though. This group of people barely knew me and could see the potential I have, and here I am just resting on my haunches and squandering it. It was rather humbling to know they have more faith in my abilities than I do (sometimes).

The third moment came over a series of official and unofficial 1-0n-1 meetings. Part of the allure of the Chautauqua for me was getting to meet with one of the speakers: Pete from Mr. Money Mustache, Jim Collins (the same one mentioned above), Paula Pant from the Afford Anything blog and Cheryl Reed, our lovely host from Above the Clouds retreats. I was lucky enough to get my official 1-on-1 with Pete. I was particularly interested in having a meeting with him, since he’s the reason I started on my FI journey back in college. I viewed this as kind of a test. I’ve been absorbing all the information he and the other bloggers have been putting out, and trying to put it into practice. I’m very pleased to report I passed the test with flying colors! Pete thought all of my financial stuff looked great (and in some cases was set up slightly better than his stuff).

We then spent the rest of the meeting considering what I could do next. Yes, I have a great job. But, do I really want to coast into early retirement in 10 years after suffering through jobs I don’t like and that don’t engage me? Or do I want to put some hustle into my life and break free earlier? That hustle could take many different forms. I could get a better job- they do exist!- or I could venture out on my own doing my own thing. Thus far, I’ve been focused on the Early Retirement part of FIRE, and I think it’s time to shift that into more of a focus on Financial Independence. I have the basic financial footprint in place for ER, and now it’s time to branch out into exploring FI.

Paula and I after the Shaman cleansing
Paula and I after the Shaman cleansing

I also took advantage of Paula’s generosity and had a mini 1-on-1 with her. She was very enthusiastic, encouraging, supporting and all those other adjectives once she heard my details and rough plan. Before, my plan was to rent until the end of my current position, then either move to a new place and rent or stay in place and buy a place. She encouraged me to not wait and start now. Yes, I will have some minor fees and costs incurred, but the payout will be worth it in the long run.

Now, since I have access to a VA loan thanks to my time in the military, I will be buying a duplex or triplex! This requires I cut back some on my aggressive 401k savings for a bit so I can have some cash on hand for a downpayment and any repairs/upgrades I might need/want to make. I can then spend the next chunk of time getting renters, finding my team of contractors and otherwise settling into the life of a landlord. Even if I do end up moving somewhere else (say Thailand or Australia), I’ll have this passive income in addition to my regular paycheck from my day job. My expenses are fairly low, so it’s not that far of a stretch to say it’d be possible to live off the rental income and straight up bank my paycheck every month. Obviously, this depends on a number of factors, like my mortgage, rental income and any expenses that pop up, but I’m confident with Paula’s guidance I’ll be able to make wise decisions and get off to a good start.

I went to Ecuador looking for a kick in the pants and I think it’s safe to say I got that and more! From recommendations on the best men’s travel underware to serious life advice, I got it all. I’m incredibly grateful I got this opportunity, and will most definitely keep everyone updated on my progress!

Have you had any major inspirations in your path to FI?

7 thoughts on “Lessons from the Chautauqua

  1. Right on! It is so cool that you have this figured out now (as opposed to 10 or even more years from now).

    Like Jim was saying about money giving you options, it’s clear that your earlier work is paying off. You will have the resources to get a duplex/triplex and accelerate that growth to FI. That’s really awesome, not many of your peers can do that.

    I look forward to reading about your journey! Thanks for being an inspiration 🙂

    • Hey Aaron –

      I’d love to comment on your blog too, but you don’t allow it. But kudos for getting a start, I’ll just hijack Gwen’s blog for moment. Hopefully she’ll allow it. You’re joining a great community of people.

  2. I’m terribly envious of your experience in Ecuador! I contemplated going this year – though I’m only an avid FI blog reader and not a blogger and I got distracted and the year zoomed by – perhaps next year. You were in great company with that crowd of wise and fun people, I feel like I know many of the through their blogs and it led me to yours! Fantastic to see you thinking this way so early in life.

    • You should really go next year! Not only is Ecuador beautiful, but I learned a lot and have gotten in touch with a fantastic network of people all over the country. I very highly recommend it!

  3. I was referred to your blog by a fellow mustachian and it has been great to see your transformation towards more of a saver.

    I had to comment because you are mentioning buying a multi-family house, which I am also trying to do right now to also house hack. Im not sure where you live, but every environment is different and a site that has really helped me understand what my cash flow from a property will be is biggerpockets.com.

    Another thing that I learned recently is that you can lend money to yourself from your 401K for a house purchase. The amount of time you have to pay yourself back and the amount you can take changes based on who your 401K holder is, but that could help you buy now if you wanted. Im told there is a fee that the 401K holder takes, but borrow from yourself is the best rate for a loan that you can get. I mean its your money so you should be able to use it however you want (Im not a fan of the age restriction thing). Hopefully that helps though.

  4. Gwen your trip sounds awesome and puts you way ahead of many of us that are trying to get way ahead in FI. As a real estate investor I approve of the real estate income/house hack strategy I think it’s a great way to get ahead by basically doing what you would have done anyways and that’s live in a house.

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