This past weekend, I attended the 2019 Cents Positive retreat in Chicago. I started the weekend wondering what the retreat would be like (thanks to the #centspositive Twitter hashtag, I had a hunch it would be amazing!), and I am ending my weekend hoping that I can make this money retreat a yearly tradition.
Here’s a peek at the magic that is Cents Positive.
At Home in a New Place
I am in awe.
I’ve spent a lot of time in personal finance communities over the year — both in person and online (my A-game is on Twitter). I’ve learned, and I’ve laughed. But I’ve never experienced anything quite like Cents Positive.
The moment I spun through the revolving door of the hotel lobby, Little Green Revelation and Jess of The Fioneers flagged me down. I was immediately welcomed into a the conversation they had going with their tablemates, and that moment was a microcosm of the entire event.
I knew the event would feel far too short. When it was cut event shorter due to a family situation, I was crushed.
I still regret having to leave earlier than planned, but even one hour in that room would have been worth it (and I got a day!). I drove home full of renewed excitement. Not just because I had learned so many important things and received a bunch of affirmation for the financial decisions we are already making.
But because I stood in a room full of women and felt entirely like I belonged. Like we all did.
It Takes All Kinds
In a lot of ways, we were all very different. From ages and careers to relationships and future aspirations, there were so many different perspectives in the room. Yet, everyone approached each other with a willingness to listen and learn. (And laugh and eat good food and snack on all of the amazing treats Tanja stashed in our really sweet swag bags.)
Initially, I thought it was because no one was billed as The Financial Expert in the Room. But then I realized it’s because every single person was an expert — an expert at their own journey. Through the starts and stops, the stumbles and successes, every single woman was committed to sharing stories and growing.
And that’s remarkable.
The Conference Highlights for Me
I’m no stranger to conferences and retreats thanks to my teaching career. I’ve been a willing participant in event activities that ran the gamut from hokey to eye-opening.
Even with all of that experience, this event was different. Every conversation was so sincere and always felt too short. The exchange of ideas was incredible.
Some of my favorite moments of the conference included:
- Continued conversations with blogger buddies and other online friends
- FI Speed Dating talks that gave me a chance to hear from people in situations similar to my own (someone who combines her finances, is a mom, and is on the path to FI but no where near the finish line)
- Tanja pushing people to discuss the power behind FI
- Ignite Talks about everything from cruises to electric cars
- Listening to Kiersten question what it means to call financial independence a movement
Investing in Each Other
What was really inspiring, though, was seeing how invested everyone was in each other’s success.
Read that again.
This was a room of people looking to make the most of their lives and their finances, and they’re invested in the success of complete and total strangers.
This was evident in big ways — the risks that people took sharing their own personal fights against systemic issues (I’m still applauding Julia!) — and small — the woman who ran up to me with a list of YA recommendations for my students. It’s remarkable to be surrounded by so many people wanting to lift each other up.
This atmosphere had people opening up quickly. One of the first women I met dove in head first to the cost of children conversation, lamenting where she and her family were with their 529 plans. A handful of other women quickly chimed in, and I heard so many different takes on the topic. Remarkably, no one seemed to pass any judgement. People were simply sharing. There was no hard sell nor was any offense taken if people posed entirely opposite viewpoints. What was especially powerful was actually something small that happened over and over again. Any time someone confessed a worry, people were so quick to try to problem solve and also remind the person a single financial misstep wasn’t the end of the world.
When other parts of the money community feel like they demand perfection, it was refreshing and downright humanizing to hear women acknowledge over and over again that this is real life.
There are no straight lines, and there is no one single path.
Financial Independence Is for Us & So Is Cents Positive
Time and time again, I’ve felt sidelined by traditional financial advice and even more so by advice geared toward people working toward financial independence. A lot of times, I even sideline myself. When you’re battling impostor syndrome and wading through conversations with people who promise to unfollow for saying the wrong thing, it isn’t always easy to express yourself in every money situation.
Cents Positive was different.
No one told me to leave teaching or to push myself (or my husband) to side hustle more than we already do. Nobody talked about bootstraps. And no one mentioned anything about getting up at 4:30 am to drink bulletproof coffee. (OK, fine. I did, but only to clarify what a poor panacea that is, Timothy dearest.)
Instead, people asked difficult questions, tackled tough topics (and tried to balance them out with dog videos), and offered encouragement. It wasn’t about trying to push everyone onto the same path. People simply wanted to support the journey you were already on. And when I told people time and time again that my next life actually probably looks a lot like this one, no one tried to change my mind. In fact, people seemed genuinely excited to learn that I already enjoy so much about how I spend my time.
Kiersten from rich & REGULAR said it best: “We’re among friends here.”
And that’s the honest truth that I took from Cents Positive: we are among friends and financial independence is for each of us.
So Tell Me…What’s your favorite part about finding a new community?