I went to money nerd camp (aka CampFI Mid-Atlantic)

It’s likely if you’re in the DC area and reading this (or you happen to live right near where I grew up 😉), you’ve probably met me (so people can attest to the fact that even though I’m anonymous I am a real person!). Because I love meetups. I love the large group meetups, I love smaller meetups, I love one-on-one meetups. The community really makes this ridiculous blogging hobby I have worth it.

And I just made my debut appearance at a large group event: I spent last weekend at CampFI Mid-Atlantic with about 70 other money nerds.

I really wanted to go to this camp back when it was announced, but honestly back then $225 was not something I could casually drop on a whim like that (hooray for very obvious signs of progress!). Plus I was already thinking about FinCon and realizing if that’s ever going to work I need to save my vacation days. So I didn’t buy a ticket. But I regretted that decision, especially after the camp sold out and it was too late.

Being friends with Military Dollar is amazing for so many reasons, one of which is that she’s been working for ages to figure out how I could come to this event, too. About three weeks ago a couple of people decided they couldn’t come to camp and were trying to give their tickets to other people. MD was on that and hooked me up with someone. After checking that I could find someone to cover my shift at my second job that Saturday (I am just going to brush over the additional stress that happened with that after I thought I was good to go…), I went ahead and paid her for her ticket. And just like that I was in.

Huzzah!

The accommodations

Camp was at a retreat center out in the middle of nowhere in Virginia, about an hour east of Richmond and on the banks of the James river. And yes, I mean the middle of nowhere. I managed to post a few Instagram pics and send some texts every now and then, but I largely gave up on trying to keep up with social media and my email since service was so spotty and I never got my phone connected to the wifi. It was glorious.

“Chalets”

When I say that word, do you think of a ski lodge somewhere in the Swiss Alps? Yeah, me too. Let me assure you, my so-called chalet was really a glorified screened-in porch with bunks (I knew what they looked like ahead of time, but the misleading name still makes me laugh).

Despite the late night and amount of whiskey I consumed Friday night, I woke up on Saturday feeling fantastically happy:

On the downside, sleeping more or less outside meant I got home on Monday evening and promptly washed every single thing I’d brought with me to camp, whether or not I wore it.

The downside to all this nature? Pollen. SO MUCH POLLEN. EVERYWHERE #welcometothesouth

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(And that was Saturday morning, after less than 24 hours spent out in the pollen.)

No way I was letting yellow-coated things stay in my apartment a second longer than they had to

Enough said.

Camp for mini-humans

Also clearly this camp was made for kids. My plan was originally to sleep on the bottom bunk and keep my bag on the top bunk, but no way in hell I was going to make myself stoop down so low every night to climb in my sleeping bag. Top bunk it was (and I had the place to myself so could put my stuff on one of the other empty beds).

I also got an interesting workout in every morning while ducking down in an attempt to wash my face or hair in the shower since the shower heads in our bathhouses came up to my chin. My nose if I got one of the tall showers #tallpersonproblems

Activities

So, 70 money nerds spent three days hanging out in the woods and talking money. How’d that go? Pretty much exactly as you’d expect. There were lots of late nights, lots of drinking, lots of board games (although less than everyone thought. Probably due to the karaoke that happened one night!), and lots of conversations. It was awesome.

The FIRE is spreading

There was another group staying at the retreat center that overlapped with our time there, and I heard one of them ask one of the retreat center staff what our group was. The staff member started to say something about “well it’s a financial conference,” and that’s all I heard before I walked out of earshot. I was trying not to laugh, because really, how does one even attempt to explain this community (cult?) to someone if they’re not part of it?

We also legit had a campfire one night, so there was literal fire, too.

Group activities

On Saturday our group activity was a ropes course, and for Sunday it was canoeing and kayaking.

Turns out we were supposed to get rain on Sunday so the canoeing/kayaking got moved to the same time slot on Saturday instead. So we had to choose FI. After about an hour of ice breakers (about half an hour too long for adults! The staff member was testing some new ice breaker games on us too before the kids all showed up for the summer), I opted for the ropes course because even though I love kayaking, I have other opportunities to do that. Ropes course? Not so much.

I did a(n admittedly short, both in length and height. Definitely had to pull my legs way up to clear the ground, and I grazed the top of at least one sapling over the ravine. But still exhilarating) zipline and then decided for the first time in my life to give a rock wall a try.

Portrait of the author pondering her next move. Photo courtesy of Military Dollar

I made it to the top. I don’t belong that high off the ground and had enough of an adrenaline rush/was tired enough that I was physically shaking worse than I do after particularly hard barre classes when I got back to the ground.

“Why the fuck did I willingly do this??” Photo also courtesy of Military Dollar since I’m the one at the top of the wall there so clearly didn’t take it myself

It didn’t rain too much on Sunday until the lovely tornado watch we had that evening (don’t worry, no FI nerds were harmed in the making of this post since a tornado never materialized. But I definitely took advantage of extra space in the lodge that night to sleep inside and avoid any rain that came into my cabin because it was pouring), so it was a bit of a bummer to move things around for rain that didn’t happen. But it gave me a chance to eat lunch outside with Miss Mazuma because we were going to take advantage of time outside before it rained, and I definitely enjoyed the party some of us had on the dock instead of getting out on the water that afternoon.

I’m not like a regular mom, I’m a cool mom

I might’ve also taught a four year old the basics of how to play beer pong (don’t worry, everyone had been playing with cups full of water, not beer!)… Her parents kept laughing at me every time I mouthed “I’m so sorry!” to them from across the room, so I’m assuming I did not just scar her for life. Payback for the way my lower back was killing me on Monday and Tuesday after a few days of swinging her around, maybe. If you ever want to feel old, tired, and completely out of shape, hang out with a toddler for a few days. 😅

Presentations

It wasn’t all unstructured free time. There were six presentations over the course of the weekend. Hunter Post gave one called “Frameworks to Reach Your Optimal Level of Fitness,” which was a look at diet and fitness. On more than one occasion after that presentation, I happened to consume lots of carbs while Hunter was sitting at my table for a meal, go figure. 🤷‍♀️

Big ERN, who recently revealed himself on the podcast as Karsten, gave a presentation on “Why Retirement Isn’t as Simple as Saving for Retirement.” It was an excellent and sobering in-depth look at all of the things that can go wrong once you retire early and included a bullet point on the last slide to the effect of the point of the presentation wasn’t to scare anyone.

Justin from Root of Good gave one called “Developing an Early Retirement Budget.” I especially liked how he fit large, one-off expenses (like college or paying off the mortgage) into the retirement equation since those aren’t things you’ll have to build into your monthly spending forever. He’s actually got a link to his presentation here.

J.D. Roth gave one on “The Power of Purpose” about finding your why (my takeaway here was that I needed to quit my job like yesterday), and Joel from FI180, who just quit his job in November, told his story in “My Financial 180: From Six Figure Spending to Financial Independence.” The sixth was less of a presentation and more of a panel discussion that included Jonathan from Choose FI, Karsten, Military Dollar, J.D., and Justin.

Given the lack of in-depth, analytical numbers posts on this blog, I think it’s no surprise to anyone that I’m interested in the touchy-feely aspects of this journey. J.D.’s presentation was my favorite. I’ve got a lot of sitting and thinking to do, and here’s me publicly saying as an accountability measure that sometime hopefully soon I’ll be posting a mission statement.

His presentation also confirmed that the tattoo idea I’ve been thinking about for a very long time is definitely what I’ll get whenever I manage to talk myself over my needlephobia. So thanks for that, J.D.!

Introverting

I absolutely love getting to hang out with awesome people in a structure like this. I also think I got a taste of how things will be if I do go to FinCon because I assume it’ll be similar with the very late nights and the lack of downtime. Now I know what to be aware of and to make sure I prioritize getting some time to myself!

I was glad there were little 15 minute breaks on the schedule (plus a two-hour “hike/exercise/nap” block in the afternoon) because I did a lot of using that time (or leaving a meal a few minutes early) to find a few quiet moments and recharge.

Five minutes down at the dock listening to the birds and the waves? Necessary and fantastically peaceful. Taking advantage of Miss Mazuma’s hammock to spend an hour reading? Also a great idea (thank you for the open invitation to use your hammock, Bianca! Now to go about getting one of my own…).

“A Walk in the Woods” with a hammock view #campfimidatlantic #rechargingintrovertbatteries

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Blogger shoutout

Back on the community thing, I met a bunch of amazing people. DC was very well-represented and I met a bunch of people there that I look forward to seeing again at future Choose FI DC meetups.

As for fellow DC bloggers, they included Military Dollar, Guy on FIRE, Aardvark Advisor (hey, Andy, you have no excuse not to come to DC meetups now that we’ve met you! 😉), and The Give and Get.

Other bloggers present included Miss Mazuma, J.D. Roth, Root of Good, Early Retirement Now, FI180, and Rethink the Rat Race. Jazz and Lee have/had a travel blog, Luke has a real estate blog, and David runs Fiology. After last weekend there are now two new bloggers in the FIRE space: Ms. Fiology and I Love FI.

And, of course, the reason the event happened in the first place is because of the Choose FI podcast and the community that’s grown around it. It was great to meet Brad and Jonathan last weekend.

Anonymous?

Hanging out with fellow anonymous bloggers is easy because we all operate under the same anonymous blogger code—we don’t ask each other certain questions and we keep any names or other details we might know private. It’s way less easy to be anonymous in a large group like CampFI, especially when so much of the value of attending is getting to make very personal connections with people. Multiple times I had to tell people that I couldn’t tell them anything about my job other than that I’m an admin assistant at a non-profit, and I kind of hated it. More than once I started reconsidering why the hell I’m doing this anonymously anyway.

But I’m anonymous for a few reasons. For one, once you know some key details about me, it’s not that hard to find out who I am. I am planning on leaving W-2 work as soon as possible, but for obvious reasons I don’t want any current or future employers to know that. Perhaps most importantly, being anonymous makes it easier to write about things I might not if my name were attached to them (see also this post). I want to be transparent here, and for some things that’s easier to do anonymously.

I’m not going to reveal myself anytime soon, but this was definitely an event where it would’ve been easier to not be anonymous.

For the record, yes, I’m anonymous, but yes, for better or worse, I’m going by my real first name (I had a number of people ask me that)! Also if you happen to have a photo of me that you’re posting in a public place, please respect my privacy and put an emoji over my face!

Mushy ending about community

Was it worth spending this money on a weekend where I could’ve been working/earning money instead, and would I do it again? Absolutely.

I’m a year into blogging and I still can’t get over the fact that meeting with other FI people means you can casually talk about topics like sequence of returns risk and no one looks at you like you have eight heads. It’s refreshing to be able to hang out with a people who understand your unorthodox life choices and are on their own similar journeys.

CampFI Mid-Atlantic was definitely one of the cheaper camps, which worked out well for me. I definitely realize that you may not be able to attend one of these (or Camp Mustache or a Chautauqua or FinCon) due to money or time constraints (because boy do I feel you on both of those!). But if you can go to one, you should definitely do so! I’ve been to one camp and now I want to go to them all, despite the fact that that’s impossible.

But you don’t have to go to a huge event like this. Join your local Choose FI or Mustachian Facebook groups (for those of you rolling your eyes, yes, I hate Facebook too, but it is convenient to be part of the various FI groups there). At least in the DC metro Choose FI group, that’s where Choose FI meetups are announced. If you’re in DC and I don’t know who you are, reach out! I love hanging with my fellow bloggers, but meeting readers is also fun! If you’re going to be visiting DC definitely let me know and we’ll see what we can do about planning a meetup while you’re here. Start a conversation with people you can’t physically see via email or on Twitter.

As Angela said in her 100th post, she probably wouldn’t continue blogging if absolutely no one were reading. I started out doing this solely for myself since I didn’t know if anyone would even want to read it, but I feel the same way as Angela now. Blogging is a ton of work; the people make it worth it.

An amazing sunset that I’m sad I didn’t witness. Photo credit: Seonwoo Lee

So see you around, friends!

25 Replies to “I went to money nerd camp (aka CampFI Mid-Atlantic)”

  1. Hey Erin, this sounds great fun! Jealous of the camp!

    And I’m going through similar anonymous blogger challenges and trying to work out the best way forward.

    1. It was so much fun! Yeah I didn’t expect this event to make me question the anonymous decision so much but oh well. For now I’m staying the course.

    1. Yeah yeah yeah I hope to see you some day at one of those events/outside of probably some day making a trip to Seattle to see you! 🙂

  2. I’m so disappointed I couldn’t come! That sounded like an amazing time. It’s seems like it was the perfect weekend of learning, socializing and surrounding yourself with likeminded people. I need to make my way to one of these in the future!

    1. I can’t believe the meeting that kept you from going got moved to a different day 🤦‍♀️🙄 It was indeed an amazing time and I hope you can swing one of them sometime this year!

  3. Ah, nice summary. I too am into FI for the personal reasons and not the love for doing crazy math. I have a ticket to FinCon, so if all goes well I’ll be able to meet some of the FIRE people IRL. (See you there?)
    And two of my good friends introduced me to FIRE, but we don’t actually talk about it much. I started the blog and didn’t tell them for nine months, but I’m glad I finally did. They have reached FI and are about to set out on their around the world trip. It’s pretty exciting to watch them make the leap a bit before me.

    1. I’m a few weeks away from pulling the plug on FinCon so yeah, hopefully I’ll see you there!

      That’s awesome that you know some people in real life who introduced you to this concept. How did they do it? Point you to some blogs? Knowing someone in real life who’s done it before you and is now going on an around-the-world trip must be pretty exciting!

  4. Wait, so I was so confused when I saw your Insta posts, because I was like, where is Erin and how did I not know about this???

    Anyway, I’m glad you went and had a great time! I have so much FOMO that you met JD Roth. And also, if you don’t end up going to FinCon you probably feel OK about it since you got this smaller conference. Stuff like this makes me feel like I should be more involved with Facebook communities. Somehow I can’t keep up with just Twitter and Insta, though 🙁

    1. Lol see you think if I don’t go to FinCon I’ll have less FOMO now that I’ve done this but that is not even remotely going to be the case! 😉 I didn’t even realize JD was coming and was so happy when I found that out!

      I don’t do much hanging out on FB tbh. I’ll check in (more frequently than I want because if it were up to me it would be hardly ever) but definitely prefer hanging out on Twitter and Instagram instead.

  5. Wish I could have made it Erin – thanks for hitting me up with the ticket offer. Sounds like a great time and I love being out in the woods, even with the pollen. Although it is annoying.

    And congrats for rockin’ that climbing wall!

  6. Fun writeup! Isn’t it refreshing to step out of the shadows and talk about FIRE & money with a bunch of people who truly get it?

    I attended the Camp FI down the road in Gainesville this year and will be speaking at the midwest version in Minnesota this summer. Looking forward to hanging out with the aspiring FIRE crowd again.

    Cheers!
    -PoF

  7. lambda lambda lambda (look it up). looks like a swell time. i read these blogs mostly for the philosophical stuff too. sometimes it feels like everybody knows all the nuts and bolts stuff and there’s no use in preaching that to the choir.

  8. Her Erin! I’m so jealous! Looks like an absolute BLAST! That climbing walls reminds me of the ones used in Warrior Dash events. Super scary stuff.

    I’m hoping I can find time for the community aspect of our blogging community after I RE. While working, raising kids, and hustling the blog and real estate, it feels I don’t have time to brush my teeth, much less keep up with everyone. Alas – the hermit blogger in his soon to be abandoned cubicle…. 😉

    PS – Bianca’s hammock does look cozy. Could go for a hammock day after this neverending MN winter!!

  9. So great to meet you! Next time I’ll like to talk more in depth with you.

    Um, yeah, I had the same problem with the showers.

    For the record, you made the right call sleeping the lodge Sunday. I slept in the chalet and after getting rained on in the bottom bunk, I moved to the top. That didn’t help and so I moved my cot to the middle of the chalet for a dry night of sleep 🙂

  10. Sounds like this camp was an awesome experience, I was VERY close to attending this myself, but decided to pass since I am already attending FinCon this year. Perhaps a different year though 🙂 That beer pong story is hilarious – seems like you’re ready to be a “cool” mom haha thanks for sharing such an in-depth recap!

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