campfi 2023 financial independence conference julian, ca

My experience at CampFi Southwest (Julian, CA 2023)

Finance nerds love a good pun. CampFI is no exception: nature, cabins, with people who love to talk about financial independence and yes, there are campfires.

In trying to describe CampFi, I find it apt to compare the inner monologue of attendees between different events:

CampFI: “When can I stop working?”
Business conferences: “I’m definitely going to keep working.”

For those who went to CampFi with me, you might want to skip to the lessons learned section.

Table of contents

Who goes to CampFI (and why?)

Ever been to a good meetup, and just want to hang out with people after to keep talking? This is like that, but for a weekend at a retreat center with finance nerds.

The attendees are truly The Millionaires Next Door – they look like everyday, hardworking people. Underneath the unassuming surface they are wicked smart and have amassed an impressive nest egg. I’d venture to guess at least 30% of the people there have retired early (“FIRED”) or are very close to. Most are well within 5-10 years from reaching their financial goals.

Here’s my guesstimate of the age distribution of ~55 attendees:

  • 20s or younger: 5%
  • 30s: 15%
  • 40s: 30%
  • 50s: 30%
  • 60s: 10%

All attendees are very smart and resourceful, but also value work life balance.

Just to illustrate this point, the group voted for 4 breakout sessions, and people chose “SABBATICALS” as a topic over “SIDE HUSTLES.”

Why do people go to CampFI?

Imagine this: you have $1.5 million in assets and you’re not sure if it’s responsible to take a prolonged sabbatical or retire early. (This was the case for a couple guests who braved the hot seat).

If you share these numbers with a coworker or friend, they might not be able to relate to you or start making assumptions. “This girl is a millionaire…what does she have to worry about?”

So people to go things like CampFI to connect with others on a similar journey. You talk to others who GET what you’re doing and won’t fawn over your finances. Instead, they’ll give you a relevant perspective because they’re on a similar journey.

Those in the FI community are usually pretty transparent, but I found that people were even more candid about their finances at CampFi than even at local ChooseFI groups. Perhaps it’s the trust built over the weekend, or being isolated at a retreat center so it’s less likely someone will hear you whisper your net worth ;)

It’s also a good excuse to travel somewhere new and experience the outdoors.

How much does CampFi cost? What does it include?

The CampFi I attended in Julian cost $525.00 in total. This varies across different CampFI locations as pricing depends on the venue.

Pro Tip: Try looking online for codes like “CHOOSEFI” to get up to 10% off your order.

I thought CampFi was a good value as far as conferences go. The nice thing about CampFI is that everything you need is included in the weekend:

  • Daily breakfast, lunch and dinner (it’s cafeteria food so…lower your expectations)
  • Outdoor activities like zip line, rock climbing wall, hikes and pickleball!
  • Speaker panels and breakout sessions
  • Lodging in bunk-bed cabins (spartan but comfortable enough)
Derping on the zip line

My order included the linen set, which was about $25 extra for pillow, sleeping bag, towels and bedsheets. At first I thought this was a strange option to include, but I think that’s just a peculiarity of the Whispering Winds venue.

Pro tip: if you’re local like me, there’s no need to buy the linens set. I brought extra sleeping gear just in case, and found I could’ve went without the extra linens. BUT paying a bit extra for them is a no brainer for those flying in to the event.

If you find a CampFi within driving distance, it’s that much more worth it. Still, a lot of people flew in from out of state and rented cars to drive out to Julian, which is about 90 minutes east of San Diego.

Curious what the weekend entailed? Here’s the full schedule:

Highlights and lessons learned at CampFi

Takeaway 1: “You’ll probably be fine”

On the last night, 3 volunteers went up for a “case study” which means they opened their kimono (does anyone say that anymore?) to their finances and asked questions like “So can I FIRE yet?”

Listening to the conversation, these reassuring points emerged:

  • You’re probably going to be fine.
  • Even if someone goes wrong, you will be able to figure it out.
  • Your worst case scenario (not retiring early) is just everyday life for most people —working a job.

It totally makes sense. The type of person who reaches FI is more likely a perfectionist + worrier, but also the type of person who doesn’t really have to worry because they’re so capable. These are the last people who’ll make a fatal financial mistake. Selfishly, I found it reassuring to be part of this cohort.

Takeaway 2: Income & cashflow matter

There was a Post Fi Life session where the audience asked retired people how life is going.

Having control over one’s time was the most positive outcome of retirement.

But I also noticed a theme of cashflow in what the respondents had to say:

  • The retired military couple had a government pension coming in every month
  • The traditional retiree (65) has $2600/month in social security benefits
  • An early retiree occasionally worked part-time to not have to draw down her portfolio too much

It’s psychologically easier to stay retired if you already have a source of income coming in consistently.

When you retire matters. The respondents are older than I am; that made me consider the gap between early and traditional retirement. If I retire at 40 I’ll have about 2 decades before any social security benefits hit (and that’s an IF).

While I believe that one income is enough for those beginning on the FI journey, this conversation lit a fire under my ass to create more streams of income.

Takeaway 3: “Money Experiments”
I enjoyed Carl Jensen’s presentation on conducting “money experiments” for happiness:

  • Taco Bell vs Michelin Star Restaurant
  • Renting a Corvette / sports car
  • Paying a band to play a private show

It’s kind of like a bucket list, but with a bent towards whether spending money on certain items affects happiness.

I also liked that Carl had a point of view on “basic happiness” (fundamentals like sleep) vs “advanced happiness” (optimizations like flying first class).

This gave me a lot of ideas for money experiments I may want to do. Look out for a future post on this!

Was CampFI worth it?

Yes, CampFI was worth it. I would go back again.

About 1/3 of participants were returnees, which speaks highly about the event. I felt like the weekend was packed and full of great value.

It’s once a year (per region/site), so I feel like it would act as a good annual “financial life review” of sorts. I could see myself going back to CampFi as life situations change, let’s say getting married, having kids, or about to embark on a sabbatical.

A couple participants had literally just left their jobs days before CampFi, so I think they got a lot of perspectives on making their next move.

It’s also great for networking. I met a few locals in Long Beach and even more in the Greater LA area. Now I have at least 6 friendly people I could talk to about a new interest of mine: rental real estate!

Recommendations for making the most out of CampFi

In no particular order, here’s a quick list of things my personal recomendations:

  • Explore the entire venue upfront: I was the first to find the pickleball equipment and got others hooked on it during the weekend. On the last night I found out there was an amazing game room.
  • Set your expectations for lodging and food: I was pleasantly surprised, thinking I’d be placed in old wood cabins and use an outhouse. Nope, 2 people max to a room with its own bath and shower. I talked to some other participants who thought it’d be nicer so they were disappointed.
  • Bring healthy snacks/drinks: the cafeteria food is filling but pretty heavy.
  • Mix in as much as you can: I wish I talked to more couples about how they manage their finances together. Otherwise I really loved the diversity of thought.
  • Take time to decompress during the weekend: I wish I took just 30 minutes or an hour to synthesize notes. I was consumed by pickleball! Also, more sleep could’ve done me good.
  • Take more photos with people: wish I took more photos with new friends made there

And with that, I’ll end with a selfie!

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