I recently attended a conference on financial independence in Timișoara, Romania. This post covers my experience there.
I had heard about “Chataqua” – a week-long event attended by all of the big names in the global Financial Independence community. The cost to attend this this year is €2,000. As much as I liked the idea, I felt that it was too expensive, so back in February I posted on a couple of Facebook groups to see if anyone knew of anything similar but less expensive. I was promptly contacted by Mrs. White with details of this conference. Entrance fee – €15! Mrs. W. explained that, to keep the conference small, she and her husband (the organisers) run an application process, the first step of which required that I make a short video of myself discussing how I discovered FI, where I am in my journey, and life after financial independence looks like for me.
I prepared a brief selfie video as requested and a few weeks later on March 9th I heard back that my application had been successful. The conference organisers Mr. & Mrs. W. suggested a Skype call to introduce themselves and to answer any questions I may have.
I did some basic due diligence by checking that the hotel had a website and looked legit. I booked some flights, and, before I knew it, the time had come and I was on my way. I arrived on the Thursday night, June 7th, connecting through Bucharest with enough time to enjoy an Italian-style lemon ice cream and a good coffee between flights.
Mr & Mrs. W. had arranged for a taxi for me from airport to hotel. It was early evening by the time I arrived, and, after checking with the hotel owners that the city was safe to walk around at night, I headed out in search of some food and a currency exchange. The rate was 4.62 Romanian Lei to Euro. For convenience I initially just exchanged € 100. As it turned out, this was sufficient spending money for my entire stay (from Thursday night to Monday morning). I walked around the main streets of the town, and did a bit of shopping for water and snacks, then picked up a takeaway pizza and headed back to the hotel.
On Friday morning I met some of the other conference participants at breakfast. Since the group wasn’t meeting officially until Friday night, I had planned to spend Friday exploring the city by myself. As it happened, I bumped into some of the other participants leaving the hotel with the same intention, and we ended up spending the day together.
On Friday evening I met the rest of the conference participants when we headed out for dinner. We had a nice relaxed dinner followed by a trip to an ice cream parlour. The organisers had deliberately kept the conference small at approx. 25 participants.
We all had breakfast in the hotel courtyard on Saturday morning, before taking ourselves to the conference venue at the back of the premises.
The conference ran from 9:30 – 4:45 on Saturday and Sunday, and consisted of 10 * 45 minute presentations over the 2 days. All conference participants had been given the option to propose a topic that they would like to present on. Participants then had the opportunity to vote on their choice of topics.
Not surprisingly, there was plenty of discussion around the hard metrics of the financial independence – The 4% rule, savings rates, safe withdrawal rates, knowing when you have enough, but also on the softer aspects, such as the question of what people will choose to do with the free time which they have gifted themselves, and whether they will use it to make the world a better place.
One participant gave a presentation on how to turn problems into websites offering solutions and generating revenue. The idea works by creating useful content to assist readers with a particular problem (i.e. how to extend wifi coverage in your apartment), and included links to recommended products, which generate affiliate revenue for the website owner.
Another gave a presentation on his side hustle story – Building extensions for online marketplaces. Once again I observed how many ways there are to make money for individuals with these specific types of skills!
A young couple living in Vienna,Austria presented on their luxuriously frugal live in Vienna, Austria, their philosophy of minimalism and how they are not waiting to be financially independent to embrace life and pursue their passions, such as developing their You Tube channels. They have managed to keep their expenses low by living in an affordably priced apartment courtesy of an Austrian government scheme.
We then had a presentation from Mr RIP, an Italian guy who lives in Switzerland and earns a ridiculous amount of money working at a major company which he calls Hooli on his blog. He is currently pondering whether he should work 1 or 3 more years at Hooli before retiring at the ripe old age of 40 something!
We heard from a German software engineer who has been saving 75% of his income for some time already and is also considering when to pull the retirement trigger. The presenter shared details of his expenses and there was some discussion around the emotional aspects of ending one’s career and what the next chapter would entail.
The organisers Mr. & Mrs. W. presented on their efforts to reduce waste and to encourage re-use. Mr. W. left his high powered career in Germany behind, and, much to puzzlement of his friends and neighbours, can now be found picking up litter on the streets near where he lives in Romania. He found a company which pays people for their rubbish, and even an app. which matches rubbish buyers with sellers. Mrs. W. has developed a pack containing a knife, fork and spoon as an alternative to using disposable ones. Mr. & Mrs. have found plenty of areas to add value to their local community in Romania.
We had a presentation on the 4% rule. The sustainable “safe” withdrawal rate for a long retirement period is a hotly-debated topic in the FI community, and those individuals within the group who have already saved a lot are particularly eager to get comfort on this! We settled on 3.1415″PI” as a safe number, since it sounds good and is less than 4!
Lastly, we had a presentation from a Slovakian ex-pat living with his young family in Vienna on the feedback from his interviews with conference participants which he had been conducting throughout the week end. The following trends were observed:
Most of the group was investing in ETFs. Most (present company excepted) had avoided home ownership. A few were tech guys who had been saving most of their income for most of their lives, and were more or less ready to leave the workforce at approximately age 40. Some had already retired through the power of geographic arbitrage: 1 couple currently living in Romania and another in Croatia in a town where houses can be purchased from € 10K.
Restaurants within walking distance had been booked for us for lunch and dinner, and starters had been pre-ordered for the tables by the organisers which we paid for separately afterwards. We each ordered what we wanted to eat and drink at dinner and split the bill accordingly. Things were so well organised that the only thing we had to do was to socialise and get to know each other.
Everything was within walking distance, and we moved about as a group, with our hosts making sure to lead us past good ice cream parlors and supermarkets as we passed, to allow people to pick up drinks and snacks as desired along the way. The situation was very condusive to a good bonding session for a group of individuals already united by their pursuit of a common goal, and most of us stayed up chatting late into the night.
There is no one right way to do this. While some are focusing on saving/investing a million plus through having well paid jobs in high income sectors/countries and saving 70% plus of their incomes, others have bought investment properties and live off the surplus cash flow, yet others build product websites to generate passive income. Most invest in ETFs and some in P2P lending. As noted, most have tended to avoid home ownership, and manage to rent for € 400 -500 per month, something that is not an option for most of us living in Dublin unfortunately!
As a travel experience, I would recommend this type of trip to anyone who is relatively low-maintenance, in good health and enjoys exploring new places at an affordable cost. I got to see some of Romania – we even had a walking tour of the town courtesy of our host. My cash expenses from Thursday evening until my departure on Monday morning were € 100. In total the trip cost just under € 400 (full breakdown below). Neither the organisers nor any of the speakers took a fee for their work on this. The hotel charged € 28 per night for a single room. The hotel owners were very obliging, delivering what appeared to be a brand new fan to my room shortly after I requested one, and even preparing 2 breakfast rolls for me to take with me when I left early Monday morning.
I had a refreshing city break where everything was organised for me, and met a great group of like-minded people from across Europe, several of whom I would hope to stay in touch with. In the comfort of the conference facility within the hotel grounds I could relax and focus on the topics of conversation. Hearing what other people are doing to get themselves to financial independence was refreshing and inspiring. After more than 2 years of following countless blogs and even creating my own, I finally met the real people behind some of the stories. It felt good to know this stuff exists in reality, as well as in cyberspace! Getting away from my own day-to-day was a great way to think and return with renewed focus. The conference is in its second year, and is intended to be an annual event, and may be of interest to anyone who is interested in making connections and learning about what others across Europe are doing.
Quite a few of the speakers and participants have told their stories on their own blogs, which I have linked to below. Roll on FIWE 2019!
|Hotel 4 nights||€112.00|
http://whatlifecouldbe.eu/ – Mr & Mrs. W. tell their story!
https://www.superhostcampus.com/ – Blog in German providing tips on how to be a great AIRBNB host!
http://retireinprogress.com/ – Mr. RIP’s story
http://www.hippiesdelandrover.com/ – Blog in Spanish (translation option available) – Erik and Sofia Flores talk about their journey
https://frugalisten.de/ – Blog in German (translation option available)