One of the coolest parts about being a personal finance blogger is the community that I get to engage with on a daily basis. I started blogging three years ago as a way to really just jot down all my thoughts on personal finance. A lot of times when I can’t remember why I’m investing my HSA a certain way or what the process was like applying for my latest credit card, I can simply look back and read one of my old articles.
The thing that’s surprised me most though during my blogging tenure is how awesome and friendly other bloggers have been. Unlike most industries, PF bloggers are one big family and they’re all pretty much willing to help each other out(as long as you approach it the right way of course). Over the years, I’ve e-mailed back and forth with countless bloggers but I have never met any of them in person. That all changed with this year’s FinCon though.
FinCon in New Orleans
FinCon is a conference held annually where members of the money media community get together for a few days of learning, fun and networking (that is adult speak for drinking fyi). I’ve always had some excuse why I couldn’t go to FinCon in the past but when I found out this year’s event was going to be in New Orleans that pretty much sealed the deal for me. It’s a city I’ve always wanted to visit and I actually thought about having my bachelor party there at one point but the flights ended up being just too expensive.
Everything seemed to align this year though, so there was no way I could say no! I’ve heard great things about New Orleans: awesome food, beautiful architecture, great night life, amazing live music so what better way to visit than for a business trip where I would also get to deduct all of my expenses.
I also felt like now was the perfect time to go because I’ve e-met a large number of people through blogging but never even met any of them in the flesh. There are a handful of bloggers who I’ve been e-mailing back and forth with for years but all I’ve ever seen of them is a tiny little profile picture.
How Much Does FinCon Cost?
You might think that at a personal finance conference you wouldn’t spend much money but I was actually surprised at how care-free everyone was. No one really complained about where we were going to eat or how much this or that cost, everyone was pretty cool and laid-back about things.
I don’t think you need to spend a ton of money to enjoy yourself when you travel but at the same time I’m not going to buy a Subway sandwich when I’m in New Orleans to save a couple bucks, I’m gonna go get an awesome Po’Boy and live it up! It does help though if you have a knack for finding deals that will save you some cash.
So here’s what my budget looked like for the trip:
|Exit Row Upgrade||$78||$39|
One of the reasons why we ended up going to San Francisco instead of New Orleans for my bachelor party was the insane cost of flights. Even flying off-peak, New Orleans (MSY) was still pretty expensive. And if you want to fly direct, it’s even more ridiculous. Direct flights were in the $500-$750 range from Los Angeles when I looked them up a few months ago.
I found some reasonably priced flights on Southwest for $300-$400 but they all included a stop over. Normally, I would have been ok with this but I found a decent option on Delta for 42,500 points. Delta is known for being among the worst airlines when it comes to redeeming miles but I guess I got lucky. I’ve had 14,000 miles sitting in my Delta frequent flyer account for years and this was the first time I’ve ever even been inclined to redeem them. There’s a reason why Delta’s Sky Miles have been dubbed ‘Sky Pesos’ in the miles and points industry.
I ended up booking a roundtrip non-stop flight out on a Wednesday (12,500 pts) and back on Sunday (30,000 pts!) evening for 42,500 points. I used the 14,000 points in my account and transferred in 29,000 more from my Amex Membership Rewards account (Delta is a 1:1 transfer partner of Amex). The flight would have cost me over $700 if I paid cash so it was actually a pretty decent redemption value. Although, I will admit I’d probably take Southwest and a layover for $350 before I’d ever pay $700+ for a non stop flight on Delta.
I ended up paying $11 in taxes and 42,000 points for a $700+ flight.
Exit Row Upgrade
Delta gives you the option to upgrade your seat 24 hours before the flight. You can try to upgrade for free on the day of but since I get 24 hour check-in reminders from Tripit Pro I logged on to see what they could offer. An upgrade to economy comfort was $79 while an upgrade to the exit row was only $39. Despite being 6’3″ I can normally handle anything under 4 hours in economy no problem. But it is nice to be able to stretch out a bit, leave your bag under the seat in front of you and actually be able to work on your laptop without being too confined.
According to Seat Guru, the exit row seats actually had more leg room than economy comfort so for me it was a no brainer to spend the extra $39. On the way back, I actually used my brand new Ritz Carlton Rewards card to pay for the upgrade so that leg was free. The RC card reimburses you for up to $300 in airline incidental purchase each calendar year.
I ended up paying $39 for $78 worth of upgrades.
Airport Transportation to/from LAX
I live about 45 minutes away from LAX and since my flight was pretty early I figured my best option was to take an Uber to/from the airport. I used whatsthefare.com to approximate the fare and found out it would cost around $60-$65 for a ride. Since I have a bunch of $30 free ride coupons from referring new passengers, the ride was essentially half off both ways.
Related Article: How to Get Picked Up By Uber at Major Airports Like LAX
I ended up paying $69 for $129 in rides from Uber.
The hotel for the conference was the downtown Marriott on Canal St. It was in a great location right in the heart of the city and just a few minutes walk to Bourbon St. and about 10 minutes from Jackson Square and 15 minutes to Frenchmen St. The hotel itself was pretty nice but the rooms were a little dated compared to other Marriotts I’ve stayed at in the past. My only real complaint though was that I felt like I was in a room built for hobbits. When I walked into the bathroom, the mirror only came up to my chest and the ceilings were also very low. I’m not sure if it was just my room or what, but I kept joking with everyone that I felt like I was a giant in my room 🙂
I could have used points to stay at a hotel nearby but I think there is a lot of benefit to staying at the same hotel where the conference is being held. For one, it’s great for taking naps since your room is right upstairs and it’s a lot easier to meet people, re-convene, have drinks at the bar, etc. This is one area of the trip where I’m glad I didn’t cheap out on and stay somewhere else to save money.
I did manage to find a way to save a little money though on the hotel stay using my Amex cards. Right now, Amex has a Twitter sync deal where you can link your card to your Twitter account and activate certain promotions. One of the promotions I found was $20 off $100 spent at Courtyard Marriotts. So on Sunday before I checked out, I hopped over to the Courtyard down the street and bought 4 x $100 gift cards with four separate Amex cards. Since Courtyard gift cards can be used at any Marriott property, I was able to pay for part of my room and save $80!
I ended up paying $408 for about $488 in hotel expenses.
Food is always a huge part of my trips, I’ve even been known to stopover in certain cities just to sample the local fare (ahem, Istanbul!). I love experiencing new cuisines, trying new things and eating foods that I don’t get to see on a regular basis. Obviously New Orleans is world famous for their seafood so I was pretty excited to try all that the city had to offer. I actually didn’t eat out as much as I thought I would though since the conference did a great job providing us catered lunches and free food at events like the Betterment Happy Hour.
My favorite meal came at a small restaurant in the Marigny/Treme area off of Esplanade St. at a place called Buffa’s Bar and Restaurant. This was actually my first meal of the trip and I split a red fish po’boy with a friend. It was very simple but the fish was so tender and juicy and cooked to perfection. What a great first meal in New Orleans!
My second favorite meal of the trip came at a small local creperie called Deville right near Jackson Square. I walked right by Cafe Du Monde to get to this place and I’m glad I did. In my experience, touristy places like that are always over-hyped, over-priced and underwhelming. You want to eat where the locals eat! At Deville, I had a really good iced coffee and an amazing Chicken Florentine crepe!
The last memorable meal of the trip came with my buddy Sam on the day after the conference. A little hungover, a little tired and a little exhausted, we headed out for one final showdown with the muggy streets of New Orleans. We went to a place called Port of Call off of Esplanade St (by far my favorite street in all of New Orleans: lots of saloon style balconies, old school converted mansions and big trees). It’s an old sailor themed bar that serves some of the best burgers in NOLA, plus they give you a loaded baked potato with your meal. The burger was pretty solid, not the best I’ve ever had but definitely a good final meal in New Orleans 🙂
Altogether, I spent $143 on some pretty solid food over 5 days!
Even though I managed to secure copious amounts of free drink tickets, this was still by far one of the biggest budget items of my trip. I’ve never been the type of person to wait around for someone to buy me a drink so I’m usually one of the first ones at the bar. So if I bought you a drink, you’re welcome! I probably spent a lot more on drinks than the average attendee but it was well worth it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Ignoring all the free drink coupons that PT and countless others gave me, I managed to spend $173 on drinks over 4 nights – now that’s impressive.
I was able to get a ride from the airport to downtown with a friend when I arrived in New Orleans and during the conference I only took one cab for $7. I split a cab three ways on the way back to the airport and that cost $17 each.
I hate paying for taxis so I was pretty happy that I only spent $24 on cabs while in NOLA despite it being hot and humid the entire time.
Outside of the main categories, I really didn’t spend much on anything else. Didn’t buy any coffee, snacks or souvenirs – just a whole lot of drinks. I did have to take out some cash here and there to pay for certain meals so I ended up racking up $18 in ATM fees but since I used my Ally debit card, all of those fees will be re-imbursed.
I ended up paying $20 for $38 worth of ‘miscellaneous expenses’.
Conference Cost & Wrap-Up
The cost of the conference had to be by far the biggest steal of the trip. PT (the founder of FinCon) does an awesome job and it is definitely the best one I’ve ever been to. There were so many engaging speakers, sessions and a wide variety of sponsors. There were a ton of networking events outside the conference too and I felt like I must have gotten over $200 in free drink tickets alone! I probably would have been happy to pay double that amount but at the end of the day, there are some really great sponsors that help defray a lot of the costs for us bloggers. I actually already bought my ticket for next year at a reduced price of just $149!
My biggest takeaway from the conference was that there are some amazing things people are doing right now to make a full time living working online. And I’m not talking about just barely getting by either, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of people out there making an absolute killing in the personal finance niche doing what they love, working for themselves and living that entrepreneurial dream.
For me, personal finance blogging has always been more of a hobby but I do make a decent amount of money off the site. Attending the conference really reinforced my belief that if I wanted to go full time working online and was willing to put in 8-10 hours a day on my site I would definitely be able to succeed. But at that point, I don’t think it would be nearly as fun.
As it stands now, I spend about 10 hours a week writing and producing content for this blog and it’s extremely enjoyable. I’d have to spend about 4-5x that to equal my day job salary though. It definitely wouldn’t be a bad way to make a living but I’m also fortunate to have a day job that I don’t hate. I go in to work every day, get my sh$t done and walk out with a paycheck. It’s not the most challenging or exciting job ever but it definitely pays the bills, lets me max out ALL of my retirement accounts and allows me to save a couple bucks here and there too.
I already know that my time in engineering is limited, it’s not something I want to do or something I’m going to do for the rest of my life. But right now, it just doesn’t make sense to leave my job when I’m still able to do what I love on the side. Since I won’t ever put in more than 15-20 hours a week on this site, I don’t think my personal finance blog alone will ever be enough to let me quit my day job but it will definitely be a part of the equation. My goal since day one has been to replace my day job income with multiple sources of income and every day I’m getting closer using things like: blogging income, freelance income, rental income, rideshare driving, coaching volleyball, etc.
The last thing that I kind of already knew, but attending the conference really reinforced, was that if you want to really make it working online and be one of the top dogs in your industry you have to really carve out a niche for yourself. You can’t just do what everyone else is doing and expect to be super successful. I think my blog has some great content but to be perfectly honest, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. There are hundreds of sites out there just like mine with unique ideas, great content and engaging authors. What makes the best ones stand out is that they appeal to a very specific niche.
I’m definitely going to keep writing and producing content for this blog for years to come but I don’t expect it to ever make me insane amounts of money. Personal finance is a highly saturated niche and that means the odds are really stacked against you to make it to the top. If I would have gotten in 5-10 years ago it would be a different story, but I didn’t and I’m ok with that.
Ultimately, I’m going to take everything that I’ve learned from the PF niche and apply it to a new industry/niche when the timing is right. During the conference, I talked to a lot of people about my new rideshare site because I think that’s the perfect opportunity for me to really become an industry leader online.
I was able to get in on the ground floor of a niche that is currently exploding, highly lucrative and doesn’t have much content out there yet. I’m producing the same level of great content for that site but since there’s less competition it’s easier for me to stand out. My site appeals to a very specific niche group of people but my goal is to be the authoritative source for the entire industry one day.
So my advice is simple: find a niche that you can really dominate. At this point, if you start a blog that talks about investing you’re going to have a minute chance of ultra-success. There are still plenty of niches out there in personal finance (just look at MMM with ultra savers or WCI with doctors) but there is also a ton of competition. Find an industry or niche that you have an interest in, has potential and go dominate it.
For those who weren’t able to attend or have no idea WTF FinCon is, here’s a great video that was produced by Matt of Listen Money Matters that sums things up in a nut shell. Warning: this song is super catchy and I’m not gonna lie I’ve already added it to my music collection! (If you’re reading this via e-mail, please visit the article on my site to view the video)
So I’d love to hear what other FinCon’ers thought about their experience? What was your biggest takeaway from the conference and did you stay within your budget or even have one in the first place? For you regular readers, what do you think about the conference experience? Can you believe that over 600 bloggers and money media professionals met up for one crazy weekend in New Orleans? Does it make you want to start a blog or what?!
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-Harry @ PF Pro