This past weekend I was fortunate to attend Cents Positive in Chicago and it was an absolutely amazing experience. Cents positive is a retreat where women can talk openly and candidly about money and financial independence. The conference was started by Tanja Hester in 2018, and this year there were two locations, one in Seattle and the other in Chicago. I would have loved to fly out to Seattle, but it was just not possible with my schedule, and Chicago was a lot closer!
I was only vaguely aware of Cents Positive (mostly from listening to the Fairer Cents Podcast) and had not really considered going until chatting with Tanja at FinCon. Talking to her really got me thinking about going and after getting back from FinCon I spent the next week trying to figure out a way to make the logistics of attending work. I did eventually find a way, and wow I am glad I did!
I am struggling a little bit to describe my experience at the retreat in adequate terms since providing a description of the events does not even begin to do the experience justice. I can certainly talk about key moments and highlights from my perspective, but aside from framing this as a phenomenological discussion I will just have to use words like awesome, empowering, and uplifting.
If you are a woman who is interested in financial independence and cares deeply about the success of other women in this space, this is a retreat for you!
So here is a little bit about my experience…
My trip started in what I hate to admit is typical for me lately… chaos. I had a faculty meeting I was unable to miss on Friday morning, so after dropping the kids off at school I went to campus for the meeting, rushed home, and it was finally time to start packing about an hour and a half before my flight was scheduled to leave. I threw some stuff together, realized I was unable to fit everything in a carry-on (thank you Unicorn onesie), dumped everything into a bigger suitcase, and was off to the airport. By the time I checked my bag and went through security, which is incredibly fast and efficient at RDU, I was at my gate right when the plane started boarding.
The flight itself was uneventful and I landed at Midway in the early afternoon and took the train across the city to the retreat hotel. I spent just as much time traveling by train as I did on my flight, but for only $3 I think the trade-off was worth it. Well at least I thought it was worth it until I was walking from the train station to the hotel (.5 miles) and the sidewalk disappeared about halfway during the walk. I had about 45 minutes of downtime at the hotel or more accurately a 45 minute recovery period from dragging a suitcase through the grass to get to the hotel.
Some Key Moments and Highlights from my Perspective
I again need to preface this by saying that trying to capture the event as a whole is challenging for me because there were so many things that contributed to an outstanding weekend with amazing women talking about money and financial independence. From conversations that started before the first official session began to those that are continuing now online, I am amazed at how quickly I connected and made new friends in such a short period of time. I have been to a ridiculous number of conferences, retreats, and meetings in my life and I have never been to one that left a more positive impact on me than Cents Positive.
Shortly after starting the first session one thing that really set a encouraging tone for the entire retreat was the collaborative effort to establish community standards for the retreat.
This was a unique and encouraging way to start, and it set a very positive and welcoming tone for the entire weekend. I wish more events I take part in would adopt a similar strategy and set of standards, although with most of the conferences I attend there would be many who would not be able to abide by these standards.
Once we established our mutual standards for the weekend, this was followed by a scavenger hunt that gave us a chance to start conversations and meet each other in a fun and unique way. These conversations continued during our food truck dinner that was included as part of the retreat, and for many of us these continued well after the close of the first night session. These personal interactions that occurred throughout the retreat were some of the most impactful things that I am still trying to unpack after several days of being back home. The different paths, goals, and life experiences amazed me and left me feeling very inspired and fulfilled.
These are just a few of the notable highlights from my perspective:
- FI changing our perceptions and power dynamics – Too often financial independence is presented as simply a goal to reach and once we do then it will change everything. What if we instead think of the power it gives us right now, wherever we are on our journey? The importance of this can not be overstated, and I know this at a very personal level. Where I am on my path to FI gave me the space and courage to put more important things ahead of the fear of losing my job, and more importantly allowed me to do it now instead of later. I am grateful that Tanja facilitated this discussion and it was one of several of my Aha moments to realize this in a personal way, and think about it in these terms.
- The health care discussion was relevant and timely, including preparing for various possibilities. This is one of the scary things about living in the United States right now, and leads to one of the more unpredictable aspects of leaving full time employment.
- FI Speed Dating – I absolutely loved this activity where we went to different parts of the room based on categories, life choices, circumstances, or experiences (kids, no kids; single, have a partner that is on board with FI, or not…) The only downside was how brief the time was that we had in each group to talk to each other, but that was the point. It gave us an opportunity to quickly discover what we had in common with the other women attending the retreat.
- Ignite Talks – I loved the variety of topics, and the format!
- Breakout Sessions – These were designed to give anyone attending the opportunity to propose a session or lead a discussion and there was a wide range of topics in these sessions which was awesome. I ended up leading a session which I decided to do at the last minute after Tanja explained the purpose and format of these breakouts. I did not prepare before the retreat at all, but I discovered that this really energized me. This was the first time I had combined in a direct way what I do in my current career (researching and teaching about learning and the brain) and my passionate interest in personal finance. I found myself asking why am I not doing this more often and writing about these two things together or talking about this more in a wider context and medium. This was another personal Aha moment for me, and inspired me to do more in this space outside of academia.
- Penny’s presentation was inspiring to think about the time we have each day and what we can do to optimize the amount that time to be more purposeful. While she was presenting and leading several participant activities I kept noticing characteristics and traits that indicate she is just as amazing in her classroom with her students as she was with us in her session.
- Kiersten’s Presentation – This presentation and the discussion she led about FIRE being called a ”movement” was timely and important. Words have meaning, context has meaning, the word movement has meaning. I am grateful that we had this discussion and for the contributions that many were willing to make in an open and judgement free way.
While these were a few of my highlights there were so many more powerful moments that I am not listing here that made this one of the best events I have ever attended. I have never attended an event where not only are we learning from each other, but we are interacting, supporting, and lifting each other without judgment, even if our circumstances, approaches, or beliefs are different. One thing I can say with certainty is that I will find a way to be at the next retreat!
When the retreat officially ended on Sunday afternoon several of us continued some great conversations over a late lunch, followed by a trip to a local pub. I am so thankful I was able to attend these after retreat activities thanks to one of my fellow attendees offering to drive me to the train station in time to make it across Chicago for my flight. This made the difference between being able to attend these activities and simply heading to the airport after the retreat was over.
Some Closing Thoughts
I feel fortunate I was able to attend the Cents Positive retreat, and I am really appreciative that Tanja was able to create this space for us, it was and continues to be desperately needed. I was inspired by the powerful stories and new friends I made in such a short period of time. I left with a clearer vision and a set of action items I want to implement not only related to financial independence, but my life in general. More importantly I left feeling welcomed into a new community whose focus was not simply about personal goals, experiences, and numbers, but a community that was about lifting other women up as we each travel and follow our unique paths.
Hi Julia, it was good to meet you last weekend! I’m curious about whether or not you have thoughts on how LGBTQI+ Cents Positive was and whether or not Cents Positive could be more inclusive. I just read your post on FinCon, so that made me curious. –Julie
It was nice to meet you as well! From my perspective, it could not possibly have been more accepting or inclusive. No assumptions were made by anyone and inclusive language was always used, for example If I said my spouse or partner no assumptions were made that I had a husband. To be honest I think Tanja did everything right in creating this environment for all of us. If I was asked how it could be more inclusive or what could be improved, I am not sure what advice I could offer as diversity and inclusivity was recognized and celebrated.
Fincon on the other hand is a very different story, and a very different kind of conference. While there were opportunities and space created for meeting and working with others in the LGBTQIA+ community (organized by attendees), no conference wide efforts were made that were visible or notable. That is not to say it was hostile, just little effort was made for the conference as a whole (again from my perspective) and I think that goes for other underrepresented communities as well in attendance. In terms of the attendees I would say that 98% of my interactions were very positive, and the few that were not were just not good people in general.