What the Hell is Chautauqua?

In October 2016, I returned from a week in Ecuador attending Chautauqua. It was a life-changing experience.

          Why would a military guy who lives in Germany fly all the way to Ecuador for a week?

Why of course, to attend a financial independence/retire early (FIRE) retreat hosted by three prominent bloggers!

Jim Collins, father of the world-famous Stock Series, organized this amazing event. There were three different weeks of Chautauqua this year, each hosted by a slightly different cast of famous bloggers.

Chautauqua has been going on for several years now, and seem to be gaining in popularity. These things sell out faster than a Taylor Swift concert!!

On the week I went, it was Jim Collins himself, Paula Pant, and the notorious Mr. Money Mustache.

Kind of awesome for me, as these are the three bloggers I admire most.

I love their approach to life. It’s all about happiness through financial and lifestyle independence. About saving and investing your way to freedom.

They are anti- working a dead-end-job until you are old. Why didn’t I realize this earlier in life!

They are anti- keeping up with the Joneses. This is what makes a high savings rate and investing possible.

Each guest blogger gave a formal presentation during the retreat. Attendees also had an hour one-on-one session with the blogger of their choice.

          So what’s the point of attending something like this?

These retreats are small, limited to 25 people. This allows guest bloggers and attendees to spend the entire week getting to know each other and have deep discussions about retiring early, financial freedom, happiness, and whatever else comes up.

These discussions happened over meals and around a Jacuzzi right on the equator overlooking a beautiful valley.

Chautauqua Ecuador

It was hard work!

At Chautauqua, we also did touristy stuff like hike to waterfalls, zip line, and drink alcohol (but not too much).

Chautauqua Richard

I’m taking this pretty seriously!

While the presentations from our blogger celebrities and my one-on-one time with Paula was originally the main draw for me, I found the following two things far more valuable:

  • The interaction with other like-minded attendees
  • Getting to know these bloggers on a personal level

My fellow attendees

Chautauqua Group photo

This was the real magic of Chautauqua. All who attended were like-minded in their approach to life and money. We learned so much from each other.

The attendees were a diverse bunch, but fairly successful financially.

They consisted of Doctors, Physician’s Assistants, four pharmacists, entrepreneurs, business owners, real estate investors, flight dispatcher, hedge fund employee, event planner, roofer, tech consultant, criminal investigator, and a few more.

I had long one-on-one talks with almost every person who attended. I gained more knowledge and support from those discussions than anything else. Everyone had something different to share with the group.

We developed a new group of friends who value the same things in life. Many of us will stay in touch and meet again in the future. We will share in each other’s successes and challenges. We created a facebook page to stay in touch.

Jim Collins

Chautauqua jim collins

Jim is the Godfather of Chautauqua.  His website was the first financial independence blog I ever ran into in my life! I was mesmerized by how clear and spot on his description of all things money was. Picking stocks, F* You Money, index funds, retirement accounts, he simplifies finances better than anyone I know.

I was hooked!! I binge read for a few days then started reading other blogs he recommends.

I had the unique chance to interact with Jim a little before Chautauqua. When he sent out an email to all his readers several months ago asking for people to help him edit a book he was writing, I jumped at the chance.

Any book Jim Collins was writing I wanted to read!!  It’s called The Simple Path to Wealth.  I was able to read it (many times!) far before it came out and be involved in getting it ready for publication.

I loved working on his book because it’s more comprehensive and readable than anything else I’ve seen on finance. I was proud to be part of it.  I wrote a thorough review on it.

When I met Jim in Ecuador for the first time in person, I wasn’t sure what to expect. He instantly treated me like an old friend. We were able to have long talks one-on-one and in small groups several times over the following week.

Jim was sick with a cold during Chautauqua, but he went out of his way to spend time talking with everybody who was there. He was extremely accessible. He personally ensured everybody had an amazing experience. And we all did.

Paula Pant

Chautauqua paula pant

She saved this centipede from being squashed by hikers!

Afford Anything was a blog I found shortly after binge reading Jim’s site. Paula was also preaching financial independence, but she used real estate to get there!

This struck a huge chord with me, as I myself was using real estate to ensure I wouldn’t have to work again after leaving the military. Only thing was, I didn’t know that was called “financial independence” and I didn’t know there was a community of people who were pursuing this.

I loved her message and her writing style. She had amazing guests on her podcast and is an expert interviewer. I listened to all of the podcasts as fast as I could!

Reading her blog and hearing her story inspired me to start a blog sharing my journey to financial independence through real estate.

When I started my blog several months ago, I shot her a few emails looking for guidance on certain issues. I wasn’t sure she would answer being as well-known and busy as she is. To my surprise, she was always quick to answer and gave valuable insight.

Our one-on-one at Chautauqua was amazing. Her focused attention on my questions about blogging and real estate got me further in an hour than I would have been able to get in years!

Paula then turned the tables on me. She asked if she could interview me for her upcoming real estate course.

I was thrilled! I know from reading her blog and spending time with her in person that her real estate course is going to be the best thing out there! I’ve never met someone so professional, smart, and driven.  At the same time, she’s laid back, down-to-earth, and fun!

Not to mention Paula is a perfectionist! It’ll be great.

I can’t talk about Paula without mentioning her partner, Will. I had the chance to meet him at a financial conference called FINCON. Luckily, he attended Chautauqua with Paula and we had the chance talk a bunch more.

He’s knowledgeable in real estate, has a strong background in engineering, and has been living a life on his terms with lots of travel and adventure. Example: They spent a year living in a land rover traveling all over Australia! People I envy!

Mr. Money Mustache

a.k.a. Pete Adeney

Chautauqua pete adeney mr money mustache

We did a house re-build as a service project at Chautauqua

Pete’s blog is legendary! He’s got a massive following and advocates a simple lifestyle emphasizing living below your means, living close to work, and getting rid of gas-hogging vehicles in favor of bikes. His blog posts on frugality are the best out there. His an advocate of the environment and strongly supports a transition to electric vehicles.

I wasn’t sure what to expect meeting him in person. With his massive blog income, I imagined his hardcoreness on frugality had waned a little, and perhaps he occasionally secretly jets off to the Bahamas and lives on yachts.

Boy was I wrong! Pete is the real-deal. We all got to know him throughout the week, and he constantly practices what he preaches.

I remember on the last day I decided it would save me some energy to leave my luggage at the top of the hill right outside my room instead of dragging it down to the bus parked at the bottom of the hill. This way, the bus could just stop and pick it up on it’s way out of the resort. I’m so resourceful!

Pete caught wind of what I was doing, and chastised me. He reminded me that taking my suitcase down the hill was a great form of exercise, and I shouldn’t be avoiding it.

He almost punched me in the face!

On another occasion, we were in Quito taking a city tour. The tour bus we hired offered to drive us from site to site. Pete wouldn’t have that! He decided to lead a hike of those that would rather walk than rely on a massive gas-hogging bus to luxuriously bring us to our next stop. It was about a 45 minute trek.

That’s the Mustachian way of doing things.  He’s an amazing guy.

My best talk with Pete was when he described to me how he spends time with his son. Financial independence has given him to freedom and the gift of being able to spend much more time with his son than the typical working mom or dad can.

He spends time doing various projects with his son that help further develop his interest in technology, engineering, and robotics. That kind of quality time with family is a less talked about benefit of financial freedom.

Our kids are the same age, so this really hit home for me.

There you have it. I wish I could go to Chautauqua again next year, but I can’t. These are rare opportunities, and I’ve got to let someone else, maybe you, have that amazing experience.

Rich on Money

Starting with a military salary, I now own several buy-and-hold rental properties DEBT-FREE.  Read my story in my first post:

My Wife Knows Money

Get to know the bloggers:

Jim Collins

Paula Pant

Mr. Money Mustache


6 thoughts on “What the Hell is Chautauqua?”

  1. Rich, This was a great post about a great experience in Ecuador. What an absolutely fantastic time that was both eye opening and life changing. Our conversation with you solidified some of the goals that my wife and I had going into this week. Aside from the great interactions with Jim Collins, Paula Pant, MMM and Cheryl Reed, we had some fantastic and informative conversations with the other attendees. Every day was filled with great experiences and wonderful memories. It also lit a fire under our asses to get the ball rolling and enact some of the needed changes and goals that we’ve been sitting on. Thank you

  2. Rich, thanks for writing such a great description of the Chatauqua. Back in the world of work and acquaintances, I find it hard to explain what we were doing in Ecuador. For the uninitiated, I talk about the things we did and the places we saw. Truly, that was all the back drop to the real valueof the week: spending time with all the brilliant people (bloggers and attendees) and having so many opportunities for shared experiences. Now two weeks out from Ecuador, I miss the people more than the places. I am so grateful to be able to follow your journey here and others on FB. Best wishes, Daniel.

    • Dan, thanks for the thoughtful comment. I know what you mean. I told almost everyone I know that I went to the beach in Brazil, and left out the Ecuador part. They wouldn’t get it.

  3. I loved my week at the Chautauqua in 2015 so much I’m going back again for 2017! I am SO glad you got so much out of the week! The world really doesn’t get “it”, so true. I had the hardest time explaining the week to my non-FI friends.


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