Mindy and Scott’s Favorite Sleepaway Camp for FIRE Chasers

by NEW YORK DIGITAL NEWS


Deep in the forest, a secret financial independence summer camp is being held. Multiple times a year, all across the country, millionaires, financial freedom achievers, and those still on or just starting their FIRE journey meet up for a weekend like no other. Those who have achieved FIRE in their 30s, 40s, and 50s give advice, tips, and tactics to those who want to leave their jobs behind and see what a life of financial freedom feels like. It’s such a can’t-miss event that Mindy and Scott are regulars there too!

Of course, we’re talking about CampFI, where you can roast marshmallows, talk about Roths, scheme with other investors on the best way to make millions, or simply meet the financial independence heroes you’ve only seen online. Throughout the year, these camps are held in every corner of the country, and today, you’ll get to hear exactly what happens around the campFIre.

For that, we brought on CampFI founder Stephen Baughier to tell us more about this exclusive financial independence experience and his own journey to FI. After a tough wake-up call in his mid-30s, Stephen made it his goal to reach financial freedom, but not on the fast-paced schedule most FIRE chasers think of. Hear how Stephen was able to downsize his life, cut his spending, and have ultimate time freedom without having to work his tail off!

Mindy:
Welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast, my dear listeners, where we interview my friend Stephen Baughier and talk about CampFI and steps for anyone to start their financial journey. Hello, my name is Mindy Jensen and with me as always is my could be FI, but loves the Grind co-host Scott Trench.

Scott:
Thanks, Mindy. Great to be here with my loves the [inaudible 00:00:27], in a literal and metaphorical sense, co-host Mindy Jensen.

Mindy:
I do. Scott and I are here to make financial independence less scary. Less, just for somebody else, to introduce you to every money story because we truly believe that financial freedom is attainable for everyone, no matter when or where you are starting.

Scott:
That’s right. Whether you want to retire early and travel the world, go on to make big time investments in assets like real estate, start your own business, or just get a chance to connect in person with other like-minded folks pursuing financial independence or who might already be there. We’ll help you reach your financial goals and get money out of the way so you can launch yourself towards your dreams.

Mindy:
Scott, instead of a money moment today, I am going to tell our listeners about a super cool event that BiggerPockets is doing. It’s called the Virtual Summit. You can join Dave Meyer and other real estate experts in a brand new virtual summit from December 11th through the 14th, 2023, and get prepared to be successful in 2024. This four day summit is exclusive for our pro members with some access for our free members. Visit biggerpockets.com/virtualsummit to get all the details on how to access this exclusive event and register to get ready for next year.

Scott:
We’re about to talk with Stephen Baughier from CampFI. Mindy and I have both attended the events in the past and we gushed about how much we appreciated CampFI and we just wanted to make sure that ahead of that you guys knew this is not a paid endorsement for CampFI. It’s just a genuine, we like the event, we’ve been in the past, we’ve made some friends there and had a great time, and this is our experience. I hope you enjoy the show and consider attending a local meetup or CampFI or some sort of event as part of your journey to financial independence because you’re going to get really great connections, valuable advice, and realize you’re not alone on this journey here. There’s a lot of other people who are pursuing it and many people who have arrived and love to connect.

Mindy:
Without further ado, let’s bring in Stephen. Today we are talking with Stephen Baughier, who is the founder of CampFI. CampFI hosts a myriad of local events around the country to bring people together who are on their journey to financial independence as well as people who have already reached their goal. Stephen, welcome to the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. I’m so excited to talk to you today.

Stephen:
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Mindy:
Stephen, people know you from CampFI, but you actually also have a really super interesting money story. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey with money?

Stephen:
Yeah, so back in my early twenties, I would read all the Suze Orman books, the Rick Edelman, the Rich Dad, Poor Dad, those types of books. I was always interested in personal finance, actually following through with the necessary actions is another story, but so I was always intellectually interested in the topic. Then as years passed by, I did the typical thing where I got the bigger house and some credit card debt and dug myself into a little bit of a hole and got in my mid-thirties. I wasn’t in terrible shape, but it was to the point where I would look back and think, “Why am I not further along financially?”
Soon after that, for however, I don’t even know how I came across my phone or my computer screen, I came across the Early Retirement Extreme, Jacob Lund Fisker, the Mr. Money Mustache blog and got sucked into that rabbit hole, I guess go down the rabbit hole, and then one thing after another. After a while I got to where I was surrounding myself with just some really cool people and then that really just is probably the single most thing that made me start following through and making good decisions or better decisions and start making progress financially.

Mindy:
You said something very interesting. You said, “I read all of this, but doing the work is a different story,” and then you get down the road a little bit and you’re like, “Well, why am I not further along financially?” Because you didn’t do the work and I’m not yelling at you. I know… Stephen and I are friends outside of this show, so I know him and I’m not… He knows I’m not yelling at him, but that’s why you weren’t further along financially because just because you know what you’re supposed to be doing doesn’t mean it’s magically going to happen. You have to do the work. Stephen, when did you start doing the work?

Stephen:
Well, I think probably in my early thirties. I remember making a comment to my then wife. I was like, “We’re both accountants. We have accounting backgrounds. Why are we not making personal financial statements like we do bookkeeping for businesses. We do the profit loss statement, the balance sheet and all that stuff, monthly, quarterly, annually, whatever, to prepare tax returns or things with, but we don’t do that for our personal finances.” I remember making a comment then I was like, “We really should be doing this, and that could even be a good service for other people down the line. It seems very useful, but I don’t see anybody doing that.” Unless, say we have a client that wants to get a loan from a bank and then they come in and say, “Let’s prepare this balance sheet and for loan purposes.” Other than that, it’s not just a regular personal financial maintenance task that’s done.
Even then, it was probably seven, 10 years after that that I actually started doing it. Again, you know things that you could be doing but you don’t. It really was, and not to get too personal or whatever, but I went through a divorce about 10 years ago and at that point it was a very… Obviously, it was a turning point, like a pivotal point in life as it is with anybody going through something like that. But it made me reevaluate a lot of things. Instead of making decisions on a compromise or… I could finally just make decisions based solely on what I thought was best for me and my kids. To me, that was really, really it. I made good money. I was a project controller for a defense contractor here in Georgia, and so the income wasn’t an issue, but as soon as I started reading those blogs and listening to podcasts, and I was also looking at that point in my life of how I can shape not just my finances but just my life, period. What kind of house am I going to move into?
What sort of things am I going to spend my money on from here on out? Am I going to start saving a higher percentage? Those types of things. As soon as it became clear that whatever my life looked like in five years was all because it’s going to be because just me, it’s not going to be because I have somebody to blame anything on or someone to pull me along forward with them, it’s going to be all on my shoulders. As soon as I had that accountability and I was just faced with that, it was an exciting moment, a scary moment, sure. But exciting to know that again, whatever your life is going to look like five years, 10 years from now, it’s all because of the decisions that I’m making now.

Scott:
Stephen, could you give us an overview of the key points along your financial journey following this divorce and what you’ve been able to achieve over the last 10 years?

Stephen:
With some of the changes that I’d made, I was able to start accumulating a decent amount in retirement accounts, and I got to a point in mid 2016 where I decided I was going to take a break from full-time work. I think it was June 2016, I turned in my security badge at work and I was like, “Okay, well, I have this time freed up.” My plan at the time was I had a friend who’s a CPA who has a firm here, and I was just going to work tax season and then if I didn’t make enough to cover all my annual expenses during tax season, I would just dip into my savings.
Then as long as I didn’t go negative by the time my kids were 18 and I was happy, and if I was at zero by the time they were 18, I was just going to call somebody up and say, “Can I sleep on your couch and go get a good job and save all the money up again?” That was my plan. I was good with that, but I didn’t know things like CampFI, were going to come along and passion projects were going to turn into income producing endeavors. I have not been working down to zero, thankfully. I’m still able to spend as much time with my kids as they’ll let me. I’ve been able to save more into my retirement over the last six or seven years, so it’s nice.

Scott:
Awesome.
Let’s talk about this awesome role that you’ve carved out for yourself and built over time in the FI community. Can you tell us about what you do, one of your passion projects here, what it is, how you started it, and how you can get involved?

Stephen:
I am the founder of CampFI and we’ve been doing that since 2017. Basically that’s a weekend long personal finance retreat for people on their financial independence journey just to hang out. It’s a community builder, primarily, and every now and then we learn something new about money. We might talk about money a little bit, and it’s just a good time. It’s a good community builder. The reason that I did that is because I experienced a similar event called Camp Mustache, it was in 2016 in Seattle, Washington. To me, at that place in my life and just tapping into this community, which I felt like I was all alone until I went to one of these things and I was like, “Oh, there’s other people who have similar values and think similarly and this is great.” It just put a lot of wind in my sails and made me feel super optimistic about all the things that I ever wanted to do.
I think I’m a dreamer, and so there’s a lot of dreams that get put on the back burner and for whatever reason, just that weekend was magical to me and it just felt like it opened up the world. I was like, “I really think that this experience should be available for other people.” I spoke with the three original organizers of the Camp Mustache up there asked them, “Can I bring a camp mustache down to the southeast?” I’m from Georgia. Selfishly I was like, “Maybe I can find other people around me in the southeast that are like-minded and I could connect with them in real life.” They were absolutely supportive of it. We did. It was a hit.
Then I wanted to… I was like, “We have a Camp Mustache up in the northwest. We have one in the southeast. Why don’t we just start putting Camp Mustaches everywhere?” Emma, who was one of the original organizers, she went back to the other two and they discussed it and understandably, they just didn’t want to take that on. I changed the name to CampFI and just ran with it. We’ve opened up camps all over the country.

Scott:
Yeah.
Could you describe one of these early camps and what it was like, how many people showed up, where it was, speakers, all that kind of stuff to get a feel for… Because these were awesome events. Remember, I’ve been to a couple of them, like you said.

Stephen:
Yeah, we’ll just talk about the first one. At that time it was called Camp Mustache Southeast, and it was just outside of Gainesville, Florida where we still have the CampFIs down there now. The first half of the day we have speakers it’s semi-formal, and then the second half of the day it’s super laid back, chill. We do recreational things. This particular one we did, I think we had canoes, kayaks, archery, some team building courses in the woods. Really how that shaped up was I wasn’t… Like I said earlier, I am accountant by background. I am not an event planner. I created the event that I would want to attend. I didn’t know how it was going to go if it was going to be my first day of my last event ever. It was just different topics.
We had JD Roth come down, Pete, Mr. Money Mustache, came down, there’s a few other speakers came down, and it was just a really cool thing. We had 38 people show up at that one. Yeah, it was good. I was so nervous the whole time. I was like, “I don’t know if people are enjoying themselves. I don’t know at all.” Then Saturday I walked by the open door of the cafeteria and I just heard everybody talking. It’s like a rumble of everybody talking. I was like, then I just let this deep, deep sigh of relief. I was like, “Okay, this is going to be an okay weekend.” Again, no experience. I was just going by my gut and it worked out.

Mindy:
Okay, Stephen, I love you, but this is the worst advertisement for CampFI ever. It is not just an okay weekend. CampFI is my most favorite event, and I would go to every single one all year long if I didn’t have this job. It is so much fun. You say it’s a weekend and that sounds like it’s two days. It is Friday night, all day Saturday, all day Sunday, breakfast on Monday, and by when Monday comes around you’re like, “Oh, I really don’t want to leave.” First of all, the food is great and all these people are great, and there’s so many people that you’re connecting with from all around the country or all around wherever you are. I fly to Florida to do it, and I live in Colorado. I also go to the one in Colorado. I have so much fun at these events because I meet so many people from all walks of life who have questions, who have something to teach me, who have an interesting story.
I love talking, so it’s fun for me just to talk all the time. I have such a great time when I’m there watching people. I especially love… I love catching up with people that I’ve seen before, but I love new attendees because they come and they’re a little nervous. They’re like, “Oh, what’s this going to be about?” Then they start talking. They’re like, “There are other people just like me.” There comes a point just like your Saturday when you walk past the cafeteria and you’re like, “Oh, it’s going to be an okay weekend.” It’s not an okay weekend. It’s an awesome weekend.

Scott:
All right, let’s establish some basics here, Stephen. Who can attend CampFI? Is this only for financial podcasters or people who are already financially independent?

Stephen:
Anybody who’s interested in financial independence, whether you are new to it, you’re in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, or if you’re already financially independent and you’re just looking for some people to hang out with and share your knowledge, anybody on the financial independence journey, no matter where you are, is welcome.

Scott:
Awesome. That’s what I really enjoyed about some of these is meeting folks that were just getting started and meeting folks with millions of dollars in net worth, who were doctors, going through the very real pain of like, “Well, I struggled to become financially independent. Now, do I actually give up my identity as a doctor?” Those are really cool, real problems that people have across that entire spectrum. That is really fun there. Where are they located?

Stephen:
Well, we have them located all over the country. We have… I named the CampFIs after regions, so we have CampFI Southeast is in Florida. We do two of those a year. We have CampFI Mid-Atlantic, which is in Virginia. We have CampFI Rocky Mountain, which is in Colorado Springs. We do two of those every year in the summer. We have CampFI Midwest, which is in Minnesota. We have CampFI Texas, which is in Texas, and we have CampFI Southwest, which is in Julian, California, which is in the mountains about an hour northeast of San Diego. We have six locations and a total of eight camps throughout the year.

Scott:
What is the price point to attend one of these camps?

Stephen:
As low as I can possibly make it, I do want to keep it as affordable as possible so that people who can get the most value out of it can still afford it. Most of the tickets are between four and $500, and that includes lodging for the whole weekend, includes all the meals. You can put your wallet up for the whole weekend, everything else, the talks, the recreational activities, all those, everything comes with your one ticket.

Mindy:
What should campers expect?

Stephen:
I think campers can expect to be pleasantly surprised at the sincerity and the authenticity of the people they meet there. To me, that was my biggest thing the first time I experienced something like this, and that’s what I continuously… I hear. I’m sorry. That is what I consistently hear over and over again is just how nice everyone is and how generous they are with their knowledge. You can expect to come away hopefully with at least two or three really good friends and people that you can call on and maybe even accountability partners on your financial journey.

Mindy:
Well, Stephen, speaking of journeys, you mentioned that you aren’t FI yet, but you’re well on your way. How has creating CampFI and bringing people together helped you on your personal journey?

Stephen:
I think it gives me a purpose. My personal journey, I feel it’s very fulfilling. I feel like I have a purpose that’s meaningful, that’s part of my identity, and I think that I’m improving the world in some kind of way. As far as my financial journey, like I said earlier, I’m able to still invest towards retirement. All the lifestyle choices that I made post-divorce decreased my cost of living to the point where I don’t really have to make a lot of money to pay my bills, which is great. I don’t have a pressure to just maximize profits at every term. Doing this and some other passion projects, it provides enough income to pay my bills, save a little bit. I’m not on a super speedy track to accumulate millions in two years or anything like that.
I’m not in a hurry to get financial independence or to reach my FI number, but I’m on my way. There’s progress every year, and that’s not really my priority anyway at the time. Like I said earlier, my priority is to maximize time with the kids, be able to maintain a peaceful household, keep myself in a mindset where I can be the best dad and calm as I can possibly be. As long as I’m doing those things and I’m not going backwards financially, I’m good, but thankfully I’ve been able to go forwards a little bit financially.

Scott:
Awesome. From a financial standpoint, look, the goal of maximizing time with your children is abundantly clear from that, but what is the why to continue accumulating wealth? What is the end goal for the time that you do devote to building your financial position?

Stephen:
My end goal is I don’t know what I want to do whenever my kids have grown. Am I going to want to keep working? I currently work as an independent contractor and accountant at a CPA firm here in town. Am I going to want to keep doing that once my kids are grown and maybe they’re off to college or doing whatever they’re doing, who knows what they’re going to do? I might not have roots here in Georgia anymore or in this particular area. I might want to do some travel. I might want to pursue other things. To me, the reason why I continue to save towards retirement is to have that flexibility of hopefully I could be close to financial independence or have enough built up to where I won’t be limited to doing some of those things that I want to do whenever being a full-time dad is really no longer the thing that I’m doing.
I have three years out from that. My son is a senior, so we’re doing the whole college application thing now, which is fun times. My daughter’s a freshman, so we have three and a half more years or so until she’s off to college. To me, that’s what I’m looking at. It’s hopefully I’ll get to a certain point, maybe not completely financially independent, but pretty close after she graduates, and then we’ll see. It’s just really to give me options. I don’t know specifically what things will be or what I’ll choose, but I just want to have the option.

Mindy:
You’ve heard a lot of money stories, you’ve heard a lot of presentations. From everything that you’ve heard, from everything that you’ve learned, from your own personal experience, how aggressive do you recommend a person get to FI after finding or figuring out what their living expenses are and determining their FI number?

Stephen:
Whatever’s comfortable for them, and I know that’s like a cop out answer.

Mindy:
It is.

Stephen:
But there are things more important than money. We all can agree there are things more important than money. As long as you know what your values are, what your priorities are, if you’re meeting those, then save everything else. That’s probably what I would say is as long as you’re living consistent with your values and just save everything else, and whenever you get there, you get there.

Scott:
How about this, what are some consistent themes that you see, like values that seem to be shared among the people who attend these camps that you think are consistent probably by and large, among people who actually achieve financial independence?

Stephen:
I think the main quality I see most consistently is just intentionality. They want to be efficient with the decisions they’re making with… People put a lot of work into making money. They value their own time. They don’t want to put all the work into making money just to waste it on things they don’t care about. They’re very intentional. To me, that’s the one thing, and that goes back to what I was just saying earlier. As long as your values are being reflected in the life that you’re living and you’re able to live consistently with that, then you could just save the rest. But really it’s just intentional. People being intentional with almost all their decisions, whether it’s money, whether it’s how they spend their time, whether it’s hobbies. It’s probably to limit the regrets later, too. They just want to know that whenever their time comes, whenever their ticket’s punched, that they lived a good life, that they’re proud to have lived.

Mindy:
I think that’s really important. I see people who shall remain nameless, who kind of just let life drag them by, “Oh, I guess I’ll do this. I guess I’ll do that.” They don’t have any thought behind it. They’re not doing anything because they want to. They’re doing it because everybody else is doing it or they’re doing it because it was there. Having the intentionality, “I am going to do this. I am going to make this decision, hopefully with some thought behind it and see what happens,” or “I am going to… I could have spent every dime that I ever made, but instead I decided to put some of it into the stock market and look, it grew. Oh, I want to do that again.”
Now, that I’ve seen the success, I’m going to do it again. I’ve made this intentional decision to continue saving towards my future, and now I am struck with a different problem of I have to make intentional decisions to not be so tight-fisted, maybe you heard, and that’s something that I’m working on right now, too, but doing something on purpose is a calm approach to life as opposed to frantically trying to keep up or frantically trying to figure out what it is you’re doing.
I love that idea of just being intentional about what you’re doing. Just because you’re intentional about going down this path doesn’t mean that you have to continue going down that path forever. You try it because you’ve done some research, you’ve given it some thought, and you’re trying something out, and then if it doesn’t work, then you pivot and you do something else. Stephen, do you have any other tips to make the FI journey more successful and enjoyable?

Stephen:
I think one of the things that I’ve found to be much more enjoyable and probably has contributed to me continuing to make progress is just being connected with people who know about the FI journey, know about the end goal financial wise, whether it’s forums on blogs, or if you’re going to the BiggerPockets forums, or comments in the YouTube section or whatever. Work on surrounding yourself with like-minded people and with people who know more than you, who are smarter than you. There’s a reason I haven’t spoken at any of my camps, well, the 42 that I’ve done. Scott and Mindy have spoken at more camps than I have. I’ve never been a speaker at a camp because I like hearing from all the people that are way smarter than me, and I don’t want to waste people’s time. But it’s really cool selfishly just being surrounded by people who know so much about so much.

Scott:
Stephen, we’re getting close to wrapping up here, but I’d love to ask you as a final question. Where can people find out more about you and where can people find CampFI?

Stephen:
Yeah, you just to go to the CampFI website, you can see the, I’ll try to keep the schedule as updated as possible. Right now, we have all of next year’s events at the website. It’s campfi.org, C-A-M-P-F-I for financial independence.org, O-R-G. If you want to email me, you can email me at [email protected].

Scott:
Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Stephen, for coming on. Thanks for putting together such a great program. I know I haven’t been in a couple of years, but it’s had a big impact on my life. Met a lot of friends, met a lot of folks that I had only ever connected with digitally before.

Mindy:
Thank you, Stephen. This was a lot of fun. I really appreciate your time. I appreciate all that you’ve done for the financial independence community, because your CampFIs are changing lives. Thank you so much and we will talk to you soon.

Stephen:
Thank y’all for having me, I had a great time.

Mindy:
All right, Scott, that was Stephen. That was so much fun. I love talking to Stephen. I love… I don’t know if you could tell Scott, but I really like CampFI. I love connecting with other people on their journey to financial independence. I love talking to them about where they’re at, what hurdles they’re facing. I really love this stuff.

Scott:
Yeah, me too, Mindy. Let’s do a quick favorite memory from a CampFI.

Mindy:
Ooh.
Okay. My favorite memory was a couple of years ago, Dan Sheeks was giving his presentation that we actually turned into a podcast episode for this show. He was talking about how you teach your children about money, your older teens about money before they go away to college by actually giving them all the money that they’re going to need for their life and forcing them to figure out how to budget. If they’re going to spend $700 in a month, you give them $700 at the beginning of the month, and then they’re responsible for clothes, and shoes, and their phone bill, and perhaps paying you rent, and they buy their own shampoo and they buy all of these things. If you’re going on a vacation, they have to budget that and use that money that they’ve got to help budget for the vacation going forward, and it’s a really great way to teach them how to walk a tightrope with a safety net underneath. That was my absolute favorite moment at CampFI. How about you?

Scott:
Let’s see. My favorite moment I would say, besides the million conversations, one that just sticks out to me is I had a conversation probably from 12:00 AM to 2:00 AM with Doug Norman. Doug Norman is the author of the Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement. He’s been on the podcast in previous shows, but I am a big sucker for all things naval and we just basically talked about Admiral Rickover and the submarine nuclear Navy for two hours, and I just had a great time doing that. It’s just those kinds of connections in addition to the great discussions about finance, of course, that are always happening.

Mindy:
Scott, what is the best advice that you have heard at CampFI?

Scott:
Best advice. I think that the thing that I picked up is that was really important that sticks with me is a lot of conversations or a good chunk of them had to do with folks that were already FI but couldn’t quit their jobs for whatever reason, there was a financial component to it. There’s an identity component to it, there’s a, what am I going to do component to it. I think that the actual transition from having hit your number to then actually becoming FI is really a challenge that we’ve explored a little bit on BiggerPockets Money, but it’s a real step in the journey that I think that has always stuck with me out of numerous conversations for various reasons. Folks really struggle with that, and that’s a opportunity to really help folks and these types of events can be powerful motivators or ways to get through that.

Mindy:
On that same vein, Scott, Joel from FI180 said, “What’s the worst that could happen if I quit my job, I’ll just go back and get another job. My worst case scenario is everybody else’s everyday life.” That’s not a bad way to frame quitting your job and early retirement. All right, Scott, you want to get out of here?

Scott:
Let’s do it.

Mindy:
That wraps up this episode of the BiggerPockets Money Podcast. He is Scott Trench and I am Mindy Jensen saying adios, Little Ghost.

Scott:
If you enjoyed today’s episode, please give us a five star review on Spotify or Apple. If you’re looking for even more money content, feel free to visit our YouTube channel at youtube.com/biggerpocketsmoney.

Mindy:
BiggerPockets money was created by Mindy Jensen and Scott Trench, produced by Kaylin Bennett, editing by Exodus Media, copywriting by Nate Weintraub. Lastly, a big thank you to the BiggerPockets team for making this show possible.

 

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