Psst, I make money on some of the links in this post at no cost to you. It keeps the lights on around here.

Hey, hey, hey Picky peeps! Sorry for the radio silence on the blog over this past week. I had the honor of attending the 2017 FinCon convention from Wednesday through Saturday. FinCon is an annual gathering for personal finance bloggers and geeks from around the world. It’s a space for everyone to meet up, learn, and collaborate. FinCon helps all of us become even better, which means we give our readers better stuff!Β 

This was my first FinCon and I was terrified for 60% of the time. I did what I could to keep my FinCon trip frugal, but I confess that it was pricey. Still, it was a cost that was well worth the investment. It was a hard, sleep-deprived week, but I’ve learned so much.

Check out this newbie’s FinCon experience!

Tuesday

Although FinCon didn’t start until Wednesday afternoon, I took Tuesday off of work.

Needless to say, Monday was so busy in the office. Naturally the company needed help squaring away two gigantic events right before my departure. I was thankful to have some time on Tuesday morning to chill!

On Tuesday morning I packed and prepped for my trip to Dallas.

While there’s nothing wrong with eating out, I wanted to limit my food expenses as much as possible this week. I pre-cooked a few items that I could eat cold, like this quinoa-chickpea-corn bowl that is surprisingly good. I cooked a double batch of it and it worked like a charm.

I also packed supplies for PB&J sandwiches and snacks like grapes, chips, bananas, and granola bars (which I got for free with a coupon!).

It might not seem like it here, but I can be painfully shy in large social settings like conferences. I wanted an easy way to break the ice and connect with people. I decided cookies would be a great way to do that! I whipped up this easy batch of sugar cookies, since I didn’t have a lot of time on my hands to make something more elegant.

I made regular sugar cookies as well as dinosaur-shaped cookies for fun. Of course, the cookies rose a bit too much, and the dinosaurs came out looking, ah, obese.

obese dinosaur cookies

But when does anything run smoothly around here, eh? πŸ˜›

I also made a quick icing and piped “Miss you” on a cookie and left it for Mr. Picky Pincher. I hate being away from him for so long! It’s these little things that keep the magic alive when you have to be apart for a while. πŸ™‚

"miss you" cookie

As far as packing goes, I went a little overboard.

I’d much rather pack too much stuff instead of realizing I need something–which means spending money. I packed several styles of shirts and pants so I could feel out the event and dress accordingly. And, of course, I also packed my ~infinitely stylish~ Picky Pinchers t-shirt to find people more easily. I bought it on Cafepress using a 20% off coupon.

Zap knew that mommy packing = mommy leaving. He was quite upset about the whole ordeal.

zap guilt trip

“Mahm, y u leave me?”

I also planned my itinerary to the T. I added my FinCon schedule to my FinCon app, my Google Calendar, Google Drive, and a printed paper option. No missing to-dos or interesting workshops!

A big pro to attending FinCon in Dallas was that I stayed with family instead of getting a hotel. In hindsight, I kinda regret this decision, since I had to drive 40 minutes to and from FinCon each day. At first it didn’t sound so bad, until I had to drive home at 1 am later in the week.

No fun!

But hey, I was still able to save hundreds of bucks by not staying at the Sheraton downtown. I’m not sure if I’d classify this as frugal since I had to burn a lot of time and gas, but I did like the savings.

Wednesday

Today was the big day! I took an obligatory first-time-at-FinCon selfie to process my nervous excitement.

first time at fincon selfie

Ermagerd!

Also, I was quite pleased to see that a stray cat adopted my dad. I called her “Baby Girl” and she waited for me every morning this week at the door. It was mostly because I filled her food bowl, but I like to think we were buddies.

baby girl the cat

It was chilly in the morning and, after two full-on riflings through my luggage, I realized I didn’t pack a decent jacket. I rolled my eyes and bought a $20 sweater at Dollar General. That one hurt since I was basically paying the “Lazy Tax” for not paying attention while I packed. Ugh. But at least I had a sweater that was presentable that I could wear for freelance interviews and the like.

I drove to Dallas and I parked at the Sheraton garage. The daily rate is a whopping $23, so that hurt my frugal heart a bit. There are actually a lot of cheaper parking lots downtown, but the significant drawback is in proximity and safety. Since I knew I would be walking to my car at midnight, I paid the extra $15 each day for a safer parking option. People can’t just walk into the Sheraton parking garage, so it’s more secure than other options.

I took on extra freelance work just to pay for nicer parking, actually.

FinCon didn’t start until 1 pm today. However, my Dad actually works in Dallas, so I arrived a few hours early to grab lunch with him. He showed me the best places to pick up food, areas to avoid, and gave a general tour of downtown. It was good to see him since I really didn’t spend much time at home with him this week.

fincon 2017 check in

And I’ve been keeping a li’l secret from y’all.

I submitted an article to FinCon several months ago about how to personalize blog marketing. And you know what? They accepted it to their FinCon Connection Magazine. Ya girl is published!

fincon connection magazine 2017

I’ve been kinda down in the dumps with my full-time marketing job, so it was nice to hear someone actually liked my work. I’m so thrilled that I want to frame this; would that be too conceited or weird? πŸ˜›

I attended a few sessions and ho-ly ma-moly were they awesome! FinCon records all of the sessions, so I know there will be even more info to check out after the fact, too. I definitely feel like I got my money’s worth, which is always nice. πŸ™‚

This was a good first sign that I was among friends.

After the sessions, FinCon organized a meetup for fellow frugality-minded folks. This was probably one of my favorite things about FinCon. I got to sit down with other bloggers and pick their brains for great ideas.

There’s so much to learn, y’all!

After that, we realized it was 7:30 and that we probably should eat dinner. Unfortunately, most restaurants in the area were closed, so we ate inside the Sheraton. I dropped $17 on dinner after tip, which isn’t too terrible, but I was hoping I could make my smashed PB&J sandwich work. Womp womp.

At least the avocado chicken salad arepas were dynamite.

chicken salad arepas

I was VERY grateful that I snagged this portable battery for the conference (Amazon link here). I was never near a power outlet and it saved me from a dead phone multiple times. I also got a special cable so I could charge my phone in the car, too.

By 9 pm I was absolutely exhausted and made the 1 hour drive home. Call me old, but at 9 pm I’m ready to hit the hay.

After today’s keynote, though, I had a suspicious feeling that I would be sleepy this week:

fincon truth

Thursday

I got to bed at 11 pm on Wednesday with images of blogging dancing in my head. I, uh, meant to get to FinCon at 7 am so I could take advantage of the early morning sessions. I actually woke up at 7, so those plans went down the drain. Oops.

Trying to act like I’m awake with another selfie (including the offending Dollar General cardigan). I used to make fun of people who took selfies. Who am I??

Breakfast woes

After getting ready I tried to eat yogurt with bananas and homemade granola for breakfast. Since I was a slacker and forgot to make homemade yogurt, I bought yogurt from the store.

breakfast and snacks for fincon 2017

Y’all.

This was so gross. Storebought yogurt is terrible. I was too nervous/excited to eat anyway, so I took a few bites and hopped in the car.

tasting store bought yogurt

The exact moment I realized store bought yogurt was a mistake.

As it turns out, I was hungry an hour later and bought a $9 danish at the Sheraton. Yes, a $9 danish. What the hell, Sheraton?? Ugh. I learned my lesson here: pick up breakfast literally anywhere else.

I went to some really helpful sessions in the morning and ran into a few bloggers, which was so wonderful.

My favorite session of the day was a panel on appealing to a broader audience. Mrs. Frugalwoods, my blogging idol, was on the panel. It was so neat to see her in person and hear her philosophy on blogging and writing in general.

mrs. frugalwoods speaking on a panel

Filming fun times

Fortunately today’s lunch was covered by FinCon. I choked down a mediocre sandwich but I was happy I didn’t have to buy anything. I couldn’t eat very much because I was so nervous!

I signed up to film at FinCon’s Live Video Booth. They set you up with pro lighting, sound, and filming equipment. I had a 30 minute time slot to talk about whatever I wanted on film. I made two videos that I’ll hopefully add to the YouTube channel soon (be sure to subscribe to the channel so you’ll know when they come out).

But y’all. This was so terrifying. It’s not easy speaking off the cuff and into a camera. I’ll talk about it more in one of the videos I made, but I do feel like I grew from the terrifying experience.

I actually ran into the Dollar Dude and the Budget Girl while filming at the booth. They were so nice and calmed me down before filming. In fact, Budget Girl gave me some of her custom-made gorgeous stickers. We took a shameless selfie.

stickers with the budget girl

Like most five-year-olds, I am motivated by stickers.

After the Live Video Booth, I hunted down some folks at a company called Growella. They interviewed me for a short video they’re releasing in December on home ownership. They were pretty cool dudes, but damn, it was so hard finding their suite. It was on the 23rd floor and it was like a maze.

Once I got all the video-ing out of the way, I realized I had sweated through my shirt out of nervousness and the bright stage lights. I have never been so sweaty in my life. Sorry to everyone around me and my stench! It seems like this was not a good week to use my crystal deodorant, which doesn’t stand up to stress sweat.

Expo swag

Y’all know how much I like free stuff. FinCon had a really badass expo hall set up for us to chat with companies and (most importantly) score a lot of free shiz. I walked out of there with, like, ten new t-shirts. Woohoo!

fincon 2017 expo swag

I also had a blast taking funny photos in the Republic Wireless photo booth with my newfound friend, Angela.

republic wireless photo booth

Ally Kickoff Party

I was actually going to skip this party. It wasn’t close to the Sheraton and I didn’t want to pay for parking. And there was no way in hell I was going to walk 20 minutes to a venue for a free beer. Just nope.

ally party at the rustic

But!

FinCon announced that there were shuttle buses taking us between the party and the Sheraton. That changed my tune and I decided to go. I actually got to meet ESI Money on the bus. Some random dude sat next to me and introduced himself. It took us both a second to realize we actually had worked together before. Oh, the joys of anonymous bloggers!

american flag made out of beer cans

‘Murica

Oh y’all, this party was so much fun! I mostly spent the night with new friends. We enjoyed the Tex-Mex eats and two free drinks. Did you know that The Rustic has an American flag made from beer cans?

After two drinks I was sick of talking and wanted to dance, so that’s what I did. There was a badass live band and a lot of partygoers jammed out in front of the stage.

It’s funny because I actually took my laptop and backpack with me. I didn’t want to leave them in the car since it was my work/personal laptop. Apparently it looks weird if you show up to a party with a big backpack.

Still, this was such a great time and it was easily a highlight of my FinCon trip. I’m definitely glad I went.

After party with the 1500s!

At 9:30 I had enough of the dancing. Although I REALLY wanted to go home (it’s a forty-minute drive, remember?), I went to an after party hosted by the wonderful Mr.1500 of 1500 Days (y’all really should be reading his stuff; he is one of the funniest bloggers I’ve ever met).

I took the shuttle back to the hotel and walked to the after party, which was being held at someone’s Airbnb location. It was kinda scary walking by myself at night in downtown Dallas. I don’t recommend it.

Was I feeling super-awake and excited for this? Nope, because my bed time is 9 pm. But still, how often do you get to meet people from across the country that you’ve been talking to online? I had to take advantage of the invite and meet a few people.

mr 1500 beer meetup

I lugged a bottle of my homemade wine with me as well as a six-pack of red ale and the infamously ugly dino cookies. At the party I got to meet Physician on Fire, Eat the Financial Elephant, and more. Hell, there were some people there that I meant to say hi to, like Gwen from Fiery Millennials or Adventure Rich, and I just forgot!

Sorry y’all.

At midnight I knew I needed to head out. I was about to call a Lyft to avoid walking alone, but I ran into a few people who were also on the way out. As it turns out it was Choose FI and Frugal Safari, who were absolutely awesome people. We chatted on the way back to the hotel and I was grateful for the company.

I crawled into bed at 1:30 am, which is the latest I’ve stayed up in years! But it felt like a great way to end a fun, activity-packed day. πŸ™‚

Friday

Ohhh man. Staying up so late is not in my wheelhouse, y’all. At 25 I guess I’m no spring chicken. πŸ˜‰ I tried to let myself sleep in, but I woke up early anyway. Ugh.

Today I decided that I didn’t really care about attending sessions. FinCon records everything for us anyway, so I knew I would be able to get the info.

The food

Today I was under zero illusions that I would eat frugally. I wanted something fast, cheap, and warm. For breakfast I snagged a Braum’s breakfast bagel for $2.75.

braums bagel

Waking up and making good decisions.

It was much tastier than disgusting store bought yogurt. *shudder*. For lunch I grabbed a burger and fries at the Sheraton for $16 after tip. The Sheraton is over-priced and has awful service, so I wasn’t feeling to thrilled about handing my money over to them. I should have explored other dining options, but that’s whatcha get when you pay the Lazy Tax.

Freelancer’s Marketplace

After lunch I stopped by a cool FinCon event, the freelancer’s marketplace. I do think the event was a little haphazard (they scribbled “freelancer’s marketplace” in a Sharpie on the back of another sign…), but it was still fun. I connected with several folks who needed content written for their blogs.

Since I never shut up and type like the wind, it seemed like a perfect way to bring in some side income.

I actually make almost all of my side income money from freelance writing (very little comes from this blog).

Hopefully a few people will give me a shot. πŸ™‚ I’m currently freelancing via UpWork. While I love the platform, I don’t love the fees taken out of my earnings. Working outside of the platform would give me a little boost to the bottom line, which is always welcome.

Dee-1

Omg, y’all. FinCon brought in the rapper, Dee-1, to rap and talk about personal finance. I know rapping and personal finance often seem at odds, but this awesome guy is bridging the gap between the two.

He rapped songs about not having a car payment and paying off his student loans. I thought the songs were HILARIOUS, but they were also actually really good.

I’m Picky about the rap music I listen to, and I kinda sorta signed up for his upcoming new album. Dee-1 was also just a really great guy with a good head on his shoulders.

Here’s his famous Sallie Mae song:

Cinch Cocktail Party

I wrote a review of the Cinch app a few days ago and they invited me to their cocktail party today. Not one to turn down free alcohol and snacks, I attended their wonderful cocktail party. I connected with so many great bloggers here, including Smart Provisions, Route to Retire, Two Cup House, Keep Thrifty, and more.

I did feel kinda bad for Cinch, though. They wanted to do a presentation during the cocktail party and kept shushing everyone to listen to the presentation. But it’s hard to listen when I’m eating spinach dip and wine, y’know?

Poor guys.

FinCon was doing their famous Ignite event from 7 – 8 today. I didn’t go because, frankly, I was tired, cranky, and didn’t want to watch presentations for two more hours.

I got home at the very reasonable time of 8:30 pm, which meant I got to take a shower! #win

Saturday

I didn’t need to be anywhere today until 3 pm. I meant to take my time getting ready, but I was raring to go by 8 am. I picked up a Crunchwrap from Taco Bell and it glistened so daintily in the sunlight.

taco bell crunchwrap glowing in the sunlight

P.S. I was parked when I took this photo. Don’t selfie and drive!

Service project

I arrived just in time for the 9 am community service project. We banded together and wrote letters of encouragement to Hurricane Harvey survivors.

We then put the letters in buckets with cleaning supplies, which will help Harvey survivors clean up their damaged or flooded homes.

It’s not going to solve their problems, but I hope that this small gesture will make these people’s lives a little easier. #HoustonStrong

fincon 2017 service project

Mentoring

I’m always game for advice or suggestions for improving the blog. When I heard FinCon was hosting a mentoring program, I knew I had to sign up. After all, many of the mentors do offer coaching in their businesses, but the costs are normally out of my budget.

It’s a great chance to get free advice while making new friends.

I had the supreme honor of being mentored by the illustrious Nathalie Lussier. She walked me through my strategy for the December 1 Picky Pinchers Cookbook launch (learn more here) and it was so helpful. I walked away, head swimming with ideas and feeling so motivated to be better.

The great cookie debate

three cookies: vanguard, credit sesame, and ally

Some FinCon expo companies handed out cookies as swag. Ally’s cookies are famous and everyone raves about them, but I also picked up cookies from Vanguard and Credit Sesame.

I heard several people claim certain cookies were the best, but I wanted to know for sure.

So why not host a cookie tasting to determine the real winner? Matt from Optimize Your Life and Femme Frugality partnered up with me on this highly scientific journey to find the best FinCon cookie. We streamed live on the Picky Pinchers Facebook page; check it out!

Plutus Awards

The Plutus Awards are the crown jewel of FinCon. It’s a time for the blogging community to come together and honor bloggers for their hard work. Many of my blogging friends were nominated and won Plutus Awards–congrats guys!!

It was a fun time to celebrate everyone’s hard work. πŸ™‚

Closing Party and Costume Contest

One of the best parts of FinCon was the closing party. Since it was the weekend before Halloween, FinCon hosted a ~spooky~ costume closing party. To keep things lively, they even hosted a costume contest. Since the winners were slated to win a free ticket to 2018 FinCon, I took the contest oh-so-seriously.

I was hoping my Crazy Cat Lady costume would be a contendah.

crazy cat lady costume at the fincon 2017 closing party

Gettin’ down with my bad self at the costume party

Although I didn’t win (dang!), I did get a lot of compliments on the costume. Several people even wanted to photograph the costume and I made many new friends!

And wouldn’t ya know, there was another Crazy Cat Lady at the party! Here I was, thinking I was so original.

crazy cat ladies--who knew there would be more than one?

But how much did it cost?

Great question! Y’all know how much I hate spending money. But as you can probably guess, I did spend a good amount of money on this week. In fact, it was a very expensive week.

  • FinCon ticket: About $200. I bought my ticket during early-bird pricing last year. At the time the blog was making exactly $0.01 a month and it was a real struggle to afford this ticket, but I made it work! At the time I knew it would be a good investment in the blog and my skills. It was a leap of faith because the blog was so new at the time, but I’m glad I took the jump. I just bought my FinCon ticket to the 2018 event in Orlando too!
  • Food: $97.92. Urf. I was well-intentioned about the food costs, but I need to be real here. Home cooking is very tough to do when on the road without access to refrigeration or a microwave. I wanted to bring my own food to avoid over-priced hotel restaurant fare. Well, I still spent a hefty sum on restaurant fare anyway. This cost includes breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for both myself and others. The upside here is that I did pay for the entirety of the trip with funds earned through freelancing, so it won’t affect our personal finances at all.
  • Parking: $99.60. Oh, parking. As I mentioned earlier, the Sheraton’s daily parking rates are some of the most expensive downtown. I was aware of this, but I chose to park there for increased security and ease of access. I could have paid closer to $30 for the week if I’d gone with a budget lot, but I don’t compromise on safety.
  • Gas: ~$60. Gas is harder to calculate because some gas wasn’t used for FinCon. But looking at the numbers, FinCon-related gas went for about $60. Since I stayed with my dad, I commuted for about an hour and a half total each day, racking up more gas costs.
  • Dollar General: $21.65. The result of The Embarrassing Sweater Incident.
  • SD Card: $19.36. I bought a 36 GB SD card to do the Live Video Booth. I did buy a smaller 16 GB SD card and decided to upgrade just in case. I saved the receipt for the 16 GB card and will return it for a refund.

Total: $498.53

The bottom line

Over the course of FinCon 2017, several people asked me about the future of Picky Pinchers. I’m not sure how this will all play out or if I can even make it happen, but here’s my playbook:

  • Remove the majority or all of display ads: I’ve been mulling over this since I monetized this site with ads. I HATE display ads, but they do pay for my hosting each month. However, I know there are better ways to make a living with the site than by slowing down y’all’s experience. I’m not sure if I’ll remove all ads yet, but I’m definitely slashing the amount of ads.
  • Increase video production: I have a background in theater and, although filming still terrifies me, I do enjoy it. I’d love to make more of a personal connection with readers and viewers via video. I can also show more cooking how-tos and get more in-depth on several topics.
  • Change up the posting: I want to give y’all the best reading that I possibly can, and that means I need to spend more time putting together better blogs. πŸ™‚ Starting in January or so, I’ll switch to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday posting schedule.
  • Make more products: I’m here to share my story and to help other people. I think I can make that happen in a more useful way by providing premium content through eBooks and the like. This is what makes the no-ads model sustainable.

Although it wasn’t cheap, this week was well worth the money. My head is swimming with new ideas to bring y’all even bigger and better things.

I was nervous about FinCon and I wasn’t sure if it would be good for me. I wasn’t sure if I would belong in a group of great writes and people.

I can confidently say this week has been one of the best experiences of my life. I don’t always make friends easily, but when I connected with fellow bloggers, it felt like I’d known them for years. The community is insanely supportive, intelligent, and hilarious.

I’m already looking to FinCon 2018! If any of y’all are money bloggers, I really do recommend it. You can get more info on the FinCon website here (not an affiliate link).

We want to know: I feel like I haven’t chatted with y’all in a while! How was your week? How did you spend or save money?Β 

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