A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way


My First #LolaRetreat: Highlights and Cost Breakdown

Lola Retreat was held at a giant chapel! JK. This is the Ace Hotel in downtown LA. Pretty swanky spot.

Note: If this post sounds weird, it's because I'm writing it at 11 PM. New job has left me exhausted and lacking in time. Nevertheless, I'm not quitting my blog.

I originally wrote this post on my phone at 30,000 feet while traveling back home from LA, where last weekend I attended my first Lola Retreat. It also happened to be my first-ever financial event and one of my "19 for '19" goals!

What is Lola Retreat? 

Lola Retreat is a financial retreat for women. It consists of 1.5 days (plus an evening happy hour!) of finance-related conversations, panel discussions, and talks. The recent event in LA was the third iteration of Lola; the first two gatherings were held in Portland and New York. The program changes with each retreat. At the LA event, we listened to presentations about mental health and money, paying off debt in an expensive city, navigating the US financial and health care systems as an immigrant, socially conscientious investing, and many other topics.

Lola was a good financial event for me to start with because it was so friendly and cozy (only 50 women in attendance). It was also relatively close to where I live; I had to fly to get there, but it was a short trip. The breakfasts and happy hours were generous, to say the least, and there were plenty of opportunities to talk to the other attendees and get to know one another.

I also had the chance to meet a bunch of extraordinary bloggers, including Michelle from Frugality and Freedom, K. Wright from Money the Wright Way, and of course Melanie, author of Dear Debt Blog, founder of the Lola Retreat, generous food and drink provider, and debt crusher extraordinaire. (Spoiler alert: all of these people are just as insightful, talented, and interesting in person as they are online.)

A chance to go to Lola

I get excited about ALL of the financial retreats and conferences that I read about on Twitter - CentsPositive, FinCon, CampFi, etc. - but until now, I haven’t attended any in part because they're expensive. Ticket prices aside, there’s the cost of the hotel, transportation, and food, all of which add up pretty quickly.

Lola's intrigued me for months, but it’s hard to justify spending money on a nonessential weekend getaway just for myself. I weighed the pros and cons of attending for ages and kept going back and forth on whether I should do it, but what finally put me over the edge was receiving a Lola scholarship. Without it, the ticket price would have been $450, and I probably wouldn’t have gone. (A big huge thank you to the anonymous individual who selected my application and gave me this opportunity.)

Budgeting for Lola

I set a total budget for myself of $600. That's still pricey, but having recently quit my former job, I was able to use part of my vacation payout to offset the total cost.

Here's a breakdown of what I spent:

Lola ticket: $0 

Again, the cost of the ticket was covered by an angelic mystery sponsor; had I not received this scholarship, I wouldn’t have attended. At $450 a pop, the regular ticket price is a bit wallet busting (though now that I've attended, I can see that you get a lot of bang for your buck; Melanie puts an immense amount of thought into the event and makes sure everyone feels taken care of). If you’re thinking about attending Lola in the future but can’t see yourself purchasing the ticket because money’s tight, definitely apply for a scholarship.

Plane ticket: $0 

I had enough Southwest Rapid Rewards points to cover the cost of my plane ticket. Bonus: I didn’t even have to pay the usual $11.20 in taxes, fees, and whatnot because I'd recently upgraded to the SW Priority card and was able to take advantage of the $75 travel credit that comes with the card.

Hotel: $345 

I stayed at the Ace Hotel in downtown LA, which is where the retreat was held. The lovely K. Wright from Money the Wright Way agreed to be my roommate, and we each paid for one night. We could have stayed somewhere else, but every other hotel in the vicinity was comparable in price, and the thought of staying off-site in an unfamiliar neighborhood and having to walk or Uber to the retreat made me feel really anxious (that’s just me... I get anxious in unfamiliar situations). So I decided to pony up.

YES, it was super expensive, and NO, I don’t think the room was worth $299 plus tax.

I mean, check it out: it's basically a minimalistic dorm room with Ikea furniture and a unique layout. But it was clean and comfortable, and the rooftop bar/pool area afforded amazing views of LA.

LA from my bed

Uber: $78 

I Ubered to and from the Burbank airport (fun fact: not only was this my first financial retreat, but it was also my first ridesharing experience!) This was another area where I could have cut costs if I’d really wanted to. Again, though, I wanted to limit the number of anxiety-inducing experiences that I exposed myself to over the course of 48 hours (dealing with airports and meeting new people at an event where I knew nobody pretty much filled my anxiety quotient for the weekend). The Uber was actually $31-$33 each way, but I really liked both drivers and wanted to tip well.

Shuttle: $57 

One of the most annoying things about where I live is that the local airport is tiny; finding affordable flights is a pain in the ass. Plus, Southwest doesn’t fly here. Thus, we usually drive two hours to get to a big airport with plenty of less-expensive options. My partner and kid drove me there, but upon my return, I took a shuttle back home (in a snowstorm, which was interesting).

Food: $51

I was worried about the cost of food because LA is so expensive, but it turned out that I spent very little on meals while at the retreat. The happy hour on night one included more beer than I should have consumed, given that all I'd had to eat were hummus and crackers. Breakfasts on Saturday and Sunday were provided, and they were FEASTS: fruit, eggs, croissants, potatoes, and bagels on the first day, and avocado toast, French toast, and frittatas (and steak for the carnivores) on the second day. At the happy hour on Saturday afternoon, there was so much food left over that I just summoned my inner food vacuum and made a dinner out of quinoa, chickpeas, cheese, cashews, and wine.

I did pay for one meal as well as snacks and coffee at the airport, but that was it.

Total cost: $580

Would I do it again?

Sure, once I recover from this one... which might take a while. It was a whirlwind trip, and I'm exhausted. My bank account's a little tired, too. In all reality, I'll probably wait at least several months before I sign up for another event - in part because of money, and in part because I want to make sure that anything I sign up for in the future is going to be as small, comfortable, and friendly as Lola was. Going to events where I don't know anyone is a major challenge for me. It's not a vacation, and I have to be mentally prepared to go and enjoy.

The next Lola Retreat is this September in Seattle. If you identify as female and want to talk all things money for 48 hours with a bunch of amazing ladies, go forth! Sign up! Enjoy!


  1. So lovely to meet you at Lola Retreat. You're also quick on the draw to get your review post out = much respect! Congrats on managing to use points for your flights. and keeping those costs low. "Inner food vacuum", LOL. I'm glad you found this one a manageable experience to dip your toe into, and any anxiety didn't show through. I hope to see you at other in-person events in future and I certainly will see you in the Twitterverse!

    1. It was wonderful to meet you, too! I really hope we meet up again at another event.

  2. Thank you for this post! I had not heard of LOLA but would be interested in attending some day although from looking at the website, I would feel so old ...lol. I also have new situation anxiety but I am working on it albeit ever so slowly.

    1. You should do it, truly! There were women of all ages at the Lola Retreat; that was one of the many things I loved about it. It was also small enough that I didn't feel totally overwhelmed (just... moderately overwhelmed. Ha.)

  3. I haven't attended any of the FIRE or personal finance blog conferences yet. Curious to hear what you thought the big takeaways were from LOLA. Was it specific people you met? Was it specific insights you heard? Was it taking time out to focus on finance. Would love to hear your favorite lessons from the retreat.

    1. A big part of it for me was meeting people. I feel very connected to the PF community on Twitter, but I wanted to make some real-world connections, too. I also appreciated being surrounded by other women of all ages and all backgrounds who share my interest in personal finance. That was pretty inspiring. And all of the talks were really good. Most of them focused on how different women tackled various financial challenges.

    2. Sounds like a great event. I'll put LOLA on our radar for the future!

  4. So glad you got to go, and I'm so jealous! I'd definitely love to attend a Lola retreat in the future.