Who's That Gal: Kara Perez, Financial Expert and Owner of Bravely Go
We had the chance to catch up with Kara at the Cambridge Public Library this summer and she gets honest with us about money and why she became a financial expert and started her company Bravely Go!
Name: Kara Perez
Occupation: Owner of Bravely Go
Hometown: North Andover, MA
Current ‘hood: Austin, TX
Currently reading: Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald
Favorite workout: HIIT Workouts
I never leave home without: Phone + Chapstick
Let’s start with the basics. What is a financial expert and who needs one?
It’s very different from a financial advisor, investment advisor or financial planner. A financial expert can really be anyone who has the correct knowledge for a specific subset of people, so I am a millennial money expert, so if you’re 73, I’m probably not the right expert for you. But, I think everyone should be striving to become their own personal financial expert.
We live in a world and a country that doesn’t have the best financial literacy rates, and we as a society don't really talk about money which makes it harder to ask questions like “How much are you contributing to your 401K?” and “Am I’m contributing enough?” We build up this fear around money that makes it harder to talk about and thus learn about, so large part of what I do and what I strive to do is to break down the stigmas and barriers around money and give people actionable tools to learn about money. It’s not just about saying you should save more, but rather, it’s about how to build a budget, figure out where you're overspending, and figure out how you can save more. From there, we can determine what account that should go in and what goals to work towards.
Why did you decide to become a financial expert?
I knew nothing about money and it was ruining my life, to be totally honest.
I graduated college in 2011, with a little over $25,000 in student loan debt and I couldn't find a job. I have a degree in english, not in finance, and no one wanted to hire my English major ass. So I waited tables for the first three years out of college. I made $16,000/year—It was just enough to live on, but it wasn’t enough to do anything. I wasn’t saving any money and I wasn't really making headway on my debt. I certainly wasn't living my best life. I was seeing a lot of people around me who had higher paying jobs and worked in different industries be able to do things I couldn't. I realized “oh my gosh” not having enough money and not even knowing what to do with the money I am bringing in and how best to utilize it, is really really negatively impacting my life.
I had a quarter-life crisis—I have a little Kia Rio—and I would get in my car and cry, it just felt like my safe space and I could just weep about how frustrated I felt, how behind I felt, how guilty I felt, like I felt like going to college had been a mistake because all it had brought me was debt and like no job options and I felt dumb.
I began to even question myself; am I smart? Am I helpful? Am I even worth hiring, because obviously no one seems to think I am? Maybe I'm not a good worker, maybe I’m not a good person and it was a few months of like, really scary “oh god, what am I going to do?”
I Googled “how to pay off student loans faster” and fell into this world of personal finance bloggers where there was all these people on the internet talking about how they were an engineer making $300,000 a year and working to pay off their house or even less intimidating numbers where “I’m a teacher making $65,000 a year married to a cop making $70,000 a year here's how we're paying off $100,000 in debt.” It felt very approachable to me for some reason, even though I was not making much money, I was like “ok if these regular people can do it, I can do it.”
So I paid off my remaining $18,000 in student loan debt in 10 months working five different part-time jobs.
I've still never had a “real job”—no one's ever hired me still. I realized I love writing about money, I love talking about money, I love seeing the change that money had in my life and how paying off my debt allowed me to free up more money to save and how having savings meant that I could actually travel or I could replace clothes that had gotten worn out.
I blogged about my personal journey and started writing for publications about money. I've written so many articles about public vs. private student loans or Roth IRA vs. traditional IRA so I just accumulated this knowledge and started attending conferences and established myself in the personal finance world.
Is that why you decided to launch Bravely Go?
Austin is a very entrepreneurial town, and as I started mentioning that I was a finance writer, people would have one of two reactions:
“oh god, I could really use your help. I don’t know anything about money.”
(or) they will clam up and they’ll feel like “Oh. Ok”...they don’t want to share because they feel weird talking about money.
I’m a very chatty person, so I’d share my story and I found that people in large parts, especially women, wanted to engage with me and really wanted to hear what I had to say. I realized I wanted to create literal spaces and events, where these women could come talk to each other and find their fellow community and take away actionable advice to chip away at that $60,000 worth of debt or to begin investing. I
'm the child of an immigrant and I find that there are different levels of access to financial education in the world and to money and I really wanted to create spaces where we could talk about that.
We are sitting in Cambridge Public Library today, tell me why you chose to meet here today.
I grew up in the greater Boston area and I come back every summer because Austin, TX is disgustingly hot in the summer. This specific location was really important to me last year. My company was about a year and a half old — a time that is usually a “make or break” for most start-ups. I am self-funded and it’s just me and I was beginning to burn out. So I came up here to kind of get out of the Austin rat race and I was staying with my friend in Cambridge and I would walk to this library every day and sit down and think “ok, what am I doing” and then be like “ok, here’s what I’m doing” and my time here, at this library, really helped me kind of hown what I wanted to do. I like this building a lot, it’s beautiful and there are so many nooks and crannies you can tuck away into where you can have your own head space.
Have there been any unexpected challenges of starting your own business (so far)?
The biggest thing is the legality of starting your own business. So many people start a business because their really passionate about something and there are so many websites now where you can just get on and start selling things, but people don’t know they have to pay state sales tax, people don’t know that if you are not an LLC, if you’re just a sole proprietor, you don’t have a distinction between your personal finances and your business finances. So if someone sues you, they can take your house, that’s totally legal.
I started my company with $3300, so I had to quickly decide: do I put the money into contracts? Do I pay a lawyer $1100 to build out these contracts, so that I’m protected? Or do I use that money for a venue rental, so I can have an event, so I can make more money. The biggest challenge has been knowing I want to legally protect myself and build my business in a way that it is legal and it is financially protected and knowing that that costs a lot of money. I will say, lawyers are always willing to negotiate. You can take your time...knowing where to spend and where you can DIY.
What does your typical day look like for you?
I’m not a morning person, I usually get out of bed around 8:30 a.m., have coffee first and try and do a little bit of exercise. I’ll do 50 squats or 50 jump & jacks, not enough to really break a sweat, but enough to get the heart rate going.
Then I sit down and do deep work, I try to not check my email and try not to check social media which is really hard. I try and write an article for my site or for a client or I’ll do coaching work first thing in the morning, that’s when I have the most energy and focus. I set aside 2-3 hours to do that and then I eat breakfast/lunch. Then in the afternoon I do lighter work, checking emails, making phone calls and meetings—stuff that doesn’t require as much of my creative energy and is more of just my business brain. That’s easier for me to knock out.
I also block my days which has been so helpful, Mondays and Tuesdays are always writing and pitching days, so I pitch media outlets or podcasts, and I’ll do all my writing and coaching work—heavy stuff. Wednesdays are social media and planning—I’ll make all my Instagram images or schedule articles to be tweeted or posted on Facebook. I try to do my heavy stuff in the morning and my lighter stuff in the afternoon.
For someone looking to get started in reducing their debt today, what would you tell them to do?
The first thing everyone has to do is look at the numbers. Figure out:
where is all my money
how much do I owe
who do I owe
Then slap that in a spreadsheet (ex. student loan one and student loan two) get organized and understand the full picture. From there you can build out an actual payoff strategy and it helps you understand the truth about where you are at financially. About 40% of the time, my client’s debt is not as bad or disorganized as they think it is simply because they just haven’t taken the time to sit down and look at it and realize they can pay down their debt in two years. So that’s step number one, look at everything and get it organized.
What’s next for you and Bravely Go?
So many things!
For the remainder of this year, I have several courses coming out. A lot of people don’t want to work with a coach, the self-paced courses are great for that.
We will be doing an event in Seattle in the fall.
And onward and upward in every sense of the word. We will be doing more events across the U.S. in in 2020 which is exciting. And building out a deeper community where we will have a forum for quick questions about which savings accounts people are using... and a book--that’s a three year plan. So yeah, lots of big things coming down the pipeline.
And, are you accepting new clients? How can we get in touch and learn more?
I’m always accepting new clients: there is a tab on my website—it’s called Money Coaching. There you will see the options for working with me. We’ve got products like this Leslie Knope Budget Workbook, it’s sooo good...it’s honestly something I’m really proud of and I get emails and DMs about it all the time. If people just want to follow along on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.