Like many recent grads, Austinite Kara Perez struggled with student loans and frustrating career prospects. Three years ago, at age 26, Perez had over $25,000 in student loan debt and no idea when or how she’d be able to pay it all off. “I still hadn’t found a full-time job, and I was deeply under-employed, working two really crappy part times,” she says. “I realized that my lack of financial literacy was crippling my adulthood.”
So, she started reading personal finance blogs like Dear Debt, Frugalwoods, and Our Next Life, applying those lessons to her own life. She ate so many leftovers from a part-time catering job that she reduced her grocery bill to $60 a month. She made several smaller loan payments throughout the month to beat interest. By June 2015, she’d made her final payment, even while her income was around $30,000 a year. “Learning about money changed my life for the better,” she says.
Perez knows she’s not the only one who feels ill-equipped to pay off debt and manage her money. “No one’s giving people the tools to be financially literate,” she says. “There’s not financial literacy in schools.”
Inspired by her own financial learning curve and a desire to share what she’s learned, Perez launched Bravely in January. The Austin-based company hosts monthly live events focused on rotating money topics for young women. “I particularly targeted women because there’s a wage gap which gets worse along race and class lines,” Perez says. “More women are going to college, but more women are struggling to find jobs. This is the demographic that not only am I part of but needs the most help.”
Bravely’s inaugural event at the Google Fiber space sold out and featured three local female entrepreneurs (Pei Sim, Owner of The Paper + Craft Pantry; Catelyn Silapachai, owner of The Distillery Market; and photographer Diana Ascarrunz) discussing how they found the money to launch their business.
Perez has also hosted events at other venues in Austin such as the women-owned bar Cheer Up Charlies and the woman-managed Palm Door on Sabine. “I want to highlight other female business owners in town and let them use my platform to get in front of people,” Perez says. Shifting locations also means that women in different parts of Austin don’t have to drive far north or far south.
Bravely’s next event is scheduled for September 19 at Purse & Clutch on South Lamar. With the title "Get Your Money Right: Freelance Finances," the session features photographer Chelsea Laine Francis, Collective Blue founder Nina Ho, and wardrobe stylist Cristina Bocanegra answering questions around setting freelance rates, tracking payments, and navigating taxes as a self-employed person. Perez also works as a freelance writer, so she knows firsthand some of the challenges freelancers face.
Money can be an awkward topic, so Bravely events often serve booze courtesy of a beverage sponsor; Mighty Swell sponsors the September event. “Money is very much still a taboo in our society,” Perez says. Money knowledge and transparency are especially important at the low end of the financial spectrum, she adds. “Lower income people need to talk about money,” she says. “It needs to be okay to say to your friends, ‘Hey, I can’t go to ACL because those $400 tickets are a third of my monthly income.’”
Perez hopes that Bravely events will encourage women to break their silence around money and make financial savvier decisions. As her story proves, it’s not how much you make but how you use your money that matters.