Your Guide To Mastering Your Money

This Is My Story

Kate Bernal wearing navy blue suit
Kate Bernal

I’m Kate Bernal, and this is NOT your typical blog.

This is where you’ll find the real deal on how to unlock your path to financial freedom. Zero fluff. Zero BS. Just proven systems and strategies that work.

You see, I started my entrepreneurial journey at 12. I’m a Computer Systems Engineer with a Master of Science in Management and a 17+ year corporate career in Fortune 500 and multi-billion dollar companies.

I’ve learned a thing or two about crafting your path to financial freedom and using technology to improve your life.

I love using tech, logic, and systems to simplify my life, so I can spend more time on the things I love and matter to me, and I love helping people do the same. Focus on what matters to them.

We all have different priorities and should have the freedom to live a fulfilling and uncomplicated life.

But don’t take my word for it. I want you to see for yourself how I can help you achieve your goals faster than you ever thought possible.

I’ll share with you my hard-earned wisdom, my successes, and my failures. Yes, you read that right. I’m not afraid to tell you about my struggles, because they are part of my story.

And what a story it is.  I’ve been a new immigrant twice in my life: first in the US and then in Canada. I know the challenges and opportunities that come with moving to a new country.

I’ve battled with depression, low confidence since I was in kindergarten (crazy, right?), and imposter syndrome (a lifelong battle) since I started my entrepreneurial endeavors at the age of 12.

But I have to continue getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. It took a lot for me to write my story in so much detail.

So buckle up and get ready for a wild ride. Here’s my story.

1983: The Year My Parents Met

My parents met in Europe in 1983 and got married in 1984. They’re from 2 countries in Latin America and received scholarships from their countries thanks to their academic excellence (nerds!). My dad started studying hydraulic engineering and my mom civil engineering. 

After my mom had finished her first year of college and my dad his fourth, they traveled to Latin America to visit their families and friends. After being told that their studies in that particular country of Europe wouldn’t be recognized in Latin America they left their programs and didn’t return to Europe. Leaving behind all their belongings, wedding gifts included.

1984: Tough Entrepreneurship Start

My parents moved to Colombia and got a loan from my grandparents and an aunt to purchase a convenience store.

One of the terms of sale was that there would be no inventory check. Unfortunately, the convenience store turned out to have a small problem. Other tenants (rats) were eating the products on the shelves! So, my parents had to throw away all the merchandise.

1986: I Almost Died

Kate in her stroller
Kate posing for the camera

I was born on January 21, 1986, in Santander, Colombia.

I was supposed to enter this crazy world in the first week of January. 

But the first week of January went by, and I still wasn’t ready to come into this world.  

In the second week of January, my mom went to her doctor, and he advised her to wait another week. He warned her that if she didn’t start contractions, he’d have to induce labor. 

Unfortunately, my mom’s doctor temporarily left the city due to a personal problem. On January 19th, she noticed that she had stopped feeling me in the womb. 

On January 20th, an uncle took my mom to a public clinic to have a doctor check what was happening. My dad continued working at the convenience store because they lived off the income. The doctors said that I was too big and that they had to induce labor. 

After a few hours of receiving the IV medications, my mom started feeling a bit of pain but not much.

Later on, she started contractions. A nurse who was friends with the family told my mom: “I’m gonna tell you something but you cannot tell anyone or I’ll get in trouble. Your baby is having issues. Every time you have a contraction, your baby’s heart stops.”

Right after that, my mom started feeling a lot of pain, probably due to stress. By then, she had already started bleeding.

Two doctors came by. The female doctor turned and looked at my mom and said “she’s a spoiled daddy’s girl” and left without saying a word.

By that point, my mom said to herself “I’ve got to leave this hospital if I want my baby, and I to survive”.

She then told a resident who was nearby that she wanted to leave. He said she couldn’t because she was under the hospital’s responsibility now. 

My mom insisted and said that if he didn’t help her remove the IV, she’d do it herself. So, he removed the IV. My mom walked about a block to exit through the back door of the hospital. She escaped and took a cab home. 

She got home, told everyone what happened, and an aunt and her husband lent her their credit card to pay for a private clinic.

On the afternoon of January 21, 1986, my mom got admitted to the private clinic.

I’ll skip the other horrors of the story. 

When the C-section was done, the doctors moved her down to a recovery room. 

On the way to the recovery room, there was a ramp. Since she was waking up from the anesthesia, and it was very cold, she thought she’d died, and that she was being buried. 

“Who’s going to take care of my baby? So many women have had babies. And I’m the one who didn’t have a chance to take care of my baby and protect them”, she thought to herself. She started hearing voices, so she thought people were crying for her. Then, she heard someone asking if she wanted to hold the baby girl. “Am I not dead?”, she thought. 

There’s more drama to share here, but I’ll skip it because it can bring some people very bad memories.

Before my parents chose my name, my nickname was Smiley because I smiled all the time. 

Also, there’s this urban legend that I was a bit manipulative when I was a baby.

Kate on the dining table
Kate creating her strategic plan

My mom thought I had lung problems because I’d start coughing at night. I’d pretend to have a cough, so my parents would take me to their bed.

Every night, as soon as I started coughing, my parents would move me to their bed. Unfortunately, a doctor suggested that my mom stop doing that. And that was the end of my strategic plan. I guess my risk management plan was lacking.

1987: Defining My Taste in Music

Kate wearing a dress and holding a balloon at her party
Rare picture of Kate at a party
Kate being held by her handsome green-eyed grandpa
Kate being held by grandpa

My parents decided to move to Panama because in theory (and later confirmed) Panama offered more stability.

They only had $600 in cash and the clothes they brought in their luggage.

My mom had started rapidly losing weight, so she didn’t have many clothes either. So, in simple terms, they had a baby and were broke.

My dad helped my grandad with his furniture painting business and also made and sold cakes.

A few months later, my mom started a temporary full-time job at a law firm. After her boss recognized her potential, she became a permanent employee. Unfortunately, that job didn’t offer any benefits, not even social security. On top of that, she never received a full paycheck because her boss would always claim he didn’t have money (not true).

Soon after, my dad started working as a salesperson at a retail store. 

Then, my parents started another entrepreneurial endeavor selling Colombian sweets using my maternal grandparents’ sweets factory’s secret recipes. My dad was the salesperson who’d go to convenience stores to sell the sweets.

This covered all their expenses and allowed my dad to pay for his first degree: a Bachelor of Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering at a private university. However, since they didn’t make enough money, my dad couldn’t enroll as a full-time student. It took him 8 years to finish his first degree.

Later on, he pursued two other degrees: a Bachelor in Physics and a Bachelor of Education with an emphasis in Physics. Hopefully, this helps you understand why I enjoy learning and teaching so much.

My mom managed their budget and made sure she tracked every detail including spending and savings. No matter what they had to buy, mom would look for the products with the best quality at the best price. 

Another key person in my childhood was my uncle. My uncle took care of me while my parents worked and went to college.

He’s an English teacher, so he taught me English when I was a baby. He also played dance, disco, and pop music in English.

My favorite song was “Don’t worry, be happy”, by Bobby McFerrin. I also liked Madonna, The Pretenders, and many dance and disco-era musicians.

Listening to these genres of music every day would define my taste in music and my love for trance and dance music.

Music boosts my mood and energy levels. In fact, this was the type of music that later became my best company during my darkest times.

1991: First Time Using a Computer 

I started Kindergarten, and remember two fun, one painful memory, and a few other details:

The two fun ones: 

  • I was a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so my parents bought me a fuchsia lunch box.
Kate smiling with her Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lunchbox
Kate with her
Ninja Turtles lunchbox
  • My parents bought a computer, and I used a computer for the first time in my life without knowing it’d change the course of my life forever. It had Microsoft Windows 3.0 and a word-processing application.

The painful one: 

  • My parents also bought me the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. Fun memory so far. One day, I took Donatello to class to play with it during our recess. But unfortunately, one of my classmates dismembered Donatello before I could do anything. I took matters into my own hands to avenge Donatello, but I’ll spare you the details.

In 1992, my mom got her letter of admission to start studying law. She needed one hour a day during work hours to go to class. Her boss didn’t give her permission, so my mom got a letter from the dean of law school to save her seat for the following year.

The following year, the dean changed, and the new dean didn’t honor the previous dean’s letter of admission. This event once again taught me to persevere when I’m truly interested in achieving something.

1994: The Stress Of School Got Worse

In 1994, my mom was finally able to start studying law. She’d wanted to become a lawyer since she was little. Everybody can vouch that she enjoys arguing with people and always wants to voice her opinion, even if it’s not politically correct.

I always took note of the technology around me.

In terms of computers and Windows versions, by 1994, we had already gone through at least 2 desktop computers and from Windows 3.0 to Windows 3.1, and Windows NT.

Between 1994 and 1995 my parents bought a computer with an Intel Pentium processor. I remember the graphics being so much better, having used one or two versions of a famous word-processing application. 

At the beginning of 1995, she got pregnant which delayed her progress in college. 

In December of 1995, when I was 9, my brother Sergio was born. 

Baby Sergio on the bed next to a Pluto stuffed animal
Sergio planning to destroy Kate’s toy collection

I monitored each of his movements when he was born. I wanted to make sure everyone would take care of him perfectly. 

However, I’d been waiting for years to have a brother. Yes, a brother, not a sister. I wanted a brother to play soccer with. Unfortunately, my brother doesn’t play any sports, not even jacks. So, I waited several years for nothing.

Thanks to my parents and a friend of theirs, I had a pristine collection of hundreds of McDonald’s Happy Meal toys.

I’ve always taken very good care of everything I own. But when Sergio was born, he destroyed all of my McDonald’s Happy Meal toys. So, not only Sergio didn’t play soccer with me, but he also destroyed my most precious assets at the time. Who knows, if I still had them, I could’ve sold them to achieve financial freedom earlier.

The stress of school got worse. My mom scolded me since I was in Kindergarten every time I missed a few points on a test or if I couldn’t memorize something fast.

The more my mom scolded me, the more rapidly my self-esteem and confidence levels dropped. I never blamed her, though. She did the best she could. Both of my parents did.

Actually, thanks to my mom, I developed the great habit of saving and never spending more than what I made. Not even when I was underage and started my first entrepreneurial endeavors.

I had a few friends at school but didn’t hang out with them outside of school.

My parents wanted me to only focus on my studies, so there wasn’t much time to play at all. I don’t remember feeling lonely, but I remember always feeling extremely stressed because of school even though I was an honor student.

During school break, I’d see a lot of kids playing outside. My parents were always working, and I didn’t hang out with friends.

My lovely mom made sure I didn’t get bored. She left me daily homework to do. I had to read books in English and Spanish, highlight new words, write them down, and look them up in the dictionary. I also had math homework to do. Every day, during school break.

1996: The Sweet Taste Of Internet

The Internet arrived in Panama in 1994, but it was mainly available in academic institutions. 

In 1996, a few months after my brother Sergio was born, I used the Internet for the first time. 

I found the Internet a safe place to learn, teach, make money, and listen to my favorite music. It helped me discover a world of possibilities that I didn’t know.

I started spending dozens of hours a week trying to read and learn everything about technology. I’d go to tech review websites to check the latest and greatest in hardware and software. 

I started developing the habit of memorizing the specifications of my favorite gadgets and applications.

Whenever I had issues understanding a concept or figuring out how to do something, I’d use a search engine or go to specific forums to find the answer. The main two search engines I used in 1996 were Altavista and Hotbot (which later were displaced by Google). 

I’d either try to figure out if someone had already asked my question or I’d post a question myself and wait for people to chime in.

I also used chat applications to learn. I feel nostalgic from thinking about it. They gave me the opportunity to talk to strangers who had the same interests as me: learning and teaching about money, technology, and music.

I’d only talked to people in English to practice my skills. We’d share websites about money, technology, and apps to share and download music.

Since music has also been another great love of my life, I was super happy to find everything I love in one place. I’ve tried the best sites and software out there to download and listen to music.

1998: My First Entrepreneurial Endeavor At 12

There are almost no pictures of me during my teenage years. I didn’t allow people to take pictures of me. I still don’t love it, but I make the effort.

I was in my first year of high school, and we were assigned a team project at school to create a high-quality magazine about technology. My group and I did a great job using design software. I remember buying very expensive magazine-quality paper and ink. The technology magazine was such a great success that it was shared in Spain.

The sad story is that I don’t have a copy of it anymore, neither digitally nor physically. I still have nightmares about it. I’ve learned my lesson. I back up everything in the cloud now.

Thanks to my experience creating the technology magazine, I was ready for the next challenge.

A high school asked my dad to design and print diplomas for thousands of high school graduates. My dad didn’t know how to do that, but I did. At the age of 12, I got my first check for designing diplomas and printing them using high-quality paper. I continued doing that every year for a few years.

Thanks to that check, I was able to purchase my first video camera. I did a lot of research to figure out which video camera to buy. I remember memorizing all the specifications. 

One thing I’ve always enjoyed is researching and learning the specifications of all the hardware and software I’m interested in. I’ve been obsessed with financial freedom and technology (both hardware and software) since I was little.

 I don’t even remember giving someone a non-techie gift unless it was money.

One of the first gifts I gave my mom was a popular design software for creating counted cross-stitch patterns. The second and third gifts may have been an audiobook and an eBook reader. You know, giving back, since she made me read plenty of books throughout my childhood.

Co-workers, family, and friends always come to me when they have any money, career, work, or technical questions, or problems. So far, I believe they’re very satisfied with my services.

2000: My Stress Levels Go Through The Roof

My high school was a five-year program and not the regular six (at least in Latin America).

As students, we were exposed to material that our brains couldn’t quite grasp yet and we were taught more material every year than a regular student would. This added to my stress levels. I remember going into an even darker place than before. Those that know me very well, understand what I’m talking about.

The positive aspect of my high school life is that at the age of 14, I started doing research (yes, I love doing research) about potential places to move to.

While doing research, I came across a United Nations report called the Human Development Report. This report ranks countries around the world based on their standard of living. From my research, a few countries caught my attention: the Scandinavian countries and Canada.

I thought about moving to Norway or Finland, but I set my eyes on Canada instead because of its official languages. However, since I don’t come from rich parents and also didn’t want to put any burden on them I researched scholarships.

Unfortunately, Canada doesn’t provide full scholarships to foreigners, so my Canadian dreams were shattered. I felt trapped.

2003: I Start My Bachelor of Computer Systems Engineering 

It was not easy to get admitted into college due to some obstacles put in place by the priest who led my catholic high school. I won’t go into too much detail, but I’ll just say that he wanted to make my life and my parents’ lives very difficult. 

Thankfully, I was able to do my college admission exam just in time. Following in my dad’s footsteps, I enrolled in an Engineering program. More specifically, I got admitted into the Computer Systems Engineering Bachelor’s program in 2003.

I also got my first Dell computer, a Dell Dimension 8300. I remember spending hours doing research on the internet to figure out which computer to buy.

I quickly realized that I wanted a Dell desktop computer and that I needed it to be powerful and have great specifications, so I could use it till the end of my engineering program.

I also knew I had to get the best warranty available, so I didn’t have to worry about getting it fixed. I remember the day I received it. I couldn’t sleep thinking about it. I even bought covers to protect the monitor, the speakers, the keyboard, and the case. I wanted to keep it in pristine condition, and it worked. 

That same year, I started helping my dad with tutoring. I tutored high school and college students in Math, Chemistry, and Calculus. This helped me once again cover some college and personal expenses. I tutored for about 9 years until I moved to the United States.

Since I had a new toy (my desktop), I wanted to use it all the time. It was difficult to turn it off.

I wanted to learn about technology as much as possible in the shortest amount of time, so much so that I hardly slept.

In fact, one day my father was sleeping in the living room. Next to the living room were the dining room and my computer. From the living room, you could see the family computer and anyone that was using it.

One night I started reading about technology. One article led me to another so I could easily cover a large range of technology topics. I was so focused on reading that I didn’t realize it was 4:30 in the morning. That was the time when my father woke up to go to work.

My father opened his eyes a bit, he saw me and then closed them. If my father found me awake he was going to scold me. Therefore I used my inner Flash and in a matter of seconds, I turned off the computer and went to my bed. Later that day my father asked me if he had dreamt it or if I was using the computer at 4:30 am. You already know the answer.

2004: Got A Business License To Run A Technology Company

In 2004, I didn’t have a full-time job, and I wanted to save more money and not have to ask my parents for money all the time. So, I asked my lawyer (my mom) to help me get a business license to become a technology consultant. With this license, I registered at a few tech distributors and got the best prices for my clients. I offered all the hardware and software products you can imagine and also provided services including but not limited to:

  • SaaS and Software for businesses and end-users
  • Technical services
  • Laptops and desktops
  • Printers and scanners
  • Computer accessories
  • Monitors
  • Networking hardware
  • And other computer hardware, software, and services.

 This kept me up to date with the latest top hardware and software technology out there and made some cash to cover some expenses and save money.

Budget Management Lessons

My maternal grandparents didn’t even start high school but that didn’t stop them from pursuing their dreams. They owned and ran a sweets factory business with large businesses like oil companies and airports as clients.

My grandad was a carpenter and owned a small shop. My grandma was very organized and kept the business and the house’s profits and losses in a notebook. No matter how big or small the expense was, it was noted down.

My mother learned these superb budget management skills but exceeded my grandmother’s.

My mom started working as a lawyer at a multinational company. Soon after, she noticed that even though her income had doubled, they weren’t saving much. So, my mom decided to do the same as my grandma did.

She tracked our family’s income and expenses and opened additional bank accounts. One was to start saving money for retirement and for traveling to Colombia every year, another one was to buy two pieces of land and build a house on one of them, and one to use as an emergency fund.

Since both of my parents worked full-time and worked independently, my mom opened another bank account to track their businesses’ incomes better. She always tried to find the best deals to keep expenses low and savings interest rates high. So, she would switch banks every few years to get the best deals.

I’m so happy I was able to learn all of this from my mom and even taught her and my brother many personal finance lessons years later.

I’m so glad she opened a bank account for me when I was a baby. She taught me to always save money, no matter what. 

In 2005, I went on a technical certifications and courses binge. First, I enrolled in a web development course to refine my skills. Before and after the course, I created websites using picture and audio editing software and web design software. 

In 2006, my university invited me to be a speaker at a professional event, where I’d be speaking to computer systems engineering students that were starting the program.

I also worked at eBay and fell in love with their onboarding process and the company’s culture.

They had a robust onboarding process and tool, and I felt supported at all times. We were constantly reminded about customer privacy and the importance of building a strong relationship with our customers.

I learned how to use customer relationship management software and sales management software to increase customer retention and productivity.

Then, in 2007, I started a Computer Repair and Network Architecture Technician Diploma program. I also made time to play my favorite sport since I was little, soccer. And I was already taking an English course to polish my skills. So, my weekends were packed with courses.

2008: Installing Virtual Machines to Have Fun (don’t judge)

I started working at KPMG as an Information Technology Analyst. I had a very technically savvy boss and team, and I truly enjoyed my time there.

I did everything from managing and maintaining the 200+ employee’s access cards to resolving any issues with laptops, desktops, VPN, networks, printers, and software in general.

On my own, I did research online to learn how to remove viruses without the use of antivirus software. It felt so nice to share the steps with my peers!

We had great Help Desk ticketing software to keep track of all the issues reported.

It was also really nice to work with other KPMG teams across the region to discuss policies and procedures, projects, common issues, and technology trends.

We used software to collaborate better as a team, automate processes, and save time.

Towards the end of 2008, I got a call from Dell, my dream company, offering me a job. Soon after, I started working there in Technical Support. I led, mentored, and trained technical engineers and led projects as well. I was able to learn a great deal.

Kate wearing a blue suit and a red blouse at a Dell launch event
Kate at a
Dell launch event

Early on in life, I learned that tutors, coaches, and mentors are crucial for those of us who want to fast-track our results.

Learning from someone who has been where you want to go can save you time and energy, as well as boost your confidence and competence.

Without a mentor, a coach, or a tutor, you may have to endure more pain and frustration, as well as miss out on opportunities.

At Dell Technologies, I became involved in several initiatives that weren’t even related to my position, but I said yes to all of them because of my thirst for knowledge.

I know it may sound weird to many, but you have to understand that acquiring knowledge was presented to me by my parents, since I was little, as the greatest thing ever.

I led and mentored a team of technical engineers, managed vendors, and collaborated with many teams around the world on initiatives to save hundreds of thousands of dollars, improve customer experience and satisfaction, and improve Dell hardware and software products.

I used software to improve team management, project management, and collaboration and to save time and money.

Customers were first. On one hand, we used a tool that included customer relationship management software and sales management software.

These two pieces of software were from different providers, but they were very intuitive.

On the other hand, we used knowledge management software to store policies and processes, workflows, frequently asked questions, etc. It even included a tool to troubleshoot customers’ problems.

Not everything was perfect though. Nothing has ever been. One of my favorite aspects of my time at Dell was growing as a person as well.

My team made me a better person. They gave me feedback, and I became a better leader.

Also, a disclaimer here. I became a Dell products fan before I started working there. I already owned a Dell desktop before I started working at Dell. 

In 2008, I enrolled in a Wireless LAN Cisco course taught by the Cisco Networking Academy. This course helped me build my confidence a bit more, so I made a few changes to our wireless network at home. My parents were thrilled. 

In 2009, after completing several courses and tests, I became a Dell Certified System Expert.

While working at Dell, I loved that we were always encouraged to continue pursuing certifications and taking courses to improve our professional skills as leaders and engineers.

The company had a training website to ensure all their internal and external technicians were always trained and certified. But we also studied for technical certifications with online learning platforms and courses.

On the technical side of things, I took several Microsoft certification exams to become a Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator. I also took a Linux and a CCNA course. 

On the management side of things, I took a Project Management course and pursued a Business Administration and Management Diploma. Project Management had been part of my engineering program, but I wanted to hear someone else’s perspective about it.

2011: A Fulbright Scholarship Changed My Life

During my time at Dell, I received Dell’s Top Leader Award six times and also an e-Leadership award. I received the e-leadership award for supporting (with my team) a regional project to test and relaunch 80 Dell websites.

My dad came across a Fulbright scholarship ad in the newspaper. Since he knew I wanted to live abroad, he advised me to apply. I remember reminding him that I wasn’t a genius and that the Fulbright Organization would never give me a scholarship. He told me to stop being so negative and to apply anyway. “You don’t lose anything if you apply”. I’m glad I did. 

Even though I wanted to live in Canada instead, getting a full scholarship from the United States didn’t sound bad.

The scholarship application process demanded a lot of time and had various filters and stages.

I had to deal with various Math and English exams, including the TOEFL, writing various essays, as well as panel interviews at the U.S. Embassy.

I did the best I could and got to what I thought was the finish line, the final panel interview at the U.S. Embassy. Unfortunately, I was wrong. 

After going through all of this, I was told by one of the (very kind) organizers that there were only 10 spots, and I was number 11. She told me not to worry because many of the people who were in those 10 spots had been trying for years. She advised me to continue and that the following year, I wouldn’t start the process from scratch. I decided to quit. 

Thankfully, a very good manager and mentor encouraged me to continue. He told me not to quit because not everyone was lucky enough to get these scholarships. I’m glad I listened to him.

A couple of months later, while I was at work, I got a call from the U.S. Embassy. “Andrea Bernal? (Andrea is my first name), yes? It’s Mrs. Sullivan (not her real name) from the U.S. Embassy. The candidate who was # 10 on the list just declined the scholarship. That means you can still start your Master’s studies in 2012 if you’re still interested.” That turned out to be probably the best news I’ve ever received in my life.

Earlier that year, I’d traveled to visit my family in Colombia. One of my uncles gave me a book as a gift. I didn’t read it right away. This book was the missing piece of the puzzle. It was just what I needed to change my mindset even more. It talked about having a positive attitude towards life and why some people never achieve financial freedom.

2012: First Time As a New Immigrant In The United States

Kate wearing a blue Fulbright t-shirt at Fulbright event in Philadelphia, U.S.
Kate at Fulbright event in Philadelphia, U.S.

Earning the Fulbright scholarship was the best thing that could happen to me. The scholarship covered everything: housing, food, graduate school expenses, tax filing, etc.

I started my journey in the United States at Syracuse University where I did my pre-academic studies focused on learning about American culture and refining my English skills. I had fantastic teachers there.

In August of 2012, I learned I was admitted to Clemson University to pursue a Master of Science in Management. So, I moved to South Carolina to start my studies. Since I landed in the U.S. and received my first stipend check, I made sure I always saved a portion to cover any emergencies. 

Kate wearing a Superman t-shirt at a park in South Carolina, U.S.
Kate at a park in South Carolina, U.S.

My mindset wasn’t still in investing mode because I hadn’t been exposed to the stock market yet.

However, as I started investigating how to become financially independent the stock market came up multiple times. Self-doubt and low self-esteem kicked in. I told myself that I wouldn’t understand how to invest in the stock market and quickly dismissed that as an option.

This was the year I learned how to drive. This was not in my plans, but I needed a reliable mode of transportation to go to school.

I remember paying around $250 for 3 hours of driving classes. Since I had been saving money but didn’t want to spend everything, I decided to purchase a gas-efficient car.

Kate next to a Ghostbusters car
Came across this Ghostbusters car in Charlotte, NC, U.S.

Of course, once again, I did plenty of research to figure out which car was gas-efficient, how to buy a used car, and how to choose the best car insurance.

I purchased a used hybrid car and went with premium insurance. I’d drive about 430 miles per week and pay about $30-40 for gas. After two cracked windshields due to rocks, I’m glad I chose premium insurance.

As you may have realized by now, I have a passion for teaching and learning and using technology to improve my life and the lives of others.

I’m constantly finding ways to simplify what I do in my personal life and at work. I believe optimization is key and leveraging software and technology is a must.

So, I started mentoring International students (Fulbright and non-Fulbright scholarship recipients) and young professionals. By using my experience as a manager and a new immigrant in the United States I started helping clients who were international students and young professionals. I’d help them with various topics including career development coaching, finding housing, opening a bank account, applying for a credit card, improving their credit score, and everything else a young professional or international student needs to succeed.

Since I’ve learned how to achieve an excellent credit score, I’ve also taught this to many people. I get a hit of dopamine every time I teach and learn something. It’s such a nice feeling to see how others can optimize several aspects of their lives by implementing what I share with them.

2013: Finished My Master of Science In Management

I suffered from gastrointestinal issues since I was a baby. Early on in my life, I was diagnosed with gastritis and GERD. My mom and most of her siblings have always had issues, so we thought it was genetic.

I’ll spare you the painful and colorful details, but I remember being in a lot of pain all my life. However, that changed in 2013. After doing lots of research one day and watching various documentaries, I changed my diet, my lifestyle, and cured my gastritis and GERD.

In 2013, I went to a job fair organized by my university. There were dozens of companies recruiting. I had prepared several copies of my resume and business cards with a QR code that would direct visitors to my LinkedIn profile. I handed these copies to a few companies I was interested in. One company, Plastic Omnium, seemed intrigued. They’re an automotive supplier with 137 production plants in 25 countries. 

Their HR Director for North America contacted me the next day via LinkedIn and asked me to come in for an interview.

At my last interview with an HR Manager, I remember talking about all the specifications of the Tesla Model S. I imagine he was surprised to hear how happy I sounded while talking about Tesla. I thought I wouldn’t get the job because I wasn’t American and had never worked at a plant. A couple of weeks later I was offered a job as a Manager. 

In December of 2013, I finished my Master of Science in Management studies at Clemson University. I had superb professors and really smart classmates.

2014: Started Investing In The Stock Market

In January 2014, I started working at Plastic Omnium.

Kate next to red Tesla Model S
Kate: A Tesla fan since 2012
Kate getting in the trunk of white Tesla Model S
Getting into a Tesla frunk
Kate driving red Tesla Model S
In a Model S for the 1st time

I got a nice check for accepting my job offer there, and I used it fully to invest in the stock market. My biggest purchase was Tesla stock. Back then, the stock price was under $200.

I also got Solar City stocks because I supported their mission toward alternative energy sources. 

Since I had been following Warren Buffet, I also purchased Wells Fargo because this was a key stock in his portfolio. 

I led a team and also implemented continuous improvement strategies following Lean Six Sigma principles. I have a process improvement and optimization mindset and am always looking for ways to make things better.

One of the coolest things about working there was that our plant produced parts for BMW’s largest manufacturing plant in the world.

I met incredible professionals there and also met my best friend. I felt so happy being around people who were so nice and smart. 

Even though my mental health wasn’t in its greatest shape, I can say that I was much happier than before. There’s a before Fulbright/life in the U.S. and an after version of me. You can tell by the pictures.

Kate wearing a gray hat and next to a sandwich
Kate in Washington DC, U.S.

I was independent, had a great salary, was able to save most of it, went on trips, was healthy, had a great credit score, and started my journey to early financial freedom.

2015: Sadness All Over Again

Before I moved to the United States I planned to leave after I completed my studies.

However, after a few months there, I decided that I wanted to stay. I no longer felt trapped. There was so much tech and freedom around me.

I didn’t want to live with my parents again, leave my independence, quit a good job, leave a good salary, and live in a noisy environment again.

Based on the scholarship agreement, I was supposed to leave the United States and return after my program.

Plastic Omnium told me they wanted me to stay and offered to pay back the money to the scholarship program organizing institutions, so I could stay.

They told me that as long as I stayed with them a generous amount of time, they could support me that way. I was thrilled!

Kate and Sergio with Bitcon-laser eyes at restaurant
Are those Bitcoin-laser eyes?
Kate and Sergio hiking and wearing beanies
Kate and Sergio hiking

I talked to my lawyer (my mom) and asked her to send a letter to the scholarship program organizing institutions. That didn’t work out. I was told I had to go back.

My mental health took a hit, and I developed an awful rash on my right leg due to stress. Since then, every time I am extremely stressed the rash comes back.

Stress runs in the family. My parents and brother get stressed too. My brother develops a rash similar to mine but on his foot.

Unfortunately, I needed to start getting ready to restart my life in Panama.

While I was wrapping up my life in the United States, I studied and became a Certified Six Sigma Champion. This leadership certification provides leaders and mentors with the tools and guidance needed to lead continuous improvement initiatives. 

In May of 2015, I left the United States. Soon after, I started working as a Business Intelligence Manager at Citibank.

Kate wearing a suit and eating a giant corn on the cob
Is this the world’s largest corn on the cob?

I managed a remote team of six SQL developers that built monthly prospects databases and tracked their effectiveness. Our team was heavily focused on optimization and process improvement.

Also, I worked with VPs and various departments to discuss profitable strategies to bring more customers and offer banking products to our current customers. I managed a budget to source information about potential clients from database vendors.

2016 – 2017: Traveling Back To The United States

Kate and Sergio wearing eye glasses at the Getty Museum
Kate and Sergio at the Getty Museum
Kate wearing a black beanie and Sergio wearing eyeglasses and a blue cap
Are we twins?

Because I was missing the United States so much and was trying to move back, I traveled and stayed there for a few months.

Inspired by my newfound understanding of nutrition and health, I decided to start a YouTube channel called PlantaeRevolution and a website in Spanish about nutrition research and coaching.

This was my way of serving the Spanish community. I wanted others to regain their health the way I did. I found a quote that seemed perfect for how I felt about creating the channel: “Those who have the privilege to know, have the duty to act. – Albert Einstein”.

Creating a YouTube channel requires several skills. I needed to buy a microphone, video, and audio editing software, learn how to make and edit videos and audio, buy and learn how to use design software, learn how to design YouTube thumbnails, and how to create a YouTube channel cover, among many other things. 

Later, I attended a conference in Berkeley, California about a well-known documentary available on Netflix.

I met a few of my heroes, including the directors of this documentary, and decided to support the other NETFLIX documentary they were working on: What The Health.

I became the Assistant Producer and thanks to my support I was invited to the premiere in New York City in March of 2017.

What The Health is also available on Amazon (Prime video).

Later that year, I started working at Hutchison Ports. I hired, managed, trained, and mentored a team of very experienced and smart supervisors, senior analysts, analysts, and interns.

We implemented a SaaS solution to conduct proper due diligence on potential suppliers which helped us improve our audit procurement compliance score.

I also evaluated and approved RFQ/RFP documents and helped choose vendors. As in all my jobs, I was lucky to be surrounded by smart people. My last two managers were very skilled, so I learned a lot from them.

My required two years in Panama were coming to an end, so I’d be able to leave soon.

One day, I came across a Canadian immigration event. Perfect timing? My focus shifted to the United States after living there. I’d already stopped thinking about moving to Canada since I was a teenager.

Since I like doing plenty of research before making a decision, I decided to hire a Canadian lawyer to help with my immigration questions and potentially the immigration process as well.

After doing research myself and getting some facts about the immigration process from my lawyer, I decided to move to Canada. It was a somewhat expensive and painful process, but I got it done. I had learned to manage my finances well enough to save money to pay for my immigration process and also for up to two years without landing a job once I arrived in Canada. 

I reflected on my experience as a new immigrant in the United States. I wrote down the lessons learned, struggles and successes. I looked at all the resources available online to settle in Canada.

I read everything under the sun about increasing my chances of getting a job fast, and the list of things to do and know before moving to Canada. I even took some pre-settlement courses.

I wanted to get a very high score on the IELTS test, the English exam required to apply for Canadian immigration.

I did research on the best IELTS preparation courses and purchased the best one in the market. I learned that even native English speakers could get low scores, so I researched the best language exchange partner websites.

I found a few sites and created a plan to practice English with a language exchange partner for almost 40 hours a week. I’d correct his Spanish mistakes and he’d correct my English mistakes. I became friends with one of them, and he’s still my friend.

2018: Second Time Being A New Immigrant. First Time In Canada.

Kate next to musician statue
Music Cheers Me Up

In September of 2018, I landed in Canada and officially became a new immigrant for the second time.

One of my main goals was to get a job in less than a year. I had clear expectations and knew it wouldn’t be super easy.

However, I also didn’t know that it would be harder than in the United States.

In the United States, no one asked me to have “American experience” before hiring me as a Manager. I had relevant work experience, education, and the right attitude. Period.

On the other hand, in Canada, many companies shut me down for wanting to continue my over a decade-long management experience because I lacked “Canadian experience.” 

In December of 2018, I became a Certified Scrum Master thanks to some funding provided by the Government of Canada and my hard-earned savings.

2019 – Today: Restarting My Early Financial Freedom Journey

Kate smiling wearing a black suit
On My Way To Early Financial Freedom

Thanks to all the pre-work I did before landing in Canada and networking and building solid relationships, I accepted a job at a telecommunications company within the Technology Strategy and Business Transformation organization.

At the time, I thought it wasn’t the ideal job. However, I was grateful and happy. One of the main benefits of accepting the job was that I could stop using my savings and freelancing income to live.

A few months later, I read a great book on early financial freedom and re-started my early financial freedom journey.

I learned that the key to achieving financial freedom early was simple.

I needed to continue living below my means as my parents taught me at an early age, but I also needed a simple and sustainable investment strategy. I learned the latter by investing thousands of hours in research.

Also, I needed to learn to trust my plan, stick to it, and become an “aggressive” investor. That meant that my portfolio allocation mix had to have a large percentage of equity. I had to become comfortable with volatility if I wanted high returns.

Looking back, even if my job at the telecommunications company didn’t match my career goals it was definitely the right move for me. I’ve learned and developed skills that I didn’t know I needed.

These skills have made me a better professional and mentor and have given me the freedom to embark on many other personal projects outside of work.

Also, I’ve been able to continue working on my mental health. I’m lucky that my company offers a mental health annual budget that I’ve used to work with a psychologist.

Working with a psychologist has helped me remind myself that there are many things I cannot control and that I need to try to focus on the ones I can control. This has allowed me to have more mental energy to focus on my goals.

One of my long-standing goals has always been to keep learning and exploring more sources of income using technology. So, while I was doing some research, I got this light bulb moment about two potential income sources.

One, finding companies that would pay me for my consulting services, and the other one using my voice to do voiceovers.

In terms of my consulting services, my idea was to find companies that need help transforming users into passionate brand advocates. In other words, the idea was to offer them insightful feedback to enhance digital customer experiences across both their websites and apps. I’d been testing software for over a decade, so I already had the skills.

Guess what? It worked! I managed to rope in quite a few companies who were more than happy to pay me for my consulting services. I’ve got experience in various areas and industries including Internet, Consulting, Banking, Insurance, Electronic Trading, Technology Hardware and Software, IT, Automotive, and Telecommunications. So, my business clients are mostly from these industries. 

In terms of doing voiceovers, I also found websites that would pay me for creating voiceovers. This is a skill that I had to refine. Thanks to my time making YouTube videos, I had some basics on creating and editing audio, which came in handy.

However, I needed to take a course on making professional voiceovers, get a professional microphone and an audio interface, and learn ways to improve the quality of the audio.

In early 2020, after spending days doing research, I started investing in crypto. I’d heard about Bitcoin back in 2016 but didn’t bother looking into it because I thought the concept was crazy. I regret it.

I tried several crypto-centralized exchanges and quickly learned which ones offered the best fees and services. I believe I’ve invested over 2000 hours learning about crypto in the last year or so.  It’s very important to do your own research and get a hardware wallet. 

In October 2020, thanks to the encouragement of one of my mentors, I started meditating every day. I’d wanted to start meditating for years, but I thought I wouldn’t be able to remain still for more than a few seconds.

Meditating every day for no less than thirteen minutes every day has helped improve my concentration, my creativity, and my mood. It’s helped me think more clearly too.

While meditating, I come up with ideas, reflect on my day, and how I can do things better. 

Coming back to the crypto topic, as part of my research, I came across a Canadian crypto investor and teacher. I’ve been following him ever since.

Kate discussing crypto with two crypto veterans with a combined experience of 22+ years.
Kate discussing crypto with two crypto veterans

He launched a crypto project with another great developer. They’re crypto veterans and educators with a combined experience of over 22+ years. I like that they focus on teaching the crypto community how to invest in crypto safely including how to avoid investing in rug pulls.

One thing I love about this crypto project is the community. Both the project and the community are all about educating, helping each other, and learning from each other. By now you should know that I love these three things. 

And also, once again, I built a very high credit score. I achieved this thanks to the simple steps I learned and implemented. I learned these strategies while living in the United States and during my first year in Canada.

In 2021, I discovered a fascination for Artificial Intelligence that led me to spend thousands of hours educating myself. I enrolled in courses from OpenAI, Google, and LinkedIn, and I’m eager to continue learning more.

Along the way, I’ve also taken the time to explore and test various AI tools, not just to make my life easier, but because I genuinely love learning and technology.

My goal is simple: I want to share everything I’ve learned with you and become your reliable source of information. Let’s navigate the world of AI together, and let me guide you on your journey to financial freedom.

I’ll help you unlock your path to financial freedom. Zero fluff. Zero BS. No math genius required.

Thank You For Reading My Story.

I know this is a long story so thank you for reading it! 

I’d love to hear how you came across my website and where you are in your life journey. I hope my story gives you the energy and confidence you need to go after your dreams.

Ready to take the next step toward achieving your dreams?

Book a FREE strategy session with me today to explore how I can help you. Whether it’s unlocking your path to financial freedom or boosting your confidence and taking charge of your career, I’m here to support you on your journey. Book Your FREE Strategy Session.