A Latino Legacy: Initiating the Money Talk

I grew up in a Puerto-Rican household on the west side of Chicago.  We spent many Saturdays cleaning the house while listening to salsa music, we always ate good food, there were tons of family gatherings and every Sunday we went to abuela’s house. We did absolutely everything as a family.

But there was one thing we didn’t do as a family - talk about money.

My first memory of money as a child was watching my grandmother count cash at the kitchen table. See, my grandfather owned the local bar and she was only one he trusted to handle his books even though she had no formal training. I truly thought my grandparents were rich.  I mean, my mother never brought home cash like that, so they must be rich. Or, did that mean that my mom, my brother and I were poor? Why hadn’t someone explained this dynamic to me? Why was it so taboo to ask about what they were doing?  I may have asked once and I believe their response was to mind my business because that was adult stuff. So, I did.

It’s what we are taught. “Mind your business”. “Esto no es asunto de niño”.  We were certainly taught the value of hard work, but we never talked about how much income we had or how we should manage a budget, or how that income could be saved and invested for the future. 

55% of Latinos agree that “raising and investing in kids is the best retirement plan.”

31% of us are supporting adult children, parents, grandparents, extended family, or others.

24% of Latinos expect to rely on family members to live and make ends meet in retirement.

But are these viable plans?

You don’t know what you don’t know.  

If this is what our parents learned, we cannot expect them to teach us any differently. It’s taboo to discuss money among Latinos and in some cultures, it’s even considered to be vulgar.  Among most Latinos, the culturally accepted way to indicate wealth and material success is by owning the latest technology, wearing the latest designer fashion or driving a high-end luxury car. These are all symbols that enable people to demonstrate their wealth without having to talk about it.  These cultural values are passed on generationally. They are hard to overcome, but not impossible. If we want to change the abysmal statistics among our people we must do better with our own children. I believe that if we don't start the conversation at home and actually empower our children around money, they won’t take any steps in securing a financial future because they may not think it's even possible for them.

3 out of 4 of us wished we had learned about money growing up.

So the next time you are at mami & papi or abuela’s house on Sunday, try striking up a conversation with the family.  Here are some conversation starter ideas:

For your parents and grandparents:

  1. Ask your parents their thoughts on discussing money. Try to understand what their perception of wealth and investing is.  Have they ever had any resources for great financial advice?
  2. How do they feel about their retirement? Are they a part of the 26% of Latinos who have savings in a retirement plan like a 401(k)? Or do they have concerns that they can never retire?
  3. Do they have life insurance or did they ever consider purchasing it? Maybe they believe the stigma that the minute they purchase life insurance they will die! Perhaps they are part of the 34% of us who have it.

For your children:

  1. Ask your children what their first money memory is.  You’d be surprised what they pick up from us and what their money story is shaping up to be.
  2. Talk about making choices on how to spend the family’s money.  They can then begin to understand that money is a finite resource and wise decisions are important.  
  3. Brainstorm together about ways to save money as a family. Start a change jar or a savings envelope for each member of the family.   

I invite you to take every opportunity to get your family involved in changing the way we perceive money, talk about wealth building and teach our children about legacy.  Wealth building isn’t just for the rich.  Wealth building is about creating an abundant life for ourselves. It’s about creating a legacy for our families that would make our abuelitas and abuelitos proud.

Valerie Sanchez is a proud Latina with over 25 years’ experience in finance. Today she is a Partner at Divine Asset Management and Co-Creator of Divine Wealthwise, Divine’s financial literacy platform.