What I’ve Learned About Money From Latinas

“Rosita Adelita” by Robert Valadez

No better place for money than close to your heart.  That makeshift, almost-fully-natural, form-flattering, extra pocket between the bosom and the bra where nobody better enter without clearly expressed consent…if they didn’t want either a cachetada or a chancletazo that is.  That’s where all women kept their money safe.  Right?

Safer than a safe, that’s where mi má always kept her change purse or loose dollar bills.  When she needed the money en un dos por tres, she’d turn away and turn back and there it was.  ¿Cuánto era otra vez? Nobody saw nothing and there went lo que quedo back in its place…for safekeeping, until she needed to use her money again.  This was especially useful when we were riding public buses through a beat up, barren downtown Houston, full of homeless people roaming the streets and others just down on their luck looking for something, not sure what.  We were always either on our way to the Clinica de los Amigos or the old Woolworth’s in downtown afterwards to pick up a couple of rolls of yarn for my mom’s latest knitting project.  Usually a sweater, a scarf or a hat.

It was as if next to her heart the money was untouchable, invisible…unnoticeable.

Nobody ever actually tried to steal her purse – the one full of receipts, bus passes and nick-knacks for us kids – probably because they could tell just by looking at us that we were literally just a few rainy days of no work away from being in their shoes.  And where was the sport in that?

So off we went, back and forth, my mother and her trail of mocosos, trying to find a way to make things easier on my dad.

At the McDonald’s or Burger King, again, en un dos por tres, ahi estaba el dinero, just enough to buy us un poquito for all of us to eat.  Individual combo meals, that was an unheard of!  Fortunately for us, eventually us kids figured out we could get more bang for our buck, and more food, at Burger King.  One dollar was enough for a whopper and everyone knew a whopper was way bigger than a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder from McDonalds.  So there we’d go, all the time, anytime we got hungry, out and about, we’d hunt down the king instead of the golden arches.  A lesson learned on investing our money wisely.

Clink, Clink, Clink!  When times were really tough, there on our dining table, piles of pennies pouring out of glass pickle jars, even some marmalade ones, our busy little hands stacking them in tens, stuffing one hundred of them in individual rolls of brown recycled paper marked $1.  Afterwards at the bank we’d trade in all our pennies for cash.  Those fancy money counters at the grocery store were convenient, but they always kept at least 10 percent of the cash we needed to pay off a bill or take care of something equally important.  No se dejen engañar, contar el dinero es más trabajo…pero rinde más.

Money was important.  It was necessary.  Valuable.   Even indispensable.  But never more important than family, taking care of each other, stretching every dollar to get the most out of it, and pulling all our funds together when we really needed to.  My mother never washed a pair of my father’s jeans without first going through every single pocket to check for loose change or bills.  And she rarely ever came up empty handed.  When it was just a quarter here, a nickel there, she’d hand it to us kids, and off we’d run, straight to Doña Pilar’s apartment to buy a handful of candy from her jumbo glass container of dulces.

Nowadays a combo meal is just the norm, not the exception.  We hardly ever count pennies anymore, unless you count the times I dig through the jars of change looking for only shiny quarters, nickels and dimes, the golden arches and the king are avoided at all costs, and mi má has her own car, but I do always get a kick out of watching my wife go through all of my own jeans’ pockets, her jars of pennies in the closet, her turning away and turning back, en un dos por tres, to pull out her money from her chest, and the way she can always order enough food for a house full of people for pretty much next to nothing…or at least less than 20 bucks.  A lo mejor es de herencia para las Latinas. No sé. But it sure is attractive.

What better proof of true love than knowing, as a Latina, you’re taking care of our money?

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22 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned About Money From Latinas

  1. Such a beautiful post Juan! And so full of truth! Yes, I also remember mi Abuelita doing this, and some of my aunts too. It always mesmerized me when I was little, trying to figure out their “magic”…
    Now, I do not carry my money in my bra (still a funny image for me!), but if you ask me for some change I definitely have my secret stash of pesos… that´s for sure. 😉

    1. As a child, I thought it was kind of weird, I’ll admit…and I always cringed when I’d see her reach in there to pull out some change, but now…I actually think it’s quite charming. Crazy maybe, but kind of like the true text of a Señora Hecha y Derecha, LOL! Gracias for the comment, querida 🙂

  2. Ha! I’ve heard people refer to that as “grandmama’s purse” something I still use. Coincidentally, I was held up once at gunpoint, and my purse was stolen, but my money and credit cards were saved, in “grandmama’s purse”. 😉

    1. Oh wow! So the tactica actually works! Never heard of anyone who’d actually saved their valuables by using their “grandmama’s purse!” LOL! Sorry about the robbery, but glad your Latina ingenuity saved you 🙂

  3. I remember my Tia Rufina using this close to the heart purse too. And as a little boy being embarrassed and avoiding eye contact…”oh my god, she’s reaching in her bra!”

    I like your description of your mom with her trail of mocosos behind her. Excellent!

    1. Era de lo mas penoso, especialy when we were in a public place and there was no choice but to dig in and draw out the money. We too would just look away and pretend it wasn’t happening…que más nos quedaba? But how cool that it actually allowed for peace of mind, knowing that even if they stole your purse…the actual purse…they wouldn’t be walking away with your money. I hear the storage space is also good for plastic and digital phones too nowadays. Talk about flexibility! 🙂

  4. Great post Juan, my beloved abuelita came to my mind while reading your post. Indeed, she carried her $$ “in there”. It was like an ATM!! She also had “in there” a handkerchief (in case she felt sentimental) and a bunch of medallitas de San Antonio, Virgen de Guadalupe, Corazon de Jesus etc.
    It was funny to me to see her carry a purse when she went out.Wonder why?? Because the purse was always empty!!!! She carried one because that was kinda expected, but, for whatever reason, she always carried her “dinerito” close to her heart!You know, next time I go to the store, I will pull my credit card out of my bra and see the associate’s reaction jajajaja :0

    1. Claudia, you’re going to give our comadrita Traisy a run for her money, LOL! Por eso le pregunte en Twitter si ella hacia eso en frente de Clementino…pero ya ves, hasta ahora nada de ella? Hmmm, could that be our answer? I love how much you’re abuelita fit in there 🙂 Good for her! Which reminds me of a comment someone sent me on Twitter on the subject. Not that it has anything to do with your abuela…it was just funny! Here is what they said: “@Juanofwords Sometimes they have so much junk in their tops, they look like they’re molesting themselves just to get a pacifier out.” – @_R2R0

  5. Hombre! I’m trippin off your mentioning of the old Woolworth downtown. Love it. I have good ol’ memories of my mother, sister, and I riding the Metro to DT in the summer. We would end up at Woolworth, man, the pizza was the BOMB there!

    Great post, Juan! Gotta give props to the madrecitas for their creativity and resourcefulness.

    My coworker actually does this…except she tucks her cell phone into her bosom! Haha. Ghetto-fabulous!

    1. I knew I couldn’t be the only one with memories in that place, lol. That was a like a religious pit stop for us every time we had to go into downtown…nothing like what it is now, but I kinda miss the old version. I don’t know, I’m just a melancholic 🙂 And yes, God bless our madrecitas for being so innovative all the time!

    1. Who knew stuffed bras would be such a runaway hit, lol. And yes, Simon, you said it. There’s just a certain attractiveness to the whole ordeal…when it’s not one’s mother of course, lol

  6. Hola Juan! I am behind on all my reading, but this was a wonderful post. I must have missed it on Twitter but it caught my eye on FB!:) Also just saw the big announcement via your vlog…FELICIDADES! I am so excited for you and hope this leads to más oportunidades.

  7. I saw Rosie Perez on a talk show once and she said that someone punched her in the face and took her money out of her shirt in NYC. Buess some people have figured it out. Girl w/o purse must have money somewhere else. Nevertheless, I carry it in the bra. I was disappointed when the iPhone 4 became too big to fit in there without seeming like you had a radiation pack in your shirt…

  8. nice post juan. smiles at the memories…i have a few myself of things my mom did that at the time were quirks but now fond memories…some nice truths too…

  9. LOL – I’m here, I’m here! I’ve been meaning to comment since yesterday but keep getting pulled in other directions… As for answering the question about where I keep my money – like I said, if I deny it now, no one will believe me. LOL… Honestly, I have kept it there before but I don’t make a habit of it, (and I had my money in my purse when I went to Clementino’s store! Te juro! lol…)

    I love this line in your post: “probably because they could tell just by looking at us that we were literally just a few rainy days of no work away from being in their shoes.”

    That wasn’t my reality growing up, though I’ve been there as a married adult. I didn’t “marry up” financially, but that’s not what’s important… Ni modo, I remember rolling coins into those little paper tubes with my sisters. We did that just to see how much we could make from change that was just laying around the house… I guess people don’t do that anymore now that they have those money counting machines. You just dump the jar and the machine even sorts out the pocket lint. What luxury! 😉

    1. Traisy, Como que todavia no me convences con eso del Clementino. Yo creo que Claudia tenia razon en que ahi en frente del pobre muchacho te ponias a sacarte el dinero o las tarjetas todas sudadas…jajaja! Pero bueno, if that’s your story and your sticking to it, we’ll go with that!

      That line about being a few rainy days of no work from being in their shoes, it literally was our truth. Nowadays, times are still tough…pero never can I pretend to say I’ve seen things as tight as my parents did when we were growing up. They really know what it means to batallar, and I am just amazed at how they were able to raise all of us on so little. In a way I think that’s why we are all so appreciative of what they gave us and just expect to have to work hard to get ahead. Cosas de la vida…estas lecciones.

      And those machines…yeah they’re fancy, but I still to this day think they are puros ladrones. I want all my change turned into cash, not just some of it, LOL! Que vivan las mujeres y sus ocurrencias!

  10. Very interesting. “My” home style comfort food (my midwest middle-America white person style) always involves things like stretching out hamburger meat with breadcrumbs from almost-expired bread that was on sale. I don’t even like hamburgers with all meat. My husband gets a funny look on his face and says “sabe rico Vieja”. I think he likes it…

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