A Latina Money Expert's Tips For Building Your Savings Up

A lack of financial literacy poses a significant barrier for many Latines in the United States, often hindering their ability to build equitable wealth. So we asked five Latina money coaches to offer their financial expertise on all the pressing topics you have questions about, from building credit to homeownership. This Women's History Month, we want Latinas to understand that regardless of their financial journey so far, they do have the power to improve their financial well-being for generations to come.

Imagine being 22 years old with $20,000 in credit card debt that you've kept secret from your parents. While studying at Brown University on a full scholarship, Yanely Espinal found herself in this exact predicament. With no money to cover the cost of books, supplies, or travel home to Bushwick, NY, during breaks, Espinals's lack of education on how credit and debt management works resulted in multiple maxed credit cards and years of paying down debt.

Espinal was not alone in this struggle. While Latines are the fastest-growing contributors to the US economy and among the fastest-growing populations in the US, they tend to have lower rates of financial literacy compared to their white counterparts, as noted by the Financial Industry Regulatroy Authority (FINRA) Investor Education Foundation. The organization has also found that despite slight increases in financial knowledge correlating with higher incomes and education levels, Latines still face hurdles such as a lack of investment knowledge in their families, distrust of mainstream financial institutions, and experiences of discrimination and racism.

Having personally experienced these barriers and seeing how they affected her family and community, Espinal is now on a mission to make personal finance accessible for Latines.

"In order to create generational wealth, we have to create new generational cycles that begin with a debt management plan, emergency savings, and investing for wealth building," she tells POPSUGAR. "[The Latine] community needs more financial literacy education to help us strategically prioritize financial goals and practice wealth-generating behaviors with confidence."

As the daughter of Dominican immigrants who grew up in poverty, Espinal never learned about financial literacy at home. Her parents lived paycheck to paycheck, held jobs that didn't offer 401(k) retirement plans, and had never opened a bank account. Terrified of falling into the same cycle of poverty right out of college, Espinal set out on an aggressive debt payoff plan. Her elementary-school teacher salary — combined with compounding credit card interest, her spending habits, and needing to financially support her parents — would simply not cut it.

Instead, she cut unnecessary spending: she didn't shop for new clothes, shoes, or makeup, and prepared all her meals at home. She took on side hustles including tutoring, babysitting, eyebrow threading, and selling handmade goods on Etsy. She researched, listened to several finance podcasts, and read dozens of books about money. Among those was financial adviser Suze Orman's book "Women and Money," which Espinal says helped her realize how little she had been taught about budgeting, banking, credit, taxes, insurance, and investing.

"I felt that I had been deprived of financial literacy education and needed to bring my passion for the subject to others. The financial industry has resources that are presented in a dry and boring way. It is also saturated by men, and many of them are white," Espinal says.

In 2015, after 18 straight months of making $1,200 payments to her credit card debt, Espinal became debt-free — and she didn't stop there. She continued setting aside that same amount of money in a high-yield savings account to build up her first $10,000 of emergency savings. Not only did she become inspired to continue growing her net worth, but she also wanted to "add diversity" to financial education and help others learn about financial empowerment through digestible ways.

We chatted with Espinal, author of "Mind Your Money: Insightful Stories and Strategies to Help You Reach Your #MoneyGoals" and creator of the MissBeHelpful platform across social media, to shed light on why it's hard for Latine communities in the US to save money and how you can jump-start your financial literacy journey while building up your savings.

Why Is It Typically Hard For Latines in the US to Build Up Savings and Wealth?

Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other non-retirement financial investments have historically been an effective way to build wealth over time, given the high returns on these assets due to compounding interest, according to the US Department of the Treasury. Meanwhile, Latines are often challenged by language barriers, immigration issues, and a lack of trust in the American financial system. This can prevent Latines from navigating new institutions, financial products, and stock markets, she explains.

This has also led to a preference for tangible assets such as cars, real estate, farmland, businesses, or gold. Unfortunately, these types of assets tend to underperform compared to financial assets in the stock market and intangible assets like intellectual property, patents, trademarks, and copyrights, Espinal adds.

In a 2022 US Census Bureau report, Hispanic folks had the lowest retirement account ownership rates. They were also the demographic with the lowest percentage to report receiving an inheritance, gift, or other financial support from family, further contributing to the racial gap.

How Can Latines Start Saving Money?

First, tackle your debt. "Making a plan to pay off your debt is critical to improving your financial health and stretching your money's life expectancy," Espinal writes in her book.

Then, if you have at least one steady income source, pay yourself weekly, and make it a group activity or a family challenge. Savings challenges that involve a weekly transfer to a high-yield savings account, a no-spend week or month, and or the creation of sinking funds – an account with money set aside to pay off a particular debt – can help you tap into the power of working with a financial community.

How Can Latines Build an Emergency Fund?

An emergency fund or a rainy-day fund consists of money in a bank account that's set aside for unexpected emergencies only. There's no perfect formula to calculate how much money you should save for an emergency fund – most experts say you need at least three to six months of living expenses – but if you are just getting started on setting an emergency fund goal, Espinal recommends asking ask yourself, "What's the worst thing that can happen?" Working backward, create a plan for that moment.

"Each individual needs to consider what's a realistic emergency fund goal given their level of income, job stability, and comfort with risk," Espinal says. "If you can prepare for the worst-case scenario, then you'll be mentally and emotionally ready for anything."

How Can This Current Generation of Latines Educate Themselves About Financial Literacy?

Work with a financial coach. The financial problems we face have many possible solutions to consider, Espinal shares.

"Working with a coach is all about having someone there to hear you out and help you think through the pros and cons of each path, and understand the opportunity cost involved," she says. "Once you can make informed financial choices with confidence, you'll no longer need to rely on a financial coach."

Social media is also another accessible tool for Latines to learn about money from other Latines. Espinal recommends following her fellow Latine social media creators such as Jen Hemphill, Cindy Zuniga-Sanchez, Giovanna Gonzalez, Jannese Torres, Mabel Nunez, Kara Perez, and Maria Melchor, all of whom are normalizing open dialogues around money in a culturally relevant way for the Latine community.

"Rather than getting financial information from the mainstream financial industry which is overwhelmingly male and white," Espinal says, "we can learn from our own community."

Zameena Mejia is a Dominican American freelance writer born and raised in New York City. She is passionate about storytelling and uplifting diverse voices in beauty, wellness, and Latinx lifestyle. Zameena holds a BA in journalism and Latin American studies from the State University of New York at New Paltz and an MA in business reporting from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.