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Get the Most Out of Your Money

Powerful strategies that can set you on a stronger financial course.

En español | Last year’s turmoil in the stock market, bond market, job market, and credit market has left some Hispanics in financial hardship and many skittish about making financial decisions. In three areas of finance especially—cash flow, savings, and jobs—questions abound as to how to best proceed in this highly uncertain economy. These sure-fire strategies can help boost your sagging finances.

Tighten your budget

Perhaps last year you were banking on a raise or bonus that never came. Or you counted on earning more than the paltry 1 percent you’re now earning on your savings. Although Hispanic spending power is predicted to reach $1 trillion this year, many Hispanics are having to adapt to lean times. Experts say that many households, with a little creativity, can lower their expenses without hardship.

What to do: Hispanics’ largest monthly expenses are housing, followed by transportation. “One way Hispanics can save money without lowering their standard of living is to look for better car insurance deals,” says Alicia Morga, chair and CEO of Consorte Media, a marketing firm focused on Hispanic consumers. The average driver spends $120 to $130 a month on car insurance. Often, simply by combining auto and home policies and perhaps increasing deductibles, you can save 10 percent or more, says Morga. “Just call your insurance provider and ask for a quote.” Get quotes from competitors, too.

Cathy Pareto, MBA, CFP, of Cathy Pareto and Associates, a financial planning firm, recommends negotiating. From retail stores to newspaper subscriptions to doctors’ bills, you can often knock dollars off every bill you have, simply by asking. “El que no llora, no mama” (If you don’t ask for it, you won’t get it), she says. While U.S.-born consumers are just waking up to the power of negotiating, it’s second nature to people raised in Latin American countries, where negotiating is a way of life, she says.

Finally, says Alejandro Marguia, with the McLean Asset Management Corporation: “I’ve seen Hispanics spend $10,000 to $15,000 [on quinceañeras]. I suggest spending perhaps half as much on a party and putting the other half into a college fund.”

Invest with confidence

Wild volatility in the financial markets has led many investors to rush to cash (held in savings accounts and money market funds, if not under the mattress) to safeguard their savings. Such cash hoarding may be especially prevalent among Hispanic investors, who, says Pareto, “even in good times, lean strongly toward conservative investments. There’s a tradeoff between risk and return, and going too safe with your money—by storing it in such things as low-yielding savings accounts—can be detrimental to your wealth in the long term.”

What to do: The antidote is to have a well-diversified portfolio that includes “safe” money as well as investments that can fluctuate in value but tend to produce greater returns. Yes, even the portfolio of retirees and near-retirees, which should lean conservative, often warrant the inclusion of some stocks.

Next: Improving your position in the job market. >>

Marguia knows that many Hispanics, especially those born outside the United States, tend to be cynical about stock investing. “Because of where they came from,” he says, “they see the stock market as a rigged game, rather than a legitimate way of investing in our economic system.” Even they, he adds, need to round out their portfolios.

If you decide to beef up your stock or bond positions, a good place to start would be low-cost index funds that allow you to invest in the entire stock or bond markets, or large sections of them. Consider the offerings of better-known index fund providers such as Vanguard or iShares.

Finally, says Marguia, “Perhaps the best way to start investing in stocks is your employer’s 401(k).” Hispanics typically participate less in those plans than non-Hispanic whites. “If you have an employer offering matching funds, and you don’t contribute to your 401(k), you are, in effect, tossing money to the wind.”

Improve your position in the job market

The unemployment rate among Hispanics is 13 percent, versus 10 percent for all workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to Wilhelmina Leigh, at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Hispanics have been hardest hit in large part because they tend to be overrepresented in two of the industries affected most by the recession: construction and manufacturing.

What to do: Identify industries and professions in your area that are growing. “Health care, for example, offers many opportunities, especially in certain professions, such as x-ray technicians,” says Carlos Sanchez, a manager with Saludos Hispanos, a company devoted to helping bilingual professionals find better jobs. Sanchez recommends taking advantage of community colleges and technical schools to beef up employment credentials. “The days are gone where street smarts alone will get you a job,” he says. “Today, having specific skills is crucial.”

Take full advantage of your bilingualism, urges Sanchez. “There are 400 million Spanish speakers in the world, and being one of them offers you a huge advantage.” Sanchez, of Mexican descent, also recommends that older job seekers look deep within themselves for skill sets they may already have. A parent who has raised several children and kept a tidy house for many years, for example, may already have all the skills necessary to take a job working with children as a teacher’s aide in a local elementary school or perhaps as a cook or retail sales clerk. Or perhaps over the course of your lifetime, you’ve developed decorating skills, mechanical abilities, or marketing and sales talents.