Things That Matter

My Parents Made Way Less Money Than I Do, But This Is How They Managed Their Budget To Raise 5 Kids

Growing up, I had no idea that my family was poor, because we always had everything we needed and I never heard my parents argue about money.

Araceli Cruz
CREDIT: Araceli Cruz

But long after I moved out and started making my own money, my dad gave me a reality check. I complained to him about my salary and he told me that my earnings were way more than he ever made. That got me to thinking…

How did my parents raise five kids on so little?

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One thing that made me feel like a complete failure at being independent was that while I made more than my parents ever did, I didn’t own a home and didn’t have a car the way they had my entire life — and I was only providing for myself, not a whole family. So how did my parents accommodate for five kids on a really small budget? Here’s how they did it, and how I’m learning to budget my own money today thanks to them:

90 percent of the things my parents bought were purchased at the swap meet and yard sales.

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From produce to home appliances, almost everything in our house came from the swap meet, where my mom could haggle for cheaper prices.

We almost never had fast food or went out to eat.

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On the rare occasion that my mom didn’t want to make food, my dad would get us hamburgers — but without cheese, because we’d add slices of cheese once we got home.

Our annual vacations were strictly road trips.

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And we almost never stayed at hotels.

Half the trips we took were camping vacations.

For real! ?

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And you can bet we took everything with us.

When we weren’t camping, we crashed with family.

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There’s no way to you can go to the town your family lives in and not call them. You’d be in big trouble.

My parents only ever bought used cars.


They’ve always said the number one investment is owning a home, which they always did. However, when it came to cars, they taught me the value lessons each year. The added bonus of buying a used car: you can pass it down to a primo when you’re done with it.

The only socializing we did was at family functions.

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There’s no need to spend money at the club or a movie theater when you have a cousin’s quinceañera or tía’s birthday party every Saturday.

If anyone got sick, we never used typical medicine.

Trump CANT repeal this!!! #vaporub #latino #healthcare #aca

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If you had a cold, a cough, a broken limb, or even a fatal disease, it wasn’t anything a little vaporú, tequila, and a prayer couldn’t handle.

We never bought name brand items.


If we wanted Nikes or a Barbie, we’d head straight for the swap meet.

We didn’t pay for childcare. Family takes care of family.

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Why pay for a babysitter when your oldest daughter can do the job for free?

If we needed a haircut, we’d make an appointment with the lady down the street.


Letting Lupe cut your hair was always a risk, but we had no choice. If the haircut was super bad, it would make for a good story later.

To some, this way of life might seem sad, but it wasn’t. I had the best childhood ever and it really made me value the stuff I did have. I didn’t take things for granted and realized the most important things in life could never be purchased.

Araceli Cruz
CREDIT: Araceli Cruz


READ: Here Are Some Of The Most Annoying Things That Happen To Latinos In Small Towns Can you relate to this? Let us know by sharing this story and commenting below. 

Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

Culture

Every Time I Go Back To The Dominican Republic, I Remember The Person I Am And Want To Be

aruni_y_photography / Instagram

Anyone traveling to the Dominican Republic this summer has likely been met with the cautionary warning; “Don’t drink anything from the minibar.” Eleven tourist deaths on the island in 2019, ranging from natural causes to counterfeit alcohol consumption, have spurred FBI and State Department investigations. Though news of flight and hotel cancellations abounded, I missed my family and refused to let fear stop me from seeing them. Since I lived to tell the tale, here are a few things I learned about my father, about myself, and about the precarious paradise that keeps calling me back.

Billy Joel and Nas have interpreted the “New York state of mind,” and if you have ever visited the Dominican Republic beyond the purpose of tourism, you’ll know that there exists a Dominican state of mind too.

Credit: Dan Gold / Unsplash

Whenever I exit Las Americas or Puerto Plata airports, humidity slaps me in the face, and my Dominican mindset is immediately activated. On this island, electricity does not run 24/7. When the electricity goes, or as we say “se fue la luz,” water doesn’t run from the tap either. All that is left to do is swap your sneakers for flip-flops, and exorcise your need for immediate gratification. It takes practice, and I re-learn this lesson with each visit.

The Dominican Republic is changing fast. 

Credit: zonacolonialrd / Instagram

There is new construction everywhere you look. I sit on the balcony chatting with my father and stare across the street trying to remember how it looked before the apartment building was constructed in that space. I can see from an open doorway on the ground level that wooden boxes are being stacked, and hauled out in front of a business. I tune out my father’s voice as I focus on the shape and size of the boxes. My Spanish needs work, and I ask my father, “Papi, what does ataúd mean?” The business slogan translates to “Quality Coffins.” I think about magic realism traditions in Latin American literature, and I am reminded that so often a country like this juxtaposes disparate images and experiences in such a casual manner. I don’t think I would be able to live across the street from a constant reminder of death anywhere else but on this incongruous island.

We drive to the countryside of El Seibo for a few days.

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My father syncs his playlist and he directs my sister what song to play next. The first song is by Boy George. I watch my father sing along, and I can’t help but think about the Dominican Republic’s homophobic culture steeped in hyper-masculinity. Same-sex marriage is not recognized on the island, and members of the LGBTQ community continue to face discrimination and violence. I talk to my sister about this later that night, and she tells me small changes are coming to the island. The city of Santo Domingo hosts inclusive events like Draguéalo, where you can even sign up for a Vogue class.

Credit: Draguelao / Facebook

My father’s playlist continues and I’m struck by his selections ranging from Taylor Swift to A.I.E. (A Mwana), a song by a 1970s group called Black Blood, featuring lyrics in Swahili.

I watched this Dominican dad jam across continents, decades, cultures, languages, and race. I realize there is so much I don’t know about him, and so often we shortchange our parents’ knowledge and experience, reducing them to stereotypes and gendered tropes.

My next lesson is on staying sexy.

                                                           Unsplash/Photo by Ardian Lumi 

After a few days in the countryside, my sister and I rent a hotel room in La Zona Colonial. We ready for a night out when she looks at my outfit and asks me, “Um, is that what you’re wearing tonight?” I thought my yellow jumpsuit was poppin’. My sister pulls out a little black dress from her overnight bag and kindly suggests I wear it. The dress is tiny. It’s skimpy. It’s super short. It’s absolutely perfect. I channel my inner Chapiadora, Goddess of Sex Appeal and Free Drinks, and dance all night. 

Growing up in the 90s, I styled myself in oversized men’s clothing. It wasn’t until that one magical summer in the Dominican Republic when the heat was too oppressive to wear jeans, so I wore—gasp—a skirt. That was the first time I felt sexy, and learned the power of sex appeal. Though I wielded that power throughout my twenties, it fell away in my thirties. Wearing my sister’s LBD I realize I still have “it,” and in the Dominican Republic, sex appeal is ageless. Be careful when you come here. You may fall in love with a local, or you may just fall in love with yourself again.

The island leaves me with one last lesson.

It comes late one night, sharing a few bottles of wine with my father and sister. No hay peor ciego que el que no quiere ver—the worst blind person is the one who refuses to see. I could say the current political landscape in the U.S. reflects this willful ignorance, a refusal to see; yet it is the same human experience felt across space and time.

I come away wondering about my own blind spots.

                                                            Instagram/@rensamayoa

I board my return flight thinking up ways to combat willful ignorance at home, thinking about maintaining that flexible DR state of mind and thinking about buying a little black dress. As tourism in the Dominican Republic picks up again, and unfavorable headlines drop out of the news cycle, this changing island stands in its own plurality welcoming visitors, and offering endless opportunities to teach us something new.

READ:

There Are Few Things Latinos Love In This World More Than Vaporú And There’s Good Reason For It

Culture

There Are Few Things Latinos Love In This World More Than Vaporú And There’s Good Reason For It

mitú

You know how *some* folks say there is no magic cure or magic pill you can take to ease life’s worries? They’re just missing out on the opioid for the Latinx masses: Vicks Vaporub (or, as our mamis call it, Vaporú). Just knowing that Vicks exists is a comfort to end all worries in our lives. Growing up Latino means being perpetually fear-mongered into thinking you’ll catch pneumonia if you leave the house without a sweater and doing it anyway because of Vicks.

All those memories of our abuelas and mamas rubbing Vicks on our bruises, mosquito bites and more are made more magical by the song they sang to us while they healed us: “Sana, sana, colita de rana.” Maybe the magic of Vicks is the “Sana, sana.” Who can say? All we know is that combined, it can cure anything. Hence, the idolization of medicine for Latinos:

1. Vicks can cure insomnia, so why not sleep on a Vicks-inspired pillow?

Credit: mitú

The Barrio Shop sells this multi-use pillow for just $24.99. Rub Vicks under your nose and fall asleep to the eucalyptus smell that has been proven to help with sleep in children. 

2. Vicks also cures all emotional pain. Going through a breakup? Apply Vicks to it and continue to cry into this pillow.

Credit: mitú

It comes with the pillow inside, but you can take off the case and wash it after a night of crying all over it. Todo bien.

3. Latinos have reliably used Vicks to induce crying for manipulative gain.

Credit: @AlvarezCa_ / Twitter

Vicks not only cures emotional pain, but it can also help you fake it. Everyone knows that novela stars would rub Vicks under their eyes before a dramatic scene because the fumes are so intense, it makes your eyes water. Everyone also knows that every Latino child has used the same method to fake a crying spell to get what we want. We’re evil geniuses like that, gracias a Vaporú.

4. We all know that just having Vicks on our person at all times is like the evil eye to injuries.

Credit: mitú

Making sure you have a tiny tube on hand helps ward off injuries. Plus, we’re ready for any bruise, blunt force trauma or freak accident, thanks to that tiny, pungent tube. Carrying mitú’s Sana Sana pin has the same warding-off properties.

5. Latinos also know not to go afuera during mosquito season without Vicks slathered all over our bodies.

Credit: @bzz_mosquitos / Twitter

Is it the smell that wards mosquitos away? We don’t know. All we know is if you get bit by a demonic mosquito that is unaffected by the holiness of Vicks, you can just rub Vicks on the bite, too, and it will cure it.

6. We also grew up laughing at expensive acne-clearing brands because Vicks could cure that anyway.

Credit: mitú

Doctors don’t advise it, but they actually don’t advise using Vicks for anything other than cough suppressant and aching joints. Puesss, what do they know?

7. Latinos grow up to be medical professionals that also swear by Vicks.

Credit: mitú

Honestly, as a patient, seeing that pin would just bestow approximately 1400 percent more trust in my medical provider. Like, I don’t want to hear about how Vicks is destroying my sense of smell or that I can’t rub it on my throat for a sore throat. 

8. Instead of being cranky about a cafecito-withdrawal headache, we make more cafecito and rub Vicks into our temples.

Credit: mitú

Latinos’ relationship with cafecito is a whole other story. Por cierto, blessing your forehead with the panacea of Vicks cures us of our headaches every time. And yes, we’re better for it.

9. Who needs an expensive podiatrist to cure foot fungus when we have Vicks?

Credit: @Gardenbella / Twitter

It’s hard to say whether we generally have fungus-free feet or not given that we’re never allowed to walk around barefoot, but the story goes that Vicks will cure toe fungus. The moms all say that the gel “suffocates” the fungus and it dies. Gross, but at least our feet smell great.

10. Vicks has also made Latina moms straight-up superheroes.

Credit: @ispeakcomedy / Twitter

Wow. It must be hard for other moms to not Latina-mom levels of confidence, sponsored by Vicks Vaporub. [This post is not sponsored by Vicks Vaporub].

11. Dare we say that Vicks offers, a menos, a placebo effect to our kind?

Credit: mitú

Doctors have come out warning the Latino community that Vicks can actually worsen sunburns, acne and open, bleeding wounds. All we know is that our people are suffering less with Vicks in our lives, and pinned to our jackets, and that’s got to make us more fun to be around. :’)

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