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Hilaria: A Tlaxcalancingo perspective

Financial responsibility from a maid that is part of the Acatepec, Mexico community and lives barely above the poverty line.

Photo of Andreas Thoma

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Hilaria grew up in Acatepec, a small community that forms part of a larger locality called Tlaxcalancingo ; Tlaxcalancingo sits on the outskirts of Puebla, Mexico. Hilaria barely finished 6th grade before she was put to work by her parents in the fields picking crops.  Many families in rural and poorer areas of Mexico have many children because their parents see them as an extra source of income, an extra pair of helping hands.  It wasn't until Hilaria was in her 20's that she became a maid for wealthier families in Puebla.  She earned money, married a handsome young man and had 4 children.  Hilaria cleaned and cooked many households before she says that she found the perfect match working where she is now.  

I was able to ask her some questions about financial responsibility and her community to which she gladly answered (I translated her answers into English).

- What does financial education mean to you?

It is something that everyone should learn, for the good of the community.  It is a great responsibility and is important in your everyday life.   

- Where did you learn about money? What institutions were the most helpful?

I learned through my parents.  When my dad gave me a 10 peso coin, he made it clear that I wasn't going to get anymore than that.  With that coin, he said, I would be able to exchange it for something I needed, whether it was a "torta" or juice.  He emphasized the importance of making sure I spent it on something that I wanted, something that brought me happiness.  

I would say that my parents and uncles played the strongest role in learning about the value of money.  My near family also helped.

- What resources for financial learning do you wish you'd had?

I wish the government would do more for us, help us organize ourselves more and empower us.  Our schools aren't bad but they never taught me anything about handling money.  It was all through my parents.   Banks are too complicated, they ask for too much and its a hassle.  I keep my money close to me.  

- Have you ever helped others in issues of personal finance?

If it comes to advice, I am willing to help out anyone in our community.  My main concern are my children. I am mostly concerned about how the money is spent, to not spend it just because you want something, you should spend it because you need something.  

- What are the strengths of your community? 

We all know each other very well.  We also trust each other.  In order to become a part of the community, you have to be family or very close.  The farmers within our community give seeds to the rest of us so that we can grow them into food we can later eat.  The local farmers are very helpful, they help us get by.  In return, we participate in their social activities, events or rallies.  

After a couple of questions, it became clear to me that Hilaria, like the rest of her community, doesn't have much savings.  They live day to day and spend their hard-earned money on stuff they need.  

Edit and follow-up questions:

I was able to meet with Hilaria today again. I asked her a couple of more questions. Please let me know what you think and if you have any other questions that I could ask her.

What is your perspective on banks and having a bank account?


Hilaria - I wouldn't like having one. I don't understand how it all works, it seems complicated and I don't have the time to go, ask and learn about it. Not one of my family members or relatives have bank accounts and I've been doing fine without them. I would be open to learn more about the benefits of owning a bank account if someone took the time to teach me but I honestly don't know who that may be.

Have you ever considered taking out loans?


Hilaria - I have never taken a loan out from a bank. I'm scared because I don't understand how it would work and I wouldn't want to be in debt to a large institution like that. It just all seems too confusing. I have taken out loans from members in my community before and relatives. It has worked out fine so far. Because we all live close by and know our entire families, there is a strong incentive to pay back the loan in time. 

Does she know about any good and bad examples of behavior with finance from her friends/neighbors? Who are those people? 

Hilaria - As a bad example, the municipal president receives money from the government as well as loans from financial institutions. Everyone knows they get money but they are all so corrupt, they take the money and put it god knows where. They all get so much money but it’s funneled into their own bank account. He does use a little money to pave the streets in the community but that’s it. No job creation or facility improvements are made through him, in my opinion, a bad behavior of finance as it helps no one.As a good example, Jaime. Jaime is a good man that puts people to work. He is a sort of informal leader in our community that is an entrepreneur. He made some money and know gives jobs to people and helps you out with loans if you need them, all in good faith. He doesn’t distrust you if you are from the community. He has a small ranch where you can work for money. He didn’t study anything, he started from zero and he came out on top, a very good person and great with finances. He also builds fences out of galvanized wire.

Who is the most financial educated person she knows in her community? How did he/she learn? 

Hilaria - Jaime is the most financial responsible person in my community. I try to follow his guidance as closely as possible (I tried to meet with Jaime but he wasn't available).

What does it mean to her to behave in financially healthy way? Can she provide examples of situation in life, when it is important?

Hilaria - Any time I receive a payment, I have to make sure I spend it on the most important things, the necessities like food or improving my house. There normally isn't anything left after that.

Did she regret in her life that her financial education was not sufficient?

Hilaria - I think I have learned alot along the way. I wish there was more help from the government. Schools weren't helpful. I learned the most from my family and the people nearest to me. I also learned from experience. 

What is something you would have done differently in terms of financial responsibility? 

Hilaria - When my husband died, its customary in my community to host large parties where we invite everyone. We have to pay for everything, its a huge celebration. At the moment, it seemed very important but now I look at it as a waste of money. It was a large cost and although I did get to see everyone and the community paid their condolences, it put a heavy burden on my immediate family, myself and my four children. We had nothing after that. I wish I hadn't done anything. (Hilaria's husband was run over and killed while riding his bicycle on his way to work around 3 years ago. It was a hit and run, they never found the culprit).

How do "retirees" provide for themselves in their community, is there a concept of "savings"?

Hilaria - No one retires, we can't! We have to keep working until we aren't able to anymore. Then our family will take care of us. My children will help me, they work as well. We don't plan far ahead financially, we just can't. I'm truly scared because I don't know what is going to happen to me in 1 or 2 years. I can plan ahead a week or 2 at the most. You just have to keep working and hope nothing happens.

How do they access capital for large expenses such as a school, library, machinery for farming, healthcare clinic?

Hilaria - Schools are free, the quality isn't good but they're free. We have to pay for some of the books that are required by the federal government but most of the books are free. We do have to pay for school employees that maintain the school, keep it clean and in decent shape. That is community organized. There is also a community health center which is free. The quality is also not good but it's free. There is no library, but we don't really need one. Owners of farms have to pay for their own workers. There aren't really that many machines but if the farmers do have them, they have to pay for these machines themselves.


From her answers, I was able to conclude that she is willing to learn more about the banking system and similar technologies as well as incorporate financial responsibility into her daily life. The solution would be to strengthen the education system within her community.

I would be happy to ask Hilaria more questions.  Feel free to comment below what you would like me to ask her and I will get back to you ASAP.

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Photo of Trevor z Hallstein

Hi Andreas. Hilaria sounds very earnest and open. I would be curious to know about her plans for "retirement". Is there such a concept, how do "retirees" provide for themselves in their community, is there a concept of "savings". On another issue, how do they access capital for large expenses such as a school, library, machinery for farming, healthcare clinic? ~Trevor

Photo of Andreas Thoma

Hi Trevor,

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, I was just able to meet with Hilaria earlier this week:

How do "retirees" provide for themselves in their community, is there a concept of "savings"?

Hilaria - No one retires, we can't! We have to keep working until we aren't able to anymore. Then our family will take care of us. My children will help me, they work as well. We don't plan far ahead financially, we just can't. I'm truly scared because I don't know what is going to happen to me in 1 or 2 years. I can plan ahead a week or 2 at the most. You just have to keep working and hope nothing happens.

How do they access capital for large expenses such as a school, library, machinery for farming, healthcare clinic?

Hilaria - Schools are free, the quality isn't good but they're free. We have to pay for some of the books that are required by the federal government but most of the books are free. We do have to pay for school employees that maintain the school, keep it clean and in decent shape. That is community organized. There is also a community health center which is free. The quality is also not good but it's free. There is no library, but we don't really need one. Owners of farms have to pay for their own workers. There aren't really that many machines but if the farmers do have them, they have to pay for these machines themselves.

Photo of Trevor z Hallstein

Hi. Thanks for the update. I wonder if micro-insurance would help people in such communities have a safety net so that they do not have to worry so much about something happening, "You just have to keep working and hope nothing happens", by which I take Hilaria to mean an accident, an unforeseen expense, or something of that nature which would be hard on them.

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