At least 45 million Americans live below the poverty line according to the US Census Bureau, and millions more live technically above the poverty line but are still struggling to make ends meet. Many Americans living in poverty are families with children. Once upon a time, I was one of those kids. As a child, being poor was difficult, not only because I lacked certain things, but because I was often worried, just like my parents, about how we were going to make it to the end of the month. The biggest tragedy of children living with less than they need is not, for the most part, the material things they go without—it's having to prematurely take on the worries and concerns of adults. The upside to growing up poor is that it teaches you valuable lessons about money, value, and survival. These are lessons that continue to be useful as an adult, no matter what my financial situation is. Here are 9 ways that being poor makes you an awesome person:
You’re tough. You know how to survive on very little.
My mom always used to tell me and my siblings, “If we don’t have, we do without," which meant that if something was lacking what we needed or wanted, the only choice was to suck it up and deal with it. If we didn’t have beds to sleep on, we covered the floor in comforters. If there wasn’t any money for groceries, we would get creative and try to make a simple meal from what we had. If going out and doing fun things was too much of a burden, we would find our own entertainment at home. When you don’t have much, you realize that what you do have is enough.
2. You’re a hustler. You can figure out how to get money when you need it.
There were two possible options when you needed money for something: You could either go without what you needed, or find a way to get the money. If you chose to pursue the latter option, you've might try working extra hours, selling your possessions, or borrowing money. As a kid, there was very little I could do to get money as I was unable to get a job, but my siblings and I would often come up with ideas for getting extra cash. Once, four of us had a pretty decent run reselling candy to kids at school, until the school administration and our parents shut us down. The ability to find creative ways to get money is something that comes in handy once you're on your own as an adult, even if your methods are a little different from selling candy in the hallway. The basic spirit of innovation and creative problem-solving is the same.
3. You’re appreciative. You know the value of things.
When you’re poor, the few things you have mean a lot to you, and you know how to take care of them well. But you also know that while things have value, they don’t hold that much importance. Assuming you make it out of poverty, as an adult you know you don’t need to have the latest $600 phone, and you know that a shirt that costs $20 can look just as good as one that costs $70. You learn to value objects, but you don’t use them as a measure of your worth.
4. You’re as good as an accountant. You're good with money.
If you grew up without money, you can be damn sure that you're going to be careful with it once you get some as an adult. You'll enter adulthood with an inclination to be careful about your finances in ways that your peers who didn't grow up poor probably won't learn for years. At the grocery store, you automatically calculate and estimate of the total, plus tax, of your grocery bill before you get to the checkout lane. Your bills are always paid on time whenever possible, even if that means sacrificing money for other things like food. You’re an expert at looking stylish, or at least just presentable, on a budget. You can feed yourself on just $10 a week if you need to. Everything is always properly budgeted for, and probably know how much is in your bank account right now without looking. You know how to manage your money, as best as you can, because your parents did the same when you were a kid.
5. You’re grateful. You understand how lucky you are.
Though we didn’t have much when I was a child, I understood how lucky I was. I may not have had the newest gadgets and toys that my classmates had, or new clothes, or stories about going to exotic places over the summer, but I had family, a place to live, food, and basic household appliances. Even when you don’t have much, there’s always something to be thankful for. That kind of outlook will stay with you absolutely forever, no matter how old you are, nor how much money you do or don't end up making. Poor kids learn gratitude.
6. You’re patient. You know how to wait for what you want (or need).
In high school, my mom would give me a bit of money for lunch. As we didn’t get an allowance, that was all the money I would ever get from my mom. I wanted new clothes, so instead of buying lunch, I would save most or all of the money. (Hey, being poor doesn't stop you from having a teenager's priorities. Clothes > food.) It took weeks and weeks of saving and being hungry throughout the school day, but eventually I would be able to go to Ross and get a new top for something like $15. When you’re poor, you need to be patient because nothing comes quick or easy, whether it’s paying for something you want or need, or finding a job. And yes, a lot of choices do really come down to "eating or _______."
7. You’re understanding of other people's struggles because you know what it’s like
Too many people today don’t understand what it’s like to have very little. Consequently, wealthy politicians continue to cut away from life saving programs that provide millions of Americans with food, money, and health care. Those of us who grew up poor know that poverty isn’t due to a lack of hard work. In fact, we work just as hard, if not harder, than others. Poor people, because they understand the reality of going without, are very charitable. Studies show that they give a higher percentage of their earnings to charity than rich people.
8. You’re resilient. You know how to handle stress.
Being poor is stressful. You’re constantly thinking about money; how you’re going to eat, pay bills, and get to work. In fact, the stress from poverty is said to affect the way children’s brains process emotion, even as adults. As unfortunate as this is, when you’ve experienced this type of stress before, you know how to keep it together when you’re stressed as an adult. Once you've been a child in a poor family, none of the typical adult stresses that rock other people have much of an ability to shake you at all.
9. Because of all this, you’re independent
These are all skills and character traits that come in handy as an adult. In college and after, I usually couldn't ask my parents for money, so I had to depend on myself for what I needed. Sometimes that meant selling my things, or missing class to donate plasma. Often it meant being stressed out from figuring out how I would eat, or picking up overnight shifts. But even though there were difficult times, I always found a way, on my own, to do whatever I had to do to make it through.
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