Poverty sucks. Don’t even start saying I’m making light of the topic. I can’t even begin to rant to you how much being poor sucks and changes things for the worst in almost every facet of the human experience.
But we all knew that. So let’s try to… go into something a little refreshing today…?
I’ll be honest, while I was writing this, there were uh…only 24,482 devil’s advocate sitting on my shoulders going “well…that only applied to you in your mind.”
YEAH – NO – DUH because I only have this mind to work with…
Alright, now we’re getting that out of the way, I can make room for the “perks” of becoming poor. There’s not that much…and some are double-edged swords…and the cons of being poor still out shadow a lot of the “perks” most of the time but it’s not without a perspective of its own.
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1. Learning independence is essential.
There’s no such thing as ’round the clock childcare without the big bucks to back it up. I was a latchkey kid for the entirety of my life.
I remember one day, I fell down a steep hill coming home in 6th grade. This was in hilly San Francisco naturally and I was a clumsy kid with cheap ill-fitting shoes. I slid continuously on the cement for a good foot because of the steepness. It was pretty gruesome if you know what friction and hard cement can do to little knees. The pain stung like nobodies business but I was by myself so I got back up (yes I was crying) and limped home on the bus with everyone on the bus staring at my bloody pants.
I limped off the bus (really painful because I couldn’t bend my knees) but I was just glad to be home. Obviously, no one was home and no one was going to be home for hours so I just cringed at the pain and grossness and cleaned up. My mom got more mad that I ruined the new pair of expensive Old Navy pants. She mended the holes back together and made me wear it for the next 2 years of middle school.
It’s just a small anecdote that happened but I learned when you fall, no one will be there to kiss your bruises and scrapes. Poor parents are too busy working or dealing with 1,000 other adult problems. Life’s rough and you just gotta get up every day because there’s no other option. You can’t just lay there on the cement or daydream about calling up your mommy and ask to be picked up like you’re a normal kid. That’s not how it works. Plus, a fall is a fall. You get over it.
2. No one will bother to be fake with you.
I always thought this one was funny!
In school, if you’re just an invisible loner fly on the wall (like me), then you can observe how perfect a person behaves around another person they need a favor from.
Ie. Kristin’s family throws the best birthday bash so everybody should be nice to Kristin.
No one gave me any fake airs. I had literally nothing to offer. Did you want to see my 2 pairs of pants? How about my sparkling second grader personality?
My parents were the opposite of well off. Even second grade me knew that. That’s why I found it amusing at so young. I wanted other kids to like me and at least be fake nice to me so I know what it feels like to be worth something to someone…but…then again…eh…that’s not really conducive to anything is it now?
3. Life without rose-tinted glasses.
Life is uglier when you’re poor. I mean that figuratively but you can take it literally too. Go to the good side of town and note how much litter there is compared to the turfs of homelessness near the public housing projects a few streets away. This is a combination of both the first point and second point I made. The ugly version of life might just be closer to reality. You see others for who they are because there is no reason for them to cast you a second glance or appease you in any way. That’s the real them.
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4. You become less image focused.
I don’t understand why people idealize certain superficial lifestyles but I imagine it’s probably out of boredom…that or they’ve lost touch with reality that much. Lifestyle is a low hanging fruit to pursue that always shows well so I can see why it would be appealing to the crowd.
Being beautiful and well maintained takes time and resources someone improvised can’t always afford. Dental care is a big example. My bottom row of teeth is very crooked (thanks Mom for those genes) and they were never corrected due to my family’s poverty. It’s an insecure vanity area for me but it was never crippling. When you’re poor there are more things to worry about…like paying the electricity bill or making sure you get enough sleep to bulldoze through another 10 hours of mind-numbing labor (thanks Mom for that sacrifice.)
5. Thick skin for the long road ahead.
A life without financial stability would never be easy. Everyone needs financial stability for the betterment of their lives.
Life with money is pretty sweet; life without money blows.
It’s going to feel like a long hard road if you don’t start building some thick skin. If you needed to clean drunkard vomit to make ends meet for your family, then you clean up vomit. That’s what my Dad did for 5 years working as a temp janitor at South San Francisco Airport (thanks Old Man).
My mom was big on the concept of building a thick skin. Unfortunately for her, I was bashful, shy and very meek…for the first….oh…19 years of my life. I didn’t start acting resilient until middle school where I endured endless teasing on my bad wardrobe and my family didn’t always have working showers or laundry facilities.
It’s not fun being ganged up on and made to be embarrassed for being poor.
So what I’m trying to say is…hang in there. Eyes on the prize. Being poor is not the worst thing that can happen to you unless you let it be so. Build up the thick skin to go alone if you have to for yourself and stop caring what anyone else thinks.
That’s what growing up poor taught me very recently.
I looked around on my Facebook and went…oh….every single wannabe-cool school kid who did tease me (and I remember them all muahaha) is currently something along the lines of….community college dropout and/or getting by with menial jobs in San Fran while bunking with their parents.
They’re still yolo swagging BIG TIME. That’s not an exaggeration. Geez, they’re my age. Does that phrase ever end? I doubt I’m the odd case out, we’ve all seen this stereotype before…
6. Undiscounted achievements (aka STREET CRED).
It’s street cred. Do you think rapper 50 Cent would be as famous if he didn’t survive being shot 9 separate times?
I’ll use a bad example my mom gave me:
The two of the wealthiest men in the history of mankind currently live and work out of Washington. We have Jeff Bezos in Seattle and Bill Gates on the East side. Gates was born to 2 wealthy, successful lawyer parents. Bezos was born to a teenage mom and no father present.
A lot of people like my parents (they watches Chinese news, that’s how they know who he is) look up to Bezos because humble beginnings are relatable to them. It’s romantic because reality sucks for the poor. If you’re going to run a poll on who came further and polled my mom, she’s Team Bezos all the way.
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7. There’s scientific research that presents a good roadmap to your success.
Most commercial studies I find just screams sad statistics about the effects of poverty on the brain and all that painful stuff that made me want to cry when I was sitting in university lecture as a sophomore.
“Holy crap, am I fixable???”
The most well-known study on human resilience was a longitudinal study done on the island of Kauai. This one is my ALL TIME FAV STUDY. Researchers followed the same cohort of children throughout a lifetime and at the end of the study, they noted the similarity in resilient characteristics of children who were able to leave poverty. About ⅔ of children in the study born to poverty stayed in poverty. I remember my developmental professor telling us it’s been a continuing field of research on why this ratio of 1/3 vs 2/3 ratio was so persistent.
The biggest predictors came down to temperament (which I know is mostly genetic), having an internal locus of control (how much faith they have in controlling their outcome), and high degrees of coping skills during episodes of trauma.
I was not the most communicative or well tempered or even good at coping. After reading this study so many years ago, I told myself to work on these 3 key traits because Lord knows how much I wanted to prove myself resilient.
Plus, if you think about it, these 3 key traits make a lot of sense to hone and why a person who possesses them would be considered more resilient. It just sounds like this person could be a really cool dude to be around. They’re mellow, nice, optimistic and can cope with a situation efficiently.
8. The possibility of public assistance.
This isn’t a great perk unless you’re deathly stuck or accustomed to the worst standard of living. But it’s something to get a person through the rough patches. Heaven help you not to get stuck in the welfare trap I pray!
Like a lot of Asian American families I knew, the older generation had a pride issue with accepting government handouts. (Not so much the young generation, they’re ready with hands open.)
My mom refused to apply for food stamps. Food is big in our culture and relatively cheap too (…or it was 10 years ago) so it’s not worth losing your ego over. Plus a lot of the Chinatown stalls don’t take EBT. It’s super cheap anyways.
Housing on the other hand…yeah OK. San Francisco is super expensive.
College too. I received all the grants available and pretty good fin. package from the school itself. If you are a poor American student with a GPA over 3.0 or 3.5 then most grants and scholarships would toss a coin your way.
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9. You’ll know what comes after a fall.
My mom tries to talk me out of investing money every time the subject comes up. She says “You invest?! But everyone on the [Chinese] news said this man ended up losing everything in stocks and jumped off a building.”
I just roll my eyes at her.
Most of a person’s fear comes from the unknown. If we lose it all, doesn’t that just take us back to what we were before? Why didn’t I just jump off a school building then?
I don’t ever want to get accustomed to wealth and I doubt I ever will because I’m so used to my previous life that adopting a non-frugal mentality comes off as a real hard fight. Better this way than vice versa!
(Side note: a total financial fall is not the same thing as a dangling failure. I had the worst year of my life dealing with a failed business and I pretty much cried like a sissy all throughout it. I would have been more prepared for a total fall than to dangle.)
10. You know how to live with less.
After my friend Soapy’s first ever self-guided shopping trip (in her freakin’ 30s) she expressed to me how excited and proud of herself that she did this “ALL BY MYSELF.” I asked her what she bought on a budget and she replied:
1. No budget,
2. I bought steaks,
3. And shrimps,
4. And a twin pack of prosciutto.
I couldn’t even bring myself to reply to that. I was as angry as a person could get over a pack of prosciutto. There are 1001 reasons to love Soap but her style of financial discipline is not one of them.
Here’s a crude summary on Soap.
“Soap is the daughter of an incredibly affluent multi-millionaire family. Soap is one of my best friends although we have very little in common. Her childhood was what one would call pure opulence. Today, she is in her 30s with a drinking problem. She has bad health and cannot hold down a job.”
But after I calmed down I thought…well. It’s not her fault and she’s at least trying to learn how to live a normal life! Her rich parents did not teach her to live with less.
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11. The internal raging desire to prove yourself.
This is the BEST one!!! If you have this, good!!!
I didn’t have a friend who totally got this drive until I met Ms. Frugal Asian Finance. She writes about poverty from time to time and she oftentimes throws in her aspirations for the future even though I consider her a majorly successful human being already.
Some people would use the word ‘overachiever’ but that’s because we have the world to prove wrong. We’re not trying to please anyone but ourselves.
(I’m not 100% sure if we’re on the same page here but I’ll take a stab at it…)
We both came from poor families and we both immigrated to the United States. There are probably hundreds of floating memories in between us of all the times we were teased, looked down upon, and made to feel like a lesser person. I rather quote this then rewrite it because I find this painful…
The asshat administrators in my prefecture erased my citizenship and I was no longer allowed to move onto 2nd grade. They claimed “my family and I were not Chinese citizens (Hukou)” despite all arguments otherwise. Their intention was to sell my school seat to another family with more money and higher caste system than my family.
Y’ALL BUNCH OF CORRUPT B-TCHES. I WILL ALWAYS BE MORE PROUD OF BEING AMERICAN EVEN FOR JUST ONE DAY THAN BE A CHINESE CITIZEN FOR A THOUSAND.
*Tries to gather up all some Kauai style coping skills. I’ll come back to this later, I’m too angry right now.*
A lot of my girlfriends (actually, ALL of them, hmmm…) told me “He is so nice and he makes buckets of money. Why don’t you just sit back and enjoy it? Go have a baby already.”
At first, I thought it was flattering that they would text me stuff like that and I just treated it with passing humor. Everyone just expects me to be the wife, even the girls themselves. Hubby has mentioned many times whenever I try to do something, it creates more stress than if I just…ya know, cooked and cleaned. So I’m fighting all sides here but it’s hard to stop the Lucy Richardo demon in me. I think Hubby probably regrets that about me big time.
Soapy has said to me over and over and over “why don’t you just enjoy being a housewife? Pffish, if I were you and Hippo (hubby’s nickname) was my man, I make him a big fat steak dinner and then go to the mall.”
I always thought it was funny how financially opposite me and Soapy are together yet we still get along so well when it comes to everything else…
I’m not sure if everyone will understand my point but…I don’t deserve to create Life until I’ve proven myself successful at something all by myself. Being married to some guy worth $1 million or $10 million isn’t going to change my mindset on that ever. EVER.
Another thing is I don’t want to be one of those moms who crashes the weight of her lost dreams and aspirations onto their poor kid but that’s another can of worms altogether.
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Mesmerizingly, I’ve managed to turn a positive post and somehow mixed it in with my tears and looney ramblings. A lot of these lessons stem from pain. Hence why I’m confused and wondering if I am coming off crazy or did I seriously just use the words “perks of being poor” wtf. I’m really hoping this is relatable to some readers out there who feels the impact of #7, #10 and #11 like I do every day. I hope there’s someone struggling out there who can get a little pep in having been through the poor house.