10 Things I Learned From Being Poor


1. Food is seriously expensive.

It’s not until you hear the real budget that your family has set for grocery trips, and until you watch how quickly it is expended, that you see how mercilessly food eats through bank accounts. Visiting a friend or family member’s house, and seeing cabinets full of snacks, and a fridge full of food, induces great envy.

2. College financial aid is terrible.

Schools say that they care, but they really don’t. They don’t take into account that students from lower classes come from circumstances that may result in lower grades and less participation in extra-curricular activities. I’m sorry that my hunger distracted me from my homework — I’ll do better next time. And let’s not forget about students that have to work to help support their households. There’s help in college financial aid offices, sure, but I’ve seen too many students have to drop out because they couldn’t afford to go to school anymore.

3. Buying stuff for yourself feels incredible.

I cannot explain the feeling of pride and joy when I finished my summer job with enough money to buy myself the MacBook Pro I’d wanted for so long. I was finally able to get rid of my dying PC, and use a computer that actually worked. At school I met a boy who was given a MacBook Pro as a graduation gift from his mommy and daddy, and I quickly noticed that he was much less careful and proud of his. He’d toss it aside casually, while I cradled mine as if it was my own child. You care more for something when you worked hard for it. Nothing beats that pride and satisfaction.

4. Birthdays are about more than the presents.

You realize this when you come from a family that doesn’t have much money. It forces you to start thinking less selfishly, and more maturely. You start to become more grateful for just having your family around, and enjoying a nice dinner with everyone. Presents become the cherry on top, as opposed to the whole sundae.

5. Heating and air conditioning are privileges.

During the winters you have to learn to dress warm, and carry your blankets whenever you decide to relocate in the house. During the summer you learn to dress lightly, and survive with a fan. The sort of temperature control that heating and air conditioning offer are not something you learn to expect. They’re something to hope for — to be thankful for — and something to be used sparingly when it’s available.

6. You wear clothes; clothes don’t wear you.

Until I make it big I won’t be able to afford a Louis Vuitton bag or a $200 Marc Jacobs sweater, but that doesn’t mean I can’t, and don’t, look good. If you shop smart, pick clothing that appropriately fits both your style and body, you can be just as chic as any rich housewife. Keep your head held high, and remember: it’s 10% fashion, and 90% how you wear it. Think about it; some of these runway shows have outfits that look absolutely ridiculous, but the model and their presentation are so fierce that we can be convinced into thinking they look good. This type of trick can be pulled in the real world too!

7. Taking care of a car is more challenging than taking care of a child.

Cars in my life have always had this tendency to break down. My family is cursed, for real. I genuinely believe one of my ancestors pissed off the wrong person. My relatives buy cars, and they always seem really great…at first. A few months later there’s always a problem, and it’s not a small, or cheap, problem either. As a result, I’m completely content using public transportation, and walking, because cars are just too much work.

8. Vacations have to be planned incredibly far in advance.

I tried planning a trip to Atlantic City with my friends, because it wasn’t like I could travel very far. And let me tell you: our trip was pushed back countless times, because I realized the incredible cost for staying away from home — even if it’s just for one weekend. You have to worry about where you’re sleeping, how much you’ll be eating, and any costs for activities. Spontaneity is not the name of the game.

9. You always have to work extra hard.

What you earn you have to earn by showing the world that you are strong, confident, intelligent, and important. You can’t depend on others. Your family and friends will be there to help when they can, but in general, most other people are too busy living in their own bubble to truly care if you struggle.

10. Hard work won’t always get you where you want to be.

When your parents work from paycheck to paycheck they don’t usually have access to networks that can help get you far. When you’re poor you don’t have access to private schools, prestigious internships, or impressive extra-curricular organizations. It can be nearly impossible to keep up, because richer people have these connections and don’t plan on letting outsiders in. Companies and organizations take on the children of their friends and workers as interns and new employees, and continue the cycle of keeping it in the family. This system can be nearly impossible to break. But when you fall, and you’re down, people will accuse you of not working hard enough. They would rather blame you, than admit that they have any sort of privilege. All you can do is keep on keeping on, because really, that’s all you can do. Sometimes the world just sucks.