If you’ve read my past columns, you’ll know that my home life when I was growing up wasn’t the best. My family has never had an annual income greater than $20,000, and we’ve been homeless twice. Of course, these hardships and trials have influenced who I am as a person today. Here are five of the money lessons that I learned from growing up poor:
1. Not Everyone Will Understand Your Situation
If you attend a public school as a kid and eventually go to a public university, you interact and become friends with many different kinds of people from various socioeconomic backgrounds. The truth is, there is (and probably always will be) an understanding barrier between those who grow up in middle- to upper-middle class families and those who grow up in poverty.
Typical middle-class suburban kids won’t understand what it’s like to have to wait until the first week of the following month to get that new pair of coveted shoes because Mom had to use the rest of her money for gas to get you to school, and she doesn’t get her disability check in until then. They won’t understand what it’s like to have to worry about whether their electricity will be shut off because an unexpected expense made it impossible to pay the entire bill. There’s a real culture gap there, and I’m not sure how to get past that quite yet.
2. Everything Works Out in the End — With Hard Work and Perseverance
Things get rough sometimes. Because money was so tight, there were times when my mom wasn’t sure how she was going to keep the heat on or put food on the table. But she didn’t give up. She looked for solutions day and night, found them, and kept us going a little longer. Life throws you curveballs that you just don’t quite know how to take a swing at, but you must swing. Sure, it’s possible you might be continually at a disadvantage, but it’s guaranteed that nothing will change if you don’t work hard and keep going.
3. Don’t Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch
Don’t bank on things to turn out the way you expect them to.
Life has a way of making seemingly guaranteed things disappear.
If you work with what you have — and not with what you think or hope will happen — you will do a lot better in life. If that thing that you are hoping for actually does come to pass, that’s awesome. But if you think of it as a sure thing and it doesn’t work out, everything can come crashing down, and you’ll be stuck without a Plan B.
4. Endured Hardships Pay Off
Every little roadblock that you have to overcome prepares you for the future. Each challenge builds your character and intellect — those intangibles that you can’t teach in a classroom.
Life’s hardships can make you a better person and set you apart to future employers and other people of influence. Someone who has never struggled a day in his life and someone who grew up living paycheck to paycheck are going to look at finances very differently. A well-off person might be frivolous with his spending. But somebody who has lived through poverty will count every penny, because once he had to if he wanted to keep the lights on.
5. Don’t Let Your Situation Define Your Attitude
I’ve been through a lot of things in my life, but I’ve always tried to keep a positive attitude. I thank my mom for my upbeat disposition; she helped me to always keep my head on straight and taught me that one day everything we suffered would somehow pay off in droves.
You don’t have to let your situation define your attitude. Even if everything is going wrong on any given day — you’re failing a class, your boss has been yelling at you — always hold your head high and keep a smile on your face, and that will get you a long way in life.