"It's hard when I think back on Christmas. My mom said she received a letter from Santa, saying the elves are having a hard time keeping up. She said that if I wanted a big present, it would mean other kids would not get anything.
So I always wrote a letter wishing the elves happiness, and if it was possible just leave a candy cane next to the milk and cookies."
"I went over to a friend's house and saw they had, like, two refrigerators. I had dinner with them and they're having sloppy joes, Manwich, which is not a super amazing dinner. But it was to me. When I said, 'Wow, this sandwich is awesome! What is this?' They were a little surprised. I mentioned I was used to Ramen noodles with bread -- I literally had it 90% of my dinners. I remember them being pretty distraught. Like, they knew there's not much they can do, and realized my situation sucked for me."
"My new clothes were my dad's old clothes that had been cut to fit me for my birthday. I was so happy to have clothes like my dads, they even had the same cement stains on them! My mom was nearly in tears and I thought it was because she was so happy that I was happy. It turned out she was ashamed that they couldn't afford new clothes at the rate I was growing. I was fortunate because I never knew about poverty due to the love that our family had.
Now 20+ years later, I'm supporting my mother and father, the fridge is always full and there will never be a moment when they go hungry, I give them both enough money to enjoy life and this year, I'm planning on surprising my mom and dad with a trip to Paris, France. If being poor did anything for me, it taught me to not be selfish and give more than I receive. For Christmas and my birthday, all I want are socks."
"My parents didn't have much at all until I was seven and my dad got a better job. My mom tried to hide it, and she would take me on a Friday night 'date' to A&W - we would share a kids meal, I would eat the burger, she would eat the small fries, saying she wasn't really hungry. One time my mom went to the bathroom and I absentmindedly ate most of the fries. She never said anything about it, but the next morning she fainted while drinking a cup of coffee. When she came to, she admitted she hadn't had anything to eat since the previous morning because she spent the last of the spare change on our 'date' and I had eaten the whole meal alone. I was so ashamed to have been so thoughtless.
Things got much easier when my dad finished his education and got a great job. We weren't rich but we were definitely middle class once my parents had clawed their way out of debt and got rid of some habits engendered by scrabbling for every dime for so long. They didn't have money for me to go to college, so I worked my butt off and got into an amazing school. I graduated debt free, had a cool career and got married to an amazing guy. We have two boys and my husband makes enough that I've been able to stay home with them and homeschool them -- my oldest has a physical disability that makes school a real challenge.
I realize every day how lucky I am, and how my circumstances could have been so different. My kids and I spend a couple hours every week volunteering for a local program that feeds thousands of hungry kids. We carry a bag of food, socks and toiletries for the homeless we encounter daily. I counsel women in lactation for free, because our maternity policies in this country suck and the last thing you need is another expense learning to feed your baby pain-free. If you're one of the lucky ones like me, I ask you remember what living on the ragged edge was like, and you help where you can."
"When I was 15, I went straight to work and most of my paycheck went to the family. No questions, just work. My folks did treat me a lot more like an adult than they did my sister. I got to sleep in on the rare weekends I didn't work, my dad would talk to me about sports like I was an equal, mom would trust me with doing things a child wouldn't be trusted to do, like taking care of my siblings when my parents were at work (which was often). My day was non stop from 4:30 a.m. to around 9:30 p.m.
By the time my brother and sister were old enough to work, I was out of the house and my parents were doing well enough not to need them to work.
I never realized how important that was to my folks until my brothers graduation from college where he was to give a speech as president of the SGA and named me as his biggest influence because I worked and took care of the kids when my parents were away, making sure they had someone there for them and my mom just grabbed my knee and just started bawling."
"Up until I started in the eighth grade, Mom and Dad homeschooled me and my three siblings. Mom was a special education teacher with her master's degree. Dad worked as a janitor in the public school system. He's a talented man, but my hometown has had a lot of illegal substances and not a lot of jobs.
My seventh grade year, Mom was diagnosed with brain cancer. Huge, inoperable tumor - supposedly it covered almost the entire top of her brain. Needless to say, our education got a little lost in the shuffle of treatment options. That September, we started at the local private school. Mom didn't want our education to suffer, and the public school wasn't well-known for good education.
Mom died that November. Prior to that, we'd lived pretty middle-class lives. Suddenly, there were five people living on a single salary. The first year wasn't too bad. Then the sympathy from Mom's death went out the window. Then we found out the family member who promised to pay the private school tuition stopped when Mom died. Dad had to pay normal bills, plus last year's and the current year's tuition.
I joined the volleyball team at the end of my ninth grade year. Two months in, they said we all needed new shoes we had to pay for. I didn't think that would be a problem, so I said okay, and told Dad.
The shoes were $65. Professional-grade sports shoes. I told him, 'The volleyball team ordered shoes for everyone, and we have to pay for them ourselves.' He looked wary, and asked how much. I told him.
To this day, I think that may have been the only time he yelled at me. '$65 for a pair of shoes? I hope you like them, we'll be eating shoes instead of groceries this month!'
It shocked me a lot. I knew things were kind of tight, but I didn't think they were that bad. I really started trying to be money-conscious then. Away trips happened, for both volleyball and cheer. He would always give me money for food, but I made sure to order the cheapest things I could, so I could save money for the next trip, and he could keep as much as possible. When I absolutely needed new things, I tried to find the cheapest things possible. As time passed, I got better at pinching pennies, but those were my first fumbling attempts.
I've moved out now, but Dad's still struggling. Literally the moment I have anything ahead of my immediate bills, he's going to get it. He's not a perfect dad, but he tried, and tries, and still works hard."
"My gym coach realized I kept getting shin splints from running laps because my shoes were so bad. He gave everyone an extra ten minutes of free play in the gym so he could pull me aside and very gently ask about my shoe size and how things were at home.
When I realized he was planning to buy shoes for me, I lied through my teeth and said these were my lucky pair. I said my mom had bought me several new pairs, but she couldn't throw these out if I kept them in my school locker. He went from worried to laughing, but even so, he found reasons for me to stop running laps in gym class."
"My parents worked really hard to be able to afford a good future for my sister and I. They tried their very best to not show us how poor we were but sometimes we just knew...
My friends used to talk about having their own rooms, I shared a room with three adults. I didn't have any private space. Kids my age also went to McDonald's quite often but we really couldn't afford it, so my parents would use the excuse that it really wasn't healthy for us and that we had homemade meals (we had pasta and meat sauce every single day) that were better.
I also used to wear clothes that were donated to us - lime green pants, hot red shirts, nothing kid-like. I'd be made fun of. My dad used to tell me he just loved those colors on me, but it didn't cut it. I realized that we were just poor. We also never had books to read, never invited over anyone ever, never ate at restaurants, and never went shopping. It all sounds so materialistic, but come to think about it, the first person who read to me wasn't my parents, it was a teacher because my parents didn't even speak the language books were written in.
On top of that, kids at my school were filthy rich, so they could afford going on all those expensive school trips and I had to lie and say that I couldn't go because I was sick, or had somewhere else to go to. The worse parts were coming back from summer break. All the rich kids had been to those amazing countries and done those amazing things. I had gone to help my parents with some work to see if they could be less tired at the end of the day. Anyway, I'm in my late 20's now and I got educated, own a house, my kids each have their bedrooms and we travel as a family. I can afford clothes and healthy meals, and we sometimes even go to McDonald's. My parents are alive to see all this, and I can see it in their tired eyes that it just made it all be worth it."
"On Christmas when I was 6, my dad took me to a family Christmas breakfast with our extended family and they had a big tree with a pile of presents under it and everyone had multiple presents. My parents only got me and my siblings one or two gifts, but my cousins all had multiple presents from their parents and the rest of the family.
Seeing their presents made me realize we were poor, but it also made me realize what a crappy extended family I had. My one present from my parents had more sentiment than the board games I got from those guys every year. Also I just remembered my dad always got his brother and sisters t-shirts from his work and everyone thought he was getting them for free so they were mad about it but the price was actually taken out of his paycheck. The shirts were $15 each; he has one brother and eight sisters."
"To this day, I love the taste of white rice with ketchup. I recently told my mom how much I loved rice and ketchup and that she should make some for my 25th birthday. Upon hearing this, my mother very guiltily explained that when I was very young, rice was the only thing she could afford to feed my brother and I. She would add ketchup for some extra flavor because we had nothing else. My family is a lot more financially stable today, I just never realized that that was not always the case."
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"I didn't realize until I was older. In between my mom divorcing my dad, and her marrying my stepdad, she was a single mom with three children and working three jobs. We lived in a little two-bedroom rental house, all three of us in one bedroom, and my mom in the other. All of our furniture was second hand and donated. She never let us go without and always had food on the table, but Christmas gifts and birthday gifts were bought at dollar stores and the like. I remember my 7th birthday I got what I thought was a brand new bike.
Turns out, someone on our street was tossing their bike, so my mom picked it up and completely fixed it up. New paint, those little clackers on the spokes, streamers on the handles, a cute little basket on the front, and shiny bell. As my sisters and I grew older, we realized how hard our mom really worked to give us a life we deserved."
"There were little things that I was sad about as a kid that I didn't really think of as a big deal, like not getting the light up shoes. But the moment I realized we were actually poor was when I was at a friend's house and they ordered pizza for supper and I was shocked because I thought you could only do that on the first day of the month (payday) and that pizza just couldn't be ordered any other time..."
"I was about seven at that time. We were all supposed to wear some kind of a badge on our shirt pocket for a school function. I couldn't get the money from mom to buy the badge from the school tuck-shop.
Some teacher observed that I wasn't wearing the badge, so I was removed from the line-up and made to stand on the sidelines. I felt humiliated, but couldn't really say anything. I also assumed (wrongly) that I was not required to sing the national anthem now that I had been outed; which hurt me even more since I had practiced for the same. Many decades later, that event still rankles me; it is burnt vividly into my memory.
Subsequent to that badge day, there were a lot of other similar occasions, but I learned to opt out of events requiring financial contribution rather than embarrass my parents. The strange thing is that most poor kids accept their parents' poverty with a fair amount of grace and with the minimum of protestations, whereas the rich kids will always throw tantrums whenever anything is denied to them, even if the denial is for their own safety.
The positive outcome of that was that I have learned to not waste money on frivolous stuff. I drive a hard bargain and make every penny sweat. The negative aspect of this was that although I made a fairly good sum of money later in life, my kids waste money."
"My parents are incredible, let's start there. I grew up in South Africa and we went from middle-class family to poor without either myself or my sister noticing for a long time. The realization came one day when we had one of our favorite treats for the week, spaghetti bollognaise. Thing is, the meat sauce was no longer meat sauce, it was lentils cooked and smashed to resemble ground beef in the sauce.
Turns out that as things got harder and harder, this weekly treat got ground beef gradually substituted with lentils until lentils were the only thing my parents were able to afford. That is when I realized we were on hard times. I didn't say anything, but got a job as a golf caddy at 14, helped where I could, but full credit to my parents who still tried to give us something they knew we loved. It was a couple years of this, and my parents eventually made it through what I am sure was very hard for them. I respect them so much for trying to keep their pain and stress away from us kids, and still serve us spaghetti bolognese (lentilnese?)."
"My family was middle class when I was younger, but things have gotten worse over the years after my father was laid off about fifteen years ago. I think the moment I realized we were poor was a particular school trip in the 11th grade. I was an honors student (never got a mark below 90%), and ended up being part of a small group of students invited to a weeklong pre-university camp for gifted students being hosted by a university about five or six hours away from where we lived because of my grades and exemplary extra-curricular record. My parents couldn't afford for me to go, and told me there would be no way we'd be able to save up the $800 fee (which covered living in the university's residences for a week, food at the university, transportation from home to campus and back, activities and excursions during the trip, and tuition for the classes we were taking) even though I know how much education means to them and that they would have done anything in their power to make it happen.
I remember telling the teacher that was organizing the trip for the students who had been invited from our school that I couldn't go, and him pressing me until I had to explain why. He said he wanted to take a look at whether the school could provide a scholarship for me to be able to go, since it would be a shame for me to stay home due to finances. Two days later, he came back to me and told me that the school didn't have the money to help me (being a public school and all in a small rural area). He told me if I waited another day, there was another option he wanted to explore. Next day, he comes back and tells me he spoke to his wife, and that they would be personally paying for me to go on the trip.
To this day, nobody else outside of my parents, including school administrators (apparently this teacher really wasn't supposed to do this and could lose his job for what he did) know that this is how I was able to go. It's probably the kindest thing a relative stranger has ever done for me (I hadn't really known this teacher prior to being selected for the trip).
I'm deeply grateful that this teacher wanted to give me the opportunity to explore my potential, even more so knowing that nobody else would ever know what he did, but that he did it anyway. I went on the trip, and it motivated me to keep going so that I could get to university and continue my education. I've experienced a few pitfalls along the way, but with any luck, I'll be graduating from the best university in my country next year."
"The little things get to me. I never had senior portraits or graduation photos from high school. I had to borrow a prom dress because I knew no one was helping me get one. We moved around a lot, and when people asked if my parents were in the military and I said no, they got quieter at the idea of 13 schools in 12 years. It's horrible to say, but in the area I stayed in the longest, my only friends were kids with either parents who treated them like garbage or who had no money. We just gravitated to each other because we understand not to ever ask for anything.
In college, it hit me that having the same pair of pants from middle school with barely anything staying together was not average."
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