When a parent has multiple mouths to feed, it can be difficult to provide for all of those children, pay the bills, and still have something to put away for the future. With little to no savings, poor wages, and rising costs of living, some parents have to make changes to behavior in order to provide for their family.
A Reddit thread recently asked people to share the cheapest things their parents did for their families growing up, and it's amazing and heartbreaking to see what some of these kids went through. It's even sadder when you put yourself in the shoes of the parents who were sacrificing time, energy, their pride, and sometimes themselves in order to help ends meet. All posts have been edited for clarity.
"My dad decided that he wanted to give his kids a good life, so he went to college when my brother and I were little. We were super poor.
My parents would buy 25-pound bags of rice, oats, and other grains to save money. One time in particular, we opened a bag of rice and some of it was wiggling. The bag was infested with maggots. And when you got rice from a co-op in the early 1990s, there was no such thing as a refund. Instead of throwing the bag away, we tossed all the rice in the freezer to kill the little guys, then put it all in water because the maggots float. We skimmed the floaters off the top and were good to go.
Even though we were poor, my brother and I never went hungry thanks to our mom and dad."
"We had five kids in our family and I didn't really know we were on the lower income level until a day when I was about 11.
I was walking to school and a kid I knew from down the street was walking behind me. He was about the same age and he came running up to me and said, 'Hey, that's my sweater.' As we both stood there in confusion as to why I would be wearing his sweater, we each realized what had happened at the same time. His mom had given my mom some of his clothes that he was growing out of because my parents couldn't afford to buy me any clothes.
Looking back, it wasn't such a big deal and they did what they had to do to keep me clothed, but it was sure awkward taking off this sweater to offer back to the kid.
Thankfully, he refused."
"I was about 7 or 8 the only time my family ever went on a real vacation. We went to Epcot in Florida. My dad was the VP of a small christian school and his annual salary was something like $14k. Needless to say, we had no budget beyond admission. My parents packed a picnic lunch of bologna sandwiches and a gallon of iced tea in a cooler which was left in the parking lot. We got there at open and we ate around noon.
By the end of the day, it was about 9 and the three of us (brother and sister and me) were starving. We wanted to stay for the fireworks which were best viewed near the festival of nations. This is nothing but a tourist trap for expensive meals from other cultures, so us kids hadn't eaten in like nine hours and we were being assaulted by the smell of dinner cooking from dozens of small eateries.
After about an hour of us whining and complaining, my dad finally relented to my mother's demands and he fed us, so he went off to find out what he could afford.
Turns out, the only thing he could afford to get was a single Bratwurst from the German establishment. We each got one bite.
To this day, I have a passionate love of bratwursts because that was the most delicious bite of kraut-covered sausage I've ever eaten."
"My family was middle class when I was younger, but things have gotten worse over the years after my father was laid off about 15 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 and ended up being part of a small group of students invited to a week-long 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 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. 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 and my friends who also went on the trip 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'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 anyways. 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 Canada next year."
"Well, when money was tight, my mom always made 'bubble cheese,' which looking back now is hilarious and sad.
Basically, she'd be like, 'Who wants bubble cheese?'
And of course, I did.
What's bubble cheese? Well, you take a piece of bread, butter the bottom of it, put it on a cookie sheet, put a piece of cheese on top, place it in the oven, and watch the cheese 'bubble.'
I would have pickles and bubble cheese for lunch, so healthy."
"I always knew growing up we were pretty poor. My mom never tried to hide it, but she tried her hardest to make sure we had enough of the necessities and sometimes had some extra to buy new things for us. We're still pretty poor but it's been better since my mom finished college and stopped working minimum wage jobs and got a job as a teacher that she really enjoys.
Though one habit/weird thing that I do I realized comes from being very poor as a child. We almost never went out to eat at a restaurant, and if we did, it was typically an all you can eat buffet so my mom could pay a certain amount of money per person and we could eat as much as we wanted. The few times we did go to a non-buffet, we never had the choice on what we could order, we always had to wait on my mom to tell us what we could order, or ask if something we wanted was okay to order. We could never get anything but water to drink except on very rare occasions, and even now, it's ingrained in me to ask if I can order a soda or even iced tea, even when out with my stepmom who is always fine with whatever I want to order and with me getting something besides water to drink.
She will always mention that shortly after she married my dad, and I started going with her out to eat when she took an old friend of hers out once a week, and other times I went out with her, that I could never make a decision on food and often went with whatever my dad ordered since I knew we both generally liked the same kinds of food. I've gotten a lot better about making choices, but my step-mom loves to bring up how at first I could never make a choice and makes it seem like it comes from some kind of bad parenting on my mom's part (something she loves doing since my mom raised me). The whole inability to make a choice on food again comes from being poor growing up and depending on my mom to tell us what we could order."
"My family lived in a very small, trashy two-bedroom apartment despite there being two parents and 12 children.
Despite both of my parents working from dawn to dusk, six days a week, they still never had enough money to provide for us all. We never bought new clothes, always used decade-old hand me downs from older brothers, and when they ripped or wore out, sewing or taping them together instead of getting new clothes was the way to go.
We always had to promise favors or give family mementos to local shop owners because we didn't have any money to buy food and what not. It got so bad at a point that we were stealing from our school cafeteria in order to help feed the family.
Then all of the kids had to get jobs at a young age just to help support the family. Even with that extra income, we skipped dinner on weekend nights so the younger siblings could eat.
Then it got so bad that we saved up money for gas, public transit, or cabs so that we could go over to the wealthier parts of town to search through garbage cans and dumpsters to see if we could find anything of value to to use or sell.
Needless to say, despite the difficulties, I had a good life growing up. My parents were fantastic and I have mostly positive memories from my childhood. It made me a tougher person, but sometimes, things were tough.
Overall, I think I am a better person for it."
"I grew up in a poor household, so there's probably quite a few, but these are the ones that stick out the most:
1) Hand-me-downs. I was the youngest of five kids, with a 15-year age gap between me and the eldest. I got everyone's old stuff. The worst was the old-fashioned hockey stick that my sister had broken in half 15 years earlier because she wanted a new one. My mom refused and stuck it back together with duct tape. A decade and a half later, I had to use that old hockey stick too.
2) We didn't buy dusters. Old underwear was ripped up and used as dusters and cleaning cloths.
3) We were only allowed one bath a week, which was 'family bath.' As in, my mom would have the bath first, then me and my other brother would fight who got to go in second or third using her old water, then my dad would go last.
4) Our house had little to no heating. Only the front room was warm and that was only because we have a fireplace. The rest of the house was freezing half the year.
5) My parents also exclusively shopped at discount supermarkets. These days, everyone uses Aldi or Lidl, but when I was a kid, it was height of embarrassment.
I guess everything I suffered as a kid makes me appreciate money these days. I'm not as scrupulous or stingy as my parents, but I don't buy things I don't need and don't replace things unless they're broken or really outdated."