Growing up low-income
Growing up low-income is like living on a budget 100% of the time. No money is considered extra money, and very little money is considered money for savings.
When I was young I never knew we were low –income or what other people would refer to as “basically poor” or “broke”. We were broke maybe, but not broken. My father was the primary breadwinner and made less than 25,000 a year and supported 8 children and a loving wife. Like many traditional Hispanic families my mother stayed home and cared for the kids. We were nine siblings, most of which were not born here and did not know the language. My parents and all nine of us siblings were living in a two-bedroom trailer home in our first stop in America. We shared a bed; come to think of it, I never had my own bed until later in my teens, and I never had my own room until I was 21 years old. Sharing was not something we grew up learning out of manners; we learned it out of necessity. Although I did not know how little money we had I definitely grew up knowing a few things:
What I knew
- You never ask for presents because you know your parents cannot afford them. This includes going to the store and asking for things you do not absolutely need.
- Although you do not know the value of money yet; you realize money is not available to everyone… so be grateful for what you get.
- You never complain about hand-me-downs… even if they are not your “style.”
- Family trips are not much a vacation when you know you cannot afford the extra things like; souvenirs, a hotel, restaurants, amusement parks, or even a car that will not break down in the middle of your trip.
- Christmas and holidays are stressful on everyone. Your parents do not have enough money to buy that many gifts, or throw that many celebrations, and Santa Claus does not gift equally.
Although I grew up in the 90’s my parents still owned a black and white TV that was so small that it was not much enjoyable. I did not go to the movies when I was little, or fast-food restaurants, or on field trips unless the school gave us some sort of prize or coupon. I do not relate these stories to get pity, but to share how living low-income changed the way I now live my life. These are the ways that living on a permanent budget changed my choices and colored my perspectives.
What I learned and what stuck with me:
- For the longest time I did not know what the true value of money was. I assumed that what you got paid was equivalent to what you were worth.My siblings and I worked in the agricultural fields picking oranges, lemons, cherries, grapes… you name it. We were young but we knew it did not pay well. Money was measured by what we produced, and not by how valuable we were to the employer. My dad thought us to be grateful, but this made us complacent- not always in a good way. I now know that my worth is not measurable in money… but I deserve to be paid fairly because I am worth it.
- I became frugal by necessity: This meant; finding the best deals, not spending extra money when I did not have to; but this also made me constantly afraid that money would run out, or that I would never have enough. This heightened the stress surrounding money and it was hard to change this feeling of constant fear of lacking.
- People will treat you different if they know that you do not have the money that those around you have, and for a while this made me afraid to ask for help. It made me too proud and at times kept me from seeking higher opportunities for fear of looking like “one of those people who use the system.” It made me feel less deserving.
- It made me question my plans for my future family. I reconsidered the idea of having a large family. I did not want to have a large family and not be able to provide them with enough opportunities that were dependent on money. I questioned; How would they go to college, how would go on trips; how would I fulfill their dreams?
- Growing up low-income does not mean that you need to stay low-income. Everyone’s version of success is different, but staying in the low-income bracket does not have to be a cycle. I now know that money can be earned in ways that were not imagined when I was growing up.
They say money does not buy happiness, but not having money definitely is not appealing either. Financial stability is what many people would love to have, but I am thankful that I learned what it was like to not have it. Heck… I still don’t have it; but I’m working for it. I do not know how my parents did it, but they did it. We grew up safe, and we grew up strong. We grew up thankful, and we grew up part of lower social economic ladder… but ladders are meant for climbing!!!
Thank you all again for taking the time to read this post. I know it is not research based like others on my blog, but it definitely is something worth sharing. As always, please leave your comments, suggestions, or questions.