Poverty is tough. It can change people in ways that they don't realize until they grow up. Something as simple as a having a fridge full of food can seem impossible. These redditors discuss the ways their childhood in poverty changed them. Content has been edited for clarity.
“Family Dumpster Diving Trips”
“Family dumpster diving trips. They were exciting! Except one time my mom’s husband tricked a woman in the rich neighborhood into driving off to help us find something and instead we stole her garbage. Even kid me thought that was weird.”
$6 is expensive
“I remember fast food being a massive treat. Intense anxiety whenever school would force us to buy things, like class t-shirts or field trip admission costs, even if it was $6. Also, blankets on the windows to keep the heat in or using the oven to heat up the house.”
Barefoot Every Summer
“Not wearing shoes in the summer. You got shoes for school, they lasted until the end of the school year. Then you went barefoot. It’s not as bad as it sounds because we lived in the country. Also, your feet get callused pretty fast.”
Dish Soap Had A Lot Of Uses In Her Family
“Dish soap being used for everything. Laundry. Bath. Dishes. Floor cleaner. Whatever. I guess a little bit went a long way, but I hated it. Why buy facial soap and moisturizer when there is perfectly good dish soap? My skin still sucks from not getting properly cared for growing up.
Wiping with fast food napkins because there was no toilet paper.
Going to the nurse at school everyday during my period to ask for a tampon or pad. This was a nightmare for me for years until I could get a job.
When my mom wouldn’t buy me clothes or shoes for middle school, I had to duct tape my shoes. I rocked it like a fashion piece but really I couldn’t get my shoes to stay together.
Pretty normal poor kid stuff. I will say that as an adult, I have never once ran out of toilet paper or laundry/ face soap. I usually keep a back up compulsively of all soaps and I have a large bin of tampons. I have no gold jewelry, but I am set for the next few years worth of periods.”
Can’t Let Them See
“I can clearly remember as a kid all of the moms taking off their jewelry in the car before they went into the welfare office. I remember asking why and my mom’s friend said, ‘The lady will make me sell it if she sees it.’
Apparently if you’re poor and manage to keep your dead mother’s wedding ring, you don’t deserve food.”
At Least She Paid It Back
“I got my first summer job when I was 12 or so, and anytime I managed to build up a nice chunk of change, my mom would ‘borrow’ the money. She always paid it back, I think, but it wasn’t an option. She just took it when needed.”
It Can Be Rough
“Powdered milk. No AC. My parents sometimes skipped meals so us kids could eat. Clothes were hand-me-downs or from Walmart, and only for school starting. No wastefulness. Rarely eat ‘out.’ No name brands.
Antenna TV, no cable.
No healthcare/health insurance. No dentist visits.
I started working and buying my own clothes at age 14.
Our home was falling apart around us. My dad tried to keep it together, sort of.
Oh, and my parents never being home because they each worked multiple jobs.”
Dad The Hero
“My dad never ate when mom and I did. He’d sit at the table with us, but he always had ‘stomach trouble’ that didn’t seem to clear up until we had finished our meals. Then, if there was food left, he’d say, ‘Well, I guess I should try to eat something.’ If there wasn’t anything left, he’d say that he just didn’t feel like his stomach could handle anything.
I didn’t realize until I was an adult that he was waiting to be sure that my mom and I had enough to eat before feeding himself. And that he went to bed hungry on more than one occasion.
It didn’t occur to me what he was doing, because his mother, younger sister and younger brother confirmed that he’d done this since he was around 10. He went hungry as a kid, to make sure that they didn’t.
Nowadays, even the simplest meal at his house looks like a Thanksgiving feast for an army. But he always fills his plate last and never takes a second helping until everyone else has finished.”
Almost Lost An Eye
“The first time I remember consciously realizing that we were poor was when I was 6 and went to the doctor because an eye infection had turned into sepsis. When asked who our family doctor was and I had to reply ‘the emergency room.’
The reason the question was asked was because the PA at the ER a week earlier had misdiagnosed it as pinkeye and sent us home saying everything would get better in a week or so. Actually I had an infected cut on my cornea and it was spreading into my eye socket and bloodstream. The doctor was incredulous that nobody had even actually looked at the eye yet as within half a second of using that eye-light scope thingy doctors use to look in eyes and ears showed him what was wrong.
I mean, I knew we didn’t have much money a good while before that, but that was the first time I realized just how crippling poverty really is. That because my parents didn’t have enough green paper slips in a bank, I might lose my eye, and that the lack of those little green slips was going to have a long term negative impact on my future.”
“I remember using the neighbor’s hose when they weren’t home to fill buckets to flush the toilet. Our power usually stayed on. My mom worried the neighbors would call CPS if the lights were off. So they let other utilities go first. No AC/heat or much food. Every winter, I hoped for snow so my dad could make snow-cream. Fresh snow, sugar and milk. Such a treat as a kid.”
Father’s Favorite Never Went Hungry, But She Did
“I was about 14 when i first realized that life I was forced to live wasn’t normal.
If your family was poor, and they couldn’t afford to feed all of you, they will show their favorite child. At least my father did. And once that happened, I never really bounced back from it. Once he knew that I had seen who he cared for most, he just gave up trying to make it seem fair. Often there were nights where I was locked in my room so I wouldn’t be tempted to eat anything before they did. I could always smell the food my father managed to buy to feed himself and my brother and it made my stomach feel like it was just going to collapse on itself. My brother is and has always been an overweight boy. I was 6 when we first became homeless and extremely poor. It went on for 8 years. For eight years, I would be starved, disregarded.
One night it got so bad, my father sent my brother to a friend’s house, got himself wasted, and took me for a ride. That night, I almost died at least 6 or 7 times. My father lost control of the car many times at high speeds and almost crashed into a tree every time. I remember most everything from that night to this day. My father and I are the only ones who know what happened that night. I dream about this at least once a week. I’m 17 and live somewhere else but being so young and having this happen to you, it takes a toll.
I don’t think I’ll ever feel painless and happy like before, when the world was amazing and nothing could go wrong. My father became poor and did everything he could to keep my brother alive. It got so bad at one point for him that he let his favorite child stay safe and he took me with him on his attempted suicide. Being poor doesn’t always mean you can’t afford nice things or go without toys. It also drives someone’s mind to act differently. Being poor can drive someone to do horrible things to a young child. Being poor can make you want to end it all. If you’ve ever been in a situation anything like mine, my heart goes out to you. You are an extremely strong person and you should be proud that you were strong enough to endure what you have. Recently I’ve had trouble trying to stay strong. I’ve wanted it all to be over. But I’ve made it this far, and that’s what keeps me going. Stay strong for me and anyone out there who TRULY loves you. Pay attention and you’ll see the difference.”
Police Save The Day
“The police would come into our neighborhood, fill up the block with their cars, open their trunks full of toys and give them out to all the kids.
Realized after we moved that I stopped seeing this phenomenon and I asked my mom why they didn’t do it in our new neighborhood. Just straight-up, ‘Oh yeah, it was a sort of charity thing because we were poor and our neighbors were poor, everyone there was just poor.'”
Found Your Safe Spot
“My mom, her husband (Never my stepdad!) and us 4 kids move into a one bedroom cottage with a screened in back porch. They nailed plywood over the screens and the local power company sent someone over to insulate it under some public assistance program. No plywood wasted on partitions. My brother and I had bunk beds. My sisters had a trundle bed. My brother thought the upper bunk was best, but I hung one of my blankets for privacy on the bottom bunk. I found an old clock radio and broken headphones dumpster diving Radio Shack and wired the headphones in place of the speaker. I would hide in my cave with a library book and my headphones and dream of a better life I couldn’t really comprehend. According to my sister, my mom’s husband went on a pretty epic rant about what a worthless piece of trash I was, oblivious to the fact that I didn’t hear any of it due to my headphones.”
I Would Read That Book
“I remember being hungry all the time. Looking forward to free school lunches. Government cheese and honey. Thinking that McDonalds was a treat. Most of my memories of that time revolve around food or the lack of it.
When we were poor, my mom made a lot of ham hock & beans. When we were really poor, she saved the ham hock for the next batch.
The house we lived in at that time was poorly insulated and was in a brutally cold climate. The wood stove could only keep up with the living room. During the winter, if it was below freezing, the whole family slept in the living room. This was in Kansas in the late 70’s and early 80’s. My stepdad bought dog food in bulk because it was cheaper without the bag.
Stepdad went on the run from the police. Growing weed in the corn. My mom gave up and moved us all to California where her parents lived. Early December, one woman, four kids, and a dog in a 74 Corolla wagon with everything we owned on the roof or in a one wheeled Sears Allstate trailer from approx. 1942. It had a caster type wheel with 2 hitches, lol. It pulled the bumper off in the middle of the night in Hays, KS. My mom begged a welding shop to fix it for $10. They did it for free. I was 11 and had to troubleshoot and de-ice the carburetor climbing through the Rockies. After many adventures involving a puppy on the road for a week, we arrived at my grandparents. Grandpa said it looked like the Grapes of Wrath.”
Mom Made The Best Of It
“Going to Money Tree (payday loan place for any who don’t know, I don’t know how far out of Washington state they are) with my mom. I was too young to understand fully what we were doing there at first but as I got older I figured it out. I’m not ashamed of her or anything, she was a single mom going to college and raising a son (who was not easy to raise, I’ll be the first to admit). But yeah, I just thought having to get advances on your paycheck every month almost was normal.
A week ago, I just had to take out the first payday loan I’ve ever taken out to turn my lights back on. It was really terrible and gave me flashbacks to those days.
Also, there was one time when it was my mom’s birthday, which is in February, and the power had been cut off. She made the payment late, but they wouldn’t be able to turn it back on until the next day. We lived in Tacoma at the time so it was pretty cold and a wet cold. She bought a deli-made roast chicken and a round cake from Safeway to still celebrate somewhat. We piled all the blankets, sheets and clothing in the house on her bed after putting on several layers each, and got under it all and ate roast chicken and cake together while she read Harry Potter to me by candlelight. Strangely one of my favorite memories, probably because it was a very close feeling in spite of how dire the situation was. It’s one of her worst because she was so down on her luck and out of options at that point, and it was her birthday of all days.”
A Rough Start
“Old mildewed towels. When I finally came into more money, it was such a foreign concept to actually replace towels more than once every 6-8 years. Same with bedding. It had never even crossed my mind that if your pillow starts getting gross, you should replace it instead of just dealing with it.
Watered down hand soap, shampoo, conditioner, glass cleaner, etc.
Lots of dinners involving ingredients like ramen noodle packages. We had a very bland stir fry that just used a pound of ground beef, a pack of ramen and frozen stir fry veggies with some seasonings. It was enough for the 4 of us. Campbell’s soup was awesome. Most people hate how salty it is but I grew up on that stuff and still love it.
Using things long after they had worn out. The thing that sticks out most to me is hair brushes. They could be missing half the bristles but it didn’t cross anyone’s mind to replace it because it still (barely) performed its intended function. Toys were also used long after they wore out or broke. I suspect my siblings and I were also especially hard on toys (we were smart kids and often found creative and unconventional uses for toys when playing) but it was probably also because a lot of our toys came from thrift stores.
The only reason we had a computer was because my mom’s father gave us his old one free of charge. We were part of some technology test group and actually got to be early adopters of the Internet and got web service in 1996. Without that test group though idk how long it would have been.
We were watching and buying VHS tapes long after DVDs became a thing. I think the last VHS we bought brand new was Madagascar (2005). We had to REALLY like a movie before my parents would buy it. We mostly just checked them out from the library, which meant not getting to watch new releases.
Wearing clothes long after we had outgrown them was kinda standard for a few years when we didn’t have the luxury of hand me downs from my older cousins. One day my mom was yelling about something money related and told me and my siblings that we were always dressed like little refugee children. I’m not sure if she was mad at us or the situation. I dress really nice (usually overdressed) these days and it is because of moments/comments like that.
Not taking very long road trips at all because we didn’t know if the car would break down or not. A three-hour trip was a huge deal.
No video games or cable tv. I have gotten flack for this one from other people in similar situations saying they were dirt poor and still had cable; my parents just didn’t see a need to spend money on cable when they were tight on money. It was PBS all day every day for us if we wanted tv. My kindergarten friends had Pokemon Red and Blue on their Gameboys. I was very sad that I couldn’t have Pokemon.”
A Sudden Realization
“After growing up poor and then suddenly having money, I think the biggest shock for me was when I realized that if I ran out of milk or bread, I could just go get more. I don’t have to wait a month to be able to afford it.
Also, going on vacations out of state. We never could afford it growing up.”
The Difference Between Us
“I grew up poor and am still poor, and so did my wife. A few weeks ago our car broke down right as we got somewhere to go out with friends. It was painfully obvious who in the group grew up with money. The kids with money were really nonchalant about it. They were like, ‘Are you still coming out drinking tonight?’ The people who grew up poor jumped in to help: ‘Did you try x, y, z?’ ‘Hey, I have AAA now so I can help with a tow!’ ‘I’ll drive you home!’ ‘Do you guys have food at the house or do you need to stop at the store?’ Because they knew that an unexpected expense that makes it so you might not be able to get to work is devastating and that your priorities just changed from having a night out to ‘survive!’ really quick.”
Gifting The Things That Matter
“I knew this kid that never had school supplies. So I told my mom, and we got him a 24 pack of crayons and I snuck them into his desk. He cried when he found them. Couldn’t believe that he had BRAND NEW crayons with his actual name written on the box. I will never forget you Brett.”
Injuries Were A Big No-No
“We were so poor, that when we got sick or injured as kids, we were afraid to tell my dad, who would just blow up and make us cry since we couldn’t afford it.
One time when I was 7, my friend and I made a see-saw out of an old wood plank we found and used a tree stump for the base. Didn’t know about the nail on the bottom and when it teetered down on my side, that nail went right through my thumb. I didn’t tell my parents for a couple of days until it got so infected and was oozing. My dad flipped out over the hospital bill, not that I was injured.”
The Kids Loved Spending That Extra Time With Dad
“Sharing a room and bathroom with my dad and sister. We spent a little over a year in this arrangement. Had just a little 14 inch tv. Bunk beds on the side of the room and a queen bed in the middle with one big dresser and a couple tubs we used for clothes. I really thought it was fun all the time I got to spend around my dad. Wasn’t necessarily poor my entire childhood, but looking back I know this was taxing for a father to take on by himself. Now he’s living it up.”
The Only Responsible One In The Group
“We were homeless for six months. Luckily we had a camper to stay in at a camp ground but we made due. There was a basketball court, a pond, and a loft of rich kids…kinda made me feel like trash when these kids had like, a second home that they go to a month out of the year…and I’m in a camper with my coke head mom, drink-addled step dad, and a brother that’s now on the run with 3 warrants. I guess I’m the only one that’s somewhat normal?
We never really had food, either. Afterwards we moved into low income housing and would lose power all the time because they’d rather get trashed than pay bills. I once came home from school to see my TV, my PS2, games, all gone. They pawned them to pay rent. I was working at the time and I had to pay to get it back. I hated it.
I had a girlfriend and would always go to her house. Basically I only came home to sleep and that’s it. I’d try to stay out of the house as much as possible. And I was super embarrassed when I’d have to tell her that I had no power, or food in the fridge, or a phone. But now, I work my tail off, my wife as well, and we get things done. We’re not rich but we’re comfortable and we have the things we want. And we are thankful for every bit if it because she came up the same way.”
No Wastefulness, Ever
“We always knew what we would have for lunches and dinners 100% of the time because it was always the same.
We’d have to be extra careful with consumables because if you were wasteful, your parents would get really angry, or worse, just start crying.
Going to visit grandparents and all their church friends would overload us with toys and clothes, all of which were old, outdated, and smelled funny, but we took home anyways.”
“Just Constant Bullying”
“I remember getting some really bad home haircuts. I didn’t have my hair cut at an actual ‘place’ until I became an adult.
Turning down a side road when a police car was nearby because our tags were out.
Watching other kids getting to go on all the field trips and not getting to go watch the talent shows and plays at school that cost a dollar to get into. I sat in that empty classroom a lot.
Having to announce every morning in roll call that I’d take the free lunch tray that day, thanks. Never having snacks at snack time.
Wearing donated clothes and having another kid announce that the shirt I was wearing used to be hers.
A kid dropped a dime on the floor of the cafeteria and made me pick it up because I needed it and she didn’t.
Just constant bullying about my clothes and house.”
Lunchtime Was A Blessing And A Curse
“Free lunch. I thought it was so cool that I didn’t have to pay for lunch until I realized what it meant.
When we were finally unable to qualify for free lunch, I still couldn’t pay for lunch. My friends thought I was anorexic, but I was just too embarrassed to say that my mom couldn’t give me money for lunch.
Never being able to buy anything from book fairs.
Having a tiny homemade lunch (a sandwich and an orange or something) or no lunch at all on field trips while the other kids got to buy food.
Something I just thought about – being invited to birthday parties and not being able to buy a gift, so you have to give something of yours away.”
That Texas Heat Is No Joke
“Our parents wouldn’t turn the A/C on in the middle of south Texas summer (we had one we just weren’t allowed to use it because it was so expensive). The sound of cicadas and a box fan (pointed to blow the air out of the house) was our lullaby each night.
To this day I can’t sleep well in the heat. I was so miserable.
To top it off, we had super thick hair grown to our waist because ‘little girls should have long hair’ and we weren’t allowed to get it cut more than an inch every year or so by our mom who mostly trimmed the dead ends… I still hate the heat here but I definitely keep my a/c on even if it means I eat less meat and more cheap pasta options. Legit had a panic attack when I thought our air conditioner was broke once. So that was fun.”
“You Never Want For Anything Because There Is No Point”
“I remember a single Kerosene heater that would stink/smoke the whole house out on the few nights a year we could afford to run it. Sleeping on the bathroom floor in summer because it was too dangerous to sleep on the balcony. Baloney and tomato sauce sandwiches three times a day. One pair of hand-me-down shoes that I was never allowed wear unless it was a special occasion. The only item in our house that used electricity was the clock radio in my parents’ bedroom, and it only got turned on when they went to bed.
Christmas consisted of receiving the clothes and school supplies for the next year. All your friends at school ‘aren’t hungry’ and share their lunch with you and you never work out why. You discover chocolate milk and it literally blows your mind. McDonalds comes to town and three years later, a friend’s dad is driving a bunch of kids home from the game and asks you what you want, and you say, ‘Nothing, thanks,’ because you know better than to ask for anything, and because you have literally no idea what they actually sell there. Entire weekends spent wandering around town looking for coins so that you can get 50 cents worth of mixed lollipops. Regular visits from ‘The Government Lady’ who asks you a bunch of weird questions. Mum crying all the time. You get $10 from somewhere and it never even occurs to you to spend it, you give it to your parents. You never ever want for anything, because there is no point.”
Sharing With Siblings
“I remember wearing my brother’s clothes and undies! I’m a girl. I also remember wearing my cousin’s old and beat up shoes to school because mine were literally broken into 2 pieces. Her feet were bigger than mine but I didn’t have any options but to wear it. It was flaky and dusty. My dad was tearing up when he saw it but I didn’t really care during that time because it was my ‘dream’ to wear boots, haha. He promised to buy me a good shoes if he can. After a month, he got a side gig, and he bought me a pair of new one. Now we’re in a comfortable situation and appreciate all small things.”