How Growing Up Poor Affects My Financial Decisions Today

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My mother was a single parent for as long as I can remember. Raising three kids on her own, she worked hard to bring in a regular paycheck to provide for what we needed. During that time, I never realized just how difficult living on one income was. As a child, I felt like I had everything I needed. My mom, the amazing woman she is, made sure that we never saw behind the lines. We never really saw how hard she worked, balancing three kids and working overtime. Being the youngest, I was shielded from that aspect of our lives the most.

As I got a little older, I saw it more. The internet being shut off for a few days until my mom got per paycheck. Eating meals that were concocted of what could be found in the freezer, more out of necessity than choice. My friends were always getting the newest iPods and cell phones, while my technology was years old and completely out of date. We got free lunch in school and there was no ‘college fund’ waiting for us when we crossed to stage to receive our diplomas.

Nevertheless, I was very lucky to have a parent who worked so damn hard to make sure my brother, sister, and I were provided with all of the essentials. We all played sports, went on school trips, and had new clothes for school. When I was around 8, we moved to a better part of town because my mom didn’t want us to go to the “bad” schools anymore. We were, and are, still so lucky to have that woman in our lives.

While none of this is meant as an invitation to a pity party, the vast differences in how we all grow up greatly affects how we view money in adulthood. A friend of mine grew up very well off and views money as disposable, unimportant, and buy whatever is trendy that week. Another friend grew up with less than me and now, as an adult, buys everything in sight to make up for the lack of physical items he had as a child. These are just a few ways not growing up with a lavish lifestyle, or at least without all of the hot, new, things, affected my financial decisions as an adult.


I will not have a big family. I think the biggest takeaway from my upbringing is the fact that I will not be having a larger family. I will not birth more than two (three, if we’re pushing it) children. As the youngest of three kids, we did not have the largest family on the block. But as an adult with my own child, I see every day how much children cost. From every day items to the future. I am always stressed about putting money away for my son’s future, whether he decides to attend college or not. Having a little chunk of change for him is one of my most significant goals as a parent. Adding another child – well, that’s another savings account I need to consider. But before we even think about 18 years from now, every day costs associated with raising a family is.. well, it really depends on your lifestyle, but I enjoy doing things with my loved ones. My son, who recently turned two, has already attended swim lessons, play groups, and infant music classes. He is set to take part in soccer next fall. We go to the zoo on a regular basis. All of these things cost money. Even if we are frugal and choose cheaper ways to keep busy, I try to feed my family as healthy as possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables, unprocessed foods – these things all cost more money than ramen or food from boxes. As my toddler’s eating habits worry me every single day about the amount of food I will have to purchase when he’s a teenager, it is apparent that more kids equals more mouths to feed. 

Too many bank accounts. Since I am paranoid about our finances and our bills and our savings and every thing else that has to do with money, I have opened a number of bank accounts over the years. Some checking and some savings. Some have a high interest rate that accumulates over the years, some just sit there. The point, for me, is to have everything separated. If one account is hacked I need one on standby. I need to see the savings that are being transferred to an account every month. This may have to do a bit with being a slight control freak, but I need to have everything separated and accounted for. Having one savings account and one checking account would not work out for me. My partner thinks I am nutty for this, so I handle all of our finances. Works for me.

Saving money is non-negotiable. Growing up, if something broke, we had to wait until a paycheck came for it to be fixed. Then, a bill would be late because we paid for the thing to be fixed. It was this vicious cycle. As an adult, I have made it my mission to never be “behind” on bills. As someone who took on adult responsibilities a bit too soon by moving out at 18, this has not always been the case. My financial naivety has put me in a bad spot more than once. Unfortunately, I have had to dig myself out more than once. Now, transferring money to our savings account is a high priority. Side hustles are a must because that money needs to be there, just in case.

Shopping second hand. As an adult, I have learned not everything needs to be new, straight from the rack. As a child, we always had new clothes and shoes for school. These things were off the sales racks, but they were new. With my own son, I have come to realize that kids grow out of clothes and get shoes so dirty before you bat an eyelash. So many times I have had to get rid of clothes that have stains that refuse to come out, no matter how many times I’ve spot treated and washed. So, why spend so much money on clothes that will be used for such a short period of time?

Minimalism. While I am not a minimalism expert by any means, this mindset has come to me naturally over the years. Growing up, we didn’t have a ton of stuff, but we had enough. Now, I realize that happiness is not in “stuff”. Stuff not only costs money, it causes stress and anxiety for the person who has to manage it all. It was so normal for me to have literal boxes full of hair products that I kept around and used occasionally. Now, I have two hair products. My kitchen sink used to be packed full of bottles of cleaners, with this promise and that chemical. Now, I have a spray bottle with a homemade, multipurpose cleaner made from essential oils. My method now is to find core products, or items, that I will get multi-use out of. To me, that just makes more sense – eliminating all of the extra stuff equals less money spent and a happier me.

Multiple streams of income. I. work. my. butt. off. to create multiple streams of income for myself. I have seen my mother lose her job and struggle to make ends meet more times than I would like to admit, and I am determined to not let that happen to my family. As a stay at home mom, I feel this constant pressure to contribute financially. The thought of my partner losing his job, our main source of income, terrifies me. You honestly never know what is happening behind the scenes, especially in today’s economy. Anything can happen. Right now, with a few different streams of income, I contribute a small amount to our monthly bills. But I have opened up the streams with a possibility to work harder and make more money at any of them if need be. My goal isn’t necessarily to make a ton of money, but to have the option to do so. If our primary income source tanks, I want to have the ability to fill the gaps as much as I can. I want to lessen the blow for my family and keep things as normal as possible.

While my childhood was not focused around receiving the newest phones or wearing the nicest clothes, it was a great time in my life that I will cherish dearly. Having an ambitious, hardworking parent made me the person I am today, and living in a single-income household made me want to better my financial situation throughout adulthood. Every day is a new opportunity to challenge myself and create a more sustainable lifestyle for my children.

How did your upbringing affect who you are today?