At Least They Never Went Hungry
“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.”
Talk About Awkward
“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 eleven.
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.”
The “Family Baths” Had To Be The Worst Part
“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 fifteen-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 fifteen 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.”
When You’re That Hungry, Every Bite Counts
“I was about seven or eight 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 fourteen grand. 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 nine 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.”
His Act Of Charity Brought His Mom To Tears
“Growing up, my parents were divorced, my mom worked full-time and was raising three kids while still paying a mortgage. She made sure to never let us know how poor we really were. Growing up, my brothers and I never knew. We talk about it to this day on how amazing my mom is.
She was the one who went without. My grandma was always babysitting us, which now I look back on because of how lucky we were to spend so much time with her.
We had ‘camp outs’ in the backyard watching stars and satellites. For fun, we would drive to my mom’s work and just watch airplanes take off and land. We would go to the drive-in movies and some of us would hide in the car so we weren’t charged. We would go to my aunt’s house for the pool and a free dinner.
My mom worked for the airlines, so she made sure to go on vacation at least once a year. Little did I know that they were free flights. One year, we went to Mexico for about a week. We started in Mexico City where we went to a huge cathedral. There were poor people everywhere in Mexico City. My mom gave us each about five dollars to get souvenirs while we were there. As we were walking to the cathedral, my twin brother and I gave our money to an old beggar woman. And my mom instantly started crying. I don’t know if it was because she thought that would be us someday or because even though we had very little, we still had enough heart to give to the lesser.”
You Know It’s Bad When You Have To Steal From The School Cafeteria
“My family lived in a very small, trashy two-bedroom apartment despite there being two parents and twelve 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.”
He Knew What It Was Like To Have Money And That Made It So Much Worse
“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 eleventh 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 eight hundred dollar 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.”
His Father’s Shame Was His Favorite Memories
“My dad and I would play ‘hit the log with the rock.’ We played it a few times a week when he got home from work and I loved it. I would get home from school before him and gather about thirty to fifty ‘good’ rocks for throwing. Little did I know, dad was stressed at work with very little money and that was what he came up with to play a few evenings a week. My dad was embarrassed by this game and some of his homemade toys although I look very fondly on these memories.”
Why Pay When You Can Do It At Home?
“My dad wasn’t happy with the service at our local hospital when I was born, so when my mom became pregnant with my younger brother in 1978, he went to the library, he took out some books on midwifery, and delivered my brother in their bedroom. I was eight years old and it seemed reasonable to me at the time. He did it again in ’83 when my other brother was born. The morning after Teddy was born, my mom handed me a bulging garbage bag and said ‘Mark, take this out to the garbage. Make sure you get it in the can with the lid on tight. It has my placenta in it. I don’t want the dogs getting into it.'”
Their Dad Sacrificed So Much
“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 ten.
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.”
Well, It Wasn’t Necessarily Stealing
“When I was a kid, our local libraries had a program to encourage kids to read. You’d get a sheet of paper to fill out the amount of hours you spent reading. Then, you’d turn in that paper at the end of the summer and get prizes based on the amount of hours you read!
The highest prize was free State Fair tickets, which would usually cost around twelve dollars. Well, that’s when my mother decided we would cheat the system.
To be fair, we did read. Mostly Harry Potter. But, to say we were generous with our time-spent-reading estimations would be an understatement. I’m talking, like changing an hour into five hours. It was all my mom’s idea – we were just kids after all. We would fill out sheet after sheet and go to all the different libraries in our county to turn them in. We didn’t want to go to the same library every time, because we were high profile library-scammers at this point and didn’t want to get caught.
Well, all said and done, we probably get at least ten free State Fair tickets which saved us like a hundred dollars. We did that for about four summers straight until we were well too old to be participating in that program.”
Who Needs A Pool When You Have A Grandma Like That?
“My grandmother used to babysit me before I was old enough to go to school. She never had a license, so we took the city bus everywhere and walked. One of our walking routes was past a country club.
Every time we passed the country club, she would tell me to go look at the pool. So I used to run up there, weave past the bushes, look through the cracks of the fence, and look at the pool and the kids swimming. I can see it clear as day in my head.
So growing up, I never had access to a pool, but my grandmother used to let me look at one. I laugh to myself thinking how sad it is to look at rich kids playing in a pool.”
What’s This Bubble Cheese?
“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.”
They Treated Dumpsters Like Personal Shopping Centers
“Dumpster diving actually gave us way more than people would think. My mom would dumpster dive the nicer florists in the upper-class part of town around Valentine’s Day when they would throw out full bouquets of roses if they were there more than a few days old, well before they wilted. So she would dive for those, grab some cheap vases from Goodwill, and get some ribbons and make some nice looking bouquet vases for half or less of the cost at a florist.
She actually brought in tons of extra income that way.
There was also a used books and games store that would throw away old electronics that would sit too long or games that they had in excess. Numerous times, we’d go behind their store and find boxes full of old games for current generation systems. One time we even found a newish looking monitor. We traded a lot of the stuff back to the other locations for extra cash.
I’ve totally eaten food pulled out of dumpsters. We once found a huge box of those little individual bags of chips that came in different flavors, and none were open or even expired.”
It Was A Buffet Life For This Family On A Budget
“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.”
They Still Took Pride In What They Had
“My parents would go to the grocery store and get the boxes of produce that were too ugly to go on the shelves, so it was free. The only thing is the store was throwing it out so they weren’t going to sort it for you, and there were many banana-boxes of produce that you had to take every time.
It worked out really well and we actually ran a neighborhood grocery store/soup kitchen for fresh produce off our front porch because there was so much of it. I remember that was how I had my first artichoke because we would never have bought artichokes, they were too expensive. I remember all the other people from the barrio that surrounded our house, and practicing Spanish with them as they would come to our porch to make a selection and take a whole banana-box of ugly, fresh produce home.
Also, there were five kids in our family and twelve cousins altogether, and ages were just staggered enough that all clothing got passed down through every single cousin. Pity the youngest cousin whose swimsuit never had any elastic left. I remember when we got a bunch of hand-me-downs from a ‘rich’ family at church and some of the pieces still had tags. It was nice stuff, much nicer/more fashionable than what would have come down from my cousins. I was so proud of how I looked wearing those outfits I was able to put together from the other family.
When we went out to eat, it was almost always at a fast food restaurant, and we were strictly limited to a single item off the dollar-menu. The first time we got an invitation from one of my mom’s friends to go swimming at a club, we had lunch there and my mom told me I could order lunch off the menu and I was so astounded that a chicken tenders lunch would cost nine dollars that I grilled the waitress on how big the chicken pieces were and how much food it would be because I definitely didn’t want to spend such a crazy amount of money and still be hungry. My mom was embarrassed and said ‘If you’re still hungry, you can get something else, just order.'”
Things Eventually Got Better, But They Were Tough For A Stretch
“My parents didn’t have much at all until I was seven years old 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 tail 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.”