Not everyone is born into privilege. These people share how their parents had to think outside the box in order to give their children a somewhat "normal" and happy childhood.
(Content has been edited for clarity.)
Their Father Would Sacrifice His Own Health To Keep His Family Alive
“When I was born, my family was poor. My family consisted of my parents, a half-brother, a half-sister, and me. My dad was 5’10 and only weighed about 130 because, if we couldn’t afford enough food to feed us all, he wouldn’t eat so we could.
Fast forward to when I can actually remember things, my family was not much better off, but my dad could actually eat at every meal. At Christmas, we would wrap our presents in newspaper because we couldn’t afford the fancy paper. Then, EVERYTHING that could be reused, got reused, including Ziploc baggies, and hand-me-down clothes. I thought everything was normal until I went to a friend’s house, and the presents under their trees had shiny nice wrapping paper and bows.”
Their Childhood Wasn’t An Easy One
“These were a few things from my childhood that made me realize I grew up poor:
- Going to the Boy’s and Girl’s Club Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t realize that was odd until I saw something on ESPN where a football player donated money to the B&G Club, and there was a segment about a Thanksgiving dinner for hungry kids.
- Walking to the church to pick up boxes of food. I thought churches gave out food in an attempt to recruit people, not because we were actually that hungry.
- Staying home alone every weekday in the summer, at age 8 and babysitting my 3-year-old brother.
- Getting a job at age 14 to help pay the rent. I knew the part where my mom forged our birth certificates to make us look older wasn’t normal, but I thought most teenagers paid rent and only the rich ones got to do after-school activities like sports teams instead of working.”
This Pizzeria Owner Became The Father He Never Had
“The pizza place near my neighborhood would let me sit in their dining area until they closed. The owner’s name was Frank, and he would give me pizza to take home with me or a slice and a drink while I sat there. He knew I had no money to pay but would still take care of me. I didn’t like being home alone every day and night (single mom working all the time or sleeping) and would go there a lot just to have a TV to watch because we didn’t have one.
Eventually, my mom couldn’t take care of me anymore, and I had to move in with some relatives in a different state. I went back to visit when I was on leave after completing basic training and decided to stop in and pay for a slice.
Frank remembered me, all those years later. He came out from around the counter and hugged me, and told everyone in the dining room, ‘I’ve known him since he was a this big.’ We sat down and ate together, and I thanked him for everything he did for me as a kid, and he said he was so happy I stopped by and how proud he was that I became a soldier.”
Being Surrounded By So Much Corruption Soon Turned Them Into A Criminal
“Looking back, I grew up surrounded by criminality.
No one was married despite being together for 10 years because being married would disqualify them from certain government assistance programs.
People would keep the school photos that they sent and never paid the school.
They’d buy stolen stuff for cheap. One time, I got an Xbox for half price from my dad’s friend who had a truckload of them for some reason. Every year when a new console came out, we would know a guy who had them for cheap.
I was always surrounded by bootleg games and movies.
We used to get Target gift cards for half price, and we would always get them for back to school shopping. For every dollar you paid the guy in cash, he would load it with $2, but you had to quickly spend the money. For a while, we also had the same deal for gasoline.
We had family members who dealt and another who worked as a bookkeeper, so they would sometimes take electronics and jewelry as payment and then sell that stuff to friends/family for cheap. I don’t think we ever paid full price for any electronics.
Selling smack was normal. The house I used to stay at after school would get raided every couple years, and my babysitter’s brothers were in and out, usually for minor offenses because the cops could never get them for what they wanted to. Once I got into high school, selling illegal substances was my source of pocket money. My friends would get allowances or work at their family business and be able to go shopping, eat out, or go on dates with the money. I would flip my birthday money to be able to have some fun.”
This Store Had A “Wanted” Sign For Them Growing Up
“My mom used to send my brother and me to the dairy to buy milk, using a check for the exact amount the milk cost. The store pretty quickly caught on that the checks would always bounce, so they put up a sign with our pictures saying, ‘Do not accept checks from these children.’
It was many, many years later that I looked back at those times and realized that we were poor.”
Peanut Butter & Jelly Was A Balanced Meal To Them
“I never realized eating peanut butter and jelly for every lunch was strange. I just thought everybody saw bologna and cheese as a luxury like I did, and Lunchables were only for special occasions obviously. I also thought every kid shopped at Goodwill, got dollar store candy for birthday treats, had hot dogs on plain white bread and ate only generic brand cereals.
I thought all the kids had indoor camping trips with their families once a month, and the fact that you could only use flashlights during these trips was just part of the fun (and not because we were late on the electric bill). My mom handmade a lot of our Halloween costumes and all of my Barbie and doll clothes. I thought I was special with all of these unique doll clothes. It never occurred to me that it was just cheaper that way. I dealt with a lot of things that were super-glued or patched up because we couldn’t afford new things. My first Barbie came from the bushes in my backyard after the neighbor girls threw it over the fence and never came back for it. Dining out was the biggest treat in the world. Even though it was almost always buffet places like Golden Corral. Specialty places like Olive Garden and Red Lobster were out of the question unless someone else was paying. My best (and only) friend was the child of divorced parents, so she was as financially destitute as I was. I honestly didn’t know any of this was odd, because my friend was going through it too.”
Growing Up Poor Helped Them Appreciate The Little Things In Life
“As a child, I remember a few things.
- Mayonnaise sandwiches. I have heard them referred to as ‘Wish Sandwiches’ as in…. you wish you had something else to go in it.
- After my father left, we didn’t have any money (mom had never had a job; only a housewife and had a mental breakdown) and she made us homemade pizzas… a slice of bread, ketchup, sliced American cheese with sliced hotdog pieces on top. She would make one hot dog stretch for three children.
- My grandmother would give us the butts from her cheap smokes to let us ‘paint’ on the bricks outside her house. She would fluff the end of the filter and we would dip it in water and ‘paint’ our pictures on the bricks. It was an endless canvas because the Georgia heat would make the water evaporate quickly.
- I remember wearing clothes that my mother had worn in high school when I was in the fifth grade. I never understood why I was made fun of because I felt privileged to have my mother’s things.
- Sleeping in the same room as my two other sisters. I thought that it was something that was normal because we were siblings. Also, when the winter came, we huddled on the same mattress because we didn’t have heat. I didn’t know as a child that central heat was a ‘normal thing.’
- Getting the ‘Circus Animal Crackers’ at the store. You know the ones in the box with the cloth string as the handle? That was a treat.
I wouldn’t change a thing. I am PROUD to have been raised poor. It has made me appreciate the small things such as having a grilled cheese sandwich because I can afford butter, or having heat in my home even though I have it set on 66 in winter and air conditioning in the summer and having it set on 78.”
It Was A Hard-Knock Life
“Growing up I had to:
- Share/reuse the bath water after my sibling had been in it (and probably peed in it to spite me).
- Wear hand-me-downs that never fit.
- Have bread and butter, pudding, and gravy with bread were my main dietary staples.
- Only take one bath per week because the immersion heater cost like $5 each time.
- Have anything broken be glued, duct taped, or just had to live with it.
- Watch movies through your neighbor’s window.
- Walk miles to the nearest grocery store because that bus fare was ‘like being mugged.’
- Hang my school uniform up straight after I walked in so it didn’t get dirty and wear ‘inside clothes,’ which were usually the same ones every day.
- Believe my friends’ parents who had cars were some hotshot in a hotshot company.
- Holiday? You mean… CAMPING IN THE BACK GARDEN IN THE RAIN UNDER A TARPAULIN ISN’T A HOLIDAY?!
- Hide from the debtors knocking on the door.
- See my mom cry when she thought I was asleep because her stomach was rumbling and she had to give my sisters and me the last of the bread.
- Deal with being made fun of for not going on school trips or having the new Nike Air Max trainers or having a tattered uniform.
Poverty sucks, man.”
These Basic Items Were A Luxury
“The idea of a surplus of folded towels in storage was new to me. We all had personal towels in my household when I was younger. When I met my fiancé, she had so many in storage for when the other ones were getting too wet or stinky. I was intrigued, to say the least. I felt fancy showering in her home.
Also, name brand products: liters of soda that went for $0.75 or so were the norm for me, so of course they weren’t that great. I preferred water or the large jugs of Kool-Aid we had in the fridge over those, but eventually doing better in life for myself, buying name brands was nice. They were flashier, tasted better, and the overall quality of them was just better than the off-brand products.
I also thought eating microwaved hotdogs and Valentino hot sauce was normal. That was breakfast and lunch for my siblings and me at least four days out of the week. Food like eggs, bacon, and toast were a luxury.
I grew up with three siblings, so our imagination kept us all busy with each other as toys and games weren’t a thing for a while, just technology in general. Eventually, our lives started to get a little better, so we all got toys of our own choices; bionicles for me, barbies for my two younger sisters, pokémon stuff for my older sister. We treated them all like collectibles even when they weren’t.”
They Were Forced To Grow Up Quick At This House
“I never had a babysitter. Growing up poor made me ‘grow up’ quicker, thus I was fine with not only taking care of myself but other kids as well. I remember getting babysitting jobs when I was 10 years old because I was ‘so responsible.’ The money went to my mom. She’d refuse it but I’d sneak it into her purse.
I ate condiment sandwiches a lot as there was no money for cheese or meat. Also on the menu was ramen; plus if you didn’t use the packet, you could put the flavor in hot water and have a soup.
We also stole from stores. I know it’s taboo, but stealing is such a big part of a lot of poor people’s lives. Whether it’s a box of gum to stave off the hunger, a can of soup that you’ll have to stretch for a couple days, or just a tube of lipstick so you have one little thing to make yourself feel good. I still have to remind myself sometimes that I DO have enough money to get a new toothbrush or what have you, and that I don’t have to steal anymore. It’s not often talked about, whether out of shame or guilt or fear of judgment, but it’s definitely something a lot of poor people had to do just to survive and/or feed their kids.”
Their Parents Would Do Anything To See Their Kids Smile
“My parents are now middle-middle class, but they used to be so poor that my dad had to go to work the day I was born. He worked a few jobs, and my mom was a stay at home mom because childcare prices are crazy. I asked for a Cinderella doll one year for Christmas. I was expecting a plastic one from a store, and I instead got a homemade one that my mom made. It was quite cool; it was a fabric doll that was dressed up in a ragged dress, and you flipped it over and she had her hair up and was wearing earrings and a fancy dress. This doll is how I learned that Santa was my parents because I recognized the fabric from my mom’s other projects. I still have that doll.
Also, I was a tiny kid and took forever to start growing. I’m not sure where they got my clothes, but my mom would sew in an elastic into my pants because there were just no belts that were small enough for me, and I guess they couldn’t afford new pants that would fit me.
For Christmas, Santa would bring my brother and me a basket of treats that we weren’t usually allowed, like sugary cereals, dunkaroos, and juice boxes – this was Santa’s big present to us for years. It’s more expensive than the regular food that we got but still cheaper than a lot of toys. I still remember the excitement at seeing that basket of cereal.”
Turns Out Their Favorite Meal Was Going To Be Their Only Meal
“Potatoes. We had potatoes every night: potato mash, potato bake, chips, and all the rest. As a kid, I thought, ‘Dang, my parents are awesome! Fried potatoes almost every night!’ Potatoes are ridiculously cheap, so my parents bought them like they were going out of style. I can’t say I didn’t like it. My dad would sit beside the oven and conjure up new ways to cook potatoes. It was a family tradition; we had this little whiteboard and would keep tallies on how many times we had the same thing, so if we had chips three times already, we would change it up a bit for that night’s dinner.
Even if we didn’t have any money to our names, it was one of the happiest moments I can remember as a child – everyone gathered around the dinner table laughing and eating potatoes.”
They Came From Harsh Beginnings
“My family and extended family slowly immigrated to America in the ’90s. My parents and I were the last of my extended family to leave and we were all pretty poor in the old country. To help us make ends meet while waiting to leave, my extended family from America would send us packaged foods. We ate ramen a few times a week and thought that it was the most delicious meal on earth. I only found out the truth about ramen years later when we had arrived in America.
But the biggest shocker? The day we arrived in America, we went to my aunt’s house and there in her kitchen was a large bunch of seven bananas. This was mind-blowing to me because up until then, I had only seen this in stores and was lucky to MAYBE eat one banana every few months, if they were even around and if my parents had gotten paid and could afford to treat me.”
They Felt Like A Kid Again When They Were Able To Buy Their Own Toys
“The rummage sales. Oh, the rummage sales. I think I’m the only kid who grew up hating Saturdays. I got dragged along every time, and I was bored out of my mind. But that’s where most of my stuff came from. If the price was marked as a quarter, my mom would ask to pay a dime. If the person refused, she would circle around at the end of the day to see if the item was still there, and she would get it for the dime she asked.
I tell my kids all the time how lucky they are to get store-bought toys. I don’t think I owned a store-bought toy until I was old enough to have my own disposable income. I bought myself that first wave of Star Wars reissue action figures where Luke looked like a bodybuilder and I felt like Mr. Monopoly Moneybags the whole way home. And yes, I opened every last one. That was what I was buying: the opportunity to buy brand new Star Wars toys and take them out of the blister pack, an act which I had seen at many birthday parties, but had never gotten to do myself.
Now that I’m an adult, I’m pretty selfish. I buy things online because I hate walking into stores, and I don’t stop at rummage sales or estate sales. Not because I’m too good for secondhand items, but because I hate shopping. And I think it’s because of those hundreds of Saturdays from infancy until high school spent hitting the pavement looking for that dream rummage sale deal.”
Turns Out This Sleepover Gift Was The Only Thing Keeping Them Warm At Night
“I remember when I was maybe 10 or so staying over at a friend’s house, which was an apartment. His mom gave us two-liter bottles of hot water before going to bed. I thought that was kind of neat – your own little space heater. In reality, it was because his mom couldn’t afford heat.”
Their “Quaint” Lifestyle Saved Them From Starving
“When I was younger, I’d see apple trees around town that looked a bit neglected and ask if we could pick them. My mom and her friend would go and collect them and when they had enough, we’d go to their house to make juice from their press and have powdered donuts as a treat.
We always had a garden and would can or freeze the produce. My brother once brought home a girl from the big city who called our canning cupboard ‘quaint.’ I was like, it might be cute to you but that saved us from having nothing to eat besides carrots and powdered milk because my mom’s philosophy on food banks and reduced school lunch tickets was to leave them for ‘someone who needed them.’ I’m still mad at her for that.”
Playing In This Fun Wonderland Also Showed How Little They Had At Home
“My parents are self-employed, they have their own party rental business (big tents/tables/popcorn machines). For the first several years while they were getting it off the ground, they had no employees just themselves to do everything, and they also couldn’t afford a lot of extras over bills – definitely not babysitting or daycare. So my brother and I (around 7/8 years old) would go with them on weekends and in the summer.
As a kid, I thought we were going with them so we could go to cool events and parks as setups were almost always for community fairs, car shows, or big events like Canada Day. My brother and I would get to play at the park playgrounds, run around fields, and sometimes participate in parts of the events if we were early for a takedown. We’d even sometimes get leftovers from the people organizing the events.
My parents turned a crappy ‘we can’t afford childcare, but we have to work’ problem into some of the best memories of my childhood.”