From Poverty To Middle Class & Forgetting My Roots


In short, I’m starting to lose perspective.

I’ve developed a middle class attitude towards the poor. This worries me because I realize that I’m only a few steps removed from having an upper class attitude towards the middle class.

Jennie here.

I’m the first member of my family to graduate from college, study abroad, and land a salaried position. I’m at a point now where I make four times as much as both of my parents combined. No matter how I slice it, I’ve “made it” in the world, with more choices than I ever could have imagined growing up.

The downside to my rise in the world is that recently, I’ve noticed that I’m starting to lose my ability to understand or empathize with my family’s financial situation. From my perspective, every member of my family seems almost hellbent on making the worst possible financial choices, even when the right ones are available and staring them in the face.  

I’ve developed a middle class attitude towards the poor. This worries me because I realize that I’m only a few steps removed from having an upper class attitude towards the middle class.

In short, I’m starting to lose perspective.

Growing Up Poor Changes You

I’ve forgotten how tough it was to deal with the daily stress of thinking about money and how it can quickly take over your life; being poor prevents you from thinking rationally, setting realistic goals, and makes it harder to accomplish even the most simple tasks.

This got me thinking back to my childhood.

Things Only Poor Kids Understand

  • You spend the majority of your life playing catch up. 
    Investing in the future was a foreign concept. For example, my parents wanted to save for my education, but couldn’t. So I never learned the value of long-term savings until much later on. When you’re poor, planning for the future just wasn’t feasible. I’ve spent the last few years shifting my mentality and learning the value of planning beyond the next month or next year.

  • You develop a paycheck-to-paycheck mentality.
    This was my entire life growing up. Because my parents were only high school educated, they didn’t have many options. I remember when I first moved out to Boston on my own with no job prospects, I had to borrow $2,500 from Ivan; I knew this money would only help me survive for a month or two at the longest. For the first six months in Boston, I worked several temp and retail jobs and lived paycheck to paycheck; most days felt overwhelming and stressful.

  • You’re a sucker for discounted, generic goods.
    My mom bought everything from food to clothes at discounted stores, sale prices, and often from generic brands. I used to see my mom buy clothes and when she got home -- she was excited because she had bought it at 80% or 90% off the original price. It didn’t matter whether or not she needed it. A sale was a sale.

  • Every day you’re reminded of how much it costs just to stay alive.
    My parents often had their routine, hushed conversations about money and how expensive it was to raise my siblings and I. The worst period was always around back-to-school season, when we would bring home the school supply lists. My parents would add up the costs knowing that it would come at the expense of next month’s groceries.

  • Financial ruin was always just around the corner.
    My family was one of the many families that benefited from Medicaid and WIC programs. I never had a consistent doctor throughout my entire childhood; we’d often go to clinics and see rotating doctors and nurses instead. I knew that breaking a bone or getting seriously sick could financially ruin my family. We simply couldn’t afford it.

Trying To Get Back To The Basics

Perspective Lens

More than anything, I just want to make my choices count.

When you’re stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty, all you feel is the constant burden of stress which leads to bad decisions and compounds other problems. This is the worst part growing up poor -- the feeling and perception that you have no control over your own life.

Since moving to Boston and getting my first salaried job, I’ve made the slow transition from being poor to being a middle-class citizen. I now have control over my life, my money, and my choices. This would have been unfathomable five years ago.

Here’s what I’ve learned from looking back:

  1. I don’t want to lose sight of who I was and how I got here.
    At the end of the day, my success was simply an amalgamation of my hard work, motivation from my parents and their expectations, my desperate need to end my life of poverty, and the right circumstances falling into place.

  2. Not falling into the trap of chasing “more” versus having enough.
    Growing up, I had aspirations to be rich just to get out of a bad situation -- poverty. But I realize now that what I was really vying for was to have choices. Moving forward, I don’t want to get caught up in chasing the “next” thing when it comes to financial and material possessions.

    More than anything, I just want to make my choices count.

I've talked about my experience with money and family in the past, if you're interested in reading more, check out these blogs: