When we’re kids, we all feel the same—little courageous adventurers ready to soak in the world with open arms. Children have no prejudice about the world, and no sense of disparity that only emerges later in life.
When looking back at your childhood years, mixed emotions may come up. For some it’s nostalgia of carefree days, for others it’s things that they didn’t notice back then that struck a chord. Like, eating chili beans for days in a row or taking it as a usual thing not to expect anything fancy for Christmas.
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In fact, these are among the tweets that people shared when Twitter user Trevor Donovan asked people “Tell me you grew up poor, without telling me you grew up poor.” The thread is an eye-opening read about growing up impoverished as told by the little details that often stay unnoticed from an outsider’s eye.
You can skip a meal by just going to sleep.
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We reused aluminum foil.
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Have you ever had a sugar sandwich? Because I have.
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I am not attached to the concept of “liking” everything I eat. My son hates it, because I’m like “It’s what we’re having, and if you don’t like it, better luck tomorrow.” He’s never had to learn from actual experience to be grateful he was getting anything at all.
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My parents dumpster diving at the mall for birthday presents for us.
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Never answer the phone. It was always the bill collectors looking for money. Same with the front door. Go away nobody’s home.
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One Christmas, all three of us kids each got only a letter from my mom. Beautifully handwritten with her ink pen. I still treasure it to this day, 45 years later. I can only imagine how painful that was for her, working so hard but still always broke.
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Day 1 chili no beans Day 2 chili with beans Day 3 add macaroni to the remaining chili Day 4 add tomato juice to day 3 leftovers with paprika, it becomes goulash! Day 5 spoon remaining goulash over a baked potato How to Stretch your groceries at the end of the month
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Nothing was name brand. Instead of Fruit Loops we had Fruity O’s
Instead of Fruit Punch we had Red Juice (gallon with a sticker on it that said Red Juice), instead of Chip Ahoy we had Captain Chipleys.
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Got a cold? Grab a roll of toilet paper. I still feel like kleenex is a luxury item for the Queen of Sheba but my partner has chipped away at that, apparently it’s not actually that expensive.
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Boiled wieners for lunch… wiener water soup for dinner
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Packages of socks and underwear and other necessities wrapped up under the Christmas tree. Funny thing was, I thought those were the standard Christmas gifts until I got married and my husband was like, what’s with the socks and underwear for Christmas?
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Picked up soda bottles from along the roadside to turn in for the deposit money.
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Feeling guilty about getting Xmas presents as a child
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I remember sobbing in the bathroom when my daughter brought home her school supply list and she needed 5 spiral notebooks and I didn’t have the dollar to buy them.
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Good hygiene isn’t always an easy thing to have.
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How to invent foods based on the limited amount of what you already have
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Wear your coat inside to save on the heat bill
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We cut open the toothpaste to get every last drop out of the tube.
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Did you have lettuce and mayonnaise sandwiches? On a good day we had bologna on it, too.
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Drinking a lot of water before or during a meal makes you feel much more full
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McDonald’s can be a place for special occasions only.
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Used to pray for clothing that my mom didn’t sew. Now that I’m older I look back and marvel at how she did all of those things for us and I just see so much love.
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My mother washed aluminum foil.
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Margarine and cinnamon on bread? Cinnamon toast! Ate that all the time growing up
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This is going to wipe the competition
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Our Christmas toy was from the S&H Green Stamp store. New PJs & underwear completed the gifts. Fridays was soup Mom made from little bits left over during the week. It was pretty random. It emptied the frig, Sat was grocery day. She knew the price of everything in the store.
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The only cheese we could get was the government commodities cheese ( which made delicious grilled cheese sandwiches BTW ) and the peanut butter that came with the commodities made yummy cookies
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For fun, I would go to the city dump with my grandpa to peel proof of purchase labels off cereal boxes to be redeemed for refunds or prizes. I still have some of the dolls my grandpa got for me.
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We had a school uniform, so that was fine. But the occasional ‘non-uniform day’ would be horrifically embarrassing. I often pretended to forget and turn up in uniform anyway. Now I earn a reasonable amount, I still can’t believe I can buy stuff whenever, like a book or a coffee or a new shirt. Part of my 32 year old head of department brain is still a poor 8 year old waiting patiently for Christmas.
The crushing fear of asking for anything, even when it was a necessity. My thighs have always rubbed together and I’d only have one pair of jeans that fit, so I’d wear through the thighs in a couple months and end up chafing my thighs for weeks, and try to patch them by crummily sewing socks over the holes. It was a nightmare.
Now that I’m financially secure and have like 6 different pairs of well fitting jeans, I’ve had them all for well over a year and none have worn through yet.
When you’re at the end of your pay it is possible to live off instant coffee and biscuits stolen from the office tea room just so your cat can have food.
Finding our mum crying in the kitchen counting pennies when you can’t afford a loaf of bread. As the eldest of three (at the time, now four) I was the confidant. Up until I was seven it was a constant struggle to afford food, worse between the ages of five and six.
Making lots of friends meant you could go to other kids houses and get invited to stay for dinner. I would always sneak something to eat back home for my mom. She never asked me to do that, but I knew she was hungry.
Everything around you can be a toy. My action figure collection included a stick, a mason jar, an off brand Barbie given to me by an older cousin, and a bunch of melted green army men that looked like a giant. We had the best adventures.
Used plain bread for hotdog AND hamburger buns. Also had a big container of powdered milk in the pantry for the kids to use.
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being excited to watch a Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network show at a friend’s house
Going to bed hungry. Or purposefully leaving food so your parents could eat the leftovers since that would be their only meal… That hurts to think about, even now.
2 meals a day were beans and rice and we skipped the third all while the foster parents ate chicken and steak as did their kid.
To this day I can’t stomach the thought of beans and rice
Eating the same thing every day. My SO can’t believe I can eat one meal for days and not get sick of it. It was mostly spaghetti. Thankfully I love spaghetti.
Me and one other kid had to stay at school and draw pictures of clowns while the rest of the class went to the circus.
That a ramen noodle packet with the flavoring plus cut up hotdogs with canned corn, carrots, and peas or some other combination of caned vegetables was the best dinner ever. Makes me truly appreciate my parents all that I have now and I treat my parents or cook dinner for them every chance I get.
Don’t touch anything in the damn store
That teachers and lunch ladies are godsends. My teachers always asked me if I was hungry, had clothes, etc. The lunch ladies always gave me my lunch and breakfast for free, with extra food, because they knew it was the best opportunity for me to eat that day.
When we were super poor and getting Koolaid or pop was a rare treat. Sometimes we’d get iced tea powder from bulk at the grocery store as well. I remember asking my dad if we had anything to drink either than water and he dug through the cupboards and he found some iced tea powder – just enough for a glass. I was so excited! He mixed it up and noted that it wasn’t mixing super well but finally he gave it to me and I took a big chug. It was beef bouillon powder 🙁
Funny looking back now but I remember how disappointed I was.
Staples aren’t necessary if you just fold the top left corner of the stack of papers, make two small tears on the folded part, and fold the piece in between the tears. The method starts to fall apart when the stacks get too large though, but it’s great for school papers and minor projects. Just don’t hand in your PhD thesis using the method.
Your location isn’t certain. You might be here for another month or several. You will be uprooted and dragged along soon. You will lose all the friends you have made. You will lose any sense of security. It is all about how long you can hold this place before you get evicted.
Being on free lunch and the shame that goes along with it. It’s not like the kids with money didn’t know. It’s basically an “I’m poor” label.
How embarrassing it was when friends would ask for your phone number (or a teacher) and you didn’t have a home phone. It felt like everyone in the world had a home phone but us.
Also, not wearing trendy clothes. I got made fun of for that. Kids are mean.
The guilt and anxiety in adulthood when you buy anything for yourself.
The need to not feel like you could lose everything at any minute.
Limiting your processions on the chance that any moment you may need to gather everything and leave never to come back.
You’re still 12 for three years after you actually turn 12.
How bad powdered milk tastes after you’ve had real milk, and how good powdered milk tastes when you’re truly hungry.
I knew that you had to pay an extra fee on top of your bill if your electricity got turned off for non payment.
Dumpster diving with your mom for your next meal.
My parents used to buy expired canned goods in bulk.
I feel guilty for buying anything more than the cheapest version of whatever thing it is I need to buy.
The generic isle at the grocery store. White boxes with black lettering.
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Milk was mixed with powder milk
My dad could only go to work 4 days a week because he couldn’t afford the gas to get to work. My house didn’t have heat so I slept next to a fire place to keep warm.
My classmates used to make fun of me because I would wear the same shirt every day and my sneakers had holes in them. This is one of the reasons why we started our charity, Alice’s Kids. Thanks for raising this issue, Trevor.
I used to think fried baloney was bacon
my dad skipped lunch once a week so he could save $1 and get my 3 siblings and I a $.25 vending machine drink after church on sundays
I’ve hated the government since i was 9 bc i wasn’t allowed to get tampons, rotisserie chicken or any premade item cause food stamps didn’t want us to eat a lot of certain things. Reasoning? None, they just hate poor people. I coined the term “register anxiety”
Kraft mac and cheese and boiled hot dogs is a good quality dinner.
Every day from age 7 to 14, Breakfast & Dinner were cooked cereal & milk. Lunch didn’t happen. I ate fruit or vegetables when the friendly produce vender tossed me a treat on my way to & from school.
(@ 14 I ran away bc of Aunts psychotic behavior- not bc of the food/poverty)
In retrospect all things considered, I was very lucky to have that supply of milk. Many people living in poverty who manage sufficient caloric intake, may still lack a steady source of protein- potentially leading to grave nutritional deficiencies.
For the milk, I am grateful.
Going to your extended family’s houses usually resulted in leaving with bags full of tinned food.
Your mom having to borrow money from you to pay for food/bills.
Also the embarrassment of people comparing Christmas gifts with you when they got expensive electronics and toys. I used to hate when teachers asked the class what they got for Christmas.
lunchables, fruit rollups and dunkaroos were the most incredibly luxurious school lunch items, fit for a saudi prince
Never having any new clothes of your own, but only worn hand-me-downs from your older siblings.
Any car 10 years old or newer is new
Every piece of produce I ate at home, from 8-18 was grown in our backyard (and trust me we had it all). Seeds are cheaper, and weeding is a great punishment that doesn’t involve hitting your kids…
Didn’t have enough food because mother spent our money on church. Paid tuition to parochial school. Put cash in 2 collection plates & an envelope for The Bishops Fund special collection on Sundays. Paid coins to light candles. Her piety kept her kids hungry & cold
I hate religion
The “check engine” light really isn’t that important.
Beans and rice are everything.
Parents can be really, really good at hiding how bad it is financially.
There are so, so many alternatives to buying brand new household items.