People Are Sharing Their Unwritten Rules Of Growing Up Poor, And It Proves That Poverty Means Living In A Different World (76 Pics)

Life when you’re well-off and when you’re incredibly poor is like night and day. The difference in your family’s income doesn’t just affect the quality of your food and how you spend your free time—not having enough money impacts nearly every aspect of your life. In ways that you couldn’t imagine.

One redditor, user Jicta, asked their fellow site users who grew up poor to share the “unwritten social expectations of your world growing up,” besides practical and widely-known money-saving measures. The responses have been heartrending. Have a read through them below, dear Pandas, and let us know what you think. Have you ever had to do anything like this while growing up? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section, dear Pandas.

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Not eating lunch because it you either “just ate breakfast” or “dinners only a few hours away you’ll be fine”


Never fill up the gas tank. You don’t want to be in a situation where you have gas in your car but no groceries.


If you use the oven during winter, when you’re done, leave it cracked so that the heat warms up the rest of the house more.

The number of people living below the poverty line in the United States was a whopping 33.98 million in 2019, according to Statista. The number really is huge and speaks volumes about the daily suffering endured by Americans. However, the situation in the country has been getting much better recently, year by year.

Back in 2014, the number of Americans living in absolute poverty peaked at 46.66 million. So for nearly 13 million people, their living situation has improved at least a bit. Unfortunately, these are pre-Covid19 pandemic numbers. We’ll need to wait a year or more to get the full picture of how the lockdowns and massive changes to how society functions have affected the poor. Odds are, the situation might’ve gotten worse.


If someone buys you food at a restaurant order as cheaply as possible even if they tell you order whatever you want. Used to get death glares from parents if I ordered something 10 bucks or over at a place where average prices was 10 bucks. If you can get a burger and fries for 8 you better be eating a burger.


You never brought the field trip permission slips home because you knew better than to make your mom feel guilty she couldn’t pay the $5-20 fee to let you go.


In the UK- do not answer the door. Do not answer the phone. When the man is looking through the window, make sure you can’t be seen. Do not tell anyone who knocks on the door where the parents work.

This turned out to be doorstep lenders like Provident- no idea how they are still around these days.

The fight against poverty is multifaceted and complex. Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple and clear-cut solution to the problem (if only printing more money didn’t result in greater inflation…). But it boils down to society providing support and opportunities for families that aren’t well off, as well as those same families doing everything in their power to get out of the so-called cycle of poverty.

Focusing on financial literacy, improving your education, aiming for a better job, finding a home closer to work and for less rent, reaching out to the community for help, getting rid of credit card debt bit by bit—all of these are small steps that can help move a family out of absolute poverty and into the working, middle, and even upper classes. This is, of course, far easier said than done. When you’re exhausted, hungry, and beaten down, it’s hard to find the energy and willpower to make even small changes—all you want is sleep, food, and a moment of peace.


People actually order take-out food like every night. I still think that’s mad.

Literally once or twice a year for us growing up.


You get a job when you’re 15, and it becomes more important than high school.


We weren’t allowed to do any kind of extra curricular activities. So, no instruments, no joining any kind of sports or girl scouts or anything that required an upfront investment for uniforms or the season. Walmart shoes.

My dad once said I wasn’t really in need of glasses, that I just wanted to look like all my four eyed friends? lol (spoiler alert, totally needed them)

Off brand everything.

Poverty, real poverty, can have massive negative consequences on children as they’re growing up. Lacking access to proper food can lead to malnutrition. What’s more, poverty leads to inadequate health care and means that kids don’t have the same access to education (and later on, employment) as others.

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Overall, independence at a young age. But also responsibility. You cook, clean, and pitch in before you are asked. If you’re waiting for an adult to make dinner, you’re going hungry. Also, poor doesn’t mean dirty. You keep what you have nice, clean, and well cared for.

Seriously, I wouldn’t trade my upbringing for anything in the world.


The oldest kids babysit the youngest kids.


Always return anything you borrow in better condition. People will be eager to loan you things.

Jicta’s thread got over 56.5k upvotes and over 17.2k comments which just goes to show that the topic is incredibly important to lots of redditors. And it’s a thread full of life lessons for all of us, no matter our background.


I grew up in a trailer. In fourth grade, a girl was having a birthday party and needed addresses for invitations. The next day she told me her parents uninvited me because I lived in the trailer. That was a new thing I learned I was supposed to be embarrassed about.

I guess just expecting to have to deal with other people’s sh**ty parents sometimes.


Going to the doctor isn’t an option until your fever is sustained at 104, a bone is broken, or the tooth rotted and won’t fall out on it’s own.

I am in my late 30’s with full insurance and still have a hangup about going for medical care.


Not have enough blankets at bed time in the winter. No central heating, used to wake up with ice on the inside of the windows and on the windowsills. I was shocked to be in a hot house in winter when I went round friends.

Reading through the thread and all of the responses can hit you like a truck. Some of us remember being in those exact same situations. While others (who had the luck of living a comfortable middle or even upper-class life) realized just how emotionally tough you have to be when you’re poor. There’s no room for whining or weakness when you’ve no money, have piling debts, and aren’t sure where your next meal will be coming from or if you’ll end being evicted.


Keep your hair brushed, your clothes clean, and be articulate and polite in all circumstances. We were not going to be ‘trash’ just because we were poor. Also, no wearing ripped jeans, even if it’s the style. We’re not spending money on new pants that look like old worn-out pants.


Turn off all lights behind you. Take as quick showers as you can. Recycle pop cans. Drive slower because it conserves gas. Plan your trip so that you don’t have to drive unnecessary routes and waste gas. Be OK with the heat always at 68 or below (use a blanket if you’re cold).


Its funny now seeing my leftovers as a bonus snack and not part of the next days meal.

Had some weird lunches packed for me. Like cream cheese and olives in a burrito wrap.


Going to fast food (with any adult), you only order off of the dollar menu.


My husbands family wasn’t rich, but they were comfortable. They went out to eat and always ordered appetizers and dessert. Meanwhile we were lucky to go out to eat at all. To this day, I still hate ordering appetizers at a restaurant. It just goes against the grain for me.


I was the scholarship/grant kid at a wealthy private school. So I was never allowed to invite people home because we didn’t have a mansion like everyone else did. Legit, when I went to sleepovers, they were in mansions. Homes I still haven’t seen the likes of in my adult life among peers. Just old money type homes. I could make playdates for the mall or the movies or we could meet at the amusement park my mom got free tickets to. But don’t invite them home. And if you’re getting dropped off, any excuse for them no to come inside. At least they can imagine it’s bigger or more opulent inside.


A/C was only for company. I lived in S. Florida and didn’t know I could use the air conditioner without having someone over until I moved out of my parents home.


When someone calls, your parents are “in the shower” and you’re able to take a message.


If your neighbors were in need—you helped them. Like, Mary’s car broke down again, so my brother would go work on her car for free on his day off, and I’d get up extra early all week to drop Mary off at work and get her kids to school. Swing by in my lunch break to grab the kids after school, too. Basically, when folks are in need—you help them, and the same is done in return.


Your sister goes with you to your friend’s house. Always. No whining.


It was normal for money we got for Christmas, birthdays, and (from ages 14 and up) jobs to go to our parents for food and rent. Things did get better when we started working but as the family was doomed to fail due to abuse when we inevitably left at 18 and our parents divorced it left us with nothing. Working four years living at home and none of us were able to save money or go to post secondary until years later.

If we were upset about contributing we were deemed selfish and accused of not caring about family.


If someone was nice enough to cook you a meal you better help(or at least offer to) clear the table and wash the dishes after.


Education is the only way out of the horrible situation. This was made very clear to me right from a young age. I remember everyone in my family checking in on my grades and plans for the future. Almost on a monthly basis! Helped my extensively in the long run.


We knew the exact date of grocery shopping because that’s when the food stamps came in.


Most meals were “experiments” made from the food we got from the food pantry.


You had a garden. You just… did


Call “important looking” men Sir. Even if it’s the gas station manager. Because even he was more successful than my father.


Eating stale or close to sell by date, food. No brand-name anything. Adding water to shampoo to get it to last longer. Reuse everything. Make-do or do without. Free samples count as a meal. To name a few.


Vacations for leisure. LOL


Museum, amusement park, skiing,and skating? That’s for rich people.


Your own toys and gifts? No, it’s a joint gift for you and siblings.


Cold? Put on more layers. Hot? Stand in front of a fan.


Homemade birthday cakes, homemade pizza, we NEVER went out to eat. Fast food/restaurants were a waste of money. Soda was a treat, as was sugared cereal. You got sox and undies as stocking stuffers at Christmas. You wore your clothes 2-3 times before washing them unless they were obviously dirty or smelly. You washed and dried zipper bags to reuse. We never used paper towels to clean.


It doesn’t matter of you don’t like the (food, clothes, shoes, toys etc) take it, say thank you and be appreciative


If your shoes don’t require duct tape, you don’t need new shoes.


Never tell your friends that you couldn’t afford food or give them any clue about what it’s like at home. My mother used to ask me if I told anyone how we live and that’s when I started questioning our situation.


Keep your hair brushed, your clothes clean, and be articulate and polite in all circumstances. We were not going to be “trash” just because we were poor.


We were very poor growing up. You never ate the last of anything without asking first. Portions were small and limited. When I was 11 I was invited over to a then friend’s house. I was floored by their house and furnishings. Very opulent compared to mine. Lunch time came. Her mom had set the table for sandwiches. Everything laid out, 3 different breads, all sorts of meats, condiments and fruit. At my house lunch was a sandwich with white day old bread with peanut butter and jelly. Sometimes we would have those land o frost thin sliced meats. We were only allowed 2 slices of the meat per sandwich. So, at this friends house, I make my sandwich with one slice of ham because it was way thicker then the stuff at home. The mom kinda freaks out…”what kind of sandwich is that? You need to put more on it, thats not enough.” I explain that’s what we do at home. They were horrified. Ended up sending me home with a “care package” of food. My parents never let me go to her house again because they were embarrassed I told them we were poor.


You are perpetually young. Going to a movie? Only during matinee showings AND you are 12 years old until you’re 16. At a restaurant, you’re also 9 forever.


Generous borrowing and “burning” culture. Everything you own is available to be borrowed by other poor people. My family had an extensive movie collection (especially when we could record movies from cable to VHS tapes), and our neighborhood friends were welcome to borrow what they needed. Games, movies, CDs. We swapped and borrowed a lot. Often times, it was only long enough to burn a copy to have for oneself.


It sucked to have to have a computer for school but not be able to afford it.


Hide money or it will be “borrowed.” Also, don’t get attached to anything because if it’s any good it’ll be sold in a yard sale, and if it has any value it will be pawned. I got the same CD player for three Christmases and birthdays in a row…out of pawn for birthday, pawned again a month later, out of pawn for Christmas, pawned again by March, etc.


Friends are over? Boy do we have some chores for you. Friends are for stacking wood, not for playing.


Don’t talk to anyone about it. Its shameful. Me and my sibling weren’t allowed to enjoy free breakfast programs for kids living in poverty that our schools hosted because it embarrassed my family. Granted we grew up not just poor but abused so that played into it.


Keep your aspirations to yourself. Telling anyone in your household/social strata about your plans to get out and do better may be met with bitterness and downright ridicule. People will call you uppity for wanting to go to school or stupid for having a career goal that isn’t modest and local and vaguely dead-end. People will tell you that you have no common sense simply because you refuse to see the world in terms of pure survival.


Not being able to wash your clothes until you could do a full, and I mean FULL machine. Getting a stain on a fresh shirt meant scrubbing it with soap over the sink.


I can’t comprehend buying expensive clothes and even cheaper clothes I need to get on sale.

Getting only one new school outfit a year as a kid makes me appreciate being able to buy clothes now but paying a lot for one item still doesn’t make sense.


It’s interesting for me, as an adult, trying to recreate some of the recipes from my childhood and realizing just how little they cost. The thing with the peas and kielbasa? Five bucks for frozen peas, five bucks for the meat, onions from the garden and homemade stock. The delicious cacciatore, stir fries and soups all came from buying a cooked chicken from the supermarket on sale and then wringing every ounce of nutritional value out of the thing that we could.


Having a car in high school. I went to a high school with a lot of upper middle class over achievers. I was the only kid on the varsity baseball team who didn’t have a car, couldn’t afford one, no family car to borrow and had to ride my bicycle to practice. I was also socially awkward and had no friends on the team to ask for a ride. I was a good player but withdrawn and never got on well with teammates. I became the guy who enters every room feeling like everyone there already knows each other.


Ask before you get ANYTHING to eat


You’re not hurt unless you’re bleeding.

If you are bleeding, don’t bleed on the carpet.


If the phone rings and mom doesn’t answer it, it’s probably the bill collectors. Same with the front door and why the curtains aren’t open.


Clothes? Thrift store.


If you don’t have dinner that night, ramen is a viable substitute


never ever ask for money.


Take care of your stuff and keep it nice because you’re not getting more of it if you break it.

I’ve got a Pokemon soundtrack CD from it was the Pokemon movie that had Entei into the unknown in it I don’t remember what the name of the movie was though

I think it came out in like 2004 yeah so I’m 28 now I’ve had that CD since I was a kid at one point I gave it to my sister who’s 24 so she was a decent amount younger than I was when I gave it to her and then recently she found it and asked if I wanted it back and I said sure

The cover art and everything that was paper is pretty worn but the CD itself is in pristine condition and it doesn’t have scratches all over it and it works perfectly fine and this CD is well over a decade old and was passed between two young children and had a lot of use out of it.

I’ve got many other things from my childhood that was passed between me and my sister that is still an amazing condition because we were told if you break it you’re not getting another one


Number one rule of growing up poor. Avoid buying anything nice for yourself and feel absolutely guilty if you do.


Don’t ask for anything because you won’t get it.


Don’t do anything bad or illegal.

But if you do, don’t get caught.

Bail is expensive. Lawyers and court fees are expensive.


Leave the TV on when you leave the house.


My father was constantly driving these two things into my head since I was old enough to remember: 1). Hard Work will set you free 2). You WILL NOT get anyone pregnant.

He never meant that hard work would make you rich. He meant that if you’re willing to work hard, you can always work some shit job that puts food on the table, and you’ll be so exhausted by days end, you can rest. In my father’s eyes food on the table and a good night’s rest was all a person really needed. The pregnancy thing was totally about shame. He grew up in the deep south with a Baptist preacher father. My father was around 6-7 in the early 1950’s when his oldest brother (15) got a girl (18) in the church preggo. The resulting shame and shunning from the community that ensued drove my father’s mother to suicide. I’m sure to some degree, he blames his current life on the pregnancy that he had nothing to do with.


Allowance? That’s for rich kids with trust funds. You need to complete all your assigned chores first and then if there’s any extra work you can think of you can earn some pocket money.


Never ever EVER ask for anything at someone else’s house, even family. You may accept if asked, but otherwise it’s a whuppin’. This has made it extremely hard as an adult to interact in a world where you’re pretty much expected to say something if you want something. Also made me extremely judgmental (and let’s face it, a little jealous) of folks who never have any issues asking for what they want. Spoiled brats, the lot of ‘em!


Im still poor! Do what you need to do before doing what you want to do. And then my mom would order take out, go to the movies, buy junk and then cry 3 days later because we dont have enough to pay a bill or bills like rent, water or electric. I never had proper pants because my legs are so long and after 2 washes i was wearing high waters. She still does this too! Complains to me and my kids when we buy something with whatever little money, like toys or hair dye, yet she spent the money the insurance company gave her to replace the roof of the house with to go to a supernatural convention. So we get rained on in our house with as many leaks as there is! Yet it is everybody else who needs to save to fix the roof, not her.


A real treat was getting donuts and chocolate milk in the morning.


I wasn’t dirt poor, but I grew up hanging out with my grandparents most of the time (any number of fucked up situations at home). My grandparents were italian immigrants that came to America during the great depression.

So as an almost 40 year old in 2021, I have the values of someone three generations past. Everything about actually surviving life I learned from my grandfather.

The one thing I remember most is he would say “Nothing in life is free, boy”

And I remember as a kid being like “what are you talking about Papa? They’re giving out free hot dogs right over there!” (if you sign up for a bank account, or whatever it was)

He would just smile and chuckle to himself, knowing that I would understand soon enough. He was right.

While this was very true and definitely prevented me from getting in some bad situations, I’m also rather stunted when it comes to asking for help, and prefer to do things myself.

Also it’s funny to see the trend of high class restaurants cooking the same food my grandmother cooked because it was dirt cheap and charging an arm and a leg.


My parents where great at hiding that we where poor. They made sure we always had christmas presents and a birthday present. And we would order pizza at christmas. All our clothing came from other relatives or charity shops. But when i started working full time and went to live on my own? Just then i realized truth that we poor. But still looking back i have never had the feeling of being left out when it came too other childeren. And i still thank them for it.

And now all the kids have moved out? There the most generous and loving grandparents you could wish for a kid.

But the biggest lessen i have learned is help others out. So every time i have something that i don’t use or want? I give it away for free. Every time my daughter go’s up a size in clothes? I give the old clothes to a charity that helps people with childeren who can’t afford it. And it gives me a great feeling ever single time i do it.


Every once in a while, you’d find a staggeringly good deal on something and just buy it in bulk. Suddenly you’d have to figure out how to eat eight zucchinis before they went bad, or make gnocchi every meal for two weeks. This also ties into the “know a guy” situation, as if a friend or relative found one of those deals and wound up with a pallet of squid or something, they’d pass the luck around and just give you some of the excess – and of course, you’d be expected to do the same when you wound up with a basement full of salami.


Not really a societal expectation, but more of a familial one. I never once knew how closely my family toed the poverty line, thanks to how my parents ran things. My dad, though, he would volunteer me all the time to help friends, family, coworkers in need, if I was able to at all. Never let me ask for a single dollar from them, unless it was explicitly “a job” and for, say, a friend of a friend. I helped his coworker move a handful of times. I cut my elderly neighbor’s grass. I helped so-and-so connect their internet, or a friend of his to replace their carpet.

I had no idea what my old man was fostering in both me and them. When I moved out on my own, his coworker called, offered to help. Showed up with antiques from his late mother as a housewarming gift for my wife and I. The man who’s grass I cut? He passed away, and left me his piano, since he knew I liked to play. The friend with the carpet? Hooked me up with a decent paying job right out of college. The internet-illiterate ones? Solid mechanics, and know my vehicle inside and out.

He was teaching me something so much more than just an exchange of goods and services. These weren’t I.O.U.s coming due. The man knew the value of community and friendship, and just how far people would go for someone else if they just cared, even an ounce.

It bleeds over in my day to day, now, too. I may see someone at the grocery store struggling to find a product, so I take the time to help them out. It costs me only a few minutes, and I may never see them again. Or, I find out the person I helped is the very same one standing behind the counter at the DMV, and makes my time just a little bit shorter as a thanks.

TL;DR, my pops taught me the value of kindness.


College? You’re paying and you sure as hell aren’t there to dump your money to party or for an “experience”. There are cheaper ways to do all that.


Being raised by a single mother, she instilled the belief that school went elementary, middle, high, then college. There wasn’t a question as to whether or not college was optional. She did everything in her power to raise two boys to live more successful lives.

My brother and I both graduated college and graduate studies (MA) and our starting jobs were both with salaries that were over double what my mom made. Growing up I wish things where different but as an adult, I cherish the values and experiences instilled by my mom.

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