I grew up very poor. I remember asking my mom if we were poor, because the kids at school said we were. She replied that we were poor by our communities standards, but by worldwide standards we were very fortunate.
She talked to me about poverty very frankly and openly, and it really made an impression on me…
Being honest and talking about priorities is the best place to start
Your kids may not understand it all now, but eventually they will. For example, I couldn’t understand why my parents chose not to make more money — there were several work opportunities they passed up. But looking back and with an adult perspective… sometimes it is better to be poor than make yourself miserable in a job you hate.
Try to offer them opportunities for personal choice
When we went back-to-school shopping, my mom would tell us we had a budget of $50 (or whatever amount). Then told us that it was up to us whether we wanted to buy two-to-three new name-brand items, or four-to-six new cheap brands. Or go to a second-hand store and pick out 10-15 pre-owned name-brand items. If there was something pricey that we really, truly loved, we weren’t deprived of it, but it came with some tough choices, and meant we really had to be resourceful with what was left.
Give them perspective
Whether it’s through travel, volunteer work, or simply reading about other people… try to convey that there is always going to be someone worse off than you (also someone better off, but that’s usually obvious). Even if you yourself need help, try to do something for someone else — even if it’s just a tiny amount of help. There’s a pretty large number of homeless people in the city I live in now; when they ask for change, offering a spare granola bar and having a conversation with them seems to mean a lot to them (and is such a strong reminder to be grateful for what we do have)!
Encourage them to earn and manage their own money
My mom encouraged us to take on babysitting jobs, grow and sell produce, work multiple part-time jobs, etc, so that we could pay for the things we wanted, and make decisions with our money. They weren’t always good decisions, but we were so much better off once we were out in the real world and had already learned the hard lesson of what happens when you don’t budget for your cell phone, car insurance, or gas money.
While college isn’t necessary for everyone, be up front about how they will be responsible for university/community college/trade school. My parents made it very clear that there was no budget for that, and all three of us were well aware that our grades were going to determine what scholarships we got. Talk to your kids about how middle school grades tend to impact high school grades which impact what college you can get into and what you can afford which will very likely impact your career path. (Obviously, make it clear that perfection isn’t needed, but their best effort is.) Three out of three kids ended up getting good enough grades for multiple scholarships, and all completing a bachelor’s degree — which is a pretty strong testament to that working.
Lastly, there are going to be judgmental jerks in every phase of life
If it wasn’t kids teasing us about being poor, it would be something else (growing your hair too long, or too short, being too big or too skinny, wearing the wrong color, etc). Other people acting ugly is about their own personal issues and rarely has much to do with the person they’re picking on. They may as well get accustomed to that as a child, because as far as I can tell, some people never outgrow it.
Did you, or are you struggling financially? How did you deal? What did your parents do that helped or hindered? What would be your advice for other kids growing up poor?