(The above image is from morgueFile. I do not claim any ownership of the image)
My parents weren’t the wealthiest people around. In fact, as I was growing up, they only just got by.
Did I mind being poor? I hated it for a period as a teenager. I wanted to have the electronic gadgets, the shoes and the clothes other girls had. But my family couldn’t afford them. I felt left out. Other people owned houses and flashy cars while my family drove a clunky, cheap piece of metal which was sturdy but unsightly and we rented all the way up until I entered university. We were on social security. My self-worth dropped because everyone disdained those who were in penury. Either that or they pitied me, which I loathed. Society made me feel ashamed of it. It seemed to point an accusatory finger at my parents, calling them indolent and lazy even though they worked hard.
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I lived in a safe area and was never starving or homeless, so I’m sure I was better off than a lot of people in this world. I know I should be grateful. But nevertheless, it was hard when I only bought clothes and shoes every six years. I was hard when my friends teased me about renting and having shabby clothes. It was hard when we hard to move from place to place when the rent was too high. It was hard when I saw my mother buckle under the stress of working two jobs and looking after my sister and I.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Yes, being worse off than other people can be hard when you’re a kid. But looking back, I’m glad I wasn’t born into the world with a silver spoon in my mouth.
I learnt which types of foods were healthy but cheap and how to cook them into meals. I learnt to save. I learnt to make every dollar count. I learnt that the world owes you nothing and that if you want anything, such as money, you have to go out and put in sweat, blood and tears to earn it. It pushed me to gain part-time jobs as a teenager which I otherwise, as my introverted self, would not have done had my parents been well off.
Do you know what I’m saying? Growing up poor made me resourceful which I know will stand me in good stead later on in life. Even if I do get a job that brings in a good income in the future, I know I won’t splurge or make impulse buys. Which brings me to the greatest lesson growing up poor ever taught me.
I used to be so jealous of these people who had all these material goods. Then, after much pontification, the gauze of consumerism was removed from my eyes. It made me realize how ridiculous it is to spend money, which is essentially one’s time, on things such as shoes, clothes and newer gadgets. Those objects mean nothing. Sure, they might give you a rush when you buy them and raise your status and make you look sexy or whatever. But in the end, well, they’re just things. You can’t take them with you when you die. Material goods won’t comfort you when you lie on your deathbed.
Because I grew up poor, I had a chance to think about what money really meant to me. And I realized it meant freedom. The more money I saved, the more chance I had to spend time on things I wanted to do, such as reading and writing, as I would have to work less. I didn’t care about trinkets and fabrics to adorn my body. Two of the activities I adored, reading and writing, were utterly free – all I needed was a nearby library and a notebook and pen. I’ve found that it’s true that the greatest things in life are free.
So if you’re poor at the moment, especially if you’re a teenager – hey, hang in there. I know it can be damn well hard. I used to type into google ‘help my family is poor’ and I never got any results which echoed my experiences. So I want to dedicate this post to all those people who are struggling financially at the moment. Realize that once you’ve got the basics covered, house, food, shelter, water and safety, you’re good to go. You don’t need all that superfluous junk. Who cares what people think. Who cares if your lodgings are a little shabby or you don’t have a wardrobe of clothes or you don’t experience fine dining. Money isn’t real, it only exists within the minds of people and simply a representation of the exchange of value between people. There is so much more to life than money. Art, for instance. I would rather be an artist who lives on a modest income and follows their dream rather than a millionaire who sacrifices many things to amass their wealth.
No one will care if your rich or poor when you die. Death certainly won’t. Time certainly won’t. Whether you’re rich or poor or black or white or blue or pink or happy or sad, we will all grow old and die one day and return to the earth. Let’s not let money dictate our happiness. Let your purpose in life, your choices and the contribution you make to the world do that. So I’m not ashamed that I grew up poor. I’m proud. I really am.