People Who Grew Up Poor Share The Unspoken Rules Of Poverty

nazarovsergey, elebeZoom/Shutterstock

There are certain things we can imagine about the way other people live, and there are things it would never occur to us to imagine if we haven’t experienced it. That’s why this thread started by Reddit user u/jicta earlier this year is so interesting—it really allows people to learn about what it’s like to grow up poor in ways they might never know about.

Featured Video Hide

They asked, “What were the unwritten expectations of your world growing up?”

Advertisement Hide

Since these expectations and rules are unwritten, you might not have ever heard of them. But if you’ve gone through any of this stuff, it will ring a very loud bell inside. Poverty is destructive to people’s lives in so many ways, but one of the worst things might be the way it sticks with you. Either because you can’t escape it, or because even if you’re able to change your economic status, you still can’t break some habits.

On the other hand, there were a lot of commenters who talked about learning compassion, work ethic, and how to build a community outside of money. And those are lessons that last forever, too.

Advertisement Hide


You’re not hurt unless you’re bleeding.

If you are bleeding, don’t bleed on the carpet. —cummings9536


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. —CoolMomInAMinivan


Stand up straight and speak with confidence. It was so easy for people to look down on the poor kids, so we made it just a bit harder for them. —steampunkedunicorn

Advertisement Hide


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. —kitchenwitchin


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. —hardly_trying


I am the second of 8 kids of high school dropout parents.

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

“You can do anything you want, as long as it’s free.”

“You will survive. If someone needs it more, let it go.”

“Never tell anyone you are hungry or need something, it makes you seem weak and needy.”

“The second you become working age, 10+. You will help with bills. You have no choice. Your money is everyone’s money.” Which is fine, until you realize the new tattoo mom has and dads new tv. —FriskyArttie

Advertisement Hide


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


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. —SlayerOfHips


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. —gajillionaire

Advertisement Hide


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 shitty parents sometimes —ohnoooooooooooooooo


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. —theguy4785


Not eating lunch because it you either “just ate breakfast” or “dinners only a few hours away you’ll be fine” —Tripleshot96

Advertisement Hide


Nothing wasted! Mum had a dish called mixed-up stew which was basically a little mince beef, mashed potatoes and any leftovers from the fridge.
Good menu planning – she never called it that but one meal led to the next with last’s night leftovers included. Failing that, she always had a soup on the go using bones from chicken, dried barley and, yet again, leftovers.
Thing is they were all delicious, but that could be me just remembering her fondly. —Barneyjoe


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. —march_rogue


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. —OriansSun

Advertisement Hide


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


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. —ThoughtIWasDale


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. —AwesomePossumID

Advertisement Hide


Leave the TV on when you leave the house.

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

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.

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

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. —systemdreamz


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. —kbell2020


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. —zhollywood