Home > I never realized I was poor until...

I never realized I was poor until...

March 9th, 2012 at 12:46 am

Sometimes I think I grew up pretty naive.

I certainly didn't have the "Leave It to Beaver" family. I was fortunate to attend a parochial elementary school only because at that time, there was no tuition charged.

In my mind, I just thought everyone grew up like me.

I remember in 8th grade we had an art and talent show. Anyone could exhibit anything.

I liked to draw and paint and I thought I would use a hymn verse and illustrate it.

I worked hours on it. And in my innocent way, I was very proud of it. I took it to school to have it on display that evening.

We went to the show after school. As we walked around and looked at all the other items on exhibit, I realized then I was really different.

Most of the craft items were made from kits and looked very, well shall we say, professional. At least as professional as a grade school item can look. They all looked very, very nice. The raw materials were new when they started, store bought, and everything looked very "perfect."

Over to the side, almost hidden, was my painting with the hand printed hymn verse. You see, when I wanted to do the painting, I didn't know what to paint on so my dad suggested I paint on a piece of cardboard. He cut out a piece of cardboard and that is what I painted on. We didn't have a frame or anything for it. If you looked on the back, you could see what product the box came from.

It looked pretty sad compared to all these other exhibits.

It was then I realized we were poor. We used what we had because there simply wasn't the money to go buy extra things like canvas or special drawing and painting supplies. I thought everyone but the very rich did the same. And I didn't think I knew rich people before this.

I had used the paints we had at home and they were left over from when my folks had painted used bicycles that my dad had fixed from old parts and sold. The painting was glossy. And then I saw it as gaudy and ugly.

I started looking at what others were wearing and then seeing the faded clothes I had on. It never bothered me before, but then I realized I didn't look like others or live like others. And I could then tell by where my project was and how it was treated, it was shameful to be poor.

I hope I never have or never will treat another person or their creations like that because I remember my heart aching at that moment and my face flushing with shame.

Of course nothing was said to me, but I knew then I was different.

A few years back, a friend of mine and I talked about when we realized we were poor. I remember she said it was when she was in high school. And she remembers how it made her feel.

Although our blogs and this site are about saving money, I hope we never think it is shameful to be poor or treat someone less because of it. Somehow, after reading many of the blogs and posts, I don't think that is the case. I just hope fewer children have to feel as badly as I did that spring in eighth grade.

8 Responses to “I never realized I was poor until...”

  1. momcents Says:


    I grew up economically disadvantaged despite a biological father who came from a family with money. When my mother let his parents know that he didn't pay regularly the child support he was supposed to, they at least stepped in and paid for things like piano lessons and summer camp. I lived in an apartment when everyone else was in houses. I had a small wardrobe with a few nice things, mostly hand-me-downs.

    When I was in 7th grade I made presents for my teachers at Christmas, dough ornaments cookie cut shapes that I painted (Raggedy Andy and Ann that I painted. I thought they were very nice, but they paled in comparison to all the store bought gifts from my classmates. I was very embarrassed and cried in the bathroom, ashamed of my gift. I am sad that at that time I didn't realize that my gifts meants more probably than the others because I was giving the gift of myself.

  2. rob62521 Says:

    As a teacher, I can tell you it was the handmade things I liked the best. I have always taught in high poverty schools so any gift that came from the heart was always appreciated. I bet your teacher appreciated the ornaments because of the effort you put in them.

  3. ThriftoRama Says:

    I remember that moment too. In seventh grade, trying out to be a cheerleader and discussing the cost of uniforms. The head cheerleader was admonishing another girl for not being able to afford it (%10 I think), and she pointed at me and said "if she can afford it, you can." Um yeah. I had always known I was different (and still am) but I had never thought it was because of money.

    The thing is, people buy things and even those families can't really afford it. We'd all be richer if we weren't so scared of being perceived as poor. I think it's a good life, it's everyone else who is out of whack. I just hate how children can make other children feel.

  4. CB in the City Says:

    I think my very first perception of being different was in first grade, when I couldn't find one of my boots. The teacher lined up all the boys, because I was wearing my brother's hand-me-down boots. The shame I felt!

    I remember another time in Sunday School when we went around the class sharing what we got for Christmas. Everyone else spun off a long list, giggling about how they couldn't remember it all. I said I got a radio. That was a lie. I didn't get anything that year. In fact, I was the one who gave gifts to the rest of the family because I was the only one with expendable income from babysitting. I was too young then to realize that I was the better example of a Christian than anyone else in that class.

    I had some really sad years growing up, but they made me into the person I am today.

    I would never, never, never look down anyone for being poor.

  5. NJDebbie Says:

    What a beautiful post. As a young girl, I had some Christmases without presents. I was never sad for me but for my little brothers. I hope someday to work with the poor. I am reading a book called Kisses from Katie; I see life in a different way now. ((HUGS))

  6. Ima saver Says:

    My father died when I was nine and his military pension was cut off. My mother had never had a job in her life; she never even went to a high school. The VA gave her $25 a month to live on and that is what the 3 of us lived on for a long time. I started work at age 12, to pay for clothes and school items. I think that helped me to be the person that I am. Always careful with money.

  7. ceejay74 Says:

    Sweetie, ((hugs)). My heart aches for the young girl you, because nothing can quite ever erase those gutwrenching moments. They do build character, but at an emotional cost, huh?

    On a lighter note, I occasionally felt a bit of embarrassment or shame because I thought my parents were poor based on the worn-out furniture in our house, the 10- to 15-year-old hand-me-downs I wore, the way mom packed my lunch instead of paying for the school lunch, the lack of TV or video games or computer. (They would actually get me a lot of presents at Christmas and birthdays, but being a kid I didn't make the connection.) I slowly began to realize, in high school or college, that my parents were pretty well-off. Not because they made a huge ton of money, though I think my dad does pretty well, but because they skimp on most things and only spend a lot when it's something that they feel matters.

    As Thriftorama said, a lot of those kids probably weren't rich so much as their parents weren't thrifty.

  8. rob62521 Says:

    You are right, ceejay, they do build character, but in a painful way. Sounds like your parents were smart cookies!

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