Skip To Content

    35 People Reveal The Moment They Realized They Were Poor, And It's Really Eye-Opening

    "When I realized all of our drinking glasses were really just Prego spaghetti sauce jars."

    A couple of weeks ago, I remembered a time from my childhood where a family member was worried about parking their car on my street because my neighborhood was "unsafe." Imagine saying that to someone who lives there — who eats there, sleeps there, spends all their time there.

    It got me thinking about other times in my childhood where people said things to me, or in front of me, about how much money my family had, or rather, didn't have.

    And it's like — I was a kid. There's nothing wrong with a child knowing that they're poor, but when other people tell you that it's something that makes you different and something that you should feel shameful for, then that's a real problem.

    I knew I wasn't alone in my experience, and I wanted to hear other people's stories. So recently, I asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell me the moment from their childhood when they realized they were poor. Here's what they had to say.

    1. "We never had any other kids cartoon channels other than PBS KIDS. My friends now talk about how much they loved watching SpongeBob SquarePants and Steven Universe, and I've never seen those shows."

    mcgovernr19

    2. "During third grade when I got sent home because my shirts kept showing my belly. My mom couldn't afford to buy new clothes when I grew. The teacher was always super rude about it too and acted like I was a harlot and would call me out in front of the entire class to shame me."

    knr8269

    3. "I realized I was poor when my friend had Mickey Mouse popsicles after my mom had told us that they were only for the super-rich. My friend's family wasn't all that more well-off. It was then that I realized that it was a luxury to have a name-brand thing from the grocery store when you are poor."

    —anonymous 

    a child eating a popsicle

    4. "We only had one car when I was growing up. I remember while it was getting repaired, my dad dropped me off at a friend’s home in the courtesy car from the mechanic. I still cringe to this day, because my friend’s mom said, 'Oh, your parents can finally afford another car.'"

    —anonymous

    5. "For me, it was my shoes coming from Payless. Some kids just knew that my shoes were cheap Payless knock-offs, and mocked me for it."

    vexed_easily

    6. "I realized my family was poor when I discovered that I was the 'Angel Tree' kid that the class was collecting holiday gifts for."

    —anonymous

    7. "My parents would buy me sweatpants for the winter and then cut them into shorts for the summer. They were my only type of clothing I had until I got out on my own."

    —anonymous

    8. "When I was 13 and had to go to the school office to get my free lunch ticket."

    —anonymous

    9. "When I was in elementary school, there was a food/can drive going on, and I asked my mom if I could bring cans in to donate. I didn’t realize the white label cans were government food that were donated to us already. We were who the drives were for basically, and it was a weird realization."

    stubbsgabrielle

    "My school was doing a food drive and making Thanksgiving food baskets for a few of the poorest kids at the school. One day when I arrived home from school, one of the baskets was on my porch."

    —anonymous

    "I realized we were poor when the Girl Scouts dropped food off for us on Thanksgiving. We were their service project."

    —anonymous

    volunteers collecting food

    10. "The winter nights when I couldn't get warm. My single mother didn't want to turn on the heat, or the utilities were turned off, and there just weren't enough blankets. I put on my winter coat. It wasn't enough. I lost a lot of sleep."

    —anonymous

    "Our electricity got cut off in the winter one year, and we slept with the gas oven open and on for heat for like a week (which was super unsafe)."

    knr8269

    11. "Having cereal with water because we couldn’t afford milk."

    —anonymous

    12. "When I was 12, a friend's dad took me and her to Burger King for lunch. I'd never been in a fast-food restaurant although I grew up in an inner city surrounded by them. I didn't even know how to order, let alone how he could afford to splurge on us like that! In that moment I realized that plain pasta or salted popcorn were not what most people ate for all meals."

    —anonymous

    Homer Simpson ordering at Krusty Burger

    13. "We couldn't go on vacations, so when I had to write an essay about what I did that summer and read it out loud to the class, I would always have to spend time researching stuff in the library so I could write a pretend vacation I took, but make sure I got all the details right just in case anybody asked me about it."

    —anonymous

    "When I was younger, most of my classmates would talk about going to Disney World or other places they’d visit during the summer. The teacher would always ask the students to have a big presentation about the cultures that they experienced or the adventures they had, when it hit me that I’ve spent the last four of my summers stuck at home because my parents worked all the time. Apparently we’d been living paycheck to paycheck and had no savings."

    —anonymous

    14. "I had a Fluppy Dogs tape I was so excited to share with my friend when I was playing at her house one day, but I had a Betamax tape, and her family had a VCR. So we asked her parents how to play it and they said, 'Who still uses a Betamax?!'"

    —anonymous

    15. "When I came to school every day in the same pair of jeans and another girl figured it out. She yelled out how poor my mom was. I still think about that."

    born_with_no_bones

    a woman saying, "You look poor"

    16. "When I was 6 or 7, my family went out to celebrate. We dressed in our nicest clothes to go to the restaurant, and for years afterward I thought that had to be one of the fanciest restaurants ever...it was a Bakers Square. 😑"

    kittentf

    17. "When I realized that not all children shared a bedroom with their mom. I finally got my own bedroom when I was 15 years old."

    —anonymous

    18. "We had amazing Halloween costumes…all hand-made by my mom — full-length vampire cape, Winter Barbie replica dresses, a pumpkin costume stuffed with newspaper — but it wasn’t until my brother wanted the Spider-Man costume with the plastic mask from the store that I realized we were poor."

    —anonymous

    a child getting Halloween supplies at the store with his mom

    19. While growing up I never lacked anything that I needed, whether it was clothes, food, or a roof. But I noticed little things that my mom would do. She would eat Saltines for dinner while we kids ate healthy food, she wore clothes that had holes and didn’t quite fit, and she never had any nice things."

    —anonymous

    "I didn’t realize until I was an adult that my mom would regularly not eat so that my brother and I could."

    —anonymous

    20. "When I realized all of our drinking glasses were really just Prego spaghetti sauce jars."

    —anonymous

    21. "I'm the youngest of six kids and the only girl. I had to wear my brother's hand-me-downs to school, including a pair of horrible square-toed boots. Man, did I ever get teased about that."

    —anonymous

    "When I was in elementary school, and a boy made fun of me because I wore the same four or five things all year. It quickly spread through my school. Kids told me every day that I was 'white trash' and poor since I didn't have a very big selection of clothes."

    —anonymous

    "I realized I was poor when I was in fourth grade. All the kids at school had brand-new clothes, shoes, and backpacks, while I had the same backpack I'd had since kindergarten, and all my clothes were bought for 50 cents at yard sales. I was made fun of for looking dirty 'cause a lot of the clothes had stains on them."

    —anonymous


    a group of teenagers with the words "she could be a farmer in those clothes"

    22. "I didn’t realize we were poor until we moved to a better neighborhood, and my new friends weren’t eating sardines from a can with white rice for dinner, or spaghetti with Spam instead of meatballs."

    —anonymous

    23. "When I found out that when Dorothy steps out of the house into Oz the film is suddenly in color. We only had an old black and white TV."

    —anonymous

    24. "One summer, my mom bought a skirt and a top for me from a neighbor literally two houses down the street during a garage sale. The clothes belonged to a girl two years younger than me. Whenever she saw me wearing those clothes, she never failed to smirk and ask me how I liked my 'new' clothes."

    —anonymous

    preteen girls in a hallway

    25. "When I was in line to get food from a food bank, someone from school saw me and told everyone. They then proceeded to laugh at me and call me 'Welfare Baby.'"

    —anonymous

    26. "My mom asked me to walk to the store the day after Christmas. On my walk, I could see all the boxes from all the toys my neighbors got in their trash cans. It was all the toys I wanted. I saw the Cabbage Patch Kid box, and that hurt the most. I really wanted one that year. All I received was a baby buggy and a few small items. It was then that my eyes opened to just how poor we were."

    —anonymous

    "My first grade had us sit in a circle to share what we got for Christmas. My classmates got Nintendos, and I got a stuffed animal."

    —anonymous

    27. "Watching Roseanne. I liked it because they were like an American version of how our family lived. Then people started saying they were poor white trash. I had no idea before that."

    thesmalllebowski

    the family in "Roseanne" sitting down to a meal

    28. "I was in the sixth grade, and my sister was in the seventh. We had to have a different pair of shoes to wear in the gym for PE. My mom and dad could only afford one pair for both of us."

    "So on gym day, my sister would have to interrupt my class to give me the 99-cent pair of shoes when she was done with them."

    —anonymous

    29. "I’ve always known, but it really hit me hard when I won a poetry contest when I was about 11 or 12, and my poem was going to be published in a book of children’s poetry. They sent me the info on how to buy it. I don’t remember how much it was, but my mom made me feel bad about wanting it, like I was selfish. Maybe I was, but it was very special and important to me, and it broke my heart that I couldn’t have it."

    zameralitessa

    30. "My single mother of three went out to mow the grass, but when she came in and tried to take a shower, the water didn't turn on. It became a moment of realization for me."

    "She was covered in sweat and grass and had to be at her waitressing job in 30 minutes. She explained to me that it was either pay the electric bill that month or pay the water bill, so she chose electric."

    —anonymous

    a person drying off in the shower

    31. "I had to stay with my best friend's family once when I was 12 so my mom could go on a business trip. They had something different for dinner every night. My best friend said they rarely had leftovers, and got new food every night. I had been on day 6 of spaghetti and Ragu because that's how we ate: cheap and the same thing for nights on end."

    witchyribbon84

    32. "My mom gave me a special present, a new shirt I had wanted for months. I was so excited because most things I had were secondhand. One day my cousin got the same shirt and said, 'My mom got it on clearance. Would you like to know how cheap it was?' I was only about 11, but I said 'no.'"

    "My mom had thought of me, got me a gift, and spent what little she had on me. I did not want to diminish that by knowing what it cost."

    —anonymous

    33. "I was never allowed to participate in after-school activities or sports due to the fact that the cost associated with the activities was outside our means. Same thing for birthday parties and such — I typically was not able to attend, usually because we didn’t have additional funds for gifts."

    texasgirl2017

    a kid sitting on the bleachers while a team of kids talks to a coach in a gym

    34. "My friend asked me what posters I had in my room, and I said, 'I don't have my own room. I sleep in the living room on a shared mattress.' Her reaction made me realize I was poor."

    —anonymous

    35. "When my dad would bring home bins of expired food that he took out of dumpsters near his job sites. He knew where vending machine owners would get rid of it and capitalized. My siblings and I referred to it as our dumpster snacks."

    —anonymous

    a pile of potato chip bags

    Note: Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.



    If you grew up poor, when did you realize it? Let us know in the comments.