Poverty Stories

Poverty Stories: Growing Up Poor Made Me Rich But Not Happy

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My parents married when they were 17 years old back in the early 70’s and lived in a town just outside of Toronto. Shortly after I was born into what was a loving family environment that did what normal families do. This was the happiest and scariest moments for my parents because financially they were just getting started.

Luckily both of their parents lived in the same city and they were able to get help from them with babysitting and anything else they needed. Both my parents are the youngest of many siblings who watched their brothers and sisters grow up to become successful in their careers.


Walk down the aisle


Back in the early 60’s and 70’s it wasn’t uncommon to get married before the age of 20 years old so naturally having a baby was the next step. My mother was an accomplished musician among her peers and my father followed his passion as a plumber in the trades.

By the time they were in their mid-twenties they were both working steady jobs and life was getting busy. My mother went to work in customer service which she loved but was bringing in a minimum wage income. I don’t know how much that was back then but I’m sure it was under $3.00 an hour.

Luckily my dad was earning good money and could bring in extra cash on the side when a job came his way. Otherwise, things seemed to be great from what I remember as I was very young. Funny isn’t it how we remember the good times as if they were gold especially when they didn’t last that long.


Family time


I remember our family as a happy family and by then I had a sister too so everything was perfect. My parents bought a house and were paying off their first mortgage. My mother went on to get a job at the local library earning great money. She liked the peace of the environment.

My parents had no money management skills and relied on financial advice from their family or accountant. They even went as far to see a psychic when they were at the end of their fight financially and emotionally.

Budget...they still don’t know what one is and probably never will. They just pay the bills.


The Good Times


The best times were when we were altogether, smiling, eating, having fun, visiting relatives, road trips. Gosh, I remember it all like it was yesterday.

Each year we would go on family trips to Niagara Falls, Marineland, African Lion Safari which was the hub of family holiday spots at the time. Most often we loved going to the park to have a BBQ picnic, play games, swimming and just chilling out. This mostly happened on the weekends when my parents weren’t working.

Those were the good times that I remember and then it ends.

By the time I was in 6th grade my father became abusive towards my mom, sister and I. He was going out every night partying with his friends and even came home with lipstick on his jacket. My mom ignored it to keep the family together. She was also very afraid of him as he was controlling her every move.


Business owners


Something just clicked in my dad’s head and he changed. He wanted to be rich and successful but without any understanding about how to get there. He went on to talk my mother into quitting her job that offered her a defined benefits package to start a business.

Becoming a business owner was a big deal and appealed to his need for success. “I Own A Business.” How many people do you hear say that? Owning a business doesn’t automatically qualify you as successful but to many people even today having this title gives them a sense of power. It’s a dangerous place to be.

The business was busy but as the years went on it was becoming a struggle to get customers in the door. Big box stores started to open which crushed the local small businesses including my parents.

Money was tight and at times they were using rent money from their two rental houses to pay the bills for their business. Of course the money juggling began between the mortgage companies and the business. Lack of money management is one of the biggest causes of poverty combined with lack of skills and employment opportunities.

It didn’t last long before everything went downhill and the business closed. They lost EVERYTHING. I was about to learn first-hand what it was like to grow up in a poor family and how money and greed would cause my father to physically and verbally abuse my mother and both us girls.

I’ve had a dresser drawer smashed over my head, my stereo thrown at me, kicked with steel toe boots countless times, punched and bruised. I was under his control, his command and terrified, we all were. He was not the father we once knew. Money loss turned him into someone no one wants to meet.

What world was I living in? The pain of not being happy like the other kids at school hurt. I was a people-watcher and loved to listen. All the stories the kids would tell about going to sports events, camping, holidays or shopping with their mama was like a knife in my heart.

While my mom ran the business with us he was working as much as he could to bring in money to help pay the bills-that was until he got sick. He was later placed on disability earning a small portion of his income but in the meantime our once kingdom crumbled.

Repairs around the house never got fixed and if they did they were bandage repairs. My dad would find anything he could second-hand, free or he’d create it to fix a problem. Not everything got fixed though. The bathroom on the upper level had a massive hole in the roof where the rain was leaking in. Eventually the drywall would rot and collapse.

The bits just got tossed in the bathtub that we were all scared to use anyways. I thought if I did the tub would fall through the ceiling. I was petrified of  that bathroom. The ceiling in our living-room showed signs of cracking and the staining was clear from leaks. The bathroom would get cleaned on occasion but my mom was spent physically and emotionally.

We were just kids and had no idea about anything but hiding from our dad so we didn’t upset him. Our rooms would only get cleaned after our dad beat us or threatened to because he saw the state of them. Sometimes my mom would surprise us and help clean it all but that was rare as she had no time even for herself. She never did think about herself, just everyone else.

There was no direction or stability for us girls.

Today both my sister and I have issues with cleaning. We’re not dirty by any means, just the opposite. The obsession with cleaning does take its toll on us at times. I’ve gotten better over the years as my husband helps clean and cook (what??). It’s all new to me and now that I have a child I’m seeing and feeling what I missed growing up. Mostly love.


Run Mommy run


He hit my mom when he was angry, had a bad day. I still remember her screams, cries and watching her cover her face so he wouldn’t hit her in the head.

He blamed her for EVERYTHING.

There was always silent screams inside of me because I wanted my mom to do something about this. My mother stuck around out of fear he would kill himself or hurt us. She knows now that it was a big mistake but back in the late 70’s early 80’s resources for battered women were slim.

I once asked her why she stayed and her response, “Where would I have gone?” She was scared and felt alone now living hours away from family. She did manage to leave once to a woman’s shelter but he convinced her to come back home by claiming he would change. Right.

Big mistake.

Why oh why did she go back? I wish I could talk to that young, frightened mother and tell her to run and that there was hope and help for her. Her life, our life would have been far better. It wouldn’t erase what we’d been exposed to but it would have helped the healing process.

As the debt collectors kept calling the refrigerator was empty and things just got worse as appliances started to fail. To top it off both their health started to slow them down from the constant drowning in debt and emotional uproar. They also both smoked a pack of cigarettes a day to calm their nerves from it all. My dad liked his booze and would take shots here and there but he was never an alcoholic.

Love in their relationship was long gone and I honestly can’t tell you what my mother was thinking. He treated her like his property and the things he would say to others about her was mind-blowing. If something went wrong it was easier to blame-shift then be a man and own up to it. That was his way of covering up the fact that he had no money.

Even going as far as blaming her for everything that happened to them financially. All I know is that she thought she was doing the right thing for her kids even though she watched us get hit many times.

Eventually the front porch was caving in so we no longer could use that door unless we jumped over the big hole. My mother had to close the business as it wasn’t earning money and they couldn’t pay the bills. My father went into a deep depression and he only got worse in his relations with all of us.

Most days we would avoid him because we had nothing to say to him. We hated him actually, for everything even though he blamed my mom. As an adult I can look back and tell you that my father was more interested in showing everyone how fat his wallet was and would depend on my mother to balance the financial books. She did but had no idea what she was doing.

In fact, she messed everything up so bad because she was shuffling money around to make ends meet just so he wouldn’t find out. She hid that the business was suffering financially but eventually he would find out as she could no longer continue.

The doors would finally close with an excuse from my parents so they didn’t look like failures in the community or to the customers who were also friends to some degree.


You learn what you’re exposed to


Our only emotions were fear, anxiety, hate and worry with the occasional laugh. Even my mother and I would fight, my sister and I would argue about who did more for my mom financially as we got older. I left as soon as I could…see ya!

My sister continues to send my mother money to this day and I do as well. I’ve given her so much but I know stuff and money won’t change the past. I feel so sorry for her. God, I love her so much.

She is still married to him and do what most retired people do apart from travel. He’s still a jerk with a temper who blames her for everything. We’ve had ups and downs, good days and bad but we’re still a family.

They are frugal and luxury is no where in their books. After being married for almost 45 years it becomes an institution especially for those who fear their partner but who also fear the real world or being alone in it.


Bullying…meant nothing


When I was in elementary school I was always teased by the other kids. The bullying was so bad that I wanted to just hide or leave the earth. Back then bullying wasn’t taken as serious as it is today. I didn’t have beautiful straight hair with the girly accessories.

I was a fat kid with acne and wavy hair that had no style. My clothes looked old and torn in places (I’d be in fashion today) and didn’t fit right. Most days I didn’t have a jacket and when I did I hated wearing it as I felt fatter then I already was. No one monitored my diet and emotional eating took a BIG role in my weight gain.

Oddly enough my dad never allowed us to throw our clothes out or donate them. Our basement was filled with black garbage bags because he thought that someone would use them eventually. That was his way of saving money I suppose.

Nothing went out of style in his mind.

Honestly though you would have thought we had a hoarding problem with clothes. Even I can hardly understand it to this day. I’m sure he just had a fear of losing everything. All I know is there is nothing hanging around my closet-ever.


The prettier sister


My sister on the other hand was thin and beautiful and had no problem making friends and was not bullied. I guess it doesn’t matter what you wear if you are thin and fit in with the other kids.

Most days I would just hide outside during recess because I didn’t want anyone to see me. My sister would be off on the basketball court or playing soccer with her friends while I had none.

I had my hot spots around the school grounds where I’d sit or I’d hide in the bathroom until the bell would ring. There’s only so much one can take of the name calling and having things thrown at them mostly from the boys. The girls just ignored me but the boys treated me like I was a play toy they could torture.

I hid my tears and I never spoke up for fear of getting in trouble from the other kids. It was that fear my father instilled in me that would see me carry severe anxiety into adult-hood. I did make some friends but honestly I’m sure they were just being nice because their parents brought them up to be polite to everyone. Smart parents. Those kids probably saved me.


I’m a girl…no I’m a woman


My mother never taught me about menstruation or tampons only to wake up to a blood soaked bed one morning. Mortified I hid it because I did not know what was going on until my mother found out one day. I also didn’t know about shaving my legs or taking care of myself properly including using deodorant, bra sizes etc. I’m sure it just slipped her mind. I don’t know.

Who was going to pay for these necessities? I ended up getting a job when I was 15 and have never looked back. I paid for everything I needed in life and being home less meant less of the crap I had to deal with. I made sure to work as much as I could, earn money and eventually start working out at the gym in my early twenties.

My social skills were never developed properly which meant I didn’t know how to act in situations with any amount of people present. I always felt like I would be left out. The hardest times were during gym in elementary school when I was ALWAYS picked last. It wasn’t really picking I was just leftover to them.

I learned the hard way and most often embarrassing way during my high school years. Boys in the class would say I was fat and that I smelled behind my back but loud enough so I could hear them. It was impossible to focus in the classroom because all I worried about was what the other kids were doing or saying behind me. Many times they would post nasty notes on my back, pour stuff in my hair and just treat me rotten.

I never let them see me cry though.

I practically failed some of my high school classes (math being the worst) when some teachers felt bad and passed me with a 50. I was probably a very bright girl but I had no chance. They saw what was going on and how I was treated by the other kids but just got on with their day.

Couple that with what was happening at home and I don’t know how I survived it all. Food helped. I’m strong I suppose but that’s what the hardening does to you. You learn to live with it and deal with it as it becomes your normal.

I begged the school counsellors to get out of gym class after making an excuse up why I couldn’t join in. I was fat and the other girls were fit, I couldn’t change in front of other girls and I didn’t have a bra until grade 10. I would wear baggy clothes instead.

My mother failed me but given the circumstances she was under, I don’t blame her and still don’t. She had limited life experience. I couldn’t imagine doing everything she did at such a young age.


Acting out for control


My sister and I started to steal for fun (thankfully never got caught). Stealing was something I could control and I was able to save money doing so. I know it was horrible but that’s what I did and I can’t change that. Most of the time it was cassette tapes I’d steal because music was my only way out from the world.

I found peace in music because every song would tell me a story. Music made me feel normal because I understood that I wasn’t the only one living a horrible upbringing. We didn’t have computers and the one television we did have my father controlled. In all honesty if technology was as advanced as it is today back then I would have probably killed myself. Bullying is torture.

We weren’t allowed to have friends or hang out with them either, nor was my mother. It was school, work and home. Horrible really how money can change a person. Living below the poverty line growing up scared the heck out of me. I wasn’t going to live this way ever. I knew that for sure but I had to find my way out of that life.

I went on to college and graduated but nothing came of that but a big OSAP bill. After years of paying that off I found jobs working minimum wage. I was still living at home and providing rent money to my mother to help juggle those bills around. The feeling you have living with an abusive father, a scared mother and no money for anything is hard to describe.

It hardens you.

I couldn’t imagine being homeless but at times I wished anything to be out of that house. I couldn’t leave because I was scared my mom would get injured or die with his off the hook temper. As I got older I would intervene and put myself in between the fights. I fought back for her and he backed off quite a bit. Take that! I hated that I had to be that way. All I wanted was a real family life.


Poverty takes on many faces


You don’t often hear about poverty stories especially behind closed doors because of shame on many levels. That’s me. The definition of poverty is different for everyone who lives it but for the most part it’s a struggle to pay to survive.

Some may say that having a roof over our head was not living in poverty compared to another family who lives on the streets. True but not everyone has a father who would beat and control them either. Did he really enjoy hurting the very people he should have loved? Probably not but something wasn’t right with him or that was the way his parents brought him up.

Circumstances are different for everyone I suppose is what I’m trying to say.

Eventually my parents lost everything and had to start over again. It was almost a blessing to be rid of all that mess. All we wanted was to be a family who lived in a house and that was it. We wanted to be left alone to tend to our daily needs. No more overdue bills, creditors calling or fighting about money.

It was finally over.


Years go on


There was no such thing as a divorce.

My dad still holds the money in the house and my mom pays all the bills. If she were to pass away my father would be lost in space when it comes to their finances. My mom is still not the best with money but takes care of making sure there is no debt.

Coupon savings became her obsession back in 2012 when she learned how to get stuff for free. We love her so much and often wonder what kind of mom she would have been to us had she not been in her situation.

She doesn’t need anything more than friends and love these days as money is nothing more than to pay bills and buy stuff she probably doesn’t need. She’s exhausted to the point she just wants to live the rest of her life in peace and quiet.

My dad is for the most part calmed down but has his heated moments. The anger never truly leaves a person as it becomes part of their personality. My mother is full of love, always has been and puts everyone first. We still send her money because we know how much that extra $50 means to feel like she earns a living. Opening her wallet to see money lights up her face especially when she never has any.

They are no longer in debt as they’ve consolidated the money they owed years ago and paid it all off. Their credit rating improved once they applied for a credit card to build their credibility with financial institutions. This helped them get the house they would finally call their final home.

Although they will be well into their 70’s when the mortgage is paid all I know is that I’m happy that the money fights have ended. Financially they bring in enough to take care of everything and have extra money.

I’m just happy, relieved and at peace for them. I don’t think that they don’t love each other either. I just think that money became the evil that overshadowed their relationship.

Today my mother laughs most of it off and makes fun of my dad but she is deeply scared by it all. It’s easy to see how she can’t turn off and her mind wanders. It’s as if she is always on guard waiting for my father to come into the room. I feel horrible for her.

I still hate him for what he’s done and he knows it but I also love him. Mental health plays a big role in our family- always has. I envy those who didn’t grow up the way I did.

I am currently depressed and have severe anxiety which is why I am on medications to help me get through the day. I’m fun to be around but in the back of my head I always remember the dark times as if they were yesterday.


One life… just one


In the end…. you either break the system you’ve been dealt or follow it into the next generation. The choice is yours. My sister and I are both successful, debt free and have no mortgage. Growing up in a poor family taught us what we didn’t want for our future.

We saved our money, worked hard, got an education and achieved promotions over the years into senior level roles. Both of us are 6-figure earners even though we are younger than most of our colleagues.

We’re both married and have children and spouses who are also accomplished in their careers. They help around the house and life is good. I guess I’m getting a second chance. I only wish my mom could too.

Neither of our spouses know the full extent of what our life was growing up as it’s too painful to talk about it. I think this is why I took  Mr. CBB up on his offer to spread the word about what happens behind closed doors and how mental health plays a big role.


Family is everything


If you’ve ever heard someone say that family comes first they’ve got that right. You don’t have to be rich to enjoy special moments with your family. Those happy memories were of us doing stuff that was inexpensive or free together.

My main purpose for sharing my story today which isn’t even the blood gushing direction it should have taken I feel better about talking about it. I hated being silent about what our family life was like and even though you don’t know me I’m relieved. I feared what everyone would think if they split up but now know it was all part of the emotions I was learning to live with that kept me in that bubble.

My daughter will learn about how to manage money as soon as I can teach her. I’m also going to teach her about bullying, girly things and do fun stuff with her like go to the park and library. I will be able to give her the things I never got which includes lots of love, hugs and kisses.

Related: When should you talk to your kids about money?

There is no fighting in our family apart from the normal squabble and we have rules. We will be fine financially but I know that growing up poor has helped me to understand that debt rules it’s own kingdom. Asking for help is always the hardest step to take which is what I did even though I know I’ll be dealing with it for life.

If you come from a good home with loving parents,  you’re blessed. For a brief moment in my life I knew what it was like to have that feeling.

I want to meet the girl who survived it all because her mom wasn’t scared to leave the relationship. I bet that girl is very different from who I am today. She’s lucky, very lucky she got away even though I know that never did happen. I’m a dreamer.
That’s what I did when I hid from the world, dream.

Maybe one day my dad will tell me, he loves me and that he’s sorry for the pain he put me and the family through but for now I appreciate what I have and what it took to get here. Don’t let your heart ache for me as the damage is done.

Perhaps spread the word about financial literacy, mental health, poverty, bullying, relationship abuse, child abuse and love. We need to learn how to love more than we love money and break cycles not records.

Thanks for letting me share this with you.


I wish I knew then what I know today.

Editor’s Note: If you have a poverty story that you’d like to share anonymously please contact me via email- canadiandbudgetbinder@yahoo.ca

Note to poster: Thank-you for sharing this with us as I know it was probably difficult for you. – Mr.CBB

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  1. Amazing story, am glad you found a way to share it. I didn’t grow up poor but this story open my eyes and reminds me of the things I took for granted growing up.

  2. It is wonderful that your writer has the strength to breakthrough the pain ant change her own life for the better.

    Break the cycle of poverty and add to the pain the that comes with it when people don’t have the insight to change.

    Talking about it and knowing that there are opportunities may help others beat the cycle of pain.
    Thanks for sharing, I would be considered poor too growing up, so I know how it feels to be different and singled out.

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