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Growing up poor in a low-income family in Vietnam has had a tremendous impact on my personality and outlook on life.
I remember those days when I succumbed to my insecurities in high school and kept wishing my parents were wealthy.
I was sitting next to my classmates who came from a privileged background with well-educated, wealthy, and powerful parents.
And I just couldn’t help but feel like I was living in another world and was totally disconnected with what they were experiencing in their lives.
After coming to America and having lived in the country for 12 years, however, I have realized that growing poor has taught me so many valuable lessons about money and relationships.
1. Frugality will pay off.
My parents have never made a lot of money. However, they have always been frugal and tried to save money in every possible way they can.
My mom didn’t buy makeup until much later in her life. She never bought any skin care products, lotion, or lip balm when I was little. She wanted to save money for the family.
My dad was the spender in the family, but he changed his way of managing money later in his life, which has helped boost my parents’ savings. My parents still follow the “If it’s yellow, let it mellow” rule to save money on water.
They installed a small solar system on the roof to avoid spending money on electricity. They like to turn off the lights when watching TV or when they leave a room. They always like to cook at home and eat leftovers.
My parents are now in a much better financial situation than they used to be. They are not as stressed out about money any more. But they still maintain their frugal lifestyle because they don’t want to rely on me or Mr. FAF when they retire.
Watching my parents’ frugality has shown me that saving for the future can provide me with better financial security down the road even if I don’t make a high income.
2. Money sometimes means love.
When my family was in dire financial situations, my uncle and aunt (my dad’s brother and sister) would help us out financially.
They are much better educated and better-off than my dad, and they wanted to make sure that my sister and I still could get the basic necessities in our lives.
They gave the money to my mom secretly because they knew my dad would be too proud to take it. My mom never told me how much they gave us, but I just knew it was on a monthly basis for a long period of time.
My uncle and my aunt are also frugal since they themselves went through tough times in their lives and learned the value of saving. But they were always willing to give to our family.
They gave us what we needed the most at the time, money, because they cared.
3. Money can make or break a marriage.
I saw a lot of marital conflict between my parents and even in my extended family over money. It was either someone spending too much on something unnecessarily or just the stress of surviving in society while trying to make ends meet.
Arguments about money can happen when there’s little money or a lot of it. When money is scarce, it induces stress, anxiety, and even blame for the one who’s supposed to bring in the most of it (usually the husband). When money is plentiful, it raises the question of how it should be spent or invested.
When Mr. FAF and I got married, we argued about money on a regular basis. We were trying to be on the same page to spend the limited resources that we had.
Even after I started working full-time, I was constantly stressed out thinking about whether Mr. FAF would be able to get a job so that our son could stay with us, whether we would have enough money to pay the mortgage, and many other financial matters.
In a way, I wanted to support the family. However, I also dreaded the fact that Mr. FAF was in school for too long when he was supposed to support the family financially as a husband and a father. It was a vicious cycle. And I was a victim of my own thoughts and anxiety.
I came to realize what it was like to be under financial pressure being married and having to take care of a child. I’m so glad we got through that phase, and now Mr. FAF has a full-time job. I feel like a huge burden has been lifted off my shoulders.
After staying with each other through thick and thin for four years, we have built a stronger marriage knowing that poverty can challenge us but can’t break us.
1. Contempt comes from insecurity.
I used to get comments in passing about my background growing up in Vietnam. Those comments could come from classmates, other family members, teachers, or even some people I just didn’t know well.
Some people might have been honest and didn’t want to hide their thoughts. Some were vicious and wanted to hurt my feelings. Some just didn’t care how I felt and just wanted to point out that fact that they were financially better-off than me.
I used to feel sad whenever I got one of those comments. I felt bad for my parents because they were already doing their best trying to take care of the family. I pitied myself because I didn’t have much pocket money to buy delicious snacks like my classmates did.
My classmates liked to talk about how their parents would pay thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for them to study abroad. I knew the only way I could attend college overseas was to get a full-ride scholarship.
At one point in high school, I gradually realized I was doing something similar to what they were doing: looking down on other people for what I had but they didn’t. It made me feel better about my situation and pacified my broken confidence that things weren’t so bad.
Fortunately, I snapped out of that toxic mindset after coming to America. I realized there were people at my college who were just genuine, hard-working, and extremely intelligent. They tried to help me and never talked badly about anyone behind their back.
At one point, it dawned on me that that was exactly how I wanted to lead my life. I didn’t want to project my insecurity onto other people and still waddled in misery knowing that I wasn’t treating others well although they had done nothing wrong to me.
I wanted to be like the college friends that I liked and looked up to: simple, honest, frugal, intelligent, and hard-working.
I changed. For the better.
2. A rich husband doesn’t guarantee a happy marriage.
As any parents would hope for their daughter, my parents have always wanted me to find and marry a good husband. A good husband to them means a man who is financially secure, well-educated, honest, loyal, and caring.
They lived in poverty earlier in their marriage and saw the impact it had on their relationship. They didn’t want me to go through the same hardships that they did.
I don’t really talk to my dad about boys and relationships. But there’s one thing my family said that always sticks with me: “A rich man can lose his wealth any time. But a smart, ambitious, and hard-working man can always build and rebuild his success and fortune.”
I did have some criteria when it comes to choosing the partner of my life. Being rich has never been one of them. But being smart and ambitious is.
People say that sometimes love is enough for two people to fall in love and live happily forever. But I don’t believe so. I have proof from my own family.
I have heard about and seen men falling apart when their family’s business or fortune went down the drain. They didn’t know how to get back on their feet because their success was built by their parents. They lost themselves together with their family’s wealth.
There might be times when Mr. FAF will fail in his future endeavors. But I believe he will be able to get back on his feet because he knows what it’s like to achieve success from having almost nothing.
Related: How To Find A Frugal Husband
3. Good friends will help us in tough times.
Mr. FAF and I have been in situations when we felt so desperate we didn’t know what a good solution would be.
Our family was half way across the world, and we were broke. It ranged from house break-ins to having difficulty finding housing before I gave birth to Baby FAF.
We never asked our friends for money, but they were always eager to help us stay a night or find affordable housing for us. I don’t know how we would get through those tough times without them.
They landed a hand when we didn’t have much to offer back to them. If there’s any test of our friendship, I think us being poor and desperate would be one.
I don’t think any of us wishes that we were poor. If anything, we want to have the choice to live a frugal life while accumulating enough wealth to live on for the rest of our lives.
I was born and raised into a poor family, and nothing can ever change that. But one thing I’m proud of is that my parents have ever done anything bad or illegal to get rich.
They have been honest hard-working people for all their lives. And I definitely learned the values of frugality and diligence from them.
Being poor is not a gift or an advantage. But through poverty, I have learned many valuable lessons about life which have become part of who I am today.