In the personal finance (PF) community, we talk about living below our means and being frugal for a better financial future.
Using hand-me-down items or going on a treasure hunt is not something PF bloggers refrain from doing.
But have you ever felt inferior to someone when you know that you are judged for being poor?
You feel that you’re not as good as them or not worthy of their attention because you or your family doesn’t have a lot or as much as they do.
I have. I’ve known what it’s like to be ashamed of being poor ever since I was in elementary school.
I grew up in a low-income family in Vietnam. My parents struggled financially for years and fought about money constantly. My dad had his fair share of financial mistakes.
My mom had her full-time job and multiple side hustles such as making yogurt and knitting sweaters to support the family. She was the one who held our family together in one piece.
When I was growing up, having socks with holes in them was normal. I’d mend the holes, and they would appear again after a while.
I remember one time my mom mended her old shirt and gave it to me to wear to school.
I don’t know if it’s because it was so obvious the shirt still wasn’t my size or if my mom didn’t do a great job re-purposing it, but some of my classmates pointed out that the outfit didn’t fit me well and looked odd.
I tried to defend myself and felt really upset about what they said. After all, that’s what my mom made for me. But words can be so cruel, especially when they come from kids.
I remember having three pairs of socks, three t-shirts, and two pairs of pants that I had to hand-wash every day to have something clean to wear the next day. I kept wishing that one day I would have a good job and could buy whatever nice clothes I wanted.
My wardrobe got a new look when I was in 8th grade. Back then, I was growing fast, so I was almost the same size as my uncle’s wife. I remember feeling so excited whenever she gave me some of her old clothes. To me, it was like New Year’s presents.
Some of the clothes were a bit too old for me, but I didn’t mind that at all. At least I didn’t have to alternate washing and wearing only 3 t-shirts in the same week. Middle school was probably the highlight of my fashion trend.
Fast forward to high school, that’s when my insecurity was probably at its peak. I was accepted into one of the best high schools in the city where I lived.
It was a high school for the gifted. It also had the reputation of being a school where all the richest and smartest kids in the city went.
I was put into a small classroom of 34 students. Most of them had parents who were not only wealthy but also powerful and well-educated. Their parents were what my parents were not.
Many of my classmates’ parents were diplomats and had studied or worked overseas. Some had gotten their Master’s or PhD from Western countries. Some were lawyers, bankers, and doctors. And some were CEOs at big banks.
Many of my classmates had lived in America, Australia, and other developed countries for years before coming back to Vietnam. And it came as no surprise that they liked hanging out with each other and talking about their experiences of living abroad.
I just couldn’t relate to them and had nothing to contribute to the conversation. The only vacation I knew for sure I would have each year was a trip to the countryside to visit my maternal grandparents.
I didn’t think they would be interested in what I had to say when they were talking about Washington DC, New York, or Sydney. They also talked a lot about where their parents had traveled to for work and what gifts they got from overseas.
My classmates were not shy to talk about how wealthy or powerful their families were. Our teachers also paid attention to such stories and enjoyed building a relationship with their parents. I felt left out.
I am grateful for my parents and everything that they’ve done for me. But when I was a teenager and didn’t know any better, part of me blamed them for how I felt.
I never told my parents, but I kept asking myself why my parents couldn’t be more like my classmates’. My parents just finished high school and never went to college. They were not wealthy or powerful. In a way, I made my insecurity cloud my judgement of my parents.
You might think rich kids may not be smart. But let me tell you how inaccurate that perception may be. What made me feel even worse was the fact that my classmates didn’t just come from rich and powerful families.
They were intelligent, motivated, and extremely hard-working. Some of them slept 3-4 hours a day and did so well in class that I didn’t even understand how it was humanly possible.
My classmates studied hard. They also played hard. And there I was just trying to catch up with them in every possible way you can think of.
My self-esteem plummeted and pulled me into an abyss of misery. I didn’t know how to get out.
Thanks to my parents’ investment in my education and with some luck, I got a full-ride scholarship to attend a private college in America. I came to the US when I was 18.
I was hit with another bout of insecurity. Once I arrived on campus, I started applying for on-campus jobs to help pay my personal expenses. I didn’t want to ask my family for money. They didn’t have much to begin with.
I remember asking my American roommate if she had gotten any part-time jobs. She just shook her head and said she didn’t need to. Her parents paid for everything.
The total cost of attending the college at that time was about $45,000 a year. And I know she was not the only one whose parents covered all the expenses for their children. I knew I was different from most of the people I went to college with.
However, I was soon thrown into a new world of culture shocks, schoolwork, and new friends. I didn’t have much time to think about how poor my family was.
It also helped that many international students at my school were like me. We came from an average family but were given a great opportunity to study and thrive in one of the greatest nations on earth.
I gradually forgot about how insecure I felt among my high school classmates. I was pursuing my own dream: The American Dream.
In America, people never ask me what my parents do for a living or what kind of education my parents had. People only care about me as an individual – who I am, what I do, and what I want to be, not an offshoot of my family lineage.
Time has helped me grow as a person and a parent. I wouldn’t say my insecurities are gone. However, whenever they want to resurface, I have to remind myself about my long-term goals and how important it is to stay humble and kind to others.
I have been in situations where people intentionally tried to bring me down for whatever reason, and I don’t want to repeat that toxic behavior.
After I had Baby FAF, I sometimes think about whether he would feel embarrassed about us not being wealthy one day. Sometimes I feel guilty for not being able to give him the nicest toys or clothes we can afford. But we want him to know that we have done everything in our power to raise him well.
Being a mom helps me better understand what my parents have gone through to raise me. My parents are not wealthy, well-educated, or powerful. But they have tried their best to give me the best things they can and help me become who I am today.
I feel guilty for having blamed them for something that’s not their fault. And I feel grateful that they have taught me the importance of frugality, sacrifice, and family values.
After joining the personal finance blogging community, I have gotten so much more comfortable with sharing my stories and with living frugally so that we can have a better future for ourselves and our children.
Being poor can be either a must or a choice. Mr. FAF and I don’t want it to be a must. We want to have the option of living like we are poor knowing that our savings and investment are well taken care of.
Baby FAF might not have the richest or the best parents in the world, but we know for sure that no one else will love and care about him as much as we do.
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