In Discussions, Money, Wealth

Growing up poor, middle-class or upper-class – Experiences and differences

I loved this video of a couple that highlighted the differences between her growing up poor and him, upper class.

Here are a few things of what they said:

“When eating a meal, I always finish my plate because I was not allowed to leave the table until finishing my plate and was told I was wasteful if I didn’t,” she said as she showed her plate in comparison to her husband’s. “My husband will eat until he’s full like a regular human.”

Michaela then revealed that she keeps all of the receipts she receives from purchases “in case there is something wrong with something that I bought and I have to return it,” whereas her husband does not keep receipts as he follows a mindset of: “If there is something wrong with what he bought, he’ll just buy another one”.

Honestly, I never felt the need to finish my plate because whatever was left, I would put in the fridge to finish later once I was hungry again. I definitely never scraped any leftovers into the bin or ‘wasted’ perfectly good food unless it had gone rotten or something. Leftovers were a thing in my household and fully eaten to the last scrap.

Food waste irks me. I eat every edible scrap I can, and my partner does not even though he grew up poor-ish, his parents only bought food and splurged on it, so he discards the broccoli stalks for instance, and it makes me twitch, so I eat them.

As for returns, I always returned things if they were broken or not right. Simply just buying another one is something I cannot comprehend. Who doesn’t keep receipts just in case? Or even to do a price match 2 weeks later if it goes on sale again and you can recoup an extra $50?

I wonder if it is more a question of how you were raised to look at spending and money, than class, or even culture. We didn’t grow up poor, we grew up oddly middle-class where we managed to pay the bills and live for the next 20 years or so pretty comfortably, but not extravagantly, but my parents spent every penny to do so. Even to this day, their own savings is their home, and us children are planning their retirement for them because they won’t/can’t and we are tired of talking ourselves blue in the face.

So I thought it would be great to talk about things that we did growing up that may seem very frugal today, but seem normal to us. Here are some of my other ones but not an exhaustive list:

  • The plastic bag full of plastic bags – we never threw the one-use bags away, ever. We reused everything
  • The empty containers (butter for instance) we had after we finished something, were reused as containers to hold dried food, or use it as a lunch boxes. Or to hold used oil so we didn’t dump it down the drain
  • Rags came from old clothes after they got holes in them
  • We mended everything
  • Lots of hand me downs, I wore some of my older brothers’ clothes that didn’t look too bad but ultimately, we were lucky in that my mother just bought new for me (I never bought any clothing secondhand growing up and did not discover it until much later and am now IN LOVE with secondhand!)
  • We kept everything that looked nice to reuse it again like wrapping paper, gift bags – we never bought any of this stuff
  • We are cleaning and keeping nice glass jars and bottles to use for future canning and picking purposes, and my partner is keeping a good stash for my mother for when we next visit as she also does the same
  • We didn’t have A/C until I was much older (nearer my teens) and they bought one unit, where we would all huddle around when it got too hot in the summers, but more often than not, it was turned off
  • Our heating was also very carefully set to as low as we could stand it and we all wore sweaters and long pants with socks
  • I twitch to this day, when I see people leaving the taps running when they do something. Even in public spaces, I will control myself to turn it off. It’s just such a colossal waste of water, even if we don’t really pay for it here (you don’t pay until you overuse an excessive amount here).
  • I also have ingrained in me, to turn the light off every time I leave a room. It is instinct and I have done it to other people still in the room, many times!

Here are some of the messages I received (all posted with permission), and I have corrected the typos and misspellings:

Also biggest thing growing up (poor at first and then frugal/below our means) — my dad was big on saving, so I had a bank act at a young age and was taught to save at least half of my allowance, bday money or pay check when I got older. My dad in particular grew up really poor so he was so cheap with himself for .most things and never left food on the plate etc but he let us splurge as my family (mostly due to moms career). Splurge meaning we had new clothes for school but he wore old Kmart stuff over and over

He taught me all that because it helped me as a young adult not fall into typical traps

He grew up on public welfare, single mom (alcoholic abusive dad) and 4 brothers, so it was hand me downs and scrapping at the dinner table for the most food. They had food but he would tell me for example sometimes they had a spoon of ketchup for dessert or would shoot squirrels for dinner etc

But it meant I had a small savings account when I moved out for college (academic scholarship) and could budget for basic things and didn’t get crazy with credit cards etc

Also thankful I had my mom, she was the breadwinner and very career focused, worked her way up to a very well paid sales/management job with high school diploma, my dad worked but was the one especially when j was younger who helped us with homework, we helped him prep and cook dinner for when mom came home, and he was the chore master (my mom literally is blind to dirt and he was more fastidious) so all household chores were split. I tell my mom how I am glad for her career focus , she felt guilt at times I know

Also my dad was sometimes a dominant man with domineering traits BUT he really taught me I could do anything, he anything, played football and basketball and camped and fished with us, and bought me barbies, taught me science trivia and shared books with me etc so I really had a strong sense of my own worth and independence and bucking traditions along with what I observed from my mom so…. yeah I feel lucky

Where to I begin on the frugality post? Old towels and clothes become rags for cleaning, plastic containers are Tupperware and hold things, buy and freeze bulk meat, chicken necks and backs are for soup (bones with too much meat is a waste), clean your own house, cook your own meals, bake bread (if you can), grow food, blackberries and free fruit is never purchased, make deals with grocer to buy certain foods in bulk then freeze (for me, that’s blueberries and tomatoes), dry beans – not canned, and mostly… appreciate, take care and be proud with what you got!

http://www.ful-filled.com/2016/07/16/heirloom-tomato-tart/

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My mom washed and reused off brand ziplock bags. Never once ran the dishwasher because that was wasteful. She cut her own hair and my dad’s hair; dad hasn’t been to the barber since 1974. I always thought we were poor until I didn’t get approved for any financial aid for college. Because they were rich. Didn’t have a clue.

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I grew up with a widowed mom and 2 sisters so we never were allowed to waste anything (food/electricity/etc), we bought our own cars and phones and clothes, I’ve been working since I was 14, but at the same time looking back none of us ever missed a school trip, a sport we wanted to try, or a hockey tournament. My mom made some hard choices but they clearly were the ones that mattered

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There are things I still have the habit of when we were really rich, like for food, I will only eat till I’m full, I never stuff myself to finish a plate (I hate food waste too so I try my best to get the portions right but it’s really hard when I’m out and the average Australian meal is like 2 meals for me). When we cook at home we utilised everything, meat off a bone goes into another dish. Heaps and heaps of pickles and stuff (my parents house had an unhealthy amount of jars with pickled stuff lol)

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We grew up pay check to pay check. Never went without. But we wore Walmart clothes but played hockey and baseball and travelled a lot for sports. Totally worth it to me I didn’t need Nike or Underarmour I just needed my sports

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And so many more. This is something I don’t do anymore, but we used to add water to soaps and shampoos etc to make it last a little longer. reusing old tshirts as cleaning rags. Reusing takeout containers, yogurt containers and any glass bottles (for jams, sauces etc) for storage. Making our own juices since store bought were more expensive (and not good for you). Using every part of a fruit or vegetable as much as possible. Hand me down clothing, toys, books and shoes was a huge one.

My mom would also carry my brother as a 1 year old and me as a 6 year old and walk long distances to save on public transportation money. We would get one cup of ice cream that we shared amongst the four of us. (I got the most 😅)


I meal plan. It has been my constant and allows me to be strategic and save at the grocery store. My mom grew up with a single mother. We meal planned, shopped consignment sales, recycled everything, and all of our dogs have been mutts or puppies of friends’ dogs.

We didn’t live a particularly thrifty life (my dad is a physician and my mom is in business) but I was born with a birth defect that cost a lot of money to fix (yay US 🙃). They’ve just always been cognizant of money and taught us to value the work it takes to earn a dollar.

Learned some important money lessons along the way, but then also didn’t learn about certain realities until finance class in college. Like I thought if you didn’t pay your credit card off every month, your bank would have you arrested. I didn’t know what a mortgage was or that loans existed until I was 20 because you don’t buy what you can’t afford.

Grew up upper middle class & but also in a Korean household where we reused paper towels (as long as nothing super gross was on it), saved & reused allllll of our plastic bags or even shopping bags, reused jars & takeout containers, and reused ziploc baggies (not if meat was in it tho)

My mum made us eat every last scrap on our plates. If we had to sit there all night just as long as we ate it. Where as Pete’s mum will happily scrap a whole plate of food and make something else. That makes me mad.
My mum would also rinse dropped food under the tap but MIL would chuck the whole thing if theres so much as a hair on it.
She grew up poor but my parents were wealthy but frugal. 🤷‍♂️

You can put this in a post.

It’s just odd that his mum wasn’t rich yet is wasteful with food.
My mum also has a v blasé approach to use by dates.
I get so annoyed when people dump something just because the date is up without even looking or smelling it.

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Immigrant lower middle class. Almost all clothes were from thrift store, shoes don’t get thrown away unless large gaping holes (I’d sometimes attempt it and they would magically end up back in closet), jars/takeout containers/plastic utensils all were saved, I’m winter leftovers were covered and left on table outside bc fridge wasn’t big enough, all my clothes I grew out of were brought to România in the summer and dispersed among cousins (I’m in my late 30s and some of the clothing is still circulating!), kept all plastic bags and gift bags, at Christmas we wouldn’t be allowed to tear open gifts – they’d be collected and folded by my aunt and mom to be reused next year, picking furniture from side of road. And I’m with you – tap is never left running, light switches off as soon as I leave room. I have so many but I think that’s enough 😂

My husband still talks about the first year he came to our Christmas and was like why are they carefully collecting the wrapping paper? And some wrapping paper is just so nice! Many times you’d hear my grandma and or aunt say oh wow this is nice packaging as the gift giver looks at them strangely. Almost more focused on the outside then what’s inside!

If we have kids, I want to pass along to them the value of a dollar and a sense of how our purchasing power and decisions can ripple around us

And here are the shorter messages from a poll I did where people wrote in short messages on their frugality

Do you have any that you connected with?

A lot of these were things I didn’t realize were not what others did, until I met others who did not grow up in a poorer socio-economic neighbourhood (we were considered “rich” by my friends, to give you an idea..), and all the things we did, were what all my friends did too. I just find it interesting how we are so connected.

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