Money Lessons I Learned From Growing Up Poor

person putting coin in a piggy bank

I was born and raised in a small city on the island of Jamaica. With a population of ~ 2.7M and approximately 4,244 sq miles in size, my experience growing up there was not profoundly different from others born around the same time. With an inflation rate of over 70% and an unemployment rate of over 15%, 1992 was probably not the best time for my young mother to have twins. As my 30th birthday approaches, I think more and more about how growing up in a developing country shaped my mindset around money. Even though there were many hardships, there’s nothing I would change about the 20 years I spent in Jamaica. The successes I celebrated in the last decade let me know that the decisions and sacrifices I made were the right ones for me. Here are great money lessons I learned from growing up poor.


“Growing up poor is not something to be ashamed of but is instead a testament to your resilience, determination, heart and attitude.”

Planning Is Essential

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Every dollar literally counts when you’re poor, therefore, you need to plan ahead. To ensure your bills are paid on time, you have to plan ahead for each of them. You also need to know when money is coming so that when it is time to pay your bills there’s actually money in your account. Otherwise, you could be hit with the dreaded overdraft fees. You also need to plan your meals. Knowing what each ingredient cost and how many meals each item in your shopping cart can make may be the difference between choosing to eat lunch that week or keeping the lights on that month.

I find that poor mothers make the best planners because they are forced to account for every dollar, for every day all the while making sure each household member is clothed and fed. It is a tough juggling act that comes in handy when you have created a comfortable lifestyle. By adulthood I knew when my bills are due, how to adequately prepare meals for the week and account for other activities that I enjoy. I did not have to struggle to keep up with the many moving parts that make up adulthood, because I learned how to manage a household on a meager income.

It’s Not About How Much You Make. It’s About How Well You Manage It.


Money management is more about your spending habits than how much money you actually make. So, who knows how to manage money better than someone with very limited supply of it? To build wealth from nothing takes discipline, focus and sacrifice and prioritizing how you spend your money. If you’re bad at managing your money, it does not make a difference whether you’re making $100k versus $30k per year if you’re still living paycheck to paycheck. In both situations you’ll be broke. I also found that once you’ve mastered managing your money, there are more opportunities to make more money. Essentially, you learn how to make your money work for you. This is one of the best money lessons I learned from growing up poor.

Lifestyle Creep Will Creep Up On You

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Lifestyle creep happens when increased income leads to increased discretionary spending. It is one of the primary reasons some people are unable to build the wealth they desire. There are numerous studies that conclude a correlation exists between increased income and increased spending. Unfortunately, the poorer you are the more likely you are to fall into this trap. Something that helped me prevent lifestyle creep was increasing my retirement savings every year. For example, if my income increases by 1%, I increase my retirement contributions by 0.5%. Therefore, for every $1 salary increase, 0.5 cents go towards my retirement savings. By doing this I was able to keep my spending constant even though my income kept increasing.

Another way to prevent lifestyle creep is to adopt a minimalist lifestyle. For the past 4 years I’ve been a minimalist and it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I hardly spend money on clothes, jewelry or knickknacks. I learned to appreciate simplicity, and this has really helped maximize my savings. For ways on how minimalism can help your finances [CLICK HERE].

Experiences Are More Important

Even though I grew up poor, my childhood was filled with great experiences. My siblings and I may not have had material things, but we were surrounded by people who loved and supported us. In fact, I really did not have a clear understanding of how poor we were until I was in high school and preparing to attend college. I was unaware because my mother instilled values in us that made us appreciate the experiences we had together, rather than focus on the things we did not have. So as an adult, I focus more on creating exciting experiences for myself and the people I love.

A person who values experience over material things will find they no longer spend as frequently as they used to. They focus more on the value of what they are purchasing than on just consuming. Consequently, they are able to save more because they are more intentional about how they spend their money.


Final Thoughts

My experience growing up poor has really shaped every aspect of my life in a good way. Especially my finances. Growing up poor is not something to be ashamed of but is instead a testament to your resilience, determination, heart and attitude.

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Published by Nicole

Certified Internal Auditor

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