Recently, people have been talking about things that people who've always lived comfortably just don't understand about being poor, and it's a really important conversation. But there are still a lot of misconceptions about what it really takes to go from experiencing poverty to financial security.
So I asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share how they managed to get out of poverty. Here are their stories:
1."I had a lot of credit card debt from being unemployed several times and could barely afford to eat. It was suggested to me (surprisingly by one of my credit card companies) that I go into a debt management program, so I did."
2."As much as it pains me, bankruptcy was the only way to recover. I was married for 10 years to someone who was in charge of our finances, and he would put everything on credit cards and watched it balloon to almost $50K."
"It was an awful, vicious cycle for 10 years. When he walked out on me, I knew that our massive debt was going to be a huge issue. I tried to make sure that the payments were made on time, but he wouldn’t contribute, and it would just fall delinquent again. I wanted to pay it down because I contributed to its enormous size, but I knew that I would never be able to get out from under it by myself. And so I filed bankruptcy.
I had found work after being a stay-at-home mom, and I had no childcare and was forced to take a part-time minimum wage job. I was really lucky that there were people who showed me how to sign up for food stamps, Medicaid, and childcare vouchers. As things settled, I was able to get a better job, and then a year after that I got my current job, where I make enough money that I don’t qualify for SNAP. For me, that’s a huge accomplishment!!
It’s been four years since everything came crashing down, but I’m finally building my savings and limiting my spending. I’m still technically living in poverty, but it doesn’t feel like it so much anymore. Recently, I’ve even learned about resources for single moms to go back to school. So I just started taking classes so that I can get a degree in IT. It’s been a long, long road, but it feels so good to have made it this far!"
3."I grew up poor (~trailer trash~) and got my first job at 15. Since then I’ve never not had a job. Didn’t go to college. I ended up working the counter at a bakery and slowly started learning other parts of the job."
"I was there eight years. Eventually I took out a small loan, and started a business on a very small, no-frills basis, and I’ve now had my own very successful bakery for 12 years. You have to be OK with not keeping up with the Joneses for awhile."
4."Honestly? I got out of poverty by deciding to not have kids and being lucky enough to have successful birth control available for me to make that decision."
5."The only thing that really 'got me out of it' was luck when I got my stimulus and tax return in the same day. Poverty is extremely hard to get out of."
"I do my best to save every month and budget everything. But I still can’t get my own car or insurance. The best job I can get pays $10 to $11 an hour. Thankfully, due to tourism, serving in my area pays better than most other jobs that don’t require a degree, so doing that part time fills in the gaps."
6."I didn’t really. An extended family member died, and their life insurance paid off all of our debts and allowed the rest of us to start fresh. Terrible that it took that."
7."I applied for my dream job (which I was not fully qualified for) because I’d heard they had a couple hundred entry-level positions to fill quickly. I was working at a call center at the time for just over minimum wage and more than doubled my income by taking the new job."
8."I was really poor. I had the clothes I was wearing for three years. Never really got much more than that. Not even backpacks or sleeping bags, I mostly just had what I was wearing."
"It started with losing my house and girlfriend. I was so sad. I didn't care about life anymore. After three years, I got into a program for homeless people, and in that time I started saving money. Every week I'd save a little or a lot, but I had never saved money before in my life. That was hard for me to do, but now I'm still saving money after two years and could afford a rent deposit to move into a room. I don't buy clothes. All my clothes I get for free. I haven't bought into any new expensive hobbies. No splurging my savings on a guitar or bicycle or computer. I only use my money for rent, food, expenses like bus and medicines. I try to buy deals on groceries and always try to use coupons. If I had not learned how to save money, I'd be homeless. Savings gave me confidence to buy the right things."
9."Married someone who let me climb out of debt as he handled more of the bills. I still helped of course. But the other part is I kick ass at my job and got four promotions in less than four years. Proud of myself!"
10."I worked 60 hours a week in fast food while going to college. My physical therapist told me I needed to find any way to relax, but I had no time or money. I did go from food stamps to homeowner in five years, but then I suffered a breakdown and autistic regression. Realized I had done some serious damage to my mind and body, as well as losing the 'best years of my life.'"
11."Basically I was stupid lucky, which is how anyone really makes it out. That’s not to say hard work means nothing. But it’s just luck that your hard work actually gets noticed."
"I worked hard in high school. Got into an Ivy League with loan-free financial aid, which based on my parents’ extremely low income made college free even though I didn’t win any scholarships. Went to law school. I have loans from that, but because I work in public service, the school pays them for me. I have a good stable job with a decent salary. It’s nowhere near what I would have made at a big law firm, but I have a job I love, and I pay all my bills on time and actually take vacations, and I don’t live in fear of checking my bank account, which is hugely different for me."
12."I had a negative balance in my accounts and no family support. I worked full time in retail sometimes until 9 p.m., walking an hour to work just to save $1.50 in travel fares, surviving on two sachets of oatmeal or really cheap freezer foods."
"This time of my life was horrible. I was constantly panicking about money, and my mental health was suffering, but I survived. I went back to college with a little bit of money but continued to work throughout to have some savings. Now I’m graduated with a great paying 9–5 corporate job. If anyone who is struggling is reading this, you’ve survived all of your worst days. Believe in yourself and your ability to get yourself to a better place in life!!!"
13."I worked hard, had two jobs while at University, I budgeted, scrimped, and saved, and you know what? None of it made a difference, I was still poor. The only thing that made a difference was when I met my middle-class boyfriend and his parents helped us with a deposit for a house."
14."I was a foster kid growing up. Because of my former foster status, in college I was considered an independent and eligible to not put my foster parents on my FAFSA."
"I qualified for the maximum in state and federal grants and a few scholarships because of my background and life circumstances. It was the only way I could afford to attend college in the first place. Now 10 years later, I have a multiple degrees, a six-figure salary, and am able to provide for myself."
15."I was lucky enough to grow up poor in the '70s and '80s — education was my ticket out, and it was free. I left with about £500 debt."
"I remain enraged by how children from poor backgrounds are now put off going to uni by fees. If you've grown up watching your parents skip meals so you can eat, £60,000 debt seems insurmountable."
16."I spent years budgeting everything down to how much food I could afford to eat a day (one cup of frozen vegetable mix, and a slice of off-brand American cheese, and a free employee meal at the restaurant I worked for). I am so thankful I was alone during this time; I couldn't imagine doing it with kids."
17."I was afraid to leave an abusive relationship because I didn’t think I could support my two kids. I ended up taking massive student loans to go back to school, which allowed me to give my kids four years of a great life even though I’m in debt now."
"It took awhile after graduation, but I finally found a job with a living wage, and the difference between making some money and making no money has been staggering. I could never have survived with two children on a minimum wage."
18."It was just dumb luck. At the time I was drowning in debt, constantly on the verge of utilities getting cut. I landed a damn good job and went from trying to outrun a huge student loan to being able to pay it off next year. I did work hard to form better habits, but it's a constant battle. Remember, being poor AF isn't shameful; the existence of poverty is."
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and clarity.
Is there something you wish more people knew about getting out of poverty? Share it with us in the comments.
And for more stories about life and money, check out the rest of our personal finance posts.