I used to be poor.
I mean, not starving-on-the-streets poor, but more like are-we-going-to-pay-all-the-bills-this-month poor. Our checking account balance never exceeded three digits, and every dime of income my family made was already ear-marked for rent, food, or bills. It would have been very easy for myself and my family to incur a lot of debt while I was growing up, but we managed to eak out a humble existence and keep ourselves out of the red.
Now that I’m starting my own family and handling all of the financial aspects that go along with it, I’m realizing there are some simple things my family could have done better while I was growing up to move us closer toward middle-class living.
- Complete college. Getting a college education is the #1 way to break the cycle of poverty, and it’s something neither of my parents completed. While it’s commonly known that college graduates earn far more than those who just completed high school, few people know that the average income of non-college graduates is dropping every year. So do whatever it takes to get that degree–night or weekend school, community college, work study (and you should be able to do it without student loans).
- Own your home. I’ll make this brief. Renters are throwing their money away. Stop paying someone else’s mortgage and start paying your own. Turn that roof over your head into an investment instead of an expense and you’ll be on the road to a better life in no time.
- Put whatever money you can in savings. Put $100 a month in a 5% APY savings account and you’ll have over $15,000 in just 10 years. Do it for 20 years and you’ll have over $40,000. Invest in stocks and you’ll likely earn even more.
- Wait to have children. If you are barely supporting yourself, you do not want to bring a child into the world to share your meager lifestyle. Do the first three things on this list, and once you’re in a financially stable situation with an optimistic long-term outlook, then start having kids. And if you’re poor and already have kids, don’t have more. And yes, that means stop having sex because that’s where babies come from. The only pleasure you should be getting is through hard work, study, and watching your savings account balance grow.
- Swallow your pride. This is one thing my family did right. If you’re trying to start a better life for your family but the expenses of living on your own are keeping you from making any progress, there’s nothing wrong with moving back home with your parents (if they’ll have you). Even if you contribute to their rent or mortgage, it’ll still be much less expensive than paying it all yourself, and you’ll have a couple of years to build or rebuild your financial well-being. Just don’t fall into the trap of staying at home forever; keep working hard, get that degree, and save money.
If you ever find yourself living somewhere between starvation and subsistence, you’re probably not doing at least one of these things. Once you start doing all five–and if I can do it, anyone can–chances are you’ll never be poor again.