Being Poor: Born Poor, But Don’t Die Poor

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For my entire life, I had to deal with the struggles and challenges of a poor family.

Both my parents are immigrants from Vietnam who couldn’t speak a single word in English. They are the typical hardworking people who just wanted a better life for themselves and their children.

So, they moved to Canada and a new chapter in life begins.

My mom, who doesn’t speak any English, was the sole income provider who made no more than $5 per hour working at a factory back in the late 1980s to early 1990s. Even after working hard for 30 years at the same company, she still earns minimum wage.

My dad, on the other hand, stayed at home during my young childhood years to take care of me. During that time, my dad took advantage of free education programs so that he could learn English.

Eventually, he worked very hard to finish high school (for adults) and earned a college diploma a few years later. His hope was to find a decent job that would pay him higher than minimum wage.

On top of pursuing an education, my dad also did a few side hustles and worked part-time on the weekends to help make ends meet because we were living paycheck to paycheck on one income.

→ Related reading: 11 Important Lessons I’ve Learned from Working with the Homeless

Financial Stress in a Family is Real

After putting in all that effort and hard work for many years, my dad was declined from every single job.

He literally applied to thousands of companies and got hundreds of interviews over the years. He was turned down by all of them and never got what he had hoped for.

He even tried opening a business with a couple of his friends. It didn’t take long before friendships turned sour and they were losing money in the business.

Eventually, they all called it quits and shut down the business.

My dad had no choice but to eventually take on a job that pays minimum wage because we were struggling badly to save money on a really low income. Along with that, my family was trying to pay off some debt.

I’m not going to sugarcoat what I’m about to say, but my dad was very sad and angry. He felt defeated and pretty much gave up on almost everything in life after this.

→ Related reading: How to Teach Your Kids About Money

Being Negative While You’re Poor Doesn’t Help!

Thinking back as a child, all I could remember is that we are poor.

Seriously, the words “poor”, “low-income”, and “poverty” have left a very painful scar within me even to this day.

My dad would literally say every single day (almost non-stop):

  • “We are so effing poor. We are poor AF and that’s never gonna change!”
  • “You really need luck by your side if you want to succeed in life.”
  • “If you don’t have any formal or higher education, then good luck to you!”
  • “Saving money? For crying out loud, we make peanuts and live paycheck to paycheck. How can you save? Plus, how much can you really save? You need to start making more money to see any real difference!”
  • “I’ve been in Canada for so many years, but you have never once seen our family go on a vacation! What vacation when you have no effing money?”
  • “No one wants to hire me for a better job after learning English and going to college. Oh well, too bad. Life’s not fair… we just have to live with it! Tough sh*t!”

And yes, he would swear and yell almost every single day about it in front of his little girl (me) with no shame.

He STILL says the same things today!

Seeing my family go through an emotional breakdown and the struggles of having no money naturally made me think that I was going to be poor and a failure in everything for the rest of my life.

Faced with so much negativity and screaming at home EVERY SINGLE DAY made me feel defeated too.

I honestly thought my life was over (even as a kid) and I didn’t feel there was any hope for myself or my future because personal finance, money, business, etc. (just life in general) seemed too complicated.

How To Build Wealth When You’re Poor

My parents never had the opportunity to teach me about personal finance because they didn’t understand it themselves.

All they kept saying over and over again is, “Once you finish University and get your masters, all our money problems would go away”. I have no comment in that…

Anyway, I don’t know what hit me, but when I graduated from University, it felt like I was getting older and I didn’t want to live a negative life because of everyday money problems.

In other words, I didn’t want to be a reflection of my own parents (they even told me they didn’t want to see that happen).

That’s when I started educating myself about money and personal finance.

I’m not a financial guru, but here are the steps I took that helped me build wealth in my 20s:

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1. Change My Money Mindset

This is one of the hardest and most important steps to get through. If you can’t pass this stage, you’ve already lost more than 60% of the battle.

To change my money mindset, I had to stop complaining and being negative all the time.

Just because I grew up in a negative environment, doesn’t mean I have the excuse to be that way.

And I’ll always remember Bill Gate’s inspirational quote:

“If you are born poor it’s not your mistake, but if you die poor it’s your mistake”. — Bill Gates

You really CAN control how you want to live your life by changing your mindset.

My money mindset instantly changed after reading a few good personal finance books.

If you’re going to read one, I highly recommend reading Ramit Sethi’s book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich.

As a result, changing my money mindset allowed me to find ways to increase my earnings and save more than 50% of my income.

2. Create a Budget That Allows Me to Save and Enjoy Life

You really have to be genuinely interested and excited about your financial journey if you want to see your savings account grow.

Start with creating a budget that works.

I found that the easiest way to get started is by analyzing your past transactions to understand your lifestyle and spending habits.

Next, you need to prioritize your needs and wants.

It’s okay to spend on wants that make your life more enjoyable — you just need to prioritize based on what you can really afford.

If you really want to increase your lifestyle, you’ll have to find ways to make extra money, which I mention more in point #4 and #5. There are no excuses.

3. Learn More About Personal Finance and Investing

The concept of investing and compound interest is something I became a little obsessed with when I realized its crazy potential!

It’s something my parents never understood (they still don’t know what that means) and it’s unfortunate they weren’t educated on it.

Maybe I was fortunate enough to have a professor from University who taught me the shocking results of compounding interest from investing a small amount of money each year.

I have to say that investing in your earlier years will give you a huge advantage because time is one of your greatest assets!

This advice would probably help those who are looking to reach financial independence sooner.

Had I known about the results of compounding interest on your investments, I swear I would’ve started investing in my teens to early 20s when I was working at part-time jobs!

Instead, I blew most of my money because I didn’t know any better. I also can’t hide the fact that I have a bit of a YOLO mindset sometimes.

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4. Increase My Income

Saving money is important, BUT there is a limit to how much money you can save.

The good thing about increasing your income is there’s no limit to how much money you can make!

I have to admit that making money isn’t easy, but you need to be open minded about it if you want any real change.

When I was employed at my full-time jobs, I always made the effort to increase my income through promotions, overtime hours, and bonuses.

Most of the time, you may find yourself increasing your responsibilities, so why not make an effort to have a chat with your boss about your salary?

If your boss or company doesn’t appreciate your efforts, it’s time to look for other opportunities.

5. Make Extra Money

Another way to increase your income is to make extra money on the side.

I never loved any of my full-time jobs. So, making extra money outside of my full-time job was my way to have a little bit of fun.

I have tried taking online surveys, flipping furniture, making home decor crafts, selling stuff online, rental properties, and starting a blog as side hustles. I’m actually still doing a few of these today!

It was a good and healthy way to cope with a job I hated while saving money and building wealth on the side.

Not to mention, the money from these side hustles allows you to spend on things that make your life more enjoyable such as dining out, vacations, guilty pleasures, etc.

Who can say no to extra money?

Sure, it may take up some of your time but when I think back of what my childhood was like living in a low-income environment, putting in a bit of effort to build wealth is well worth it in the long run!

6. Stay Positive and Keep an Open Mind

Similar to changing your money mindset from point #1, staying positive is just as important. This point really sticks to me because I was surrounded in an extremely negative environment my entire life, and I know it’s very hard to change!

Staying positive and having an open mind are the two toughest battles in your financial journey! However, I really do believe they are your pathways to success.

The remaining half of your battle depends on whether you take action or not.

So, what are you waiting for?

Get started today!

The easiest first step is to educate yourself about personal finance and really make the effort to save money.

If saving is near impossible given your income and budget constraints, then it’s time to start finding ways to make money!

While going through all these steps, you NEED to overcome your obstacles and have an”I can do it!” mindset to succeed!

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