17 Life Skills You’ll Have If You Grew Up Poor in America

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By Darryl Henderson

While growing up in a low-income household may deprive you of luxuries that are taken for granted by more privileged children, it can teach you some incredibly useful life skills. Here are 17 life skills that you’ll have developed while growing up with little money in the U.S.


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Growing up in poverty is likely to heighten one’s sense of empathy, as one can relate to the struggles of someone else. A study published by the Association for Psychological Science suggests that rich people are less empathetic, altruistic, and selfish than the lower classes.

Fitting into Different Situations

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Opportunities are often hard to come by for those from poorer households, meaning a certain level of ‘shape-shifting’ is required to become suitable for a job role. You have to adapt to fit in, changing dialect, dress sense, and subtle elements of your personality to be considered.

Knowing What Is a Necessity vs a Luxury

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Children often have trouble understanding the difference between wanting and needing something, especially if they come from a family with abundant resources. Those who grew up with less will take the skill of knowing what they need into adulthood, preventing them from wasting money on unnecessary things.


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A lack of finances can throw up a multitude of issues that leave you wondering how you are going to cover all your expenses at the end of each month. When you are spread so thin, you quickly learn how to adapt and solve certain issues that present themselves to you. These problem-solving skills are really useful to have on hand if needed throughout your life. 

Finding Second-Hand Clothes

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Growing up without much money likely means that you’d have ended up wearing your sibling’s old clothes at some point. It may not have felt fair at the time, but it instills a sense of appreciation for second-hand clothing, as well as making you eagle-eyed in thrift stores.

Using Government and Charitable Initiatives

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Sometimes, you just need a little extra help from government initiatives and charities to get through the month. Many Americans are mastering the skill of letting go of pride in logical decision-making. In 2023, 95% of American food banks experienced an increase in demand, as reported by Feeding America.

Management of Finances

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When you don’t have a great deal of spare cash lying around, you quickly learn how to get the most out of your finances. You’ll be frugal when required, helping you to save more and move up the monetary ladder quicker than your more privileged peers.

Fixing Things

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Unlike in more affluent homes, you have no choice in whether or not to hire a professional to fix things. So many people on lower incomes tackle a repair job themselves, learning an important transferable skill they can use going forward.

Valuing Learning

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The value of education is not lost on those who grew up in poor areas, as it is a vital component in getting themselves out of poverty. It will enable them to achieve a better job, better salary, and better quality of life for themselves and their families. 

Spreading Priorities

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Children who have grown up in low-income households, especially those with a single parent, will have a deeper understanding of the value of being able to spread one’s priorities out. Working multiple jobs and making sure the kids are fed and educated is no mean feat and one that should be commended.

Nurturing Relationships

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In areas where money is tight, there is often a heightened sense of community, as people rely on each other for help when times get tough. CNN suggests that poorer people prioritize relationships, focusing on emotions that bind them together finding satisfaction through compassion and love.

Thrifty Cooking

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When resources are hard to come by, but you have several mouths to feed, you have to think up new ways of producing as much food from as little ingredients as you can. Batch cooking and finding long-lasting but nutritious ingredients is a skill to take into adulthood.


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Many people would be surprised at how much resilience and toughness are needed to get by each month when finances are low. It can be very difficult to keep reminding yourself that things will get easier, especially if the struggle has been prolonged. This mental fortitude will help with multiple aspects of adult life.

Coping on Reduced Sleep

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When you’re forced to work multiple jobs while also looking after your children, there is very little time for rest. Things are made worse by the fact that working through tough financial issues produces a cognitive strain equivalent to losing a full night’s sleep, according to The University of Chicago Booth.


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Many people who have been blessed with financial privilege won’t even consider bartering a vendor for a product, which may result in them losing out on a bargain. People with less disposable income will likely learn how to get the best deal, a transferable skill that can also be taken into the workplace.


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When you grow up having to work for everything you have, you develop a sense of self-assurance and confidence that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. You don’t need anyone’s help to achieve your goals, making it easier to become self-sufficient.

Appreciating Employment

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Sustained employment is not always easy to come by for those in a state of desperation, as it can result in applying for low-skilled, temporary work. Being handed the opportunity for a salaried job with a stable contract is a potential lifesaver and something a lot of poorer people would be grateful for.