The ways having grown up in poverty affects your brain, even when you are no longer in poverty, often feels unreal. Decisions you inherited from other people affect how you interpret things, feel things, and perceive things for the rest of your life.
Like the feeling of fear when you see a truck from the water department rolling slowly down your street when you KNOW you paid your bill and you are sure they are not coming to your house.
The shame you feel in the pit of your stomach when the register is broken and your card is declined at the store and you know to the penny how much is in your account and you KNOW it isn’t your fault.
Then the shame you feel when you realize it declined when you are buying a bottle of wine and some nice cheese for a party at your house, and you wonder if people in line behind you, who see all of this, are judging you for what you are trying to buy. Because how dare you, poor person, enjoy things!
The panic you feel when you are getting low on food, even though you have money in the bank and live near the grocery store and you are in no danger whatsoever of going hungry or even being uncomfortable.
That you will, for the rest of your life, always prefer mushy green beans from a can instead of the much healthier frozen or fresh green beans, because that is what you grew up eating, and the frozen beans taste “weird” to you.
Having grown up poor means berating yourself for buying the good olive oil instead of the generic, even when you can afford it. It also means feeling a little guilty about buying olive oil in the first place.
And we won’t even talk about how hard it is to pay for butter instead of margarine.
The constant feeling that if there is money in your checking account, it is because you have a bill you have forgotten to pay.
Having grown up poor, you will often have a strong resistance to paying for quality. Yes, you know the more expensive, better quality item will last longer and is thus a better value. But you also know the comfort of paying $30 for a thing, instead of paying $65 and having $35 more dollars in the bank. Because there have been times in your life when you had a problem that $35 would solve.
Despite the reality being that you are no longer living in poverty, you feel relief when you automatically sort by price. You find yourself judging people who shop in stores you can afford, but don’t believe people “like you” shop in because in your head you are still the kid who got made fun of because he wore girls’ jeans to school. And for the rest of your life, despite your circumstances, you will always feel slightly uncomfortable, like you are wearing someone else’s clothes.
So instead of buying the more reliable car, you buy the cheaper one, which is less reliable and requires expensive repairs. Or you buy cheap clothes – almost certainly made from oppressive labor practices, which only drags others into being victimized by your experiences. Or your reluctance to pay for good, quality food leads to dental work, diabetes, or other health problems. Or you buy the cheaper technology, which isn’t exactly what you need, but close, so you are always just off, a little behind, a little less than what is needed.
Like the payments on your student loans, whose principle you paid off a decade ago but the payments resulting from the usurious interest rates continue to decimate your budget month after month, the after-effects of childhood poverty linger long after the original deprivation is gone.
Poverty charges interest.