Romanticizing Poverty And Learning Financial Independence

In high school, I babysat a kid whose parents were pretty well off. And by “well off,” I mean they were crazy rich.

One day I decided to take the kid out for ice cream - my treat. When we got to the ice cream shop, I only had enough money to buy him the small, and he wanted the large. What then followed wasn't exactly a temper tantrum; it's probably better described as a communication breakdown. He was legitimately confused as to why he couldn't have the larger size.

He truly couldn't understand the concept of “not enough money.” Price was not a matter of quantity to him, but simply a choice - it was like asking whether he wanted vanilla, strawberry or chocolate. The idea that his options were limited because of cost was beyond him. He also didn't understand that I was treating him. From his perspective, the ice cream was always there for him to begin with - it didn't matter who happened to be forking over the money.

I recently recounted this story to my mom, complaining about how this kid probably wouldn't grow up to learn the tenets of financial independence like I did, because he was privileged, and I grew up so poor.

“We weren't that poor,” my mom said, dryly. “You exaggerate.”

She then reminded me that she truly grew up poor. She had dreams about her next meal. She shared a single room with seven brothers and sisters. My mom reminded me that she lived in a remote village in Hong Kong, for crying out loud.

My own mother was one-upping me in the impoverished childhood department. And she definitely won.

But thinking about this situation, and my mom's response, I've been pondering a couple of things: