18 Practical Life Skills You Develop When Growing Up Poor in America

Written By Jill Taylor

Growing up poor comes with its unique hardships, but it also helps you develop valuable skills for later in life. It’s important to be grateful for the benefits that such hardship brought you, just like the following 18 skills that you probably learned growing up poor in America.

Emotional intelligence

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Understanding and managing your emotions is an important life skill, and it’s likely that you learned it if you grew up poor. Getting through tough times requires communication from every family member, and this taught you to communicate effectively and empathize with the feelings of others.

Being persistent

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Another major life skill that growing up poor teaches you is perseverance in the face of setbacks. By refusing to be discouraged by failure, you get what you want in life. As Forbes puts it, “None of us get to where we are in life without some level of grit and perseverance.”

Networking and relationship-building

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Anyone who grew up poor wasn’t handed life on a plate, so we had to hustle and network. This taught us the value of building strong relationships based on trust and mutual support, helping us understand other people’s power in achieving our goals. We should be grateful for that!

Leadership skills

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Coming from a poor background, you likely inspire and motivate others to achieve goals by leading by example through hard work and determination. Proving to others that you can succeed despite setbacks in early life empowers them to follow their own goals through your support and mentorship, even if you don’t realize it!

Having resilience

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Resilience is an important life skill acquired from growing up in a low-income home. Facing setbacks in childhood will cause you to develop the inner strength to overcome challenges, teaching you to never give up even when times are tough.

Empathy and compassion

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Being raised in poverty creates empathy and compassion for others, as you will likely have had to watch loved ones suffer. This is horrible to witness, but understanding others’ struggles means you can offer kindness and support to those in need later in life. It’s a bittersweet silver lining, but a silver lining nonetheless.

Appreciation for education

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If you grew up poor, you never took education for granted, so you’ve gone through life valuing the wonderful currency of knowledge. According to DoSomething.org, some communities have just ‘one book for every 300 children’; the only silver lining to this is that this book would be cherished and memorized by all.

Problem-solving skills

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Critical thinking is developed when growing up poor because poor people always need to find solutions to challenging situations. This helps us become seriously resourceful, a skill that people who grew up rich can only dream of developing. They’re still trying to figure out how to remove the silver spoon from their mouth!

Hard work ethic

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Growing up poor in America means you likely understand the value of hard work and perseverance. You take pride in your accomplishments because you always put in 100% effort, and you know that if you didn’t, you could end up in an even worse situation.

Appreciation for the little things

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Finding joy in the little things in life is something that rich people rarely enjoy! They simply have too much ‘stuff,’ so they don’t know its value. If only they realized that a minimalist life actually improves their mental health and happiness, not the other way around!

Managing finances

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If you grew up in a home where budgeting was the norm, VICE suggests you will likely have learned valuable financial skills. From a young age, you will have been taught how to prioritize spending and navigate financial struggles, skills that many adults still don’t understand how to handle!

Time management

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Growing up poor, you probably learned how to juggle multiple responsibilities and commitments as you would have had to help your parents often. This may not have been fun at the time, but it taught you to prioritize and manage tasks, something that even the wisest humans often struggle with.


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If you had to rely on yourself growing up poor in America, you would most likely take initiative and responsibility for yourself. You’re probably confident in your personal strengths and abilities, and this is all thanks to developing independence from a young age.

Negotiation skills

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Coming from a poor background meant you learned how to stand firm in what you believe in and negotiate situations in life. You can find compromises to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes and feel confident in being fair, which helps not only you but everyone around you!

Adaptation to change

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Despite it being difficult growing up, a childhood of poverty has enabled you to thrive in dynamic and uncertain environments where you can embrace change where many cannot. You recognize this as an opportunity for growth; being resilient in the face of unexpected challenges is a valuable skill that should be cherished throughout life.

Being resourceful

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Making the most of what is available is another lesson learned from growing up poor, as you must adapt to tough circumstances to get by. Meanwhile, present a rich person with a problem without the conventional tool, and they’ll drive themself crazy trying to get through it!

Creativity and innovation

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The Borgen Project points out that it’s common for people growing up in poor households to develop excellent creativity and innovation skills. You learn to think outside the box to find solutions and embrace unconventional ideas and approaches, something that you couldn’t do without your challenging background.

Confidence and self-worth

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Finally, as someone with a difficult upbringing, you will have developed a belief in yourself despite adversity. Potentially having to fend for yourself, you have learned to recognize your personal strengths and abilities; building this resilience against negative self-perceptions is a seriously valuable life skill, so own it!

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