6 unique traits of successful people who grew up poor, according to psychologists

The poverty to success pipeline has always been romanticized. It’s the so-called American Dream: the transition from rags to riches.

But if you know how it feels to actually be poor—to live paycheck to paycheck, to be one hospitalization away from being homeless—you know there’s no romance to being poor. 

This is why we’re not talking about resilience, grit, or resourcefulness in this article.

Although those are good traits to have, they’re usually used to romanticize poverty. And as I’ve mentioned, that’s not what we’re doing here!

In this article, I’m going to share some unique traits that you have as someone who grew up poor, according to psychology. 

As someone who had lived in poverty for most of my life, you can count on me to accurately illustrate these traits.

So, let’s get started!

1) You always get buyer’s remorse

As someone who grew up poor, I’ve felt buyer’s remorse from the most ridiculous, trivial things. Can you believe I got buyer’s remorse from a 10-dollar tub of facial moisturizer?

Buyer’s remorse is defined as the sense of regret after having made a purchase. The cause? Cognitive dissonance.

“Cognitive dissonance arises when an individual experiences psychologically inconsistent (dissonant) thoughts (cognitions),” Harold Sigall, Ph.D, writes in his article Buyer’s Remorse on Psychology Today.

“For example, the cognition “I am a competent decision maker” is inconsistent with the cognition “I made a bad decision,” he adds. 

Simply put, you feel remorseful because you feel you’ve made a bad decision by making that purchase. 

In my case, I regretted getting that tub of moisturizer because I feel like it’s a bad decision. But the thing is, it’s not actually bad. It’s a literal necessity!

Growing up poor conditioned me to believe even a singular piece of toiletry is a luxury I can’t afford.

Because of this, as an adult, before I make my purchases, I think: Do I really need this? Do I even deserve it?

But instead of asking yourself if you deserve it, ask yourself: do I want it?

And if you truly want it, there shouldn’t be any regret from buying it.

Let yourself feel the joy of getting something you want for yourself!

2) You feel guilty spending on yourself (but you’re very generous to others)

For me, there’s no greater joy than giving the people I love the things they want. 

That smile on my mom’s face when I gave her flowers for Mother’s Day is one of the things I truly live for.

But when I buy something for myself, that guilt quickly sets in. And the thing is, I didn’t even do anything bad or harmful, so why do I feel guilty?

“Guilt is linked not with an external event, but with our own behaviour, a sense we’ve done something we shouldn’t, or not done something we should’ve,” explains clinical psychologist Dr. Lawrence Howells in his article on The British Psychological Society.

He adds, “”We feel guilty when we sense a shortfall between our own behaviour and [our] standards or values.”

Simply put, we feel guilty spending on ourselves because, as poor people, we’re always told to save for the rainy days. 

Now, even when the rainy days are few and far in between, there’s still that lingering trauma; that pain of anticipation that it might be sunny today, but the storm might unexpectedly hit tomorrow. 

But if you can do it for other people, why is it so hard to do it for yourself?

You deserve the happiness you so willingly give to others, too. 

3) You’re still learning how to manage your money

Youre still learning how to manage your money 6 unique traits of successful people who grew up poor, according to psychologists

As adults, we all struggle with managing our money. 

But the struggle is real when you grew up poor because, let’s be real, there was barely any money to manage growing up.

Personally, I’ve had days where the money in my wallet is just enough for the fare home. 

“Managing” my money meant making sure I’m able to go to school and eat and still have enough to make it home. 

Now that I have disposable income—that I don’t live paycheck to paycheck anymore—I’m stumped when I have all this ‘extra’ money.

Where do I put it? They say not to let it sit on your savings, because that would be a waste. But how do I invest? Where do I even invest my money?

I’m that math lady meme when I think of all these.

For middle class to rich people, this is a little easier. 

The more money you have growing up, the more knowledgeable you are not just on how to save money but also how to make it “work for you.”

But if you grew up poor like me, the struggle is real. 

Don’t be so hard on yourself if you haven’t mastered managing your money yet. 

When I started having more money than I needed, what helped me was tracking my expenses. Knowing where my money goes significantly reduced my anxiety. 

And when you know how much money you save, say, every month, maybe then you can start investing, among other things.

4) You don’t know when (or how) to rest

It’s quite funny, isn’t it? When we think of successful, rich people, we think they’re just chilling forever.

Maybe that’s true for some of them, but for others, that’s far from accurate.

When you’re successful, the grind can be addicting. When you find the right momentum, it’s hard to stop.

Why? Because time is money. And idle time feels like time wasted, which means you’re also wasting money.

Relate much? Well, it doesn’t have to be this way all the time.

This was my mindset when I started working, too. I thought every time I spent doomscrolling on social media is time wasted when I should be working.

While it’s true that doomscrolling is never a good way to spend your time, you still need to rest. 

As a writer, I know this because my brain gets exhausted, too (surprise, surprise!). 

It’s only when I rest and relax that I can get myself writing again. If I don’t, I’d get to a point where I’d be too tired to write anything. 

This is a phenomenon called burnout. 

According to WebMD, burnout is “a form of exhaustion caused by constantly feeling swamped. It happens when we experience too much emotional, physical, and mental fatigue for too long.”

See? That’s not just you being lazy. That’s your body begging you to take a pause and rest. 

So if you feel like you’re out of ideas lately, or like you don’t have the motivation you used to have to work, maybe the solution would be something as simple as rest.

5) You live a simple life

Every storm season, our house would get flooded.

Yes, flood. 

When the storm is particularly bad, it floods our whole house—I’m talking head to toe flooding.

I remember that one time I looked at my mom crying as water rushed into our house.  She cried out of fear that it would destroy everything in our house—everything we’ve worked hard for.

Then, every summer, there would be the threat of a fire because it’s so hot that the street’s electric circuit is always in danger of exploding.

This means I’ve lived many summer days without electricity—in the scorching heat.

You can see how these experiences can permanently alter a child’s brain. Looking back on it, I honestly have no idea how I even made it.

Now, I live in a studio apartment with a small balcony overlooking the city. I’m sure you understand why I think that’s the greatest of luxuries. 

And if you grew up under similar circumstances, a simple life is all you need to be happy. 

Vacations on the Bahamas, riding private yachts—these aren’t your indicators of success, because your simple life already shows you’ve come so far from where you came from.

6) You’re still healing your inner child

Ah, healing one’s inner child. I’ve heard it countless times that now, it feels cheesy—even cringey—to write about it.

Can you believe it’s a real, psychological process?

Here’s a direct quote from 10 Exercises to Heal Your Inner Child in Pysch Central:

“Inner child work is the process of re-parenting the ‘littles’ that were neglected, abused, abandoned, etc. during childhood,” explains Dr. Charity Godfrey, LMHC, therapist and founder of Lifescape Integrative Therapy in Ft. Myers, Florida

When you grew up poor, you probably experienced all of these things. There’s nothing quite like the trauma of possibly having nothing to eat the next day.

And now that you’re successful, you’re still in the process of healing your inner child

Maybe you get your groceries at least once every two weeks. Or you get yourself a silly little treat after every errand you complete.

These are all things you were deprived of as a child, so now, as an adult, you give yourself everything you could possibly need.

Think of it this way:

You’ve grown into an adult who would’ve taken good care of you as a kid. Who would’ve protected you from all the things you suffered from in the past.

And I’m proud of you for growing into that type of person. After all, isn’t that the best thing a person could possibly become?


Picture of Joyce Ann Isidro

Joyce Ann Isidro

Joyce is a writer who believes in the power of storytelling and changing lives by writing stories about love, relationships, and spirituality. A bookworm and art enthusiast, she considers herself a creative-at-heart who likes to satisfy her childish wonder through new hobbies and experiences.

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