10 Unwritten Rules Of Being Poor That You Only Could Know About If You’ve Struggled Financially

10 Unwritten Rules Of Being Poor That You Only Could Know About If You’ve Struggled Financially

When you’ve experienced financial hardship, you quickly learn that there are countless unwritten rules to surviving poverty. These rules are not taught in school or discussed in polite society, but they are essential for navigating the challenges of poverty.

If you’ve struggled financially, you know these rules all too well. I experienced them all at the early stages of my life, both growing up and starting on my own. These are the rules of being poor that you can only know about if you’ve been there yourself.

10 Unwritten Rules Of Being Poor

Here are ten unwritten rules of being poor that you only understand if you’ve struggled financially:

  1. Always prioritize bills: Ensuring essential bills are paid on time is crucial to avoid late fees and service disconnection.
  2. Stretching food: Making meals last longer using inexpensive ingredients and leftovers creatively.
  3. Relying on community resources: Knowing where to find food banks, free clinics, and other community support services.
  4. Secondhand everything: Buying clothes, furniture, and appliances secondhand or getting them through donation programs.
  5. Making do and mending: Repairing items yourself instead of replacing them, whether it’s clothing, furniture, or household items.
  6. DIY solutions: Fixing things yourself, from home repairs to car maintenance, to save money.
  7. Creative transportation: Using public transit, carpooling, or biking as cheaper alternatives to owning and maintaining a car.
  8. Budgeting down to the penny: Knowing exactly how much money you have and where every penny goes.
  9. Sacrificing personal desires: Prioritizing needs over wants, often sacrificing personal desires and social activities.
  10. Living with uncertainty: Constantly dealing with the stress and anxiety of financial instability, not knowing if you can cover the next emergency expense.

Keep reading for a deeper look into each of the unwritten rules people learn through financial struggles.

Always Prioritize Bills: Keeping the Lights On and Roof Over Your Head

When living paycheck to paycheck, prioritizing essential bills is a constant juggling act. You learn to carefully manage due dates, often making difficult decisions about which bills to pay first. Hand to mouth is the lifestyle of the working poor who live paycheck to paycheck.

Late fees and the threat of utility disconnection or eviction loom large, adding extra stress to an already challenging situation. You become an expert at negotiating with utility companies, landlords, and creditors, always searching for a way to keep the lights on and a roof over your head.

Stretching Food: Making Meals Last with Creativity and Resourcefulness

Food is one of the most significant expenses for poor people, and making meals last is a crucial skill. You learn to buy ingredients in bulk when possible, freeze leftovers, and repurpose them into new dishes.

Creativity becomes critical as you find ways to make inexpensive staples like rice, beans, and pasta into filling and flavorful meals. Learning to cook from scratch saves money and provides a sense of pride and accomplishment in the kitchen.

Relying on Community Resources: Finding Support in Tough Times

Knowing where to turn for help is essential when you’re struggling financially. Community resources like food banks, free clinics, and housing assistance programs can provide a lifeline in tough times.

However, navigating these programs’ complex application processes and eligibility requirements can be daunting. It takes humility and persistence to seek help, but learning to lean on your community can make all the difference in getting you through a tough time.

Secondhand Everything: Embracing Used Items

When money is tight, buying brand-new items is often out of the question. Embracing secondhand shopping and accepting donations becomes a way of life. Thrift stores, consignment shops, and online marketplaces become go-to destinations for clothing, furniture, and household items.

Hand-me-downs from friends and family are accepted with gratitude, and you learn to appreciate the value of pre-loved items. Not only does buying secondhand save money, but it’s also an environmentally friendly choice.

Making Do and Mending: The Art of Repairing Instead of Replacing

Low-income people learn the art of making do and mending in a world of disposable goods. When something breaks, their first instinct is to find a way to fix it rather than replace it.

They learn to patch holes in clothing, repair broken appliances, and find creative solutions to extend the life of their possessions. This self-sufficiency saves money and instills a sense of pride and accomplishment.

DIY Solutions: Becoming Your Own Handyman to Save Money

When you can’t afford to hire professionals for home repairs or maintenance, you learn to become your own handyman. YouTube tutorials and online forums become invaluable resources for learning new skills.

You borrow tools from friends and neighbors and take on projects that might seem daunting at first. The satisfaction of completing a DIY project not only saves money but also boosts your confidence and self-reliance.

Creative Transportation: Navigating the World Without a Car

For many impoverished people, owning a car is a luxury they can’t afford. Instead, you learn to navigate the world using alternative transportation methods, mastering public transit schedules, maintaining a bicycle, and embracing the benefits of walking.

While relying on these methods can be time-consuming and challenging, they also provide opportunities for exercise and new ways of exploring your community.

Budgeting Down to the Penny: Mastering the Science of Financial Planning

When every penny counts, budgeting becomes a science. You learn to track every expense, no matter how small, and to plan for upcoming bills and unexpected costs.

Creating detailed spreadsheets or using budgeting apps becomes second nature, and you find peace of mind knowing exactly where your money is going. This level of financial awareness is a skill that will serve you well throughout your life, even as your financial situation improves.

Sacrificing Personal Desires: Putting Needs Before Wants

One of the most challenging aspects of living in poverty is consistently prioritizing needs over wants. You learn to say no to social outings, delay gratification, and find joy in simple pleasures.

This constant self-denial can be emotionally draining, but it also builds resilience and strength of character. You learn to appreciate the small things in life and to find contentment in what you have rather than constantly yearning for more.

Living with Uncertainty: Coping with the Constant Stress of Financial Instability

Perhaps the most significant unwritten rule of being poor is learning to live with the constant stress and anxiety of financial instability. The fear of unexpected expenses, like a car repair or medical bill, can be all-consuming.

Developing coping mechanisms and building a support network are crucial for maintaining mental health. Celebrating small victories, like paying off a debt or saving a small amount of money, can help people find hope and motivation in the face of ongoing challenges.


Living in poverty shapes you in profound ways. The unwritten rules you learn along the way are a testament to your resilience, creativity, and strength. While the challenges of being poor are significant, they also provide opportunities for growth, empathy, and connection with others who have faced similar struggles.

By understanding these unwritten rules, we can work towards a greater understanding and support for those living in poverty or use them ourselves at different stages of our economic journey.