Does growing up poor increase your chance of becoming rich?

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According to research and individuals including Oprah Winfrey, Howard Schultz, and others, Growing up poor can make you rich and successful.

When I was a kid, I was told many life stories of how a person became successful even if they came from a poor background. Some of these stories are real, some are made-up. But they all serve the same purpose — to motivate us, to give us hope and to tell us, don’t give up.

You can be successful, you can become rich, after overcoming enough challenges and struggles.

Today, I still heard a lot of rags-to-riches stories. But they are all real. They are millionaires and billionaires who grew up poor. Some of the well-known stories are from:

  • Oprah Winfrey — best known for her popular talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show. She was born into poverty in the rural town of Mississippi. She was raped at 9 and sexually abused in her teenage years.

“I grew up in an environment where children were seen and not heard “— Oprah Winfrey

Now, Winfrey is a talk show host, media executive, television producer, actress, and billionaire philanthropist. She is also the first black woman billionaire.

  • Howard Schultz — The former CEO of Starbucks. He spent his childhood in a subsidized housing complex for the poor in Brooklyn.

“Growing up I always felt like I was living on the other side of the tracks. I knew the people on the other side had more resources, more money, happier families.” — Howard Schultz

In 2019, Schultz was named by Forbes as the 145th-richest person in the US, with a net worth of $4.1 billion. Today, Starbucks has over 30,000 stores worldwide.

  • Celine Dion– The famous French-Canadian singer, well-known for her hit song “My Heart Will Go On”. She was born the youngest child among 14 siblings. Living in such a big family, she grew up poor. Her father used to make $160 per week to support the family of 16.

“We were three, four in the same bed. I did not have a bedroom. Up the stairs, before going in the bedrooms, there was a little ramp. And my bed was there. So everybody went up, they saw me, and I could wave goodbye and goodnight.” — Celine Dion

However, with her endless passion for music and great support from her family (and a bit of luck too), a star was born. With over 220 million records sold worldwide, Celine Dion’s net worth is estimated to be $800 million (2019).

Big names like Steve Jobs, Ed Sheeran, Selena Gomez, Leonardo DiCaprio, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Shahid Khan, J.K. Rowling, and Ralph Lauren all came from a humble background. Being poor doesn’t stop them from chasing their dreams and pursuing success. It shouldn’t stop you too.

With abundant research showing how children from well-to-do families tend to perform better and how the poor get poorer and rich get richer, I’m not going to sell you the American Dream. But I hope you can look at the bright side.

In fact, research done by Thomas C. Corley on 233 millionaires, namely the Rich Habits research has shown that:

  1. Of the 233 millionaires, 177 were self-made millionaires and 56 inherited their money.
  2. Of the 177 self-made millionaires, 105 (59%) came from middle-class households and 72 (41%) came from poor households.

That said, growing up poor might have some advantages that can make you successful in the future.

1. You learned to live frugally

When you are poor, you are forced to live frugally. You cut down unnecessary expenses. You only buy what you “need,” not what you “want.”

You eat to feed your stomach, not to enjoy the taste of it. You eat until you are not hungry anymore rather than when you were stuffed. You learn to save money.

In Corley’s research, he found that 49% of the millionaires he interviewed followed the same path to wealth: They lived below their means, saved consistently, invested those savings, and gave them time to grow. He named it the Saver-Investor path.

With frugal living, you unlocked the “saver” part. What’s left is the “investor” part where you have to work hard on.

2. You learned to be creative

Surprisingly, when you have less, you tend to be more creative.

Forbes reported a study that aimed to examine how a sense of abundance affects creativity.

“What we found is that abundant resources may have a negative effect on creativity. When you have fewer resources, you use them more creatively,” said Ravi Metha, the lead author.

“If you go to a poor country and see how they solve problems by repurposing older products, it’s super-innovative.”

When you have limited resources, you use your imagination to create what you want. You learn to be resourceful. When you have no toys, you create them. A pen, a can, a rock or anything can be your toys! Are they less fun? No!

3. You have a strong desire to change

Not everybody wants to be filthy rich. But for sure, nobody wants to be poor. Who likes to struggle to make ends meet? Who doesn’t hope to eat what they like, live where they want and wear what they love?

Poverty can either beat you down or make you stronger,” Corley said.

It totally depends on your mindset. Being poor can be your excuse or your motivation.

“In life, you can blame a lot of people and you can wallow in self-pity, or you can pick yourself up and say, listen, I have to be responsible for myself.” — Howard Schultz

If you have a strong desire to transform your life and willing to die for it, you are more likely to succeed. Hard work and perseverance are the open secrets to success. But how many are willing to do that?

4. You appreciate every single opportunity

Frankly speaking, not being rich is like missing a head start. You lose many opportunities and advantages such as learning, networking, health and more.

These are exactly the reason why poor people appreciate opportunities more. They would embrace their chances given and work their ass off to achieve success. Living in poverty makes them more grateful for what they have. They don’t take things for granted. They are more easy to be satisfied and hence happier too.

A KFC bucket may be ordinary for middle and upper-class families but they could be a feast to the poor families. Picking up a dime could make their day while some others don’t even bother looking at them.

5. You have less worries

Ironically, you have fewer things to worry about. Your only concern is money. Your focus is just to make more money. Money can probably solve most of your current problems.

What about those who are filthy rich? They fear losses in the stock market. They are afraid of getting robbed. They worry about their passion, dreams, comfort, style, next travel destination, the taste of food and other items which don’t appear to be your immediate concern.

6. You are more cautious with failures

Failing means going back to poverty. Losing your job means your financial crisis will come back. You want to avoid that. You don’t have a safety net. You have to succeed.

I think my whole life, because of where I came from, I had a fear of failure.” — Howard Schultz

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can’t be too careful. You became more cautious in decision making in order to avoid making mistakes. You became more responsible. Making less unwanted mistakes might eventually help you to achieve success quicker. Most importantly, you won’t give up easily.

7. You probably have better survival skills

Guess who will survive longer if a poor guy and a rich guy were both washed up onto a desert island? My bet is on the poor guy unless they decided to help each other out. Why? Those who grew up poor tend to have better survival skills.

They have an “adapt or die” mindset. They lived in a less decent environment and have fewer resources, therefore, making them highly resourceful and resilient. When you don’t have the money to buy what you need, you either learn to live without it or find a way to create it yourself.

8. You have more true friends

“Everyone wants to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” ―Oprah Winfrey

Rich people are often surrounded by fair-weather friends. If you are poor, the good news is — you don’t have to deal with them. Those who are here with you all these difficult times are your true friends. They don’t intend to take financial advantage of you because you don’t have much of that…

“Success is empty if you arrive at the finish line alone.” — Howard Schultz

9. You have nothing to lose

What could be worse when you are already at your worst? When you have hit rock bottom, there’s only one way to go — UP. Nothing is holding you back, what are you afraid of? Take the risk and reach for the stars!

“Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.”
― Oprah Winfrey

Of course, growing up poor is not the secret formula to success. However, you don’t have to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth to be rich. By turning poverty into your advantage, you will see a higher chance of success. Learn your life lessons. Even if you fail, it will certainly make you a better person later.

“Turn your wounds into wisdom.”
― Oprah Winfrey