Any restaurant can seem like a luxury
Eating out at restaurants isn't common for everyone.
My mom gave a girl on my basketball team a ride home from an away game. I can't remember what the reason. We decided to grab a bite to eat and asked her if she had a preference. She picked a buffet place, saying that it is where her family goes. Turns out it was the only restaurant she'd been to, other than fast food from time to time. A few months later she was with us at an Italian place that was slightly upscale. She didn't know how to order, so my mom did it for her. For dessert, she asked for cherry cheesecake and then whispered to me that she'd just scrape the cherries off. I flagged down the server and had them change it to plain cheesecake.
I felt so sorry for her because she was just uncomfortable. I also realized I was pretty spoiled and appreciated my parents much more.
Military service can be a financial lifeline
I didn't realize that some kids HAD to work to help their family pay the bills.
I realized this at military boot camp. I joined the military because I failed out of college the first go 'round. My bunkmate got his first paycheck and told me how excited he was to send it to his parents so that they could pay the electric bill. I got my first paycheck and left it in my footlocker because I didn't have any other use for it. He later told me that he joined the military because he knew that the electricity would always be on.
The fridge really is empty
I always thought people talking about their fridge being empty was an exaggeration. Like there's plenty of food, just nothing you want to eat. Then I started dating a girl who didn't have a lot of money, and I opened the fridge door and saw only Hawaiian Punch and ketchup.
Expensing a meal can seem bewildering
I was a manager on a PC Refresh, where we had employees out in the field. Since they were traveling, one of their perks was that we gave them $50 a day for food; all they had to do was send in their receipts. I was approving receipts for the week, and noticed that one of our employees had only submitted a receipt for $25, so I called him to make sure he understand how the reimbursement process worked, and to ask for the rest of his receipts (which typically were around $300/week).
He told me that all he bought for the week was bread and baloney, since he didn't have the money to front the expenses, which is why the receipt was so low.
I was floored. And that is when I started to realize what it means to not have any savings or access to credit.
(Needless to say, we fronted him the money the next week.)
The washing machine can be blocks away
I went to private school and there was a girl that I assume was on scholarship/financial aid and she always smelled really bad. I saw her putting on deodorant in the bathroom once and I guess I must have stared a second too long because she told me that she didn’t have anything clean to wear because her mom didn’t have money for the laundromat that week.
I couldn’t believe that people had to wear dirty clothes until they could go to the laundromat, I just thought everyone had a washing machine in their house.
Little stuff can be a big deal
Minor inconveniences for normal people (parking tickets, a malfunctioning fridge, a flat tire, etc.) are potentially catastrophic for poor people with no financial cushions.
Food stamps aren't like coupon books
[I] thought food stamps were a stamp book you trade for specific food items.
Did not know utilities could be turned off due to nonpayment. Did not even realize people didn’t pay their bills.
Using credit cards to make ends meet
That people used credit cards because they didn’t have the money at the time, instead of a convenient way to earn points by paying cards off in full each month.
The thermostat means money
Not something I couldn't believe, but something I didn't really realize.
The temperature of the house is strictly controlled in the houses of lower-income people that I know. When I was a kid, I'd turn the heat up to 80, and set the AC at 65.
Your 'poor' upbringing wasn't really
I think the worst of it all was believing my family was actually poor. We didn't have the newest toys or electronics as soon as they came out, our clothes came from Walmart and we were never out of the country for a vacation. My parents were always complaining about not having any money for bills and things they wanted to do, but as I got older I realized they just didn't manage their money well. We lived in a house they owned, had enough food that a lot of it went bad, had mountains of toys and lots of video games and were generally getting $500-700 worth of new things each at Christmas.
Living on my own with no financial support from them has taught me a lot and I'm grateful about that. I just wish I had understood this growing up so I knew how lucky I was.