Growing up, we lived in a two-bedroom, one bath, 700 square foot duplex. It wasn’t situated in the nicest part of town, but with a few picture frames and fake plants, we called it home until I was 13. Our carpet was a goldish-yellow shag that, in retrospect, should have never been a trend. We sat on the famous floral-patterned couch set until it caved in. The neighborhood had high crime, run-down homes, and was crawling with stray cats and dogs.

I didn’t know any better at the time as all my friends lived in the same area with the same homes, but we were extremely poor.

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We weren’t poor the way I think of poor nowwe were far worse off than that.

My mom was a school crossing guard, and my dad worked in tech distribution full time. We were scraping by to make ends meet. My mom mastered the art of couponing and making hand-me-downs and consignment items seem new. I didn’t get to go shopping, to movies, or out to eat. Sometimes we walked to Checkers for a burger and friesthat was a real treat. Most of the time our family all shared $5 pizzas, or we split one Hamburger Helper box several ways. My husband can eat two of these on his own, so remembering how my dad gave me the heartiest portion and the last slice of food only for him to go to bed hungry fills my heart with gratitude I could never fully express.

Somehow, my family still made Christmas magical with presents to unwrap. My parents told me they saved $10-$15 each month so I could have the Christmas every child deserves. And I did. I got new clothes, toys, bath products, hair accessories, and dolls. I can’t remember my parents ever exchanging gifts with one another, but they sure sacrificed for me. Life was hard for them at the time, but through it all, we still had each other.

We didn’t have a lot of money, but we had a lot of heart.

Our walks to Checkers were full of laughs, and our barefoot days on the cul-de-sac were some of my fonder memories. All we needed was a water hose, a bicycle, and a couple of quarters for a shared occasional ice-cream-truck treat. We gathered in church every week to pray in thanks, not in desire.

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Life without rose-colored glasses meant we weren’t image-focused, we were family-focused. For fun instead of TV and movies, we played Clue for hours on end. Our friends loved us just the way we wereno frills. Our conditions exposed to me a childhood that proved I don’t need money to be happy. There was constant togetherness in our minimalistic home which drew us to be creative.

As a teenager, I wasn’t sure we would ever climb out of the hole or if I’d ever shop at Limited Too and Old Navy, but I also didn’t care. It was the life I knew and cherished. We did escape our humble beginnings, and my parents now own a 5,000-square-foot home and they sit on far more comfortable reclining sofas than our busted kitchen chairs and stained floral couches.

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Growing up poor didn’t impair us. We remained optimistic in every circumstance. We learned to be thankful for the little things like a roof over our heads and our health. All the finest gadgets and gizmos don’t hold a candle to the love shared in our household.

The life of being poor taught me to push back and fight to become something great. It taught me to work hard but above alllove harder.

Jennifer Bailey

Stay at home mom enjoying one little boy and navigating parenting one trip to Target at a time.