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How I Overcame a Poverty Mindset


In my early 20’s I had one child, no job and a GED. I learned about food stamps and welfare so I applied. Then I learned about Section 8 housing assistance and applied for it. A foster care program I was in told me that because the state had custody of me as I turned 18, that if I went to college the government would give me financial aid and scholarships—essentially they would pay me to go to school so I applied.

While I received Section 8 I also qualified for a $25 voucher towards my electric and gas bill. My refund checks from school were between $5000-$7000 a semester, plus I got a refund check from the government in taxes and that was around 4k. You would think I was ballin’.

One day I looked at my situation and saw that even though I had everything I still had nothing. I was dependent. I had everything paid for but worked for none of it.

I didn’t pass most of my classes. I used some of the money to purchase buy-here-pay-here cars because I had bad credit. I regularly spent the weekends at the club and often didn’t mind paying for the night, shots on me! I never really paid the little amount of bills I did have. And to make things worse I almost never had car insurance, which, in the state of Colorado, is mandatory.

I was stuck in this cycle of warrants, police encounters, jail, broken down car, live with someone, party, repeat. But I had so much money! Bills and rent paid! Tuition paid! I became enabled, entitled, and had nothing to show for myself.

After too many years of this pointless existence I remember looking around at my circumstance and had no dignity. I embodied the definition and stereotype of poverty. For crying out loud even my furniture was given to me! Dangit! I just wanted to know what it felt like to pay my rent, pay my own bills, to have a car that didn’t keep breaking down on me and not get paranoid when I saw the Ford lights behind me.

So, I set off to do that. It was a process.

I had to figure out life without my dependence on people and the government and it wasn’t until some of the bridges started to burn that I learned I have the strength to build my own.

I kept food stamps because my daughter and I needed to eat. Job hunting was hard because I have a felony so I hustled for about seven years. Leaving that life behind only left me with entry-level jobs but I was determined to move forward and not go back.

I experienced four horrible supervisors back-to-back that I’m convinced intentionally picked the lowest of the crop for my position. I also moved around a lot, lived with different people and in shelters because I struggled to learn how to pay rent and bills on time, and I was on the bus for many years. That process was hard, but I made it through.

Some things I learned as this process refined me:

  1. Money is the smallest piece to life compared to the literacy and prioritizing of it. It does no good unless we know how to use it for the present and the future.
  2. Dependency on temporary help can become a long-term reality. Be careful and use that time and assistance wisely to build for the future.
  3. Even with no ill intent, college systems, social services, music, movies, programs, institutions and our own minds can have us believing poverty is permanent and that we aren’t capable.

There’s no reason for us to be uneducated. Videos, books, vlogs, blogs, chat rooms, apps, articles, and a plethora of other tools are on the very same device you’re reading my words. Topics such as instant gratification, planning for the future, impulsive spending, and investing are all at the tips of our fingers.

The desire and willingness to try is the only thing needed.

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About Tiffany Christian

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