The difference between being poor and poverty

And why it matters

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I grew up poor. Like qualifying for food stamps and government cheese kind of poor.

But I have never lived in poverty.

Being poor is a lot of hard work. We worked hard physically every single day. No matter what the weather was, bitter sub-zero temperatures or steaming hot humid days. Cows had to be milked. Hay needed bailing. Pigs needed to be fed. Manure needed to be pitched. Potatoes needed to be dug out of the ground.

But I always knew that at some point we would go in the house and rest and warm up or lay in front of the fan.

Never once did I worry about missing a meal.

Never once did I think I wouldn’t have a bed to sleep in.

And I knew one day I would leave the farm and figure out an easier way to make a living. I knew that was possible for me.

My goals were meager. Never have to eat food I didn’t like or feel freezing cold inside my house. Serious, that was it. That was a poor girl’s dream.

Poor isn’t the same as poverty.

Poverty is beyond poor. Poverty is life without hope. Poverty is fear. Fear that you won’t survive. Fear that you can’t change your plight without doing something drastic.

I assume my ancestors lived in poverty. At least some of them. They came from Ireland during the years of the potato famine. Survival was a real question then. Leaving everything they knew to set out for a hope of a new life in America seems like it would feel desperate and that they might not survive the ordeal.

Even in my brokest broke days I’ve always had hope. I always believed I could make my life better. That my situation was temporary. As meager as my resources were, I could use them to improve my situation. That fundamentally I had the power to change my life.

When you have hope you have a future.

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Hi, I’m MaryEllen. I used to be a CPA. Then I got burned out. I thought I could just wrap it up and be done. So I retired from the corporate world at 48 and set off for parts unknown with only half a plan. I’d figure out the rest later. What I know for sure is jumping off the path and figuring out my own way was the best idea I ever had.

I didn’t want to be done, I just wanted to make my own rules about work and retirement. I’ve been figuring out a lot since then and I share what I have learned here and on my blog at I’m also on Twitter @TalkMoneyWithME