8 Secrets Rich People Want You to Know After Growing Up Poor

Those who went from having nothing to achieving financial success have some great tips and strategies to share.
Updated May 2, 2024
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Anyone who grew up poor knows that the harsh reality of day-to-day life often brings worry and fear about the next day. Yet, millions overcome such hardscrabble beginnings and become rich.

To go from these humble beginnings to wealth and success inspires awe. Those who have made “rags to riches” journeys have insight and wisdom to share with others who wish to follow in their footsteps.

If you want to learn how to be rich, consider these secrets of wealthy people who came from nothing.

College is worth it

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Education is a valuable investment, one that pays off over the long term. A bachelor’s degree is worth an average of $2.8 million in extra wealth over a person’s lifetime, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

On average, those who have a bachelor’s degree earn 31% more than those with an associate’s degree, and 84% more than people who have only a high school diploma.

No matter how poor you are, getting the right education can fundamentally change the course of your life. Choosing an affordable college with a major with strong earnings potential can prepare you for a significant elevation in financial health.

Do some research to determine which college major is best suited to your unique skills, and that also offers strong job prospects and a competitive salary.

Life insurance is important

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Those who have been poor in the past know the value of protecting the financial future of loved ones.

Life insurance provides financial support to families, helping them maintain their quality of life should the breadwinner in the family die unexpectedly. Policies tend to be affordable for younger, healthy people and provide significant financial peace of mind.

Life insurance allows you to leave behind money to support the educational needs of your heirs. And permanent life insurance can be an added tool for building wealth during your lifetime.

This type of coverage is not for everybody, but it can make sense for many people.

Live below your means

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The best way to save money is to spend less than you make. That sounds simple, but anyone with credit card debt (and that's a lot of us) knows it’s easier said than done.

Reducing what you spend allows you to have more money to put toward other financial goals, especially investments that build wealth over time.

To achieve the goal of spending less, create a budget, track spending, and curtail or eliminate the use of credit cards. What can you cut from your budget today that can free up money to invest in your future?

Cutting back on expenses might sound difficult, but those who have been poor in the past know that you can always find a way to survive — and even thrive — on less.

Want to learn how to build wealth like the 1%? Sign up for Worthy to get ideas and advice delivered to your inbox.

Keeping up with the Joneses is useless

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Does it really matter if you have the same nice car and in-ground pool as your neighbor? Is your designer bag really more functional than a more affordable model?

The only thing that “keeping up with the Joneses” does is create unrealistic expectations and additional debt. The constant race to keep up causes frustration, and those big credit card bills don’t add value to your life.

Foolishly trying to emulate others can lead to debt and a one-way trip to the poor house. Instead, aim to be true to yourself and who you are. You’ll be wealthier and happier.

Avoid debt

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People who are poor often end up in that unhappy place due to racking up large debts. The more debt you carry, the more you’re paying for purchases. 

If you have debt with a 20% interest rate, you’re paying significantly more for what you purchase than what you see on the price sticker.

Carrying debt also prevents you from putting the extra money you spend on interest toward savings or building wealth.

Those who have risen from poverty to wealth know that debt is one of the biggest obstacles you must overcome before reaching financial independence. 

To crush your debt, create a plan to pay off what you owe. Then, pledge that you'll never return to the habit of remaining in debt.

Learn about personal finance

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Those who grew up poor often had to educate themselves about basic personal finance before they got on the pathway to prosperity.

The more you know about managing your finances, the better prepared you are to achieve financial success. You will also be less likely to fall prey to sales tactics or less-than-honest people who offer to “help” you with money matters.

Work to improve your own financial literacy by reading a few books, signing up for a financial newsletter, or speaking to a licensed financial advisor.

Start saving early

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One of the biggest secrets to financial wealth is starting to save and invest as early as possible. This helps you harness the full power of compounding interest.

The sooner you start to save money, the quicker that money begins to build value. As your stash of cash grows, interest compounds on both your principal and the growth you have achieved on that principal.

Over time, money grows faster and faster. Starting early means you can use less of your savings to achieve more in terms of investment returns. So start saving as soon as possible, and do it in large amounts. 

Saving 20% of every paycheck might sound difficult — and it is. But those who grew up poor and now are wealthy will tell you that if you can meet this challenge, you will dramatically increase the odds of growing wealth over time.

Lower your tax bill when you can

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Take full advantage of the opportunities that exist to reduce what you have to pay to the government in taxes. There are many ways to do this.

For example, make sure you save in tax-advantaged retirement savings accounts such as traditional or Roth IRAs and 401(k)s. Contributing to a health savings account is another way to reduce taxable income.

Take advantage of available tax credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

Talk to a tax professional, use tax software or simply read and learn more about the many ways to reduce your tax bill.

Bottom line

Nick Starichenko/Adobe Woman on balcony

Anyone who grew up poor and later achieved wealth will tell you that you must make a significant effort to create your own prosperity. 

That includes building savings, looking for investment opportunities, and actively working to boost your credit score so you can reduce the cost of borrowing.

Delaying gratification — even something so small as forgoing a brand-new car and buying a used one instead — is another key to achieving your financial goals. 

With dedication and perseverance, you can build enough wealth to get rich, retire earlier than expected, and enjoy a better quality of life.

Author Details

Sandy Baker Sandy Baker is a has over 17 years of experience in the financial sector. Her experience includes website content, blogs, and social media. She’s worked with companies such as Realtor.com, Bankrate, TransUnion, Equifax, and Consumer Affairs.

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