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“Children throughout the ages have grown up well in desperately poor conditions. …Poverty can be a severe handicap, and it is certainly an unfair disadvantage for a child born into it, but it by no means determines the child’s destiny.”

– William Damon (1995, p. 51)

In an earlier section we highlighted all the horrible outcomes often associated with children who experience financial hardship. But these awful outcomes are not inevitable. It isn’t a lack of money itself that harms children, it’s about all the added stress and hardships that children face as a result of their family not having enough money. These hurdles can be overcome.

Even during the great depression there were plenty of struggling parents who maintained strong family order and raised children well. (Elder, 1975) The trick is to do everything possible to turn a disadvantage into an advantage. Handled correctly, financial stress can even …

  • Teach kids to be less materialistic
  • Show them how to live well, without a lot of possessions
  • Bring your family closer together
  • Ensure that they learn how to live frugally and save money
  • Build character and make them stronger.
To do this, you need to:
  1. Keep upbeat yourself. Children feed off your emotions. If you act as though the sky is falling, they will emerge damaged and insecure. If you stay upbeat about life and your prospects for the future, it will act as a buffer against much of the stress.
  1. Approach hardships as challenges rather than setbacks. Find both pleasure and adventure in your current situation.
  1. Watch the messages. Often times the most harmful aspect of any situation are the negative messages a child internalizes about themselves. You can combat some of these messages with the many free or low-cost resources we offer. Also read books and tell stories about protagonists who thrived with very little means.
  1. Make sure your children feel rich in other ways: love, affection, knowledge, experience, etc.
Know that you’re not alone

Also understand that there are other families out there going through the same thing you are. Lost your home? A recent study by the Center for Responsible Lending found that more than 5% of families who took out a U.S. home loan between 2005 and 2008 lost it to foreclosure, and among black and Latino families this rate was 8%. (Simons & Nelson, 2011) Twenty-eight million Americans were projected to receive food stamps in 2008. The average U.S. household has $9,659 in credit card debt. (LVRJ, 11-18-2008) Around 70% of all American households live paycheck to paycheck. (Ramsey, 2010) So if you’re struggling to make ends meet, at least you can take some comfort in knowing that you’re not struggling alone.

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