Poverty is a simple enough thing to understand intellectually. A poor person is someone who has little or no money and therefore can’t afford many of the goods and comforts that others take for granted.

That kind of intellectual understanding, however, is still very far removed from the guts and the soul of what poverty is and from what it means to be truly poor. A significant step beyond abstract intellectual understanding lies in the direct emotional experience of being poor, something that is very difficult to understand for those who have not lived in extreme poverty themselves.

A Redditor going by the numerical handle 192335 went to the enormous community over on the AskReddit Subreddit in search of some direct insight on this question. He asked those who have suffered extreme poverty to share some things that those who have never been poor don’t know about what it’s really like to live a hand-to-mouth existence.


Here are some of the replies that the post received.

What It Really Means to Be Poor

  1. It’s a hoary cliche that money does not buy happiness, but when you have less than a certain amount of money, money becomes all that you can think about. Money becomes a constant, all-consuming source of anxiety.

  2. Being poor constrains you to working terrible and unfulfilling jobs, if you’re even able to have a job at all. Those who have some savings and who happen to find themselves in draining, boring and unfulfilling jobs can leave those jobs and attempt to transform their lives, but that option is not available to the truly poor. You don’t have time to sit around waiting to be called for an interview if you’re poor. You need money coming in.


  1. Poverty is exhausting and can become a self-perpetuating cycle. Constant stress and anxiety over money and the never-ending emotional and mental beatdown that one suffers because one can’t afford most things can severely compromise mental health. And when things get bad enough, poor people can end up spending what little disposable income they have on alcohol or other things to help them forget their troubles — which, in a cruel irony, only reinforces their poverty.

  2. Healthy food is generally pretty expensive. This forces the poor to generally eat cheap food that is of relatively poor quality. This hurts their health and makes poor people feel terrible.

  3. Poverty isn’t just a series of individual decisions. It’s an environment that reinforces those decisions, and it can be extraordinarily difficult to break out of that environment. Poor communities are generally rife with crime, crumbling infrastructure and general hopelessness. That makes it extremely difficult for anyone to work up the will required to break the cycle.