Financial Trauma

Recently, one of my favourite YouTube commentator channels, Tiffany Ferg, did a video about the role that wealth and class play in one’s ability to succeed with social media as a career choice. Video here, for reference:

One of the things that Tiffany spoke of in this video is the way that money, or lack thereof, can play a significant role in who we are, and who we become.

So, let’s talk about financial trauma.

The concept of financial trauma is the idea that those from low-class economic status have larger portions of their personality shaped around money than those raised in the middle class or upper class. Essentially, growing up poor or barely scraping by, play a considerable role in who you become.

From a personal perspective, this is absolutely true.

From a societal standpoint, I do believe this to largely be true. It’s one of the reasons, I think, why lottery winners are infinitely more likely to file for bankruptcy than regular folk. The sudden windfall of money is something that they really don’t know how to deal with, especially if lands in the laps of someone who’s spent their whole life scraping by, or just making it pay cheque to pay cheque.

But, let’s backtrack here.

I grew up in what is regularly defined as one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in. I was one of five biological children and seven total children living in the house. As a family, we were very much house poor. This means that we were living in a house, we had a roof over our heads and were ultimately very privileged in that sense, but the sacrifices made to ensure that roof stayed over our heads meant a lot of sacrifices in other areas of life.

My siblings and I would regularly go out on bicycles after dark to collect cans and bottles from dumpsters, to earn what very little money we could so that my father would have a way to and from work each day. There were actually days in which he hitchhiked to work. (Due to my father’s profession and the location of our house relative to where he worked, it was very difficult for him to find a coworker who was headed there at the same time as him)

Those memories, they stay with you. They define you, dare I say.

Even so, I know that while I may have grown up low-class in an upper-middle and upper class world, I still acknowledge how blessed I was to be in the situation that I was. Sharing a bedroom with three other people was annoying at times, but I did have a room. I had a house. I had a place to come home to. It’s something that I know a lot of people in the city which I grew up, and the world, did not and still do not have. For the sake of this share, I just wanted to acknowledge the privilege that I did/do have.

One thing I distinctly remember from my childhood is that, for the years in which we did have a vehicle (largely my teenaged years), the gas tank was always riding ‘Empty’. My parents had scraped together enough to get the vehicle, but between the vehicle and the house payments, things felt tighter than ever before.

I think this is very much one of the reasons why I didn’t purchase my own vehicle until I was 31 years old. I think this is one of the reasons why you will never, ever, ever see the gas-tank in my car get below the half-way mark. I can’t do it. The anxiety and stress that I get from seeing the gas-tank read closer to ‘E’ than it does to ‘F'(Full) is something that I cannot tolerate. If I cannot afford to fill up my car with gas, to keep it above the half-way mark on the tank, then I won’t drive my car until I can.

This, to me, is the idea of financial trauma. That the socioeconomic status in which you’re raised is something that stays with you, for what I can only assume is your whole life.

I know I’m not alone in this.

I know someone who grew up in a world-renowned mountain town, one famous for skiing/snowboarding, winter lifestyle and affluence. Their parents brought them to this country as refugees and they landed in this mountain town by some sort of cosmic coincidence.

Their upbringing was hard. This mountain town, known for accepting wealthy tourists from all over the world year-round, was one where cost of living was high, while the possible wages able to be earned by a refugee couple and their children was.

They’ve told me stories about working as a bag-boy and shelf-stocker in the grocery store every day of the week from as early in life as they were able to work, with the money they made in week not even being able to afford them the groceries they would want to buy from that very store. And of following their mom and dd to work as janitors at night to help them get work done faster so they can get more done, and thus make a little more money for the family.

This person, a lot of the financial decisions that they make today are the outcome of what they went through growing up. They go out of their way to ensure that living pay cheque to pay cheque will never again be their reality. They also go out of their way to ensure they don’t/won’t work in any industry remotely related to the jobs they worked growing up. The way in which they grew up has played a big role in defining the decisions they make today.

To an extent, I think this idea of financial trauma will be present in anyone who has lived, or is presently living in a situation in which money is not something that allows them to be comfortable. And, when you really stop to think about it, it’s something that really doesn’t affect those who come from a higher-level socioeconomic class. Because they’ve never had to worry about money, they’ll likely continue to not worry about money, or the choices they make with their money. Not unless they suddenly fall into bankruptcy.

So what shapes them, then? What shapes the upper half? If they’re not plagued by the choice of which bill to decide to pay this month, how do they discern how to make difficult decisions in life? I’m not too sure, really. I can speculate. But, since I’ve never experienced being in that place in which I don’t have to worry about money, it wouldn’t really be fair for me to do as such.

Also, I just want to point out that this is not my shaming of people who come from, or presently reside in, upper-half socioeconomic classes. Money is a wonderful thing. And, if you’re able to reach a point in life in which you’re comfortable, which you have a cushion in your bank account, I think that’s a very good thing.

I wouldn’t say that I have a cushion, where I’m presently at in life. But, I did manage to pay off my debts earlier this year, so I reckon I’m probably in better financial standing that many people my age. That feeling of having no debts, that feeling is unlike anything I’ve ever achieved before.

Funnily enough, my parents, in their late 60’s, have officially paid off all of their debts this year as well. While I’ve noticed a certain ‘lightness’ to them that I’ve never experienced before in my life, I also notice that there are certain things they’re unwilling to do. There are certain decisions being made out of the preservation of their present status in life, to ensure they never go back to their state of financial trauma.

I’d also like to note that financial trauma affects everyone differently. For some people, I think financial trauma manifests itself in hyper-consumerism. People desire to have things to showcase their status. For other people, financial trauma can manifest itself in an unwillingness to buy anything.

As much as money can’t buy happiness, it doesn’t play a very large contributing factor in who we grow up to be. Whether we went through financial trauma in the past, or we’re presently going through it now, money affects every decision in our lives, to some extent.

I’m not really sure how to close this, so I’ll just leave with an ideological thought that’s been on my mind for years. Internships should be abolished. The concept that young people should be forced to work for free and that University, College or High School credit, or ‘experience’ should be enough of a reason to force them through financial hardships should end. Free labor/labour should not exist in the western world. It shouldn’t exist in the world at all, actually. But that’s a discussion for another day – something I need to do a lot more research on and learn a lot more about. The concept of forcing a young person to work for free, ‘to pay their dues’ whilst they’re still required to pay their bills, their rent and they still need to eat is wholly unfair. At the very least, interns should be paid minimum wage in the industry for which they work.

At what point in time do we stop wishing for younger generations to ‘pay their dues’ (a grossly misguided belief) and start saying ‘perhaps the favour I can do for future generations is to ensure they don’t have to go through that which I did’.


25 thoughts on “Financial Trauma

  1. Very interesting thought exercise. I think that it’s one that quite literally everyone avoids, particularly on an individual level. It certainly gave me a chance to reflect on my own financial shaping as I read through.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with the premise that people try to avoid these thoughts. No one wants to think about where they were. Probably not even people who still are in financial struggle.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you V for telling your story. I grew up in a single parent household, and it was hard to make ends meet. I actually lived in a trailer. Even though I’m not at that trailer anymore. We still pinch pennies where we can. ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That’s something that you’ll always do. Even if you started working a job that paid a $500,000 a year salary, that action of collecting the pennies and keeping the pennies is more about a way of life. Thank you for sharing with me.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You describe financial trauma and the many ways it manifests itself perfectly. It is interesting to really think about how money, or the lack there of, shapes a person throughout their life. I am pretty frugal because my parents were. When I moved out, there were times I could barely make ends meet. I lived out of a car for a while. I vowed during one of the low points, that when I improved my situation, I would allow myself to buy as much fresh produce as I wanted. We pretty much always have fruit and vegetables in our house, and I am consciously thankful for it every day. It sounds strange typing it, but here I am, apples on the counter.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is definitely a luxury to have fresh fruit and veg. A lot of people don’t think this because they can be sooo readily available in so many parts of the world – but truthfully, consistent fresh fruit and veg isn’t attainable for a lot of people. I can completely understand how a small thing like that can mean a lot to you.


  4. Ah… girl! I love her videos too.. this one I saw this morning.
    I agree with you too…

    Y’know…It just amazes me when the YouTubers spend so much money just for the sake of haul..

    The videos title go like “I spent $2000 on makeup” and so on and in..😂


    Liked by 2 people

    1. I honestly think the videos when people are bragging about spending that much on makeup, or anything really, they’re doing so out of some sort of hyper-consumeristic financial trauma. They want all of the things because they can afford them now and it’s going to show their status in this world. It’s not even about having the makeup, it’s about what people think they look like because of having…


      1. Exactly!

        The online world just nudges us to get those products we don’t even need.
        You see those insta-stores ads pop up in the midst…

        As of now..I am on social media hiatus..
        And leaning towards making and consuming more content of perspective..

        And I am also not getting that rush to grab or try out new stuff..for review sake or it will look good on feed…

        Sending good vibes Vee🥰
        Also…I got my first jab…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree. I have always worried about money. What if I end up homeless? That kind of thing. As a child I didn’t know what my parent’s status was. They were careful with money, always paid for everything promptly. Dad would buy Mum expensive gifts but he wouldn’t pay for a taxi even if it was cold/wet. When he came to live in the States with no health insurance and was diagnosed with cancer, I still didn’t know how much he had even though I had POA. I just worried myself into a frazzle. I’m not good at having money. I always feel I odn’t deserve to have more than other people. Maybe growing up in SE Asia changed me too. I couldn’t understand why kids just like me had nothing and were expected to work and look after their siblings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to be diagnosed with cancer in a country where medical costs are so fucking high. The cancer is one nightmare, the costs are a whole different nightmare.

      I wanted to touch on the comment you made about SE Asia. I do think Financial Trauma affects different cultures differently as well. A lot of people from Asian cultures grow up working from age of being children, and also play significant roles in raising their kids. And a lot of families grow up working so fucking hard just to stay afloat.

      There’s so much perspective with respect to this subject. I reckon everyone sees it differently.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think Bankruptcy gets a bad rap. I um, I had two jobs since 10 or 11. At 14, I was on my own. No one, gave me anything.

    For the past decade or so I made a couple million. Respectably. I was on my fourth business when a billion dollar company courted me. We made a three way deal that should have made everyone money. If only, their products and their sales systems were profitable. So. I sued. I yelled. I started official things at every agency in six states. Then, with all the feedback and winning a few things. I declared bankruptcy proudly. I used my tiny business that made half a million a year at the most as leverage against a CEO of a major company. We could not dissolve our partnerships unless someone lost, everything. So. I did. In that, I won a different way for them to do business in my state. Giving them the reputation they deserved.

    I’ve always looked at money differently too. I’ve been generous and felt the need to help others with less. I thought it was my divorce that made me this way. Even though most men post-divorce are quite selfish. After reading what you wrote I think it’s deeper.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Financial trauma has definitely led me to spending with reckless abandon, without considering the value of a dollar. I’m definitely in the hyper-consumerism camp. Woot! 😆

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve followed Tiffany Ferg for years, and I enjoy her deep dives into social media and social psychology; I think she also has a similar upbringing as you, as she’s mentioned in her older videos that she grew up poor, to the point that she could barely scrape by to pay for college and that caused her to delay her studies…come to think of it, college in the US is just as bad of a sham as internships, as you mentioned: while I’m proud to have graduated from a prestigious college sans debt, I feel for my peers who had to pull out loans just to complete an education that doesn’t guarantee a cush job right after graduation. I’ve seen my peers still have to pay off tens of thousands of dollars decades later, and it’s no wonder that this messes them up in terms of financial independence, which is practically impossible for us Millennials to achieve nowadays. Even growing up relatively well-off, I along with others also experience some sort of financial trauma: although I have a full-time job and do okay for myself, I know that I’ll never be able to own my own house in one of the most-expensive cities in the US, and I’ll probably live with my father until I’m in my thirties because of that. Crazy what money does to folks, doesn’t it?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I had a bankruptcy about 20 years ago. I’m not proud of it but I’m proud to have recovered to the point my credit scores consistently rank in the 95th percentile. That doesn’t mean I give myself permission to go Willy-nelly on spending. When I bought a house last year my credit would have given me the ok to look for something at least 50% more expensive. But I knew what I could afford and that wasn’t it. Last week I had a $2,000 car repair bill. I’m lucky to have savings to take care of that. And I think that 10-year-old car is good enough to get more life out of it rather than buying something new I know I can’t afford, even if the credit people tell me otherwise. But the financial trauma comes at a price. I’m afraid of doing things like big vacations and the like. And what about some medical emergency that the insurance only partially or doesn’t at all cover? Loved the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Amazing post! I wholeheartedly relate to everything! Our upbringing and relation to money (especially early in life) really does play a grand role in who we become (as you say, some choose to spend in order to upgrade their societal status and others refuse to buy in fear of ending up with nothing again). I grew up with a similar upbringing as you and it’s taught me some invaluable lessons that I wouldn’t trade with any other upbringing! 🙂


  11. Completely agree with this, the way we are brought up and see how our families spend (or don’t spend) money completely influences us, and impacts how we deal with money and financial matters, later in life.


  12. I’m happy to have come online. It’s a truly traumatic way of life which you’ve described and I can tell they this is something that really affects you because of the numerous mistakes you probably didn’t notice because of how much more you consider the message and I feel that. About internships, you don’t want to be Nigerian! I’ve talked about it to anyone who cares to listen. I’ve never really interned because who’ll be my bills, then? In some places, superiors use interns as office assistants, making them run innumerable, daunting tasks to gain favour. Some superiors who are snack vendors make their interns carry the snacks around the establishment, canvassing sales and that’s both demeaning and sick.

    I don’t want to go on because it sucks balls to think about it


  13. Hell, I think I bought my first car at 31 as well. Maybe 30 but close enough. My dad gave me his Chevy Cavilier, 1998, and I drove that thing into the ground. I was, and still am, terrified of debt, probably in an unjustified way.

    I think my financial trauma is insecurity. I’m always thinking the money I do have isn’t enough. I imagine every worst case scenario happening all at once that will totally ruin me and even sitting on nearly $50,000 in cash isn’t enough. I’m still frugal, still terrified of debt, and never spend the money on anything.


  14. sorry you went through so much financial trauma, I did too, we were poor during my childhood, my family were poor and I think it made me appreciate more now what I have today.


  15. Great post, V.
    There is an old Pueblo Indian saying. When you go to the desert you find sh*t. But if there is no sh*t, there is no life.
    I interpret that to mean everyone’s life is always going to have some sh*t in it, be it financial, emotional, or relationships, or whatever. If not, you’re probably dead.


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