14 Things I’ve Learned From Being Poor – A Personal Essay by Gigi Engle (Writer, NYC)

14 Things I’ve Learned From Being Poor – A Personal Essay by Gigi Engle (Writer, NYC)


Gigi Engle - Writer (NYC)Gigi Engle is a freelance writer in New York City who (in her words) “writes about being young and single in New York City”. She’s shared her words with the Nonsense Society before. First an essay called “Blood Soda” and then another entitled “Lurid Sustenance”. Today she shares a new piece called “14 Things I’ve Learned From Being Poor”. It’s an uplifting and relatable article about going from being a supported, well-off child to a dirt poor young adult in the blink of an eye. Engle is honest and real in her writing. She doesn’t hide behind any ideas of what a writer “should be” which makes her words feel like a conversation with an old friend. With that being said, enjoy the piece by Gigi Engle (originally posted here):

14 Things I’ve Learned From Being Poor

I grew up privileged. I’ll always been eternally grateful for everything I’ve had, every experience and opportunity I was lucky enough to be given. I went to all of the best schools; I traveled Europe and even had a fantastic childhood growing up in paradise. I also had (and still have) amazing parents who raised me to have a good head on my shoulders and who smothered me with more love than any kid deserves. It was magical to grow up so blessed (yes, I was tempted to ironically hashtag the word “blessed” — but I mean it this time).

In 2008, everything changed. Suddenly, there was no more money, no more trips or Oscar de la Renta. There was no one to pay for college or pay the credit card bills. I’ll be the first to admit that I never realized how much I had until it was gone – and maybe that’s the most important thing I’ve taken away from this experience: to appreciate everything with my whole heart.

But you know what being poor teaches you? To be a fast learner.

1. When you lose your money the fake friends (and family, go figure) will run like rats

Yep, here’s looking to you family on my mother’s side!

My mother and father are really good people. The best, actually, despite what anyone says. They were extremely kind and giving to everyone around them. My father employed my mother’s sisters at his bank, despite the fact that they had zero background in finance; they housed 31 struggling families in our guesthouse over 20 years at our old Adler. They would do anything for anyone who asked. They would even do things without being asked because they just loved to help people. They had a lot of friends. When they were rich. As soon as the money was gone, so were their friends. It turns out that being generous and kind won’t always come back to you in your time of need. “The Fake Friends” is what we call them in my family now. The ones that took off as soon as they’d sucked my parents dry of everything they could. They weren’t of use to them anymore so, why stick around? Why pay it forward? Why be decent human beings? I believe in Karma. The universe will have them for lunch (or I will one day — watch your backs).

Of course, there are a tiny number (none of which are blood relatives—classy, right?) who stuck by them and have helped them as much as they could. They know who they are and they are our guardian angels.

My mother’s family ran like filthy rats. They won’t even speak to her. My mom’s youngest brother has AIDs. My parents set up a trust for him, many years ago, to pay for his medical expenses. He’s now the oldest living AIDs patient in Illinois. He won’t even lend a kind word to my parents even though he owes them his life.

You know what’s craziest of all? My mother still loves each and every one of them with all of her heart. Unconditionally. No questions asked. I don’t understand it but maybe some day I will. I doubt it though. Excuse the bitterness, but guess what? I’m really f*****g bitter.

2. Only keep people in your life who deserve to be in it.

Losing everything (well, the money anyway) has made me exceptionally selective when it comes to the people I let into my life. And, sure, I’ve still made mistakes and had to let people go but I feel like I’ve built much stronger relationships. My relationships are based on love, not money. They aren’t tainted or one-sided. They are true and they are precious. I’m incredibly close with my immediate family. We’d never emulate the vile behavior of our extended kin. So, in a way, I’m grateful for my extended family’s repulsive disloyalty. They revealed who they really are. And when we’re on top again – which we will be whether I make millions myself or some other way — you know what I have to say to them? Go. F***. Yourselves.

3. Working hard makes payoff twice as sweet.

Once I found my first internship, started writing, began freelancing and nannying in New York I felt so much more free. I was (and am) doing everything on my own, standing on my own. It feels genuine. There’s no falling back on daddy’s money and it feels empowering and fantastic to know that everything I have, I’ve earned by myself.

4. Your family is irreplaceable.

Just because the money is gone doesn’t mean the love is. In fact, I’d gladly trade everything I have and have had for my family. There’s more love there than anywhere in the world. We support each other’s dreams, we stand together and we can’t be broken. This experience had the potential to not only destroy a lifestyle but also our spirit. It’s done the opposite. We’re 100% in love with each other. My mother is a strong, sweet and courageous woman fighting lupus and rheumatoid arthritis – but always manages to put on a happy face and shower us with unconditional love. My father is the perfect man. He’s devoted, loving and more caring than any dad in the entire world — yes, I’m biased. Sorry I’m not sorry. He may be having a real shit time of it right now but he’s never let it get him down. God, my oldest brother even wrote a book! All of my brothers and sisters are freakin brilliant and I am in awe of them. I am so lucky to have been born into this family.

5. You are your greatest asset.

You have to first believe in yourself before you can give any part of yourself to someone else. If there’s one thing you have to hold onto dearly it’s your self-worth. It’s a cutthroat world and you have to love yourself more than anyone (family not included). This is actually a lesson I took from Lindsay Tigar. So, thank you Linds.

6. Ambition is addicting.

I guess I always thought I’d have a life like my mom’s: regularly visit Sacks, smother Le Mer on my face, watch old movies and be a loving mom. That won’t cut it anymore. Once we lost everything I realized that I’m in charge of my own future. I’m the one who’s going to be responsible for my own success. And, honestly it’s really addicting. I love writing this blog, I love interning, I love creating. I went from unpaid intern to gradually earning my place as a paid intern and now I’ve officially been selected to be a Fashion Aide to an Executive at a major fashion magazine. All before gradating college. I revel in my success. I hunger for more. I can’t wait for the next big thing. It excites me. Poverty has lit a fire inside me like I didn’t even know was even there. I want fame. I want success and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get it.—but I won’t be stepping on anyone on my way to the top.

7. You need to develop a hard shell.

Vulnerability has to go immediately. Forget it. Burn it. You have to be ready for anything and be ready for the worst. I’m not saying ice up or to become completely devoid of emotion but I’ve learned to protect my heart and protect the ones I love with the fierceness of a lioness. 98% of people are assholes. Just deal with it because I am my most perfect me – I am fabulous–and if you can’t see that then why are we even talking right now?

8. Always hold on to your hope or die trying.

Now with the hard shell in mind – don’t let your hope whither and die. In fact, cherish it, nurture it. Because without hope what can you expect to accomplish? Hope is what grows inside me and helps me to keep moving forward. That and my faith in the ones I love. Hold onto your hope. It is delicate and it is fragile and sometimes it’s all you have.

9. Don’t expect pity – and don’t want it either.

I know some people think I’m self indulgent and self-centered. Whatever. I don’t see it that way at all. Yes, I grew up rich. Guess what? The money’s gone so now what? I don’t pity myself. In fact, I would consider this to be one of the best things that could have happened to me as a person. Do I hate that my house is falling apart and we’re living on social security? Hell yes I do. But I don’t want your pity. I don’t want anyone’s pity. I am strong as nails and I will never be broken.

Poverty has taught me that there are two kinds of people in this world: the breakable and the solid. No one is going to break me. Yes, I was vulnerable in my last post. I voiced my worries. I spoke from the heart about uncertainties and fears that live in the back of my mind but that doesn’t mean I want pity. I just simply hope that through voicing these thoughts and emotions that someone out there in Cyber Space will be able to relate and find some comfort that their experience is not only their own.

10. Things are definitely things

But if you have style you can look like a million bucks in some picks from H&M or forever21.

“Where did you get your bag?”
“Oh, it’s Lavin.”
No, no it’s isn’t it’s definitely Urban and it was definitely on sale

You can buy fashion but you can’t buy style.

11. The value of a dollar

I’ve become a stellar saver and very scrappy. I don’t buy lunch. I only take paid internships. I freelance. I support myself and I can stretch a dollar like a real pro.

12. Don’t hold onto anything too tightly because nothing is really permanent

–wealth, possessions, and friendships nothing lasts forever. In a post I wrote called “23 things I’ve learned in 23 years” I mentioned this. You have to be ready to give people and things up. Revel in your passions, in your accomplishments. Skip forming attachments to the superficial.

13. It’s really okay to be proud of your accomplishments

When we lost everything we I had my Godmother said to me, “Baby, you can sink or swim.”

I’ve fought tooth and nail for everything I’ve earned. And I’ve become better for it. I’ve developed an insatiable hunger for success and I feel like nothing can stop me from accomplishing my goals. I’ve always been a go-getter and a fighter but this time I’m doing it all on my own. There’s no one to catch me if fall so, you know what, I’m growing some wings.

14. I’ve stopped waiting for Prince Charming

He’s a fairy tale. My dad is my Prince Charming. He set my standards impossibly high and I’ve learned to be more realistic. I used to think I wanted a cushy life just like my mom’s: throwing fancy parties, wearing Versace, going to the Ball at Versailles every year, but once we lost everything I began to see things differently. That dependent (no offense, mom) life won’t do for me. I want more. I want fame and fortune all my own.

– Not that I plan to settle for anyone less than what I deserve but I need a partner, not a free loader – and not just someone who’s going to take care of me and then (in all likeliness) leave me for someone my age in 20 years. Pass, Cupid. I need someone who is going to be there for me, have the same goals – both educational and monetary – and support me in everything I do. I’ve done this whole poor thing. It’s been great, time for me to stand out. So as the great Lady G says, “won’t sleep with a man who dims my shine.”

© Gigi Engle

A footnote to my allies:

To my darling and fabulous Aunt Zaza, I’ll never forget how you raised me, along with my adoring mother, to be the strong willed, hardheaded woman I am today. I reminisce of the times we spent together in your bathtub, aglow with red light singing “Someone to Watch Over Me” and counting a thousand unusual perfume bottles. You gave me my voice, and so my much of my light and for that, I thank you. Know that you are one of the only people who I feel inside my soul, whose blood runs through my veins. You are a part of me. Together forever.

Kochana ciocia. M, You raised your son and I like twins and you have never, for even a moment, doubted our greatness. Your grace and kindness has been a shining light in our time of need. Your children are my siblings as much as any other and your kind heart has always been a thing of envy. I love you dearly (and your husband, of course). In my heart forever. Thank you for giving us the gift of friendship and endless loyalty.