Lived Through This

As a Former Poor Person, Grocery Shopping Still Makes Me Anxious

Mia Hayes
Human Parts
Published in
6 min readJan 21, 2022

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Photo: Greta Hoffman/Pexels

Growing up just south of Detroit, Michigan in the 1980s, my girlfriends and I played a game called “MASH” that was supposed to predict what kind of house we’d live in. We’d dream about being “rich” or famous and many of our conversations revolved around how glamorous our future lives would be.

Oddly, I never realized my family was on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. Yes, food was restricted to meal times only and sometimes, there was “welfare cheese,” but everyone around me lived a similar life. Some kids were even poorer with no heat and worn-out clothes. My family, however, always had a roof over our heads, heat, and new school clothes. (Dressing appropriately for school was a huge deal in my family, and we only wore those clothes to school.)

There was also this sense that college was a waste of money — especially for a girl. My grandfather had dropped out of school in the 10th grade and both my parents only graduated high school. (To be fair, this was normal in the 1970s.) Still, I studied hard and pushed myself to take the hardest classes I could and get good grades because college was my goal. So when my dad made me take a typing class so I could get a good job as a secretary, I was furious. I wanted to be the boss, not the secretary. This is part of the reason why I moved by myself to California right before my junior year. I wanted possibilities and options, and I knew I had none in my hometown.

Being 16, I thought I had everything figured out. I did not. College was expensive, and I worked two full-time jobs to support myself and pay for school. My family wasn’t in a position to help me financially, so I was 100% on my own and took out numerous loans that I’m still paying off 23 years later. I believed that one day, my degree would more than pay for my educational costs. *Spoiler* my degree is in diplomacy, and I write books.

During this time, I realized how low on the economic ladder I was. Yes, I am white and was afforded more opportunities than my BIPOC peers, but I struggled to succeed in college. My high school in Michigan had not prepared me for the rigors of higher education. I couldn’t write a coherent paper or do math beyond basic algebra, and my vocabulary…

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Mia Hayes
Human Parts

40-something trying to live several lifetimes at once. Stay-at-home author, mom, and wife.