While Wyclef Jean is known today as a successful rapper and musician, the three-time Grammy winner had a modest upbringing, one that shaped his attitude about money — and his reaction to a purchase that got him teased as a kid.
As a child in Haiti, he lived in a hut at one point, one without running water or electricity, he told Vice in a 2017 interview.
During those times "we were always hungry but we never felt that we lived in poverty," he explained in his memoir "Purpose: An Immigrant's Story." "If you have love, you have the will to survive whatever comes."
When his family eventually moved to Brooklyn, his family lived in a housing project. Jean's family was far from wealthy, but since he once had so much less, he was still amazed by his new life in the United States, he told Vice.
As a child in New York, Jean's father took him to a shoe store telling him to pick out "10 pairs," he told Vice. Jean saw pricetags of "199," thinking each pair cost nearly two hundred dollars and that his father must be "so rich."
He selected multiple pairs but was surprised to be mocked at school when he wore them. Kids taunted him with cries of "Jeepers, creepers." Jean remembered a young girl pointing at the shoes and asking "What are those?"
Soon Jean learned that his shoes were actually $1.99 knock-offs of trendy styles from an off-brand called "Jeepers."
Jean didn't take the bullying to heart. In fact, as he told Vice, he turned to his brother and said, "Jealousy will kill a person."
Today, Jean is a successful musician who plays more than 15 instruments. This "audio geek" told CNBC Make It his favorite splurge is music equipment like speakers and mixing boards. "I literally have to buy half the store up."
Still, he says that a simple guitar pick, an item that costs almost nothing at all, is the cheapest thing that brings him joy.
Like successful entrepreneur and "Shark Tank" host Kevin O' Leary, Jean links money not with the power to purchase things but with the freedom to make choices.
"Money is a source of means," said Jean. "That's what money is to me."