My mother is one of these stories. It is really heart breaking, and while a lot of my mom's story is about making some bad choices, I really believe that trauma complicates everything and can make it tremendously difficult to walk the right path, even with the best natural gifts and a lot of hard work.
My mom was repeatedly physically and sexually abused by a family member as a child. She was also extremely bright and ambitious. She made it out of her home environment and went to college, getting a degree in Medical Technology (essentially a masters level degree). She worked really hard and had a successful career. Her home life was not so easy. She married my father, who suffered from depression and was an alcoholic. My mother was also depressed, and so the two of them were a bad combination, and they divorced when I was 5. My mother met a man who was almost the direct opposite of personality to my father, but he was verbally and psychologically abusive. My mother began to suffer bouts of severe depression and later self medicated with alcohol. She was able to remain high functioning and continue to advance her career to management level. By the time she was my age, she was managing the blood lab at one of the world's best hospitals. At the same time, she was essentially being terrorized at home, and went to for multiple stays in mental institutions for a week or so at a time for suicide attempts. (Very little of this was known to me at the time as I was in high school and college and it was hidden - I was told my mom was on business trips).
My mom was under complete control of my stepfather, and was convinced to leave her career and travel with him to the caribbean to charter boats (Boating was one of their hobbies). For a variety of reasons, this failed disastrously and they lost all of their money and savings. When she came back to the states, she was able to get a job very quickly. She ended up supporting my step-father who as an attorney had a harder time establishing himself. Also, he began suffering mental health issues of his own. Eventually, after some very high drama antics on her part, I helped her obtain a divorce.
Being naive, and not ever really seeing my mom without my step-fathers problems to overshadow her own, I thought that now that she was free of him, she would begin to finally enjoy her life and things would get better. She had a good job, and seemed to be doing well, but the self medicating with alcohol had, without my knowledge, become worse. She got fired from one job, got another, kept it for a year, got fired, and then could not find another job. She was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety, and she was placed on disability.
For whatever reason, and I have never really been able to get much out of her, she has absolutely nothing saved from 40 years of working. She seems really embarrassed about it, and I haven't pushed her very hard to explain why. My guess is she thought that she either didn't need to save since my stepfather made a lot of money as an attorney when they were married, or maybe she took loans out. But either way, now she lives on a few thousand in disability payments a month plus a little left over from her when her mother passed on. Her health has rapidly deteriorated and she had a major health scare last year when she had a clot in her aorta that nearly killed her. She is a shell, physically, emotionally and spiritually of the woman she once was.
To see someone go from being fully functional and seemingly strong in youth and middle age to decline to this point is very troubling. If you were to ask me if it was because she made poor decisions, I would say "Yes". If you were to ask me if it was due to forces beyond her control I would also say "Yes".
Sometimes, I breeze through these forums and I sense a certain amount of fear and denial. People desperately WANT to believe (see avatar) that their lives are fully in their control, and that nothing could ever happen, that they can run away from the demons of the past that haunt them, but I can tell you that sometimes they never really go away, and re emerge in ways that you can't anticipate. When stuff happens to you in childhood, it shapes who you are, and makes you have gut reactions to situations before your brain kicks in and gives you time to think it through. It makes you seek out people that aren't necessarily good for you, and makes decisions that seem to be completely irrational to others make sense to your brain.
So my advice to most people when it comes to finances is that most of the time, your financial temperament is rooted in your personality and experiences. Get to know and understand the feelings behind what you spend your money on, and really reflect on that. Poverty is such a hard problem because it isn't a money problem, it's a people problem.