Lessons from five wealthy celebrities who were once broke

According to a recent study by the United Way ALICE Project, more than 40 percent of all American families are finding it hard to pay for housing, food, health care or transportation. These families are working hard, but they are also struggling to survive–and every day, they fall just a little bit further behind.

Yes, everyone needs money.

Many among those who are struggling to make it from payday to payday, might feel like there is no hope. They may go to bed at night wondering if that pain in their stomach is from hunger, stress or a combination of both.

Knowing that things can turn around in a hurry can provide hope.

Some of the wealthiest people on the planet once walked in similar patched shoes … and found their way to financial freedom.

Here’s a look at a handful of successful people who were once broke, how they did it and what can be learned from them:

Oprah Winfrey

She’s worth more than $3 billion. She’s beloved around the world. And she was once flat broke.

Before she became a media mogul, Oprah used to wear potato sacks to school because her family could not afford to clothe the children. She lived in boarding houses and spent her days dreaming of something better.

She found success by working hard, finding her passion and following her heart.

Mark Wahlberg

Looking at him today, few would imagine that Mark Wahlberg used to spend his days slinging drugs and throwing punches. But that’s exactly where the “Ted,” Entourage” and “Lone Survivor” star got his start in the not-so-safe areas of Boston.

At one point, he was even charged with attempted murder and was sentenced to two years in jail.

It was while he was sitting in the Suffolk County Deer Island House of Correction that something finally clicked in his head. He decided that he no longer wanted to live a life of drug addiction and crime–and he made the decision to change his ways.

Wahlberg has gone on to become one of Hollywood’s go-to guys and make a mint in the process.

He knew that his past didn’t need to dictate his future.

Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez had a dream: She wanted to be a singer.

So she dropped out of college, basically became homeless and relentlessly went after what it was she wanted. It wasn’t easy, but the multi-platinum recording artist, actor and former American Idol judge finally broke through.

Now maybe there are hundreds (or even thousands) of people who try the same thing and never succeed, but J-Lo proves that it can be done. It might not be easy, but obtaining a dream can certainly be done through a willingness to make sacrifices and work for it.

Jay Z

When he was growing up in Brooklyn, Jay Z never knew whether the lights would turn on or the family would have heat in their apartment.

That’s because his mother simply didn’t have enough money.

“We were living in a tough situation, but my mother managed; she juggled,” he told Vanity Fair during an interview. “Sometimes we’s pay the light bill, sometimes we paid the phone, sometimes the gas went off.”

Young Jay Z wanted something better for his family, so he decided to pursue a career in music. He walked away from the day-to-day stress of living in the projects, stopped interacting with drug dealers and threw himself into his music.

It worked.

Today, Jay Z is one-half of what is arguably music’s most powerful couple and part owner of the Brooklyn Nets.

The lesson his life can teach is that sometimes a person needs to get away from the things that are bringing them down.

Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt was having a great time living in his van in Hawaii, drinking, fishing and having a blast with friends.

But the fun had to end at some point. So Pratt decided to get serious and head to Hollywood. He has since starred in Jurassic World, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Lego Movie.

Always get serious.

Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn’t know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.