Nickel and Dimed: Buy or Don’t Buy?

Nickel and DimedThis week, The Simple Dollar is conducting a detailed review of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed. This title is a bit of an unusual choice for a review of personal finance books, as it details an educated and affluent woman’s attempt to get by while working at low-income jobs. Can we learn anything from this noble experiment? Let’s find out.

For most of this book, I was enthralled; it made me consider personal financial situations in ways that I really hadn’t before. The struggle that is working for less than a living wage is impressive and spending any amount of time really considering those who find themselves working for that wage to provide services to others is a really humbling experience.

At the end of the book, though, the same old class biases were exposed. Even when Ehrenreich would point out the root causes of some class-distinguishing situations, she falls back on general insults of physical appearance. The fact of the matter is that much of the food available to low-income people is loaded with empty calories, causing a high rate of obesity among the working class, and physical appearance is less important than food in your belly and a roof over your head.

The fact that this book even addresses real questions like the comparative value of shelter and food and health makes it a strong read, but the biases of the author somehow cheapen the whole thing. This book wants to make a difference, it seems, but it often just preys upon upper middle class liberal guilt about classism while maintaining that very same classism.

In short, buy this book as a gift for a literary friend. It’s very well written and will make them think about basic personal financial questions like those above. If the book sounds interesting, you might want to check it out at the library, but otherwise, this book is a pass – it starts off well, but then shoots itself in the foot by just sticking with the same old biases.

You can jump quickly to the other parts of this review of Nickel and Dimed using these links:
Serving in Florida
Scrubbing in Maine
Selling in Minnesota
Buy or Don’t Buy?

Nickel and Dimed is the third of fifty-two books in The Simple Dollar’s series 52 Personal Finance Books in 52 Weeks.

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