Updated on 01.08.09

Review: Scratch Beginnings

Trent Hamm

Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a personal finance book.

scratchOne of the most common complaints I hear about on The Simple Dollar is that I’m writing financial suggestions for people who have already “made it.” To a certain extent, it’s true – many of the situations I write about assume you already have a certain level of income and financial security.

But what of those situations where such financial security isn’t a given? I hear often from readers who are truly stretching every dime they can get, even without the burden of a house payment or any significant debt – they simply aren’t bringing in much money, and they have to be creative with their choices. What can we learn from them?

That’s basically the premise behind Scratch Beginnings. The author, Adam Shepard, decided to take on the myths about what it takes to be successful in America. He started off with $25 in cash, the clothes on his back, and a gym bag (no job or anything else) and attempted to build the American dream in one year without using any of his contacts or personal accomplishments (in other words, a blank resume). His goal was to have, after one year, $2,500, a working automobile, and a furnished apartment.

Why do this? The point is to see how far away the American dream really is for a person with limited resources – no money, no assets, no contacts, no resume. Can that situation be the starting point for financial success? Let’s see if Adam was able to pull it off.

1 – Welcome to Crisis Ministries
Upon Adam’s arrival in Charleston, with only $25, a sleeping bag, a duffel bag, and the clothes on his back to his name, he makes his way to a homeless shelter in a rough part of town – the aforementioned Crisis Ministries. The place looked neat enough from the outside, but was squalid inside – dirty floors, unclean showers, bathrooms that appeared to have never been cleaned. Even worse, the homeless shelter is surrounded by drug use and other temptations, and unscrupulous employers are constantly getting workers from the shelter and employing them in very difficult, low-opportunity jobs. In other words, virtually every easy opportunity at the bottom rung is fraught with challenges.

2 – EasyLabor
Adam’s first full day in town was spent working for one of the employment agencies that recruited homeless people. Unsurprisingly, he worked for less than minimum wage that day, but it did earn him enough to buy some clean clothes and a bit of extra food (for lunches) at the Family Dollar. The intriguing part of the tale comes later when Adam converses with the other people living at the shelter and they swap background stories – almost all of them are variants on the same story. Several little pieces of bad luck – any one or two of which could have easily been dealt with – added up to a fall to this lowest rung on the socioeconomic ladder.

3 – Another Day, Another Dollar
Three real lessons stuck out from this chapter that can really apply to anyone in a low wage situation. First, never turn away an opportunity for help. If you’re in a situation where you have little or no income, contact social services and see what’s out there for you. The programs are there for you – take advantage of them, or else the resources simply go to waste. Second, utilize your library for as much as possible. When Adam stopped by the library to use the free internet access, he found that a lot of the homeless people from the shelter – at least the ones with a degree of self-motivation – were already there, using the ‘net for job searches and other things. Finally, connect with people in your situation, because they likely have at least a strategy or two that you can use to help your situation. Adam learned quite a bit simply from listening and connecting with others at the homeless shelter.

4 – Big Babies
Right here is where I fell in love with this book, because Adam really begins to use frugality to his advantage here. From delayed gratification – passing up a tempting meal that would have cost him $5 and waiting instead for a lesser but free meal at the shelter – to simply pinching pennies by washing his clothes in the free shower and hanging them out to dry instead of dumping coins in the washing machine, Adam saves dollars time and time again, and with little income (earning only $14 after taxes and “fees” for a day’s work, for example), it makes a huge difference. Another lesson – don’t look down upon people. Adam and his temp-job compatriots were given the bum’s rush several times – and outright lied to – by various employers for no good reason. From their perspective, resentment (and likely some anti-social behavior) actually makes some degree of sense – and that can cost you.

5 – Sundays with George
Don’t look down upon any job that can earn you a solid wage. I often hear stories about how Americans simply won’t do certain jobs and thus immigrants tend to take them. That is a huge mistake, especially if you can earn good money doing it – and good money means you take home more per hour than you would doing other things. For example, Adam literally spends two hours shoveling dog feces for $10 in cash an hour. That’s far, far more than minimum wage, but it’s a humiliating and exhausting job – but it’s a worthwhile trade if you’re really committed to getting ahead. Another key lesson – join a church. Most churches will go a long way to help out a member who is truly in need.

6 – Hustle Time
Another key lesson: do whatever you can to earn a few extra bucks. In Adam’s case, he became a cigarette reseller. He didn’t smoke, but he invested some of his cash in a carton of cigarettes, kept a pack in his pocket, and sold them for a quarter a pop. That earned him $5 a pack – $50 a carton – and that made for a very tidy little profit for him. Find whatever you can – that little edge, particularly one done with little effort, can make a big difference.

7 – Job Hunting 101 with Professor Phil Coleman
If you read one bit about this book, let it be this one. One particular anecdote from this chapter inspired me. One of the people at the homeless shelter that Adam was staying at had lived there for almost a year, doing odd jobs and seemingly keeping his nose clean, but not seeming to really go anywhere with his life. One evening, he suddenly revealed his plan to his caseworker by pulling out his wallet and showing her thousands of dollars in cash. He had been saving every dime he could while living at the shelter and intended to use that cash to put a down payment on a duplex across town, living in one half and renting out the other half. The man was thinking ahead and using what little resources he had in hand to build something grand for himself. That earns my respect, indeed.

8 – Put Up or Shut Up
If you want a job, sell yourself. Don’t submit a tired old resume. Don’t go into a job interview with a bunch of “yes” and “no” answers. Sell yourself. It doesn’t matter what job you’re applying for – a programming job or (as is the case with Adam) a moving job. Go in there and tell the boss exactly why you’re the person for the job. Doing so can do nothing but help you – at the very least, you’ll stand out from the crowd of applicants.

9 – “First and Last Day”
The biggest difference between people who get ahead and people who stick in the same rut is the motivation to make that change. When you get up in the morning, do you bemoan the fact that you have to head off to a job, or do you feel happy because of the opportunity that you’ve got and intend to work hard to get ahead? That simple question is often the one that separates the wheat from the chaff.

10 – Adventures in Moving
The primary lesson here is playing the game with the hand you’re dealt. If you spend all your time complaining and griping about the situation you’re handed, you’re going to simply miss out on tons of chances to succeed. For example, one night Adam failed to get back to the shelter on time. He could have spent much of the night complaining about it – instead, he immediately found a blanket and then located an isolated place to sleep outside for the night, ensuring that he got plenty of rest so he could still be productive at work the next day.

11 – Movin’ on Up
Persistence is another key to success in the workplace. You might be forced to work with a person you don’t like – but if you keep your focus on the task at hand and don’t let those others grind you down, eventually things will change. The problem comes when you let those other negative factors make you negative – and then you become part of the problem. Even through a broken toe and an awful partner at his moving job, Adam kept working and rolling – and eventually, he wound up with a much better partner, earning more money and getting better moving jobs while the troublemaker found his way out of the company.

12 – Workers’ Consternation
Here, the valuable lesson is actually for managers and business owners, particularly those who employ a staff of low-wage workers: treat the employees like people. Be there for them when they need you. Eat lunch with them. Know things about their lives. Compliment them when they do well, and stand up for your employees even at times when it might cost the business some money. Do those things and you’ll earn far more money than you will by cutting every corner and fighting for every penny. Everyone values being respected.

13 – Winter with Bubble Gum
Eventually, Adam found himself in a common position for people beginning to stretch out on their own: he sought a roommate. Through his social connections that he’d built over the first half-year of his experience, he found someone interested in getting an apartment that was also fine with getting a very low-end place that would be cheap – and that they could focus on fixing up. This saved them a lot of money in two ways – cheap rent, plus free time eaten up with home repair tasks.

14 – Culture Shocked
Largely, this chapter discusses socializing without a budget, and that mostly revolves around simply searching around for compatible people, which you can find in many places if you’re willing to look for them. Adam hangs out with a lot of co-workers and through them meets a cadre of interesting people.

15 – Fighting for Respect
On the surface, this chapter retells a fist-fight that Adam gets involved with, but the true nature of the story is that Adam is actually developing a place in the world, with strong relationships with other people, a sound financial base, and a lot of promise for the future.

16 – One Last Move
The book largely winds up here, with Adam leaving town to take care of an ailing parent, having succeeded on his quest. His concluding remarks, spread out here and through an epilogue, largely focus on the fact that no matter what life throws at you, you can take ahold of it and make something better out of it.

Some Thoughts on Scratch Beginnings
Here are three things I think I think about Scratch Beginnings.

Adam does have a few advantages here. Although he starts off with just $25, his clothes, and a blank resume, he has much more than that – a social personality, a strong work ethic, and good health. Not everyone has those elements, but I think this book makes a profound argument that those elements can easily be used to pull yourself out of a bad situation.

Frugality underlies everything. None of this would have worked if Adam hadn’t been trying every frugal tactic he could think of, particularly early on. His success in saving $5,000 didn’t just come because he was earning a solid wage at the moving company – it came because he made a genuine effort to save money and cut corners where he reasonably could, and he wasn’t tempted to spend the difference, either.

If nothing else, the book is an excellent yarn. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and was sad to see it end. Shepard is a strong writer with a good sense of making even the most mundane things seem interesting.

Is Scratch Beginnings Worth Reading?
Scratch Beginnings is a thoroughly entertaining (and somewhat enlightening) book about the realities of living at the low end of the socioeconomic ladder. It’s substantially more appealing and relevant than Barbara Ehrenreich’s similar Nickel and Dimed, which I disliked. It’s also readable and enjoyable enough that I had difficulty putting it down when I began reading it, consuming it almost in one straight shot.

Will you come away from the book with some great insights into frugality and how to save money? Probably not. Will it provide some enjoyable reading along with some food for thought about what it really takes to succeed in America? Undoubtedly, yes. And because of that, I thoroughly recommend this book – it was enjoyable and thought-provoking from beginning to end.

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  1. Johanna says:

    “Although he starts off with just $25, his clothes, and a blank resume, he has much more than that – a social personality, a strong work ethic, and good health.”

    Don’t forget youth, white skin, and a Y chromosome.

  2. Geoff K says:

    Great review Trent. I might have to get the book. Your quote; “no matter what life throws at you, you can take ahold of it and make something better out of it” is truly inspirational. Most people have good and bad aspects to them and in their lives. Maybe the key to success is taking advantage of your unique situation, building and progressing while playing the hand that’s dealt to you.

  3. Paul says:

    “I often hear stories about how Americans simply won’t do certain jobs and thus immigrants tend to take them.”

    I think it is instead that not all Americans have been asked if they will do a job.

  4. Sharon says:

    Johanna, how do you know the author has white skin and youth? In any case, attitude is the message here.

  5. ABC says:

    Another “advantage” you didn’t mention (and most likely didn’t think of) is that Adam is a white male, and like it or not, that counts hugely towards opportunities available to him.

  6. Vera says:

    I think it does matter a LOT that he is male and college-educated, too. As I recall (from an NPR interview), he left his college degree off his resume, but he still possessed the benefits of that higher degree. Meanwhile, as a young man, he could more readily hunker down with a blanket outside the homeless shelter — and get a relatively high paying job with a moving company — than could most young women, no matter how fit and strong.

    BTW, his experience at college was the reason he wrote “Scratch Beginnings,” right? I think he embarked on his experiment because he had been assigned “Nickled and Dimed” at school and wanted to disprove Ehrenreich’s thesis. Seems to me that both books are flawed, but very valuable when put in conversation with each other.

  7. Leslie says:

    I agree that there are benefits to being around people who share your situation but you need to be aware that they don’t “water down” your motivation.

    Sometimes the people who are in a similar situation are quite content to stay there or to invest little or no energy towards making positive change. Often, they will try and hold you back if they sense you’re trying to shake up the group’s status quo.

    Been there, escaped that! :)

  8. Johanna says:

    @Sharon: That’s a picture of him on the cover. And there’s a video of him on the amazon page.

    Anyway, the reason that I’m rubbed the wrong way by stories with the moral of “Anyone can climb the socioeconomic ladder if only they work hard enough!” is not that I doubt the value of hard work, or that I think that poor people should sit around and complain instead of working hard, or that I want to discount anyone’s personal success story (seriously, I give Adam all the credit in the world for taking this challenge on), but that they seem to carry the subtext that poor people are only poor because they’re not working hard enough, and that we as a society don’t need to change anything about how we think about or act towards poverty and poor people. That might not be what Adam is actually trying to say – I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know – but it DOES seem like what Trent is trying to say, in this post and in numerous posts in the past.

  9. Shevy says:

    Attitude is important, but the facts unfortunately bear Johanna out. Look at this quote from a Nov 2004 Washington Post article on pay equity:

    “Nationally, compared with white men, white women made 70 cents on the dollar, all women made less than 68 cents on the dollar, black women made less than 63 cents on the dollar, and Hispanic women were paid just slightly more than half of white men’s median salary, the report said.”

    That’s not to say a woman couldn’t do what Adam did, but she’s starting from an even bigger disadvantage (including that she’s less likely to be hired for a better paying but physically strenuous job).

    I’d be interested in hearing more about the point Vera raised (that the experiment was an attempt to disprove Ehrenreich’s thesis). And I’m very interested in reading Scratch Beginnings now.

    I, like Trent, panned Nickeled and Dimed when I read it. Her approach was very flawed, her biases shone through and her anti-Walmart rant was the last straw. I don’t care if people like Walmart or not, if they shop there or boycott them, but *don’t* take a job there while researching a book like Nickeled and Dimed and then actively try to unionize! That was just monumentally dishonest.

  10. Michelle says:

    Great review! Thank you for introducing the book. Sometimes I think the world we live in now is just not the same as the one our grandparents had, where you often hear of people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, and became financially successful in life. I guess this book shows us it’s still possible, with the age-old values of hard-work, frugality and common sense.

  11. Mike says:

    Wow, I didn’t realize that according to some of your readers my skin color, age and sex makes me able to succeed that much better in life.

    I am intrigued and want to get this book once I finish the one I’m currently reading.

  12. Shevy says:

    And, after agreeing with Johanna, I’m now going to disagree!

    I don’t think that the subtext of the post or Trent’s position is “that poor people are only poor because they’re not working hard enough”.

    I think that sometimes people find themselves in a bad situation and don’t have the ability (for whatever reason) to envision a way out. I haven’t read the book yet but it seems to me that it highlights unconventional (if even only subtly unconventional) ways to escape the box. That’s not to say they would work for everybody. But if they help even a few people, then that’s good.

    (I’m thinking of things like Adam washing his clothes in the shower instead of paying for the washer or the guy who stayed at the shelter for a year and then was ready to *buy* a place!)

  13. I’d much rather read a similar book written by someone who actually had to begin from “scratch beginnings.” There is a huge difference between living this way as an experiment when you have invisible strengths like a college degree and living this way because you were born into it. I’m not saying there’s no value to what he did, but I don’t come away with the same “anyone can do it! look how simple it is!” message. Yes, anyone can pull themselves out of poverty, but it’s anything but simple.

  14. George says:

    I have a coworker who, while male, is definitely non-white, non-college educated, injured from prior “career”, didn’t speak English, and not young. His former “career” as a migrant laborer (pruning trees in an orchard and other tough jobs) ended when he had a shoulder injury that doesn’t allow him to use that arm. He grew up in Mexico City selling tamales his mother made to construction workers before coming north…

    He is now compently making $65-70k/yr as an IT analyst and owns a home (with mortgage). He _might_ be able to retire at age 65 in a few years. His English went from nothing a decade ago to getting US citizenship about 4 years ago.

    Another coworker is female, not white, and came from the deep South, a large family where she didn’t wear shoes because they couldn’t afford them. Her family moved to Seattle when she was young and now, many decades later, she is earning equal income to the first fellow. I can’t recall whether she completed a BA or not… she’s currently working towards another degree.

    So Johanna, these things are indeed possible in America. I don’t know of any women working as movers, but I do know some that are electricians, welders, and plumbers.

  15. The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    I think most people that are homeless are homeless for two basic reasons. Either, they suffer from some sort of mental illness or they suffer from a substance abuse problem. I definitely don’t agree that people are homeless because they don’t work hard enough.

    My wife is a medical student, and she often volunteers at the medical clinic downtown in the city we live in, and I think she would say that most of the time it’s unavoidable for these people. They don’t have anyone to lean on or rely on.

    I think this book looks like an interesting social experiment. I’m going to pick it up once it shows up on the rolls at my library.

  16. Miss Thrifty says:

    Well, this sounds like a great book! Interesting review – I’ll certainly be checking it out, if the book is available over here. I wonder if he would have had a similar experience here in the UK?

  17. JD says:

    I think Trent took the book at face value, which is fine, but there’s a lot going on under the surface as people have mentioned.

    The entire thing was a flawed premise, since being poor, homeless, and with no support network is obviously incredibly psychologically different than knowing at the end of the experience you can go home and try for a book deal. And the guy’s motivation comes from wanting to prove that poor people can succeed if they simply want it badly enough, which isn’t always true.

    It also rubs me the wrong way a little bit that the guy took support that he didn’t truly need. One has to wonder if that homeless shelter was ever at capacity with him in it, forcing a genuinely homeless person to sleep on the street so he could have a bed.

    In the end, I suppose the book is fine as long as the reader doesn’t start assuming it means we can lessen our social safety net since this guy was able to turn things around so quickly.

  18. Sharon says:

    There is no question that women are on average being underpaid at all levels. I didn’t see the book cover, so I didn’t know he was white and male. Nevertheless, the message of the attitude and aptitude for deferred gratitude and grasping opportunities is the essential ingredient for success for anyone.

  19. Sharon says:

    er, gratification, not gratitude.

  20. plonkee says:

    I agree with JD.

    Just because one person can turn themselves around quickly doesn’t mean anyone can. In particular, just because one well-educated English speaker without physical and mental health problems can doesn’t mean everyone can. And becoming homeless probably leaves scars in and of itself.

    It is however interesting to think about how I could try and get myself off the bottom rung of the ladder if I needed to – homelessness is a big issue in the UK. I don’t think manual labour would be feasible for me though.

  21. Jem says:

    @ George- Two stories, sadly, are not proof that the situation is any different than Johanna said. Truth is that countless surveys and studies have been conducted by reputable agencies that say that your two coworkers are the exception not the rule.

    White skin, male gender, and a heterosexual presentation of that gender do not gaurantee anyone success, but they provide advantages that most often invisible to the people who possess them.

    As Johanna said, that doesn’t mean that individuals without these advantages shouldn’t work hard, but to pretend that those advantages don’t exist does a disservice to everyone involved.

  22. Linda says:

    Seconding JD’s comments above (#11) – it’s an interesting story with useful tips for severe frugality, but I worry about readers walking away with the lesson “ANYONE can do it with the right attitude and goals!”

    Shepard went into the experiment with a lot of beneficial background: Health (physical and mental), skin color, sex, English language, no children or other dependents, no prior debt, no addictions, access to shelter space (with no fear of assault), urban resources/support networks, computer skills, the skills to plan ahead and work towards goals that he could appreciate, and the comfort in the back of his mind that it was all temporary and he could take off his poor-people costume at any point (which could allow him to take more risks).

    Taking the story as “what worked for this one guy in this one situation” is great, and it’s a compelling story in that respect. But I hope that people continue to frame it that way and don’t extrapolate it to apply to ALL people in poverty.

  23. forty2 says:

    Well hey, if I knew as a last resort I could make a phone call and get rescued from a situation, I too could pretend I know what it’s like to be down and out. I mean really down and out, not faking it for a damned book because you disliked Ehrenreich’s experiences as a middle-aged woman, despite being white, male, young, good-looking and again, with a safety net that I didn’t have.

    I don’t disagree that one can dig one’s way out of the dirt, as I did, but as another white male with multiple degrees now, I still can’t comprehend the difficulties faced by those who don’t have my genetic advantages. Now I’m facing age discrimination so I’m getting a taste of it I suppose.

  24. DB Cooper says:

    @Sharon wrote “There is no question that women are on average being underpaid at all levels.”

    On “all levels?” Really? Where I work (school teacher in public education) women make **exactly** the same amount as men. The amount we earn is determined by our contract, and last time I checked, there were no clauses referring to gender. Granted, if they choose to take time off to bear or raise children, this may lower their take-home pay.

  25. Marsha says:

    I kind of liked “Nickled and Dimed,” but I didn’t think it was great. If this book is definitely better, then I will have to make sure to get it from the library.

  26. Gabriel says:

    This sounds like a really interesting book! I’m interested that you address the limits of frugality in this post. I’m a firm believer in the power of frugality, and I think it needs to be utilized a great deal more than it is. However, I think that some people benefit more from earning a bit more cash – I know that’s my situation, since I’m a full time college student with a minimum wage job. I save and invest what I have, but what I need is a bit more to start with. I’ve started a blog addressing this, alternativelivings.blogpost.com. I’d love to know your opinion of this topic, and how it relates to money management from your point of view. Thanks Trent!

  27. Wow, this sounds like something I would really enjoy. I had never heard of it up until now.

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

  28. jana says:

    re “It also rubs me the wrong way a little bit that the guy took support that he didn’t truly need. One has to wonder if that homeless shelter was ever at capacity with him in it, forcing a genuinely homeless person to sleep on the street so he could have a bed.” – it might sound controversial here but i honestly think that a book that helps people help themselves may be more valuable in the long run.

    and anothe thing that someone might diasgree pon but still – i have read numerous articles about the “lower salary” of women that tried to prove that pretty often this is a myth, as many women simply work less because of their families. those were articles by people who are sociologists, etc., so i think they have not made it up – and i also tend to agree with them because i have not seen thiy kind of “salary discrimination” yet. the only women i knew who complained about being paid less than her male colleagues was a) complainign about this b) saying that, of course, she went home at noon because she wanted a manicure etc. (while her male colleagues were working. go figure).

    what i am trying to say, is, basically, that 1) indeed, shelters are important, but helping people leave them is at least as much important, and, 2), coplaining about being paid less than men gets you nowhere. it is actually better to get to work. i am a woman, and i am not a sex bomb, so i think i know a thing or two about it.

  29. jana says:

    PS: to sum it up: “There is no question that women are on average being underpaid at all levels. ” – even if that was the case, why not try to get out of the “average” box? nobody HAS to be average.

  30. jana says:

    (ans i do not think that thent or the autor were saying “anyone can do rxactly this thing”. i thought they were saying “it is worth trying, working, and being frugal, and talking to other people”)

  31. imelda says:

    I don’t want to discredit this Shepard guy’s idea, but I have to say I’m *astounded* that he thinks that he was ever on a level playing field with the other shelter-dwellers. This guy had a COLLEGE EDUCATION. He also presumably had a good enough primary and secondary education to learn to become the excellent writer Trent says he is.

    Does he understand just how blessed he is for having received his education? Does he understand the absolute CRAP education most inner-city kids, especially minorities, get? Of course he came away from his fake poverty with money and an apartment. He had no competition.

    My question is how many of the people he met also ended that year without $2500 and a furnished apartment? Did he stop to wonder why?

  32. imelda says:

    Erm, obviously I meant “ended that year WITH $2500 and a furnished apartment”.

  33. ML says:

    South Carolina has one of the worst unemployment rates due to the huge lost of manufacturing jobs (he did this in Charleston, I believe). I agree with Shevy and Johanna that to fully understand this, you have to go beneath the surface, a can-do attitude and a great work ethic is key but there are other obstacle out there. I have read Nickled and Dimed and definitely will added this book to my reading list. I think as with Nickled and Dimed, there is an attitude that I am doing this for a period and will return to my normal life. What about the people who will remain in this life after they return to their lives? This is sparking a very interesting discussion!

  34. lurker carl says:

    What this book says is homelessness isn’t a life sentence unless you lack the mental or physical abilities needed to support yourself. Youth, strength, fortitude, intelligence and stamina are certainly big pluses but excellent physical and mental health are the key ingredients.

  35. kristine says:

    I would like to know WHY you disliked Nickeled and Dimed. Was it the air of desperation or resignation of people in that predicament? (I hated Bair and Switch.)

    I strongly encourage you to buy what I bought as a lark, and found to be shockingly relevant, Will Shatner’s CD “Has Been”. The first song “Common People” adequately expresses why I find the “faux poor” suit to be a poor fit, for any author, or any college kid slumming it. Oh, and the music was by Ben Fold’s Five, so it is actually quite good!

    As far as the gender card? A man who can find an isolated spot to sleep outdoors does not have to worry nearly as much as a woman about being raped, (even by authorities) or about protecting children in tow. (A woman might have to stay awake all night). These added concerns alone could consume the mental energy and money needed to get ahead.

    While I enjoy a good inspirational story about gumption, I acknowledge that the playing field is not level economically, genderwise, or even in the formative exposure to hope.

    I pulled myslef up by my bootstraps after leaving an abusive marriage with the shirt on my back and 2 kids, but I was white and educated. I am now upper middle class, teaching the uber-rich. There is a reason for the expression, “There but for the grace of God go I”.

    We do not all start from the same spot, and the exceptional person should not be the bar by which we judge the average. How many mediocre people do you work with each day? These are the people given different circumsatnce, do not lift themselves up. Not because they are bad people, just average.

    I hate books that imply that if you just try hard enough… Frugality helps, but there are mental scars from poverty or bad experiences that make even survival a major accomplishment. And dabblers are merely toursits, never authentic.

  36. kristine says:

    Oh, and one more thing… a woman would never have been hird for that hard labor job. The only jobs that pay remotely well for a small woman in dire straights, well, that’s why we have vice squads. In college I knew poor students who weer also strippers, saving every dime to meet tuition, to make their lives better. They were the most frugal people you could ever meet. This is the woman’s version of shoveling dog crap.

  37. steve says:

    My ex-girflriend moved to the big city (Boston)when graduated college with no job lined up, no place to live, not knowing anyone no more than $500 in cash to her name, and stayed in a youth hostel for the 2 weeks it took her to find a job and a room (roommate situation).

    Very similar situation.

    The point of these stories is it is possible to do these things and acoomplish your goals , not that success is inevitable or that the world is fair.

    I do think that sometimes conservative commentators confuse the importance of attitude for success as something that explains failure and justifies social inequities. It doesn’t explain failure across the board and it doesn’t explain social inequities either. However, the fact is that whatever plate you got served in life, being resourceful and taking positive action will get you farther towards your goals than you would get otherwise. The question is whether you are reading the book as inspiration and as an interesting story, or attempting to derive a sociological explanation for the roots of economic success and failure from it.

  38. Jessica says:

    good post!

  39. sunny says:

    I read Adam’s book this summer, he had made it available for free as an E-Book. I loved it, it was a page turner. The point of the story is whether your black or white, the point is in America there a plenty of opportunities to make your life a good one. You can the contact the author on Facebook if you’d like to say hi.

  40. steve says:

    @ “a woman would never have been hird for that hard labor job. ”

    That’s incorrect.

    I met a woman who quit her animal shelter job to work on a paving crew. She loved it–said she could finally go home from work and not worry about what was going to happen to that poor abandoned dog/cat.

    Women can get hired for construction. Mostly, women don’t apply. I’m sure that, given its unusualness, a woman might have a harder time getting hired. But it’s a real stretch to say that a woman won’t be hired for hard labor.

    I also worked in a food distribution warehouse as a product selector once. The job was to get all the stuff for the supermarket and load it into a semi trailer using heavy equipment.

    The best (most productive) selector from my group of new employees was a woman, according to the training manager. But she was the only woman in the facility who applied for that job at the time I was working there.

  41. Sharon says:

    The idea that women “choose” to take time off to have and raise children and therefore deserve less money is seductive and counterproductive to us as a society. Generally this “choice” happens because of a lack of support from everyone from the father to the employer to society in general.

    I personally know high-level professional women who, because of this lack of support, “chose” to not have children. We need more children being raised by higher-income people, and failing to provide the logistical support for women to be the best they can for themselves and their children by productive, rewarding employment doesn’t help anyone. And there are many women who are better mothers for having a rewarding job.

    There are numerous “glass ceilings” in every field, and a recent editorial in an on-line science magazine pointed out that there are too few women scientists in high levels, that female scientists are not given raises equivalent to their maile colleagues, and that even he was overlooking women when asking scientists to join the editorial board. Yes, DBCooper, ON AVERAGE women are underpaid and underemployed. Do the research yourself.

  42. Sharon says:

    And, DB, ask yourself how many femal principals there are in proportion to female teachers…

  43. steve says:

    I do have to ask why the author felt that shoveling dog crap was so humiliating. Maybe unpleasant, but humiliating?

  44. steve says:

    @Mike :”Wow, I didn’t realize that according to some of your readers my skin color, age and sex makes me able to succeed that much better in life.”

    It does. If you’re white that gives you a better chance than a black person in this country for sure. Make sure to take advantage of it though and don’t rest on your laurels.

    As to the sex part, I don’t know about that. These days most young women seem to be both more driven, more focused, and better paid than the young men their age.

    However, none of these sociological observations matter a whit when it comes to determining your own your own actions. Whoever you are, you are going to do better by applying yourself, having and following a plan, and being diligent than by being lazy and aimless, planless, and not following through on things.

    This seems obvious.

    –from another white male

  45. Paul says:

    A lot of great points being made in these comments. I would recommend that everyone commenting read the book regardless of what your initial opinions are. You may be surprised.

    Shepard makes it clear right up front that his “project” is not applicable to all people and he admits right in the introduction that he is male, in good health and without any dependents to support.

    But, I found the stories he told about the other people he met at the shelter even more interesting than his own, because you know that many of them weren’t white (although Shepard never mentions race), didn’t have a college education and also had past problems with drugs or other addictions. He tells of those who are motivated enough to look for a job every single day, along with those who are content to hang around the shelter doing nothing until it is time for dinner.

    As far as those who have assumed that his college education somehow gave him an advantage over the others – how does a college degree assist in getting a job picking up dog doo? In fact, Shepard is able to finally get the moving company job not because of some values he learned at school, but because of advice given to him by another of the homeless men at the shelter. If anything, it seems that Shepard is at a disadvantage because he lacks the “street smarts” that the others at the shelter have about how the system works.

    I really enjoyed this book and read it in a single setting, but I don’t think it’s going to change many minds about poverty in this country.

    For example, if you think that the system is rigged against the poor, you will find plenty of evidence of that in Shepard’s description of the day labor companies and other unscrupulous employers who take advantage of the impoverished. One could also argue that Shepard’s version of “making it” still sounds like a very rough life to many of us: he shares a small apartment in a neighborhood prone to crack busts with a roommate who constantly steals his truck and even beats him up at one point. And his truck needs constant repairs and he has to use a screwdriver in place of a key to start it.

    If, on the other hand, you think that many are homeless or poor because of their attitude and a lack of ambition, well, there’s plenty of evidence of that in the book too. Consider Shepard’s partner at work: it’s obvious he came from a rough background yet through hard work, determination and frugality he is able to raise above his circumstances and purchase a house of his own. The author points out several people he meets who don’t have that ambition and are destined to always be just scraping by.

    And finally, for those who think that the author wrote this book as a way to excuse and do nothing about the poverty problem in this country, please pay special attention to the final chapter, where he lays out several policy suggestions that he thinks should be implemented to help reduce poverty and help those who are willing to help themselves.

    Thanks for allowing me to rant.

  46. Rick says:

    Yes, Adam has some advantages that have been listed.

    But I think the biggest advantage is that he believed that he could make changes, that he could do stuff and succeed.

    I recently read “Mindset,” a book by Carol Dweck, a psychologist, who describes the differences between those of us with “fixed” mindsets (ie, things are just the way they are, you can’t change things) and “growth” mindsets (ie, you can grow and change, you can change your situation). Those with fixed mindsets put more energy into looking good and avoiding embarassment, rather than trying to change things — because they don’t think they can change things!

    Adam’s greatest advantage is that he thinks he can change things, so he tries…

  47. Mike says:

    Thanks for the post. What a great review.

    I read “Nickled and Dimed,” and am half-way through Shepard’s book. He is a great writer and gifted story teller, but he is starting with the deck stacked in his favor. As mentioned in a previous comment, he does not have the psychological disadvantages of the true poor. At the age of 24, his trip to the gutter was more of an adventure. He was a tourist.

    I was homeless for 3 years, as a result of circumstances and terrible decisions, with greater weight needing to be placed on the latter. I have worked for day labor agencies and I have given plasma. I have met the people Shepard writes about, perhaps not them, but their Deep South counterparts. I appreciate that he does not write condescendingly about these people, because theirs is no life to envy.

    For those who believe his race, sex and education were the factors that set him above the heap, forget about it, it was his mindset. He knew it was not real, there is just nothing that compares to the crushing realization that there is no one to help and there is no where to go. The psychological factor, the upbringing, the simple knowledge that there are people who live differently than they do on the street is a factor that cannot be accounted for, it is worth too much.

    I hope that people do not read his book and believe the poor need only pull themselves up by their bootstraps, or the idea that “can do” thinking is the missing ingredient. The poor in the US face an uphill battle that no travelogue written by a tourist can hope to address. I was a resident and I went to work in one of the poorest communities in the Deep South, but I still don’t know how to fix it.

  48. Brandon says:

    One theory about why women make less… They are less willing to negotiate salaries than most men.

  49. Lenore says:

    DB, female teachers need not be paid less than male teachers to prove that women make less than men. When teaching was a male-dominated profession (till the Victorian age), teachers’ salaries were comparative to other men’s jobs. As women filled the niche, school salaries declined, except in the administrative positions retained by men. Males who enter female-dominated fields like teaching, nursing, comsmetology and libraries have traditionally earned less than they could expect to make in other jobs.

    And the claim that women make less because they work fewer hours is wrong. Those “women make ?? cents on the dollar compared to men” figures are calculated on an hour-for-hour basis. I know it’s unpleasant to think that half the world’s population is compensated less for equal work, but that’s the way it is.

    What’s your take on that, Trent, beyond trying to make your wife’s education salary stretch as far as possible while pursuing your writing dreams? I don’t fault you for doing it because I think you have a bright future and contribute to your household myriad ways. But how do you feel about the fact that the economic playing field is stacked? Do you see that there are some factors beyond a person’s control when it comes to earning a living?

  50. Geoff K says:

    There’s been many great comments here, but thanks to Paul (who’s read the book) for explaining that the book is perhaps more balanced and sympathetic to poor people (as well as promoting a positive attitude to improving your lot) than many people gathered from reading Trent’s review.

  51. Sunshine says:

    Great review. I think I’m going to read if if only for the motivation to get back to some of my frugality. I mean, this guy could save 5K on what he made. How come I “can’t” save that much and I make over 60K – oh, but I just got a new Kitchenaid mixer with the ice cream attachment that is so cool…

  52. Battra92 says:

    All I can say is I’m very glad to be a straight educated white Christian male. We’re the only group you can insult, stereotype, put down, discredit or slander and still get away with it.

    Oh well, since you think we have all the money

  53. Battra92 says:

    All I can say is I’m very glad to be a straight educated white Christian male. We’re the only group you can insult, stereotype, put down, discredit or slander and still get away with it.

    Oh well, since you think we have all the money I guess I shouldn’t complain.

  54. Craig says:

    @imelda “He also presumably had a good enough primary and secondary education to learn to become the excellent writer Trent says he is.”

    You should read “Child of the Dark.” It is a collection of journal entries from a woman who lived in Brazil. A journalist came to visit the slums and interviewed her in her shack. During the interview he found all these papers and asked her what they were. She said they were her journals and when he asked to have them she gave them to him. He later published them and gave her the royalties.

    My point is mainly that he stated the journal entries were VERY well written and he had to do very little editing. This from a woman who grew up poor and was poor all her life until her book deal.

    You could also see the Autobiography of Frederick Douglas. A slave who taught himself to read and write and later wrote a book about his life and the underground railroad.

    You do not need to go to school to be well written or read. Libraries are an amazing resource for this and as Shepherd states, he often saw homeless people using their library.

  55. Fuji says:

    Don’t forget Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers.
    Any self made person is far from self made – add up hard work and a WHOLE lot of lucky breaks.

  56. Linda says:

    Many homeless people are either mentally ill or drug/alcohol addicted or both. They have a set of problems that hold them back from getting back into the mainstream. Don’t think the author’s approach would be that easy for them.

  57. Jackie says:

    Anyone who doesn’t think we need gender-based pay equity should Google “Lily Ledbetter” and read about the way she was treated at Goodyear.

    Also, like an above poster mentioned, many of the homeless are mentally ill, women with children escaping abuse, people with substance abuse issues or physically disabled. It seems like Nickle and Dimed was trying to look at something different and more useful– how the “working poor” in our country live, despite being what might seem like a contradiction in terms.

  58. AD says:

    I like this review and the premise of the book. I can see how his college education gave him an advantage. Even though he left it off the resume, he still has the education and the thinking skills. Not to mention that he doesn’t have drug addictions or mental illness. But that aside, I enjoy these social experiments that give you a look at an issue like this.

    A great documentary you might check out is God Grew Tired of Us, about the Sudanese “Lost Boys.” It follows a group of them who are lucky enough to be chosen to relocate to America. They basically get a small apartment and some food, as well as help with a social security number, which they need in order to work. They have one month to find work. Very inspirational.

    @Trent: “I often hear stories about how Americans simply won’t do certain jobs and thus immigrants tend to take them.”

    That’s one of those statements of which I’m quite suspicious…and think we’re being sold a bill of goods. My dad is in construction in a border state, and the number of illegal immigrants who are willing to work for lower wages has pushed out the Americans who used to do those very same jobs, before they simply couldn’t afford to do them anymore since illegals were willing to do them for so much less.

    I don’t see why there is so much talk about changes to the system when our current laws aren’t being enforced. There are work visas and other ways to come to this country and make money legally. Many illegals don’t want to become legal citizens. My dad has worked with countless numbers of them over the years. They get free medical care for their kids, make money, and have no incentive to become legal. A friend of my father’s did become a citizen, and he keeps a second job just to have insurance for his family. It bothers him that so many other illegal immigrants that he knows have no desire to become legal citizens, instead choosing to live off of his tax dollars.

  59. Jon says:

    “And the claim that women make less because they work fewer hours is wrong. Those “women make ?? cents on the dollar compared to men” figures are calculated on an hour-for-hour basis. I know it’s unpleasant to think that half the world’s population is compensated less for equal work, but that’s the way it is.”

    Lenore, you are wrong. If you read the fine print in those studies you see that they are including things like overtime (1.5x or 2x pay) in their calculations, and they are generally not comparing pay within a single job but across all jobs.

    It is true that women earn less than men, but not for equal work. Think about it… if you really believe women are providing equal work but costing 30% less to employers, businesses would immediately fire all of their male employees and hire women. (Except maybe the executive who make the decision.) This isn’t happening, so you should at least be suspicious.

    The wikipedia article on gender income disparity raises an interesting point about what you mentioned, that as a job becomes “women’s work” it tends to go down in compensation. It could simply be a consequence of the fact that jobs dominated by women have a very wide pool of applicants so the labor supply is driving down wages. It’s something to think about.

  60. Michael says:

    In any culture, certain kinds of people will find success more easily. That can be changed only to allow different kinds of people more success than they deserve, and usually lots of murder is required to do that, so I’m against it.

  61. littlepitcher says:

    I lived in a pickup truck for two years after a health-related foreclosure. 1-Many places have no homeless shelters for women. 2-If you get caught parking some place you shouldn’t, you will get arrested. BTDT. There go most of your future opportunities, if they charge you with criminal trespassing. 3-Men will steal from, or rape women, which makes even parking at a shelter difficult.

    Women can find house-cleaning and yard-cleaning jobs, often without going to thieving day-labor agencies. Even so, you will have to compete with illegals. And do remember, most women who are homeless have children with them in the same circumstance. I was darned lucky in that regard.

    After several months on one job, I had 2400 saved,and purchased a travel trailer but left town when that job ended. Two more stretches of unemployment ate that savings.

    It is possible to bootstrap but low-wage employers often plan turnover to keep from raising wages or providing benefits. Pink-collar employers have turned the majority of their jobs part-time, not to make their jobs mommy-shift friendly, but to eliminate any benefits whatever, while giving white males supervisory work with full time hours and benefits. Hard to bootstrap on part-time layered jobs, travel time, and travel expenses.

  62. Jen says:

    The privilege displayed here by some people is obnoxious. Look, if you believe it or not, Adam has privileges that others do not- and being a white male is one of them. Please, for the love of research, please spend some time today looking at blogs written by People of Color and see what some of the racism- subtle and obvious, personal and institutional- is. Resolve that you are not going to assume everyone can pull themselves up by their bookstraps- because not everyone can. Poverty is cyclical, and some people can succeed despite it- but they are the outliers. Had Adam been raised by poor parents, and moved around several times a year and switched school districts all the time, and been kicked out of school because he ditched too many times because he had to work full-time to support his family- then maybe he would start to scratch the surface of poverty in America.

  63. Shani says:

    This sounds like a good read, and I bet it would give me food for thought, so I might read it one day. It reminds me of reading articles by a Montreal news-reporter who went on welfare [equivalent $] for a month in the early Eighties… a great illustration of the reality faced by the poor.

    But I agree with others’ comments that no one should take it as this can be done by anyone who’s poor… in addition to the points above, the author also had an end point to focus on, and that he stepped into it out of choice, and really could step out anytime, if he choose to. He also had the HUGE advantage of a purpose to focus on, alternatives, a reason to be hopeful, and a history of success. The ‘pull-your-bootstrap-uppers’ seem to be blind to these significant kind of factors.

  64. SS says:

    I think this is a great experiment for someone who is not poor to try to walk in someones shoes who is poor and trying to survive. It is not easy.
    There is suffering involved. I am sure it taught hhim some lessons as he mentioned. I think women
    have proved over and over again that this can be done. This happens to women every day. Try walking in a womans shoes. Really put those suckers on. Anyway, I know woman can do anything a man can do if not better.

  65. heather says:

    30 Days on FX showed a couple living on minimum wage for one month. While they tried living frugally (albeit starting in an apt) they rapidly went negative with health care (e.g. an on the job injury).

  66. Scotty says:

    Regarding ‘being able to make it on $25’, I think it’s about 80% personal decisions, 20% environment. I think your environment and surroundings to play a factor, albeit small compared to your own actions and decisions. I know a lot a people have been put into poverty and working-poor situations due to factors beyond their control, but it’s my personal belief that it’s largely in one’s own hands to change the situation. I also think that people in these situations have often done things or made decisions that make their own situation worse. I dunno, that’s just my opinion based on what I’ve seen, take it for what it’s worth.

  67. luvleftovers says:

    I wonder how he would have fared had he tried this in New York in January?

  68. Jim says:

    I haven’t read it but it sounds like an interesting book. Any story of someone pulling themselves out of poverty could be a good example or inspiration. Still as a young, educated, healthy, white male he certainly wasn’t at any disadvantage. I hope that people don’t read this kind of book and then believe it is an explanation for why poverty happens or example of why it shouldn’t. When it comes down to it, this is just one guys story.


  69. imelda says:

    Wow, Daniel, really? You once heard of a woman who wrote well without having an education?

    I must be totally off-base!

    OK, . Of course there are exceptions. It doesn’t change the fact that this guy had an excellent college—he went to Merrimack College, btw, where he would have received a good (and expensive) post-secondary education. This gave him a huge leg up in his experience.

    I hope you don’t disregard what a benefit education is for those who are lucky enough to receive it. I happen to work for a nonprofit that works to improve education in Latin America, so I may be a bit biased. But I also have seen firsthand the utter transformation that comes about when people receive a decent education. All of a sudden they have motivation, they have problem-solving skills, they are able to identify opportunities, and therefore seize them. They don’t feel inferior anymore, they don’t feel excluded or hopeless. And all of this, funny enough, is on TOP of the reading skills they’ve gained, the math skills, the general knowledge (the kinds of things you’ll find on IQ tests, for example) that helps them get by in society.

    Sorry, here comes a little more preaching: people in America are shockingly unaware about the realities of class differences. They don’t seem to understand that the way you talk, the way you look, the way you THINK perhaps most of all, the family structure you had as a child, the resources you’re given—-all of these are functions of class. Why do we love Horatio Alger stories so much? Stories similar to the one you told me about the Brazilian woman who was an excellent writer? Because they’re gigantic, unusual exceptions, Daniel. Because those people managed to overcome incredible obstacles that would have floored most of us if we’d had to face them.

    So, yeah. It strikes me that this guy had it pretty easy compared to the homeless men he was surrounded by. And to his credit, he realizes that and acknowledges that (see his interview with JD). But as Johanna says in comment #5, I hate to see people taking books like this one and using them to dismiss social inequality.

  70. DB Cooper says:

    @ Sharon wrote “The idea that women “choose” to take time off to have and raise children and therefore deserve less money is seductive and counterproductive to us as a society. Generally this “choice” happens because of a lack of support from everyone from the father to the employer to society in general.

    I personally know high-level professional women who, because of this lack of support, “chose” to not have children. We need more children being raised by higher-income people, and failing to provide the logistical support for women to be the best they can for themselves and their children by productive, rewarding employment doesn’t help anyone. And there are many women who are better mothers for having a rewarding job.”

    Regardless all that – this I know (and it may be a difficult pill to swallow, but it’s true and I’ve seen it every year I’ve been a teacher): A female teacher chooses to have a baby (at least I believe she’s chosen to do so) and she is out of the classroom for 6-8 weeks. A long-term sub comes in to take her position. Her students suffer. Her co-workers suffer. Certainly her sub could be a fine teacher – but if she (the full-time teacher) is truly outstanding (as she hopefully is) she cannot simply be replaced by a sub without any consequences to her students or co-workers. How can this not be a consideration when hiring? I’m sorry, but there is no getting around that for each of her 2-3-4 deliveries, students will suffer in the process. Harsh, but true.

  71. DB Cooper says:

    And Sharon – to address your question about principals, in my school 3 of the 4 principals are female, and in our district (one very large high school , one very large middle school , and six elementary schools, the majority (by far) of principals are female. Your results may vary…

  72. George says:

    Funny, but no one has mentioned how many people THROW AWAY their opportunities… educated, white, young, healthy males who descend into poverty and never arise. My brother-in-law qualifies in that regard. Now he’s a middle-aged man shoveling snow from sidewalks for his primary income.

  73. Fred says:

    Adam was not POOR, he was BROKE!

    A very courageous enterprise, not unlike a rite of passage – My admiration goes to you Adam!

    (I’ll get a copy of the book at once!)

  74. Sharon says:

    So, DB, women should cease reproducing because it inconveniences their employers,justifying cutting their pay. Let’s say they do that; no women have any more children so they don’t end up in poverty.

    Now, let’s look down the road. Just exactly WHO is going to take care of you when you get old, or sick, or injured in 30 years? Who is going to be paying into Social Security so you can collect it? Who is going to shovel your snow and mow your lawn when you are too old or ill to do it? Who is going to run the government when everyone is over 70? Who is going to run the groceries and warehouses and buses and trains and planes and everything else that requires youth, strength, clear thinking, etc.? Who is going to build the homes and buildings and assisted living homes we’ll need? Who is going to staff these?

    As long as society punishes behaviors that are essential to the society’s overall health over the generations, that society will have the better-educated people having no or few children, and the less-educated having more. This is not a desirable situation and will lead to that society spiraling down.

  75. justin says:

    I think everyone needs to quit complaining about how the odds aren’t stacked in their favor, and be thankful that we live in America… where anything is possible. Most countries don’t have our freedom and opportunities. And America is the greatest country in the world.

  76. Lynn says:

    And also “attractive” (if that is him on the cover) which is a factor for success in our culture as well.

    I’m not discounting his can-do attitude, which,IMHO, makes a huge difference, but it is important to see the advantages/disadvantages he has as well as our own lenses/bias we operate out of.

  77. Doug says:

    And from these comments, I hereby conclude that Henry Ford was right when he said “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

  78. liloldme says:

    @kristine #27: The original version of “Common People” (by the band Pulp) is way better than the William Shatner cover. You should check it out.

  79. reulte says:

    Really good post of Trent’s and really excellent dialog from everyone else!

    I agree with about … half of you :-)

  80. SwingCheese says:

    The song “Common People” was originally written and performed by Pulp, and I have always enjoyed that group’s (and in particular, their lead singer’s) take on class-consciousness. They are a British group, and it has been my experience that the British in general are more “class aware” than Americans.

    As a teacher, I agree with DB – I am paid according to education level and experience, equal to my male colleagues at the same level of education and experience. There are also a large number of female administrators in my district.

    As a pregnant teacher, I bristle at the fact that my career should take a backseat to my family. That is not how my priorities work. However, I also accept that this means I will never be putting in time to climb the corporate (or administrative, in my case) ladder. This is a choice I have made, and over the years, I will be compensated accordingly. I don’t believe that this is because I am a woman – I beleive that it is a direct result of my choices, which are a reflection of what I have placed importance on. I’m ok with this. I don’t feel that this is gender-based discrimination.

    However, there is something that I have always wondered about, re: insurance. As my husband is a student, I currently carry him, and will carry our child, on my insurance. I pay out the nose for our insurance coverage each month! My district will cover the full-time employee entirely, but the cost for spouse and family coverage is through the roof. I have wondered if this is a reflection of the expectation that most children will be covered by the father’s insurance, and thus, the district has no real incentive to negotiate for a better deal with the insurance company (which has offered substantially better coverage rates to those in other areas of employment).

  81. Todd says:

    Not just male and white, but with fratboy good looks and an attitude to match. I saw this kid on the Today show and he kept flipping his hair and copping an arrogant attitude about the poor. I couldn’t stand him. Then I found out my college paid him thousands of dollars for a personal appearance, with my tuition money. Apparently he’s marketing himself all over the country.

    Let’s face it, slumming is not poverty and it’s not really even frugality. It’s self-promotion. I don’t thiink it has any place alongside the posts on frugality on this website.

  82. joei says:

    Trent, thanks for this review. I’ve been reading your blog since March 2007 and it helped me a lot in meeting my financial goals not just last 2007 but more so in 2008. You’re blog has been a source of inspiration and a motivator for me to stick with my financial plans and frugal lifestyle. And now my aim is to also spread the good word of frugal living and financial security. I emailed this blog to my colleagues here in the Philippines, in the hope that we all stay positive in this challenging time that is affecting everyone globally. Thanks again and I pray you continue to write such good materials. Kudos to you and Adam for such an inspiring article and book. Ü

  83. PChan says:

    Another advantage he has–he is childfree.

    And I’ll echo what some other commenters here said–being female, you can’t just sleep in the rough (rape is a real threat, and if it happens to you, you’re asking for it), women have a better chance of having kids with them, and we do not get paid as well as men. Sure, one or two women may get manual labor jobs, but most don’t (and it’s not because we’re lazy).

    As far as us making the “choice” to have kids and stay home, men are not told that they are horrible people and bad parents for working outside the home. EVERY mother I knew of got pilloried by the peanut gallery when they went back to work. Men are never told they can’t have it all, but we hear that litany every day (as well as complaints that it sure would be nice to come home to a clean house and a hot dinner), but if you then stay at home and your husband ditches you or loses his job and you have to go back to work, it’s your fault that you’re not doing well.

    @Todd–ITA. One thing you can say for Erenrich in Nickled and Dimed–she didn’t pretend that she didn’t have advantages and biases. This guy is just being an arrogant jerk. Given the trashing that some folks here are giving women, minorities, and the poor (and their simultaneous whining that people pointing out the privilege of white men is somehow *worse*), I’m disgusted.

  84. Beth says:

    Thank you justin! If people spent half of the time and energy pointing out their disadvantages and researching the articles that prove their theories right, a lot more would be done in this country! I am a woman, and I agree fully with what swingcheese had mentioned. I don’t feel it is gender-based discrimination that most women face when it comes to salaries. I believe some of the difference comes with the choices we make as mothers or fathers that stay at home with their children, or leave the workplace on time never taking overtime, or not accepting the traveling jobs because there is a family at home to take care of. I don’t believe missing 3 months of work on maternity leave even for 4 or 5 children necessarily will decrease your pay, it’s the choices we make over the long run that we choose that might level off our earning potential. Heck during this economy, shouldn’t we just be happy we have a job, and quit worrying what joe makes the next cubicle over!! Aren’t we told, it’s never about how much you make, it’s about HOW MUCH WE SAVE!!!!!!!!

  85. sophia says:

    We all know people who are not white, not male, grew up poor, etc. who “made it”. But these examples do not disprove the very real benefits of being a white male. Unfortunately, real “scratch beginnings” success stories are more often the exception, not the rule. Just the fact that this young man was well spoken and educated puts him leaps and bounds ahead of so many others.

    Remember that Will Smith movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness?” Everyone was saying “see, this PROVES anyone can make it if you try hard enough!”. I had a different view of the movie- at every turn, he could have been made or broken by things out of his control. What if the charity hadn’t been there to give him food and shelter? What if the hiring manager had discriminated against him for being black? What if his child or himself had gotten injured or sick? Stories of people dragging themselves up “by the bootstraps” are usually a result of lots of their hard work and determination *intersecting* with a lucky opportunity, a kind person, or circumstances simply being kind and allowing them to be healthy in body and mind while they go through their troubles.

    It’s not as black and white as “anyone can make it!” or “no one in that situation can make it!”. It’s an in between of honestly acknowledging the unique setbacks certain people may have depending on their circumstances, and then adjusting accordingly. At times, the die hard belief in the ability of the American poor to do “anything they try hard enough to do” is more cruel than optimistic.

  86. Johanna says:

    Very well said, sophia. I agree completely.

  87. Marcia says:

    Jon said: “It is true that women earn less than men, but not for equal work. Think about it… if you really believe women are providing equal work but costing 30% less to employers, businesses would immediately fire all of their male employees and hire women. (Except maybe the executive who make the decision.) This isn’t happening, so you should at least be suspicious.”

    Well, I’m an engineer in the semiconductor industry. And I’m seeing a little bit of this. At my last company, 80% of the new hires were women, with lower salaries, less vacation time, than the rest. While a certain percentage of that is related to not negotiating well, not all of it is.

    Certtainly, the %, when you add up working hours and experience, is closer than 70% on the dollar. I would say that it’s 90-95% in my industry. And until recently, I was better paid than most of my male coworkers (I got more accomplished). That has changed because I had a child and elected to work part time. (my choice)

    There have been, however, very interesting studies done (on female science professors at MIT, for example) on discrimination. One study I read found that the women professors got less money, smaller lab space, fewer leadership opportunities, than their male counterparts. And these women, by and large, don’t have children (30%?) – by the time they get tenure, they are often past those years. One of my coworkers noted that “obviously, they aren’t as good as the men”. Well, duh, this is MIT! They have to be the best to be there, that’s the point.

    The most interesting part of the whole thing was that the vast majority of women in the study didn’t think there was ANY discrimination…at first. Once they had been in their jobs for 10, 15, 20 years, THAT’S when the discrimination actually starts. For years, they interviewed the young, new professors (who didn’t see any problems), and the older professors (who did). Absolutely fascinating. As I’m approaching 40, it will be interesting to see if I experience something similar in the next 10 years or so.

  88. Snowballer says:

    Seriously… I’m in my twenties, white and male.

    I admit being younger has advantages, but all it ultimately means is I have a lot of student debt, few material possessions compared to many, and professional skills which aren’t very marketable and only fetch low pay.

    Now I’m not complaining, that’s how it should work, you work longer, you get better, you make more. I’m just saying that it’s not always better to be a younger person.

    I have never enjoyed any privilege from being white or male. Being white and male has gotten me into the following situations:

    – Condescending treatment and social exclusion from female coworkers because “I wouldn’t understand.” because “Men are idiots.”

    – Having been turned down for a job at least twice for being white and male when I really needed a job, any job.

    – Being assumed to be a pedophile.

    – Being assumed to be a bigot.

    – Having lost out on scholarships, grants and other student financial aid as being white and/or male means I can’t even apply.

    – I have been blamed for slavery, disparity of income, and a thousand other (mostly perceived) evils because I’m a white male.

    Despite this, I don’t hang myself on a cross and lament my gender and ethnicity because even though the world is full of small minded people who think being a white male is some kind of advantage when it is not, they do not control my life, I do. There will always be people who discriminate against you no matter what gender and color you are, ignore them and any such talk of “X group is so disadvantaged” lest you start to believe it.

  89. Jonathan says:

    I just read Scratch Beginnings. It had been on my list for quite some time and I finally got to it. I thought it would make a great book for Trent to review, especially since he has written a few “hard work” posts recently, so I decided to search to see if he had reviewed it.

    I was surprised by the negativity in the comments, although I should know to expect that by now. I was also surprised at how many people were judging the author or discounting his experiment without ever having read the book.

    As others have said, the biggest advantage that Adam had was his mindset. He knew he could succeed, and he did. If you believe that the deck is stacked against you and you have no chance of success then you’re almost guaranteed to fail. I’m surprised at how many commenters seem to think that mindset is ok.

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