When Poor People Save


Adam Shepard read Nickel and Dimed and got ticked off at Barbara Ehrenreich's suggestion that the American Dream was dead. So he decided to try an experiment/publicity stunt. He'd write his own book about another way of being poor: starting with nothing and winding up with savings in the bank and prospects for the future. The prose isn't terribly impressive (a fact the author cops to in the intro). But the story is pretty compelling, and rather relevant in these days of declining markets and rapidly increasing savings rates.

I am going to start – almost literally from scratch—with one 8′ x 10′ tarp, a sleeping bag, an empty gym bag, $25, and the clothes on my back. Via train, I will be dropped at a random place somewhere in the southeastern United States that is not in my home state of North Carolina. I have 365 days to become free of the realities of homelessness and become a "regular" member of society. After one year, for my project to be considered successful, I have to possess an operable automobile, live in a furnished apartment (alone or with a roommate), have $2500 in cash, and, most importantly, I have to be in a position in which I can continue to improve my circumstances by either going to school or starting my own business.

He skipped out after 10 months because of an illness in his family, but by then he had a job, an apartment, a pickup truck, and $5,000 in the bank.

I missed the resulting book, Scratch Beginnings, when it came out a while back, but noticed a mention in an interesting BoingBoing post about life as a Wal-Mart employee recently.