Scratch Beginnings: An interview with Adam Shepard

I just finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America for the third time. In this book, the author chronicles three one-month stints working as one of the American poor. Her goal is to demonstrate that it's difficult to succeed as a waitress, or a maid, or a Wal-Mart employee.

This is a book that I wanted to like — I sympathize with the author's motives — but what could have been an interesting project (and an interesting book) is instead a bizarre Marxist screed about class warfare. Ehrenreich enters her experiment with the end in mind — failure — and she seems to do everything she can to make this end come to fruition.

Nickel and Dimed could have been so much more. I wanted to hear about the people Ehrenreich worked with, wanted to hear their backgrounds and stories and dreams, but very little of that comes through in the book. Instead, we learn about all the little ways in which Ehrenreich sabotages any chance at success.

Scratch Beginnings

Though Nickel and Dimed has its fans, I'm not the only one who thinks Ehrenreich's approach was flawed. A young man named Adam Shepard recently published a book called Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream that chronicles his own time spent living and working the low-wage lifestyle.

Shepard — who is the first to admit that he has advantages that many of the working poor do not — started from scratch in Charleston, South Carolina, with $25 and the clothes on his back. He lived in a homeless shelter while looking for work. His goal was to start with nothing and, within a year, work hard enough to save $2500, buy a car, and to live in a furnished apartment.

It wasn't easy, but Shepard succeeded. In ten months, he had his car, he had his furnished apartment, and he hadn't just saved $2500 — he'd saved twice that. Was he lucky? Did he get good breaks because he's a young white male? Probably. But I think much of his success also came from setting goals and working toward them.

In this two-minute video, Shepard describes his aims:

Last Friday, two Get Rich Slowly readers sent me a Christian Science Monitor story about Adam Shepard. Intrigued, I contacted him, and he agreed to be interviewed by e-mail.

An Interview With Adam Shepard

J.D.
Tell us about your day-to-day life. How did you live? How did you pay for what you had? What financial sacrifices were you forced to make?

Adam
That was the greatest challenge for me. I was getting paid peanuts, but I want to keep as many of those peanuts in my pocket as possible. In the [homeless shelter], it was easy, because I didn't have rent or a hefty food bill (breakfast and dinner were provided at the shelter). Once I moved out of the shelter, though, was when I really had to buckle down.

Sacrifice was the name of the game — delaying gratification — and I recognized that early on. I had immediately eliminated wants versus needs. Immediately.

  • Cable? That's $50 a month and it's not that difficult to find some good shows on network television.
  • Cell phone? $100 a month back in my pocket. If I had a business to run, I would need one, but as a mere laborer, it was easy to go without.
  • Clothes were bought at the Goodwill, and all of my household products were generic brands.

Food was my kryptonite, and I had to pay special attention there. I used to love going out to eat, and when I eat, I eat like a horse. Couldn't do it, though. Chicken and Rice-A-Roni dinners were substituted for trips out to simple bars and grills ($20 a pop at a minimum). To be honest with you, though, it was more fun to concoct various meals than it was to go out. I bought a book on cheap, easy meals from the Thrift Store and it was like a Bible of sorts for me while I was in Charleston.

It was also fun for me to seek out free entertainment (Charleston had a great weekly city guide). Once I met a few people, that became easier. Cards, basketball, renting movies. How can I have fun and still keep this money in my pocket?

Transportation was also an issue for me. I rode the bus for four months until I felt I was in a position financially to buy my own ride. I had my eyes on a 2006 Caddy, but I settled for an '88 GMC Sierra pickup truck ($1000 cash, no car payments) with a torn interior, no radio, and no AC (brutal in the southeastern summer!). The driver's side window didn't roll up all the way and the passenger side window didn't roll down. In every sense of the metaphor, it was the opposite of a chick magnet. But it got me from point A to point B, and that's all I needed.

Even now, though, in my current life where I have a little bit more financial freedom, I'm still always looking to save money. Why do I need to go to the “real movie theatre” when I can go to the “dolla-fitty” and watch movies that might be a month or two old? Why Eddie Bauer, when Marshall's essentially has the same clothes? Why Dr. Pepper when there's Dr. Thunder? And on and on. Even with money to spare, I'm looking for ways to put that money to work for me rather than spending it on items that I don't truly need for right now.

I know that one day I'll be financially free enough to own the car I want, the house I want, the clothes I want. That day is not today, but the idea of delaying gratification keeps me going.

J.D.
Is it really that easy? You were able to do this because you had a goal. What was the situation like for those people you worked and lived with? Did they have goals? Did they save?

Adam
Of course it's easy for me to say it was easy. I had a goal. I was out to prove a point. I had the mentality and I knew what I had to do to get the results I wanted.

But what surprised me most, and what makes my story so fascinating, is that so many people around me were doing the same thing. It was most prevalent in the shelter (where some people had spent a lifetime learning from their mistakes), but it was just as prevalent outside of the shelter with guys like Derrick Hale, who emerges as the hero of my experience in Charleston.

Derrick was a guy I was working with at the moving company. He had come from rural Kingstree, SC, and he truly knew what poverty was like having grown up in a world of bologna and pickle sandwiches and maybe the lights will turn on, maybe not. And there he was in Charleston, saving his money just like I was. Actually, that's cocky of me to say, since I was learning so many lessons from him.

Derrick was unique in that not only did he have a goal, but he had a vision for achieving that goal. There's a monumental difference, and I really learned that throughout the course of my time in Charleston. Everybody knows what they want (nice house, car, vacation money, etc.) and many people know what can get in the way of achieving those goals (see poor spending habits above). But! Some people really struggle with the discipline of their vision. Derrick wanted a house, and near the end of my time in Charleston, he moved into a brand new 3-bedroom, two-story house, with a patio and a fenced in yard for his daughter and dog to play. He was 25 and he worked as a mover, but he knew how to handle his money.

So, is it realistic to set goals and save your money and make worthy investments? Of course it is! Are people doing it? Of course they are, just as there are people that are squandering their money to bad habits.

J.D.
In other interviews, you say that you weren't “particularly impressed” by Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, and that your project is a response to that book. Can you elaborate? What were you responding to?

Adam
Well, first of all, I'll say that Ehrenreich is a very talented journalist. From the point of view that she writes well, Ehrenreich is okay with me.

But the thing about Nickel and Dimed that is so depressing is Ehrenreich's attitude. Forget politics and economics for a moment. She had an agenda, and she wrote along those lines. She had a point to prove and she proved it. (Of course, the same can be said for my side of the story, although I'd like to think I went down to Charleston with a little bit more of an open mind.)

She wrote about how tough and depressing poverty is. Really? Tough and depressing? Of course it is! I wanted to believe that there were people living in these tumultuous circumstances who weren't living the life of cyclical misery that Ehrenreich was writing about. So I sought a discovery of my own with this project.

The economics side of Ehrenreich's story didn't make sense to me from the beginning and she never proved her point. To me, anyway. She lived in a hotel, ate out, didn't look for ways to really save money.

In the end, I discovered that both Ehrenreich and I have valid points. But there is a stark difference in her attitude. She postured to fail, and she did. I postured to succeed, and I did.

J.D.
Like Ehrenreich, you had a difficult time finding a job. Describe this experience. What made it difficult? How did you finally find work? What advice do you have for somebody who might be looking for work, but struggling to find it?

Adam
That was the biggest surprise of my journey. There I was, “Adam Shepard, the King of the American Dream,” out to live this incredible project, and after two weeks I didn't have a job.

I was complaining about my woes in the workforce one night with a couple of the guys at the shelter. One of them, Phil Coleman, and I had a pretty colorful exchange where he essentially told me that I needed to be a whole heckuva lot more assertive. “You think managers are going to call here, eager to hire a homeless dude?”

So, he gave me the secret. To paraphrase, he told me to go to these managers and tell them who you are, that you are the greatest worker on the planet and that it would be a mistake not to hire you. If they take you on, great. If not, move on down the line. By day's end, you're gonna have a job.

So I did. The next day, I went to see Curtis at Fast Company, a moving company where I'd already applied. “Curt!” I said. “I'm Adam Shepard, and I'm the greatest mover on the planet. It would be a mistake for you not to hire me.” He looked at me across the table and smiled, knowing I was lying like hell to him. But he liked my attitude — especially after I offered to work a day for free — so he hired me on the spot.

Again, it's interesting that I needed a boost from a comrade at the homeless shelter. I would have gotten a job eventually, but Phil Coleman gave me a hand up.

Everybody has their own unique situation in the workforce (skills, education…or not), but all I can say is that one day I'm going to woo a manager at a Fortune 500 company just like I did to Curtis at the moving company. Phil Coleman's advice carries over to every walk of life.

J.D.
What advice can you offer others for whom low-wage jobs are a reality of life, who don't have the luxury of returning to a middle-class lifestyle once the experiment is over?

Adam
Quite frankly, it is a marathon and not a sprint. That's why I love the concept of this blog. Get Rich Slowly. Everyone has their own unique circumstances. Maybe you are young and healthy like me and you can fight out quick. Maybe you are a single mother of two and you need more time. Maybe you are an older gentleman and you're confined to a wheelchair. Everybody faces adversity, and everybody has their own story to write in the end.

It's important to question: Am I making the most of my situation? Am I on track? Am I prepared to be disciplined for 2, 3, 5, 10 years? This isn't to say that we need to be robots — there's a lot to be said about how happy we were down in Charleston as penny-pinchers — but we need to maintain that focus. And also, are we imparting our knowledge — and mistakes — on others…our friends, our family, our children? That's how we really begin to break the cycle of the persistence of the same lifestyle.

And whatever you do, don't lose sight of that prize that you're shooting for.

J.D.
Poverty is a political football. What do you think can be done to help the working poor improve their situation.

Adam
There's a lot to be said about the current welfare state. Is the government doing enough to help our working poor? I say there are many good programs. The programs I used really helped me get back on my feet. Can there be more? Sure — more educational programs on financial literacy and parenting, for example. More affordable housing and fair access to a college education for everyone would be great.

It's not enough, though. It never has been, never will be. What can we do in the meantime, though?

The power has to be with the people. The government can't help us if we aren't helping ourselves. Cliché? Fair enough, but why are some people listening and others aren't? I don't really know the answer to that question.

But I do know that it is ever-so-important that we draw inspiration from others, those that are making it. Millions have lived the American Dream — from every culture, gender, size, etc. — just as millions have wasted the opportunities placed in front of them. My story is pretty cool, yeah, but I was fortunate to draw inspiration from the guys I met along the way: Phil Coleman, BG, Omar Walten, Derrick Hale. If my neighbor makes it out, then maybe I can make it out too! Especially if that neighbor goes back after he's made it to spit out a few words of advice, to offer that bit of inspiration.

Our greatest heroes are those around us. I truly believe that, and that is why I want to get this story out as much as possible. If just one person gains inspiration and changes his or her life because of my book, then it's a success. And, based on the emails I've received, it already is.

J.D.
Anything else you'd like the readers of Get Rich Slowly to know?

Adam
Don't buy my book. Check it out from the library, borrow it from a friend, read it over a cup of coffee at Barnes and Noble. But don't buy it.

Save your $13.95 plus shipping. Invest it. Buy a share of stock or a bucket and some water and go wash windows. Although it's inspirational and enlightening (and damn entertaining!), you don't need Scratch Beginnings to know what you have to do to make things happen in your life.

Final Thoughts

I am not some neo-con crusader who believes that the poor deserve what they get. Far from it. I'm a middle-of-the-road kind of guy, who actually leans left on issues of poverty. But I also believe that success starts inside each of us, regardless of our circumstances. Generally, what we choose to do and how we react to our world plays a far greater role in what we're able to accomplish than anything else. I like Shepard's example, and believe it can be an inspiration to others. Meanwhile, Barbara Ehrenreich hates hope. It doesn't surprise me she failed.

After re-reading Nickel and Dimed and interviewing Shepard, I feel more strongly than ever that basic financial literacy is one of the most important skills we can teach people to help them improve their quality of life. Poverty is a complex issue — there are no easy answers. Nations have been wrestling with the problem for centuries. But one small piece of the puzzle is teaching people the basics of personal finance.

Related articles from around the web:

You might also be interested to read a couple of past Get Rich Slowly articles: “Personal finance on film: The Farmer's Wife” and “Breaking the shackles: How to escape from minimum wage”.

I am deeply grateful to Shepard for taking the time to answer my questions. His responses went far beyond what I was expecting. I look forward to reading his book.

More about...Economics, Planning

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Cornelius
Cornelius
12 years ago

I am a firm believer of striving for what you want by going out and getting it.

Annie J
Annie J
12 years ago

How ironic that I’ll be finished reading “Nickle and Dimed” today. I, too, am disappointed in the book. Either she, as you said, set out to sabotage her own success, or else she’s completely out of touch with the survival skills of minimum wage workers.

I’ll look into “Scratch Beginnings”. Sounds like it’s the book I thought “Nickle and Dimed” would be.

Heidi
Heidi
12 years ago

Great interview, JD! I’d love a PDF version of Mr. Shephard’s book, was there an email address to reach him at?

lulugal11
lulugal11
12 years ago

So JD, how do we get in touch with Adam to get the PDF version of the book?

I guess I will have to get the other one too so I can compare them.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Adam’s e-mail address is easily found on his web site — I’ve contacted him to see if he’s willing to make it more public.

Jodie Baxter
Jodie Baxter
2 years ago
Reply to  J.D.

I liked Scratch Beginnings better then Nickel and Dimed. I like how Adam proved that he could make it out of homelessness and save money.Unlike her book were she went from job to job and place to place never proving anything at all to me.

plonkee
plonkee
12 years ago

It sounds like one of the biggest factors in his success was his motivation, and although it doesn’t cost anyone a penny, motivation isn’t freely available – particularly when no one around you is motivated and/or you’ve never known anyone to actually succeed. Can you teach motivation?

Dogatemyfinances
Dogatemyfinances
12 years ago

Wow. He’s much more likable and smart than Ehrenreich, not that it would take much.

I’m, er, impressed that he doesn’t want you to buy his book. He either is a true believer or is just dumb with money.

Good for him!

Stephen Martile
Stephen Martile
12 years ago

JD,

Poverty is not an outside problem – it’s an inside problem. It’s just as you said,

“I also believe that success starts inside each of us, regardless of our circumstances.”

or as Bob Proctor says,

‘It is an absolute law of your being, that you must have something mentally before you will ever have it physically!’

Poverty consciousness attracts more poverty. Prosperity consciousness attracts more prosperity.

Brian Baute
Brian Baute
12 years ago

I teach a freshman seminar class at the university where I work, and the university’s freshman common reading a few years ago was Nickel and Dimed. The students were generally sympathetic to Ehrenreich’s views going in, were still generally sympathetic to her after reading it, and were completely opposed after hearing her speak when she was on campus. You think she’s vitriolic in her writing – you should hear her speak. Here’s a small sample from one of her other speaking engagements.

And that contrast makes me appreciate Adam’s approach even more. Thanks for the interview.

J. G.
J. G.
12 years ago

This is an excellent interview. Mr. Shepard makes some great points — I’ve always been a firm believer in the idea that we shape our world with our attitudes. I do have one issue with this experiment — he may have been living poor, but he didn’t start out that way. Forgetting for a moment the advantages of being an attractive white male, he had the advantages of a middle-class upbringing and a complete education, things which, at the very least, did not prevent him from having a positive outlook in the first place. Having lived in poverty (on my… Read more »

jayne
jayne
12 years ago

Someone who has an education, good health, and an “emergency” credit card is in no way starting “from scratch.” That’s starting from comfort. A man in his situation is willing to take risks the real poor might not because, if he failed, the stakes are a whole lot lower. He walks home, shamed. That’s a bit easier than living in poverty and illness for the rest of one’s life because you took a risks that didn’t pan out. People are going to point to this experiment and say “if he can do it, anyone can!” That’s great motivation for some,… Read more »

Pippin
Pippin
12 years ago

I’ve not read Nickel and Dimed, but suspect I’d agree with many comments made about finding the failure sought. Think it’s interesting though, that having read Orman’s new book (and to contrast, an incredibly frustrating one on poverty in the UK in the 80s- with similar ‘agenda’ to Ehrenreich) this past weekend, that no-one has observed that Shepherd is a man (and pretty, to boot), and that will have had a significant impact on his ‘self-made’ opportunities. To say ‘well, Shepherd could do it, anyone can’ is to ignore that most people never get the self-validation that young men of… Read more »

SC reader
SC reader
12 years ago

Was the shelter in Charleston aware that he was doing book research when he became a resident and took up a bed? I am troubled by the implied ethical issues of this project.

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Folks, just to be clear, I believe there are some real systemic problems that exacerbate poverty. It’s not all internal. That’s a cop-out.

My argument — and I believe Adam’s, too, though I don’t want to put words in his mouth — is that the thing we most have control over is ourselves: our attitudes and the things we do.

Pippin is spot-on writing:

To say “well, Shepherd could do it, anyone can” is to ignore that most people never get the self-validation that young men of his background are privilege to.

I agree with this 100%.

Momma
Momma
12 years ago

What a great interview! I’m definitely adding both books to my reading list. As someone who was a single parent with 3 children working close to minimum wage, I have some real life experiences to relate to both books. Should be some interesting reading.

Flaime
Flaime
12 years ago

Poverty is an interesting dilemma in our society. As Adam pointed out, it’s a political football.

I don’t believe you can eliminate poverty, in the purest sense. There will always be people who can barely support themselves, for one reason or another. But what we can do is ammeliorate the worst effects of poverty – hunger, lack of shelter, lack of medical care, lack of access to education.

grimsaburger
grimsaburger
12 years ago

I don’t think the Ehrenreich-Shepard comparison is either-or. It seems to me they represent two sides of the same coin. Ehrenreich was certainly not alone among her low-wage compatriots in choosing to live in a hotel rather than a homeless shelter. It takes an incredible mental leap to accept temporary housing in a shelter, even if you know in your rational mind you’ll save up more money more quickly to move up to where you want to be. Both of these authors were coming from a privileged position–they both knew the experiment was temporary; however, my experience, and that of… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
12 years ago

I tried reading that book and never finished it, but I did find something very interesting instead. Morgan Spurlock has/had (don’t know if he still does it) a show called 30 Days on FX. He did an episode once where he and his then-fiancee lived in Ohio on minimum wage for 30 days. They really, really struggled, and Spurlock ended up having to work more than one job just so they could eat. I recommend it highly!

R Hookup
R Hookup
12 years ago

I applaud Adam for doing something most people can’t — making lemonade out of lemons, but there is one huge advantage he has that makes it much easier for him: he is a physically fit young man. There are plenty of jobs at the low end of the scale that require physical, relatively untrained work — moving, lawn maintenance, construction, courier, refuse collection, event setup — that not everyone can do. Heck, as an English speaking white male, he could stand outside Home Depot with the day laborers and be the first one hired. The cash economy loves these guys.… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Sarah said: Morgan Spurlock has/had (don’t know if he still does it) a show called 30 Days on FX. He did an episode once where he and his then-fiancee lived in Ohio on minimum wage for 30 days.

That was a great episode, and I think it was a more even-handed approach than Ehrenreich’s.

Flaime
Flaime
12 years ago

I saw a particularly insightful comment in one of the links: This is Sullivan’s Travels. Adam set out to experience something for his own purposed. Only unlike Sullivan (who leanred that what he did had a purpose), Adam didn’t really learn anything because he was contributing nothing from the beginning.

Metaflippant
Metaflippant
12 years ago

I haven’t read Shepard’s book, but I wonder if his successes were partly because he is mentally stable and an American. This fall, I worked with a homeless couple from Haiti. There were some mental illness issues and no one speaks Haitian creole around here. They were completely alienated. Eventually I had to make the difficult decision to stop trying to help them — I’m not a social worker. And the social workers who were working with them couldn’t make progress either. It was a sad look into the American system.

margaret
margaret
12 years ago

I’ve been following a mostly critical discussion of Adam’s book on metafilter, where several people have offered their personal stories of being forced into poverty and surviving, and it is interesting to me that none of those people take the situation, or their advantages, as lightly as I feel Adam does. While I recognize that few people in his situation would even try to willingly take on poverty the way he did, it is no small thing that he is a strapping, young, healthy, handsome, well-educated, well-spoken, energetic and likeable white man. I am glad that Adam says people do… Read more »

Jacob
Jacob
12 years ago

Nickel and Dimed was req’d reading for Freshman at the University I attended. I went to a journalism school. Very few people liked this book. As JD said, Barbara had the end goal of failure already in mind when she started this book and set out to ‘prove’ her theory, which is of course HORRIBLY unscientific. My father grew up very poor and without parents. He worked his way through life and through school and has always required that I work my way through school too. Personal responsibility, goals, and a refusal to ever entertain self-pity, go a long, long… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
12 years ago

I read Nickle and Dimed in college and from my point of view – someone who worked their way through college – she showed that it was impossible to live a middle class lifestyle on minimum wage. The main thing I noticed was that she never had roommates. I’m not sure that she set out to fail, but she readily admits in the intro that she has never had to live on a very small budget. The lessons that the rest of us learned on how to get through life she seems to have forgotten.

Rich Money Million
Rich Money Million
12 years ago

I’ve heard about this guy before, and I’m glad that you pointed out that he – as a young, white, college-educated, male – had certain advantages that many poor, underprivileged people do not. I agree that despite his advantages, the main reason that he ‘succeeded’ was because of his ability to set goals and accomplish them. However, I also think that this ability to understand how to plan, how to set goals, is not intrinsic; it’s a learned skill, as is self-confidence and the expectation of success. Many poor and underprivileged don’t know how to plan, have no one to… Read more »

quinsy
quinsy
12 years ago

OK, a lot of people are repeating the same thing about how Adam is white, young, etc. and these are advantages. We get it already! There are a lot of poor people who aren’t white and young and men, who have health or mental issues. I see them every day at work – I’m a doctor in an emergency department. But have you also realized that there are a lot of white, young, strong people out there (and really, as long as you’ve got your health, I’m not convinced that being a woman or of another race prevents you from… Read more »

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

I have little sympathy to poor and homeless people who are unwilling to help themselves. They’ve given up to a life of begging and then drinking away that money. This interview and Adam’s story is what I would expect a lot of people who fall on hard times to do.. dig deep and get out of that hole. It’s possible and he just proved it.

Great interview JD.

MizD
MizD
12 years ago

Wow, Adam proved that a young, good-looking, white, college educated male with no physical disabilities, no mental disabilities, no addictions, no crushing debt, no language barriers, no abusive spouse, and no dependents can make it from “scratch!”

Golly, I’m so impressed. I guess that means everyone can do it!

(Yes, this sort of “experiment” infuriates me no end. At least I can appreciate him telling me not to buy his book.)

J. G.
J. G.
12 years ago

@quinsy:

How do you do it? You support anything that helps children succeed in school, regardless of socio-economic status. You support adult education programs. You support lowering the cost of a college education. You support charities who give people the tools they need to get out of poverty.

In short, you help give people the means to help themselves and teach them that it’s possible. And yes, I actually think things like Adam’s book can help.

Tom
Tom
12 years ago

Great interview. It’s great of Adam to make the book available for free – I’m going to email away for my copy of the book now.

Daveo
Daveo
12 years ago

I listened to a piece about Shepard’s book on NPR last week. He came across a bit elitist in my opinion. I also think that though it may be possible to set and achieve the goals he had, it might be a bit harder if you’ve never even had a frame of reference for that kind of success. Throw in a spouse and a few kids by the time you’re his age and it becomes even more difficult

Maria
Maria
12 years ago

I read Nickel and Dimed some time ago and found it depressing and flawed. Adam’s approach sounds much more hopeful and I look forward to reading it.

Writer's Coin
Writer's Coin
12 years ago

I have to agree with J.G. here. Nickel & Dimed does have a valuable lesson to teach, regardless of her methods. And that is that there are people out there working as hard as they can that aren’t able to get by. It’s something we shouldn’t lose sight of since so many people think poverty is a third-world problem. It’s out there and, like it or not, it’s not going away any time soon, no matter how alive the American Dream may or may not be.

Patti
Patti
12 years ago

He was willing to live in homeless shelters for months, something Ehrenreich, as a woman, didn’t want to/couldn’t do because of safety issues. He was a young, white, well-spoken, college-educated male. Whether or not he used his college education to get a job he still had all the advantages of that education and middle class upbringing during this experiment. Couple that with the fact that as a male he is safer in homeless shelters, and probably more likely to get the jobs in heavy lifting, I don’t think his experience is that comparable to the many of the poor in… Read more »

Sara
Sara
12 years ago

There is a big difference in looking at the situation, and choosing to start from scratch,than finding yourself in the situation and having to start from scratch.
its been 3 years since i lost my best friend to cancer, i got the doctors and hospital paid, however i still work 2 jobs, take care of my children,a house etc. I sold whatever i could, let me tell you YES it can be done
but its a long, hard, lonely, tearful and heartbreaking road when to have to do it.

Miranda
Miranda
12 years ago

Great interview. I think that there is a lot to be learned from both books, as well as the great episode of 30 Days mentioned. All offer different viewpoints of the problem. And I think that the Pursuit of Happyness (the book, not necessarily the movie) would add another viewpoint as well. Unfortunately, everyone’s situation is so different that there is no one easy answer to this problem.

Adfecto
Adfecto
12 years ago

Great interview. Thanks to Adam for his positive mindset and hard work. One thing that really stuck with me, “It’s important to question: Am I making the most of my situation? Am I on track? Am I prepared to be disciplined for 2, 3, 5, 10 years? … And whatever you do, don’t lose sight of that prize that you’re shooting for.” That articulates exactly why I entered the PF blogging world. We all start in different places and it is what we do from there that counts!

RacerX
RacerX
12 years ago

Well, i will say this there are a lot of middle-class kids not achieving what they could or should either.

Duff
Duff
12 years ago

Interesting interview, J.D.

Certainly the solution to poverty is more complex than having a “prosperity consciousness” and financial goals, but this certainly helps!

If anything, Adam’s example shows that those of us with even a modicum of economic advantage could be doing much, much more with it.

Linda
Linda
12 years ago

This has been touched upon before, but I need to reiterate the fact that Mr. Shepherd is a young, healthy, white male. He was also living in a smaller city, rather than a large urban center. I guarantee you that if Mr. Shepherd had been small, weak, or unhealthy in a large city like New York or San Francisco, he would have had far less luck. 1. Gender: Day labor jobs for men also tend to pay better, unlike day labor jobs most women get, like domestic work. 2. Violence/Exploitation: a woman or smaller (weaker) man is more susceptible to… Read more »

Ron@TheWisdomJournal
12 years ago

I find it oddly amusing to read those criticisms that he was white, healthy, good looking, college educated and THAT is why he succeeded. Folks, that reeks of racism and class envy. Some people will create ANY excuse for failure other than their own sorry attitude and then want me to pay for it through some new government program that will waste $10 billion.

I guess if you’re African American, poor, and only educated through high school, it is IMPOSSIBLE to ever make anything out of your life…except that so many do.

Wendy
Wendy
12 years ago

I really enjoyed the interview. I think that one thing the book did prove is that there are opportunities for the poor to achieve success. Are there some who can’t take advantage of those opportunities becuase of various circumstances? Of course. But there are many more who just need a little guidance and they will achieve success. I definitely agree that our public middle schools and high schools need to focus on teaching basic life skills like personal finance, nutrition, basic preventative health care, etc. There is no easy answer to poverty, and that is one reason that poverty is… Read more »

Driver B
Driver B
12 years ago

I agree with others here that Nickel and Dimed was flawed methodologically, and for me personally, infuriating! Ehrenreich very much looked down on those she was working alongside, and when I read in the end notes that she had not only started out with the emergency fund, but also WENT HOME during the experiment to shower, pay bills, etc., I was disgusted. My mom is ‘one of those people’ working paycheck to paycheck and the topic deserved much more respect and scholarship than Ehrenreich was willing to give it. I also recommend the minimum wage episode of 30 Days. Much… Read more »

Ms. Clear
Ms. Clear
12 years ago

Many people don’t want to admit that poverty is a real problem, so they will go to great lengths to explain it away. Not that everyone here is saying that, but some are.

I’m not poor, but I’m not spoiled or entitled enough to think that I didn’t get some damn lucky breaks in my life that have gotten me to where I am. Yes, I work hard and have made good decisions, but I started from a place where I was always on the trajectory to make those decisions.

margaret
margaret
12 years ago

[email protected] – I am one of the people who can’t overlook the many advantages with which Adam started his experiment. I was thrown, unwillingly, into a similar situation when I was 19, and it was shockingly evident to me at the time how much my being young, white and well-brought-up saved my butt – and I didn’t even have a good attitude, except, perhaps, that I didn’t expect anyone to come to my aid. I was angry and scared, but I landed on my feet because people were generally willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. I have… Read more »

Larry Jones
Larry Jones
12 years ago

Enjoyed the post! I definitely put Scratch Beginnings on my Amazon wishlist, but I won’t be checking out Nickel and Dimed. People just don’t get that if you deny yourself and work hard enough, you can accomplish great things.

A Million Paths
A Million Paths
12 years ago

I’m pretty sure that if you have children (in many places) there’s a strong fear that the state will take the children away from you if you live in a homeless shelter. Also, not all shelters are safe places. Additionally, many (as evidenced in that Will Smith pursuit of Happyness) don’t allow you to stay long term/ have limited beds that you have to fight over every night etc. Finally, whatever you say Adam’s abilities were made possible by a civil society that provides things (like homeless shelter) and services for the poor. The very things that people who believe… Read more »

Finally Frugal
Finally Frugal
12 years ago

I’ve read Nickel and Dimed, and didn’t feel that Barbara E. was starting her project with failure in mind. In fact, I remember her writing that she was coming into the project with more savings and intangible support than many homeless/low wage earners in the U.S. have. I guess I came away from the book with this conclusion (and Adam’s interview above supports it): if you’re single, white, speak English well, have no kids, and importantly—no health issues—sure, go out and work for $7.50 an hour and be a success. If you’re a more typical low-income American: divorced, separated, with… Read more »

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Great comments so far, everyone. If you want a PDF version of the book, you can reach Adam via his contact page

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