Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

Cover ImageFinished 9-14-10, rating 4/5, non-fiction, pub. 2001

Journalist Ehrenreich sets out to discover if a single woman can support herself on a low-income budget.  She tries waitressing in Key West, housekeeping in Portland, Maine, and retail (Walmart) in Minneapolis. She spends a month in each place and must find herself housing and work and see if she can make it work.  She also starts with a buffer of $1,000 and a car.  She doesn’t use any of her money for entertainment, in fact in two cities she has to get a second job just to make ends meet.

16. Nickel and Dimed takes place in 1998-2000, a time of unprecedented prosperity in America.  Do you think Ehrenreich’s experience would be different in today’s economy?

A Reader’s Guide, Questions for Discussion

Given the state of the economy and the rise in poverty this has just as much relevance today as it did when Ehrenreich wrote it.  She worked low paying jobs, but had all the advantages (single, educated, white, healthy, native English speaker, owned own transportation) and still could not make it.  At least in the short run.  I think the weakest part of the book was the short run of her trials.  It would have been interesting to see how different her experience might have been if she had tried one of the stops for a longer term.  The result may have been different. 

There were a few surprises.  She didn’t have a problem finding a job and the lack of housing in Minneapolis.  I also learned a few things. Don’t hire a maid and how to beat a drug test.  Most of the book was not unexpected, only eye-opening to most of us who don’t live it everyday.

This book is an important read.  I think if more people read it it would be more difficult to vilify people who want to work and do, but still can’t afford to live without help.  Do yourself a favor and take a look.  It might challenge some assumptions.

This is from my personal library and was chosen by Candice, Jennifer, Margot, Heather, Colleen, and Angie.  Here’s what they had to say…

“I’ve never read this one myself, but my sister did and she enjoyed it so much that she was reading passages out loud to me.”  Angie

“Eye-opening first person account of a journalist’s experiences as a member of the working poor. Challenged many of my assumptions.”  Colleen

“One of my all-time favorites.”  Margot

“This was an eye-opening look at how the working poor barely get by and IMO, a must read.”  Jennifer

31 thoughts on “Nickel and Dimed, by Barbara Ehrenreich

  1. Beth Hoffman says:

    Thanks for your insightful and thought provoking review, Stacy. I would never have picked up this book without reading what you had to say, but now I’ll add it to my list.

    Hope you’re doing great!

  2. Kay says:

    I read this book several years ago and thought it was very scary. It really opened my eyes to the people who I would term the “working poor” and what their lives might be like. Yes, the author only did this for a short period of time in each location, but I was very affected by what her life was like in each place. I kept putting myself into the circumstances and wondering whether I could manage. I’m not sure I could and I realized how very lucky I am. I think it is a book that is very timely, even though it was written some time ago.

    • stacybuckeye says:

      I agree that it made me appreciate my life! My only reason for wishing to see her try it for longer than a month was the housing aspect. If she had tried it for 3 months her housing could have been monthly which is different. I did like the book a lot and hope people read it.

  3. jennygirl says:

    I would agree with the 3 month try instead of a month. Especially waiting tables, depending on where you are, you can build a base of regulars. I think this still sounds like a great read, and an eye opener for those out there who don’t know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck and then some.
    Grat review Stacy.

    • stacybuckeye says:

      In some places and jobs three months would have been different, but then again there would be a greater chance for sickness or the car breaking down, so the results may not have been different at all. If she had tried it, we’d know 😉 She needs to try a new experiment in today’s economy.

  4. christina says:

    I picked up this book maybe a year ago at a used bookstore. It still sits on my shelf. (And really, it’s not lack of desire as much as I have SO many books on my shelves. *grin*) You reminded me how much I want to read it. Maybe in November leading up to the holidays. It’ll put my life in perspective as I try to fight holiday crowds.

  5. Natalie says:

    I’ve never heard of this book or author and it sounds very interesting! I’m putting it on my wish list.
    Thanks for stopping by my site , too!
    Have a great week,
    Natalie :0)

  6. jenners26 says:

    I read this a long time ago but it stuck with me afterwards. It did strike me that she had problems even though she always knew she had an “out” and a buffer. It makes you appreciate your own life for sure!

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