Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepard

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Scratch Beginnings by Adam ShepherdI really enjoy books that give a glimpse into another lifestyle. That’s why I enjoyed Trading with the Enemy, in which Nicholas Maier describes his experience working for Jim Cramer at his hedge fund. That’s why I enjoyed A Million Bucks by 30 by Alan Corey, which was the story of how Alan “overcame a crap job, stingy parents, and a useless degree to become a millionaire before (or after) turning thirty.” When I was asked to check out Adam Shepard’s book, Scratch Beginnings, I agreed. Scratch Beginnings is a true story, written in Adam’s own words, about him starting literally from scratch with $25 in Charleston, South Carolina.

The book was conceived as a direct response to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel & Dimed, Adam says so in the foreward, and tells the story of his experience starting from practically nothing. He goes by rail to Charleston, S.C., stays in homeless shelters, takes day jobs, all in an attempt to “win” by getting an apartment and saving up $5000. He wants to prove that you can start from nothing and still achieve in this country. It’s a daunting task and he realizes it. He won’t use any of his existing connections, friends, or anything like that – he’s truly trying to, as best as he can, start from the bottom up.

I like the book because maintains a positive voice. The people living in Crisis Ministries, the homeless shelter Adam stays in at the beginning of his journey, aren’t at the end of their lives… they’re merely in a transitional point. When they watch bootleg movies, they’re simply passing the time until that day they realize it’s time to move on with their lives. In his first day of working as a day laborer, he was surprised at how hard people worked for such low pay (after transportation fees, check fees, etc.) and only later realized that strong performance was rewarded with easier jobs and higher pay. While positive, not everything is rosy and Adam will be the first to admit it. Heck, his first night in Charleston almost ended very badly if not for some good luck.

I struggle with how to describe this but throughout the book Adam shares his perspective, from the point of view of someone on the outside looking in, on various situations. These commentaries are particularly intriguing because it gives you a glimpse inside the mind of someone pulling themselves up from their bootstraps, a perspective you don’t often learn about. Individuals seeking to improve their condition rarely have the time, nor the inclination, to write about it – they’re too busy living it. The first person perspective is also important because it’s not a social or case worker positing what these men and women are thinking and feeling, it’s from the mind of the men and women themselves. While you could argue that Adam is a special case, he could theoretically walks out of this at anytime, while he’s still living this life he is able to understand it that much better.

The book reads very quickly and very conversationally. It’s as if you’re sitting in a bar and Adam is telling the story over a beer. I won’t tell you if he succeeds or not, that’s for you to find out, but I will say the book took only a few hours to finish and was entertaining and educational the entire way.

{ 15 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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15 Responses to “Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepard”

  1. jr says:

    Interesting story, and inspirational, as well–from the brief excerpt I read on the website, he rails against a peer group who expects money/material and isn’t necessarily willing to work for it.

    I wonder, though–does the book take an “if I can do it, anyone can, approach?” Adam starts with $25, but he also starts with a college education (based on his bio–maybe he wrong the book before Merrimack). How crucial are his project management, goal setting, and critical thinking skills to his overall success? Not necessarily saying that those who aren’t college educated don’t pick up (or have) those skills, but university absolutely enhances them quickly.

    Overall, thanks for the post–will absolutely check out the rest of the book.

  2. jim says:

    I don’t think he takes that particular approach, more like a “if I can do it, it’s possible,” not – “if I can do it, anyone else should be able to do it too.”

    I think his college education wasn’t significant but the other skills were – goal setting, critical thinking, and project management are always crucial to success in anything. Did college help that? Perhaps. But I think whether he went to college had no bearing on how attuned his skills were. The fact that he decided to embark on this project in the first place shows he’s not your typical person, so in that vein it might be unrealistic.

  3. jr says:

    Interesting. Well, it sounds like an incredible ‘blueprint for financial prosperity’ from a perspective that’s rarely written about. Most financial handbooks are focused on using what you already have to get more, and this one shows how to get more from almost nothing.

    Although for a general audience, it’s also great that his site shows how to integrate the book into a high school curriculum, where it could have a quite an impact.

    Thanks again.

  4. Jim says:

    I bet if you read both Nickel and Dimed and Scratch Beginnings with an open mind that both of them added together would give a decent picture.

    The author of Scratch Beginnings was a healthy, single, young, college educated white male. Thats not the face of homlessness. I’m sure his road wasn’t as hard as many of his peers. But still it should be an interesting experiement to read about.


  5. poor boomer says:

    I am currently reading it in installments at a bookstore. It’s a great read, and so far has confirmed my expectations of homeless shelters and day labor agencies (which he describes as the dregs of the labor market).

    I’ve signed up with a number of day labor agencies with no success – the ones I’ve signed up with have large surpluses of unneeded workers; I wasted a lot of time hanging around their offices with a bunch of other guys waiting for nonexistent work.

    It’s common practice for these agencies to pay by check and charge $1 to get paid in cash; many day laborers, limited to crummy work, come in only when they have an urgent financial need, on which the agency makes an extra buck (literally).

    The best story I’ve read so far is one in which he tells off an exploitative owner of a baby clothing store.

    The book is flying off the shelves at the bookstore I went to.

  6. jim says:

    I did think that baby clothing store owner story was interesting, I was surprised to see her treat them like that, like second class citizens.

  7. Ben says:

    Bought the book a while back. It was one of the most interesting reads I’ve had all year.

    College degree or not, anyone can be successful like this. My success story starts before I even took my first class in college. I went from food stamps to nearly a millionaire (current market conditions have been rough) in a dozen years. Can be done by anyone.

    I would suggest this book to everyone and anyone. If you can’t afford it, email the author he’s promised to send the ebook for free (don’t know if that offer still stands). But get it anyway you can.

  8. Root says:

    Haven’t made my million yet. Five kids kinda tugs you down.

    Still it’s nice to know that just five years ago a salesman at the company I work for told me he’d quit if I were to ever be the one signing his paychecks.

    He’s still a salesman, I’m the V.P. He hasn’t quit yet.

  9. cf says:

    i think the booked sucked ! and i disliked it because it was boring . and i had to read it in freaking english class while the teacher ate some cheerios and didnt let us go to sleep. i dont apretiate that ….

    • Almend says:

      well. to be polite i dont think the booked sucked at all like this “CF” says.
      it has a very qualified procedure of telling the story to the young ones and even adults in the world.
      It talks about the real life, in which some of us are not experts in but keep trying.
      and i think you should be glad that someone had the balls to open you into another time and space of living
      thats all i have to day for “CF”

    • U KNow Who says:

      I disagree with Cf this book is the best book i ever read and you got to be a stupid person to think this book sucks to i think your wrong cf

  10. Ron says:

    Poverty and homelessness are more complicated than Ehrenreich and Shepard understand. They are middle-class white people who make a short-term, temporary “game” out of descending into the ranks of the poor, and quickly ascend to the ranks of the middle-class from which they come. The reality of poverty and homeless is long-term and will continue throughout the remainder of the human existence on this planet. Everyone is not going to become a millionaire, and most of us will not escape the class in which we were born.

  11. Ross says:

    It is quite a different story for someone who has never tasted the middle-class life. Sometimes you don’t know or desire something if you have not experienced it. Take a poor suburban 16-25 year old with no bearing on life from a struggling family; s/he may not make the educated decisions someone with a decent upbringing may make, it is possible that psychologically it is impossible to take risks to higher positions or to take on new jobs. If you are educated you have options and ambitions and I suspect the author is a well educated person.

    I do agree the principle of the book is get off your back-side and make something of your life and it may be the necessary kick up the back-side some lazy middle-class 18-25 year olds might need. jus sayin 😛

  12. Event_Horizon says:

    I’ve read excerpts of the books and some discussions but not the whole thing.

    He probably didn’t realize inherent advantages to be a young college educated, good looking white male in a southern state. Also he is in a place with climate probably more conducive to homelessness than say, Minnesota ?

    I don’t see how it counters Nickle and Dimed as the author was a middle aged woman who probably had certain limitations to what she could do for employment both physical limitations and standard discrimination.

    He chose the right thing when a relative took ill by cancelling his “experiment” but could someone genuinely in that financial and social situation to that ?

    I didn’t read the book but I wonder about how much of life is sheer luck, he wasn’t financially wiped out by crime or an illness.

    The saying “if I can do it anyone can” is nonsense. There are advantages and disadvantages inherent in people and situations.

    A more accurate statement would be “If I can do it then people with my educational background, opportunities, health, *and* luck can.”

  13. guppy101 says:

    I have just made my first million, and can retire age 48. Money does change everything. Stress levels decrease, sleep improves, health improves, financial opportunities improve. From being poor, to being wealthy your psychology improves, and health improves. I am stronger now than when I was younger !!! Adam Shepard does not know what it is like to be poor from birth. And he never will !!!

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