Book Review: Scratch Beginnings by Adam Shepard

by RC on August 3, 2008

Scratch Beginnings is the chronicle of Adam Shepard, who started his journey with a gym bag, a sleeping bag, the clothes on his back, and $25.00. As a recent college graduate in his early twenties, his experiment, so to speak, was to start with nothing, and, within one year, obtain a vehicle, an apartment with furnishings, and $2,500.00 in the bank. The goal of his experiment was to disprove the conclusion of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed- On Not Getting By in America, that “the working poor” have little to no chance to improve their lives in America today.

Adam starts off his experiment by finding his way to a homeless shelter. He learns about the “system” within the shelter as run by the residents, and takes advantage of the programs the shelter has available for residents as well. He starts working day labor for little money, while looking for a better paying job. He stays at shelter to save up money. He gets advice on getting a job by being persistent by one of the residents at the shelter-so he goes and meets with the boss at a moving company and offers to work for free for a day. Instead, he is hired on the spot. He starts making better money, works hard, and saves. He lived very frugally- crackers, rice-a-roni and chicken, and watched his money carefully.

After about 2 months of working and saving, he moves in to a rented room. A few months later he rents a townhouse with roommate, and eventually buys a used truck.

He did have a few setbacks, once breaking his toe, where he could not work as a mover for a few weeks, and another time getting a bad stomach bug which lasted about a week.

After about 9 months, he has to end his experiment early due to an illness in his family, but has managed to amass over $5,300.


Scratch Beginnings is not a literary classic, nor do I think it was intended to be, but it is an easy read. Shepard tries to convey the reality of the situation, so he uses language that the people around him used, which included a lot of profanity. His experiences reminded me of the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, to some degree, although the main character in that movie was a black, single father. They both were at rock bottom (Shepard by choice), and used persistence and goals to motivate themselves. I did find the book enjoyable and inspiring, and I imagine it would be for others as well.

His experiment was a success, so how did he do it when Barbara Ehrenreich could not?

  • He lived very frugally, starting by living in a homeless shelter
  • He took advantage of free food, and assistance while at the shelter
  • He worked very hard, usually 7 days a week
  • Most importantly, he had a plan, a goal, and a desire to achieve it

Getting up out of poverty or being dead broke is very difficult, but it can be done. A person has to have the desire to do so. I believe the difference between Shepard’s experiment and Ehrenreich’s was a question of attitude. Shepard wanted to succeed, I am not sure if Ehrenreich did.

He did have some advantages, being young, white, and relatively healthy. It would certainly be even more difficult for women, minorities, and single mothers, and obviously the physically or mentally disabled. One person’s (Shepard) success doesn’t mean everyone can do it, just like one person’s failure (Ehrenreich) doesn’t mean it is impossible either.

But I do believe improving your financial situation in life can be done by most able bodied people with hard work, persistence, and a burning desire to improve your finances and your life.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Double August 3, 2008 at 10:15 am

Good review. I love books like Scratch Beginnings where someone shares their experiences.


RC August 3, 2008 at 5:17 pm

Thanks, Double.

I like experience related books also, I almost always relate to them in some way or get some useful information out of them.


PT August 4, 2008 at 12:24 am

Sounds like a neat book. Good review. Any chance you’d be giving the book away to a reader? :)


Sean August 4, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Great review, interesting contrast. I’d like to read the two of them together sometime.


RC August 4, 2008 at 8:23 pm

@ PT- Do you know of any readers who might be interested?

@ Sean- I read Scratch Beginnings 1st awhile back, but then had to read Nickel and Dimed to see what it was about-definitely a good idea to read them together.


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