From Publishers Weekly
Veterans in economics and microfinance scrutinize the finances of the poor in India, Bangladesh and South Africa. Following their 250 subjects for a year, the researchers compile family financial diaries and report on how the poor spend money and the myriad resources that function like portfolios. A confluence of circumstances the authors term a triple whammy (low and unreliable income, irregular cash flows and financial instruments ill-suited to the needs of this population) makes saving essential, and the poor depend on savings clubs, insurance clubs, money guarders or microfinance institutions. It is often a piecemeal approach, and any emergency can have disastrous consequences. With the advent of Muhammad Yunus's Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 1976 and Grameen II in 2001, the growing global profile of microfinance might give the population more access to funds through reliable, flexible means—but the majority must turn to family, friends, neighbors or moneylenders. While the book's methodology and conclusions are fascinating, it is a complex and technical analysis best suited for those fluent in economics and public policy. (June)
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Ten years ago, the authors of this unusual study began collecting detailed yearlong “financial diaries” from households in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa, with a focus on those living on less than two dollars a day per person. They found, to their surprise, that none of the families lived hand to mouth; even the poorest relied on complex combinations of financial strategies, including joining savings clubs, buying funeral insurance, and acting as “money guards” for neighbors. The diarists did things that might seem irrational—borrowing in order to save; paying interest on savings—but that made sense given their unpredictable incomes and limited options. While the authors do offer prescriptions for how to expand those options, it’s their scrupulous attention to actual behavior that makes this book invaluable.
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