Living on Little

The book is about a financial diaries project in Kenya. The author, who is inspired by books by Stuart Rutherford (The Poor and Their Money & Portfolios of the Poor), started the project and set forth key insights she obtained from it, many of which resonate with Rutherford’s books.

Key points (which I found interesting):

Some questions/comments:


“Poverty is a human problem, not just a technical one. When we are forced to turn people into abstractions, into ‘the poor’, their poverty begins to define them, not their humanity. These stories show something else. We see agents, not victims. We see people living full lives, celebrating key moments, telling jokes, making plans, fighting with their spouses, being awed by and worried about their children.”

“‘Living within your means’ — a virtue in the middle class — is not an option when there is not enough money to meet basic needs and earning opportunities are never guaranteed.”

“Social glorification of entrepreneurship and even finance reinforced the idea that those who had so little were failures and those failures were personal, not systemic.”

“When a Kenyan woman remarries, she is often forced to leave children from outside her new marriage behind. Another respondent explained, ‘No man wants the responsibility of caring for another man’s children.’ Children are viewed as ‘belonging’ to their father’s family, especially if the father has paid dowry, 5 even if the father’s family doesn’t claim them.”

“Equality in terms of human value and self-determination should not be based on how much individuals earn. The indicators around the sustainable development goals for gender equality recognize that, measuring things such as violence, discrimination, and access to leadership opportunities. Getting to equality requires shifting long-standing cultural norms. That is important work, but it takes time. In the short term and in the relationships negotiated in the homes of our respondents, money mattered. Women with their own earnings and savings were better able to negotiate financial decisions. Money gave women more power to choose the right partner (or no partner) and to delay marital decisions. It gave women more of a voice within the family and enabled them to wield a realistic threat of leaving abusive or otherwise intolerable relationships. Shifts in these realities can help change long-standing cultural norms as well.”

“The Kenya Financial Diaries allowed us an opportunity to take what David Roodman called ‘a good long stare’ at poverty (Roodman, 2009). Through that long stare, we started to see some known realities in new ways. We saw the improvised livelihoods of ordinary people come to life and saw just how elastic incomes could be — both up and down. We could see in greater depth the ways in which families grew together, particularly through the importance of remittances as both an income source and a risk mitigation strategy. We gained a new appreciation of the importance of small enterprises, recognizing the serious impediments to their growth, which were just as much about limited markets as about limited capital. A close look at money management highlighted just how much energy ordinary people were putting into investing in their own development, in spite of the barrage of demands on their meagre incomes.”

“Designing better tools that help people manage the real challenges they face, that make up for some of the shortcomings in the existing financial offerings available today, requires both an appreciation of the complexity of the challenges people face and humility about knowing all the answers.”



Founder & CEO, Gojo & Company, Inc.

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