Over 2.7 billion people in the world live on $2 or less a day. They manage to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, plan for medical emergencies, and even save for retirement - How do they do it?

Portfolios of the Poor: How the World's Poor Live on $2 a Day (Princeton University Press, 2009) tackles the fundamental question of how the poor make ends meet. Over 250 families in Bangladesh, India, and South Africa participated in this unprecedented study of the financial practices of the world's poor.

These households were interviewed every two weeks over the course of a year, reporting on their most minute financial transactions. This book shows that many poor people have surprisingly sophisticated financial lives, saving and borrowing with an eye to the future and creating complex "financial portfolios" of formal and informal tools.

Indispensable for those in development studies, economics, and microfinance, Portfolios of the Poor will appeal to anyone interested in knowing more about poverty and what can be done about it.

The authors thank the Ford Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Financial Access Initiative for their generous support.


Hamid & Khadeja, Bangladesh
Surviving on approximately $0.78/person/day, Hamid and Khadeja fall into the bottom two-fifths of the world's income distribution tables. Yet, they live intense financial lives. During a year, the family "pushed" $451 of their income into savings, insurance and loan payments, and "pulled" $514 out of savings, or by taking out a loan or guarding money for others. Their total turnover of $965 was, in fact, larger than their annual income of $840. Learn more

Thembi, South Africa
Thembi resided in a low-income township in South Africa; she lived on $169/month. When Thembi's brother died, she was solely responsible for the $1,413 funeral expense budget. Thembi patched together loans from burial societies, relatives, and grants, but fell $92 short. Learn more

Feizal, India
Feizal's ten-member family lives on a household monthly income of $36, largely comprised of his earnings selling aluminum pots and supplemented by his only son's earnings as a tailor's apprentice. Midway through the research year, Feizal fractured his thighbone, terminating the family's main source of income. Learn more