University of Wisconsin–Madison
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Getting by: Earning, spending, saving, and borrowing among the poor

The Institute for Research on Poverty and the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin–Madison hosted a workshop on “Financial Decision-Making, Poverty, and Inequality” on May 21 and 22, 2014. The event brought together researchers and practitioners for a focused, evidence-based conversation about how household financial management and access to financial assets, loans, and transactional accounts and products can serve to support families in their goal to be financially secure. The target group was low-income families, most of whom are unable to save for longer-term objectives. Meeting consumption needs is typically more of a goal for them than accumulating long-run savings. But each week and month, they still need to balance the books as well as make ends meet. The workshop was an opportunity to better understand how programs that might help families balance the books operate “on the ground” and how they are growing in retail financial markets. The goal was to generate insights for interventions aimed at financial access and, for some, asset building among low-income households. This issue of Fast Focus summarizes the workshop presentations and discussion; poses some provocative questions; and looks at the role of research and practice in helping low-income families stabilize their incomes, expenses, and budgets.


Economic Support, Financial Security