The authors report on the year-long ‘financial diaries’ of villagers and slum dwellers in Bangladesh, India and South Africa (in Johannesburg, Cape Town and rural Eastern Cape), records that track cent by cent how specific households manage their money – including finding the funds for vastly expensive funerals. The stories of these families are often surprising and inspiring. Most poor households do not live hand to mouth, spending what they earn in a desperate bid to keep afloat. Instead, they employ financial tools, many linked to informal networks and family ties. They push money into savings for reserves, squeeze money out of creditors whenever possible, run sophisticated savings clubs, and use microfinancing wherever available. Their experiences reveal new methods to fight poverty and ways to envision the next generation of banks for the ‘bottom billion’.