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Compensation and Benefits
Living on the bare minimum
Living on the bare minimum

There's little room for surprises in James Collins' monthly scramble to manage rent, bills, debts and gas. The $250 repair bill for his fiancee's engagement ring didn't fit the budget. So he asked the jeweler if he could add the repair cost to his one-year installment plan for the ring. No problem, an employee told him last month. But when he returned a week later, a manager vetoed that decision — and kept the ring as collateral on the bill. "I still have this bill, I don't have the ring, and I don't know when I'm going to get the $250 to get it back," Collins said. Such are the daily trade-offs in one of the nation's most...