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An Idea for a show--If I'm not in the right place could you e-mail the correct information.

I am a single mom and my story is not much different that this one. I make $12.00 an hour for a family of two that puts me $500.00 over proverty level to get goverment assistance.

I make $6.50 an hour. Am I poor?
Here's how I slipped from the middle class into near poverty, and what I'm doing about it.


As a single professional woman, for years I sat securely among the lower rungs of the middle class.

Now I've fallen off the ladder.

In a matter of months, I went from a comfortable life with decent pay and health insurance to a $6.50-an-hour job with no insurance, no furniture and just enough resources to keep the wolf from the door.

I no longer buy anything unless it's absolutely essential. I spend $40 at the supermarket and make it last for more than two weeks. I never turn down a free meal. I've learned to graciously accept money, furniture, elk meat and encouragement from worried friends.

I am no longer proud.

I have no romantic notions about being poor. I'm not nobler than others, and I'm not a victim. But I am one minor medical emergency away from welfare.

Simply put, I'm in survival mode.

Here's my story in a nutshell: I lost my job as a managing editor at a small newspaper in Montana after the ownership changed hands. Six months later, I moved to Pennsylvania to take a similar job. But finding a rental seemed nearly impossible because I have three dogs, and after two weeks of campground living, my boss fired me, telling me my living situation was "bad for business." I sold off my household goods -- everything from a sofa to pots and pans -- and drove back to small-town Montana.

I still own a house here. And I have a network of loving friends.

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But now I know why most of my single women friends here work two or more jobs and think about the prospects of a bleak, impoverished old age. Good jobs with benefits are hard to come by here.

Life at $6.50 an hour
Once I got back to Montana, I started out my low-wage career working part time at a discount department store for $6.50 an hour (less than half of what I used to make) and as a salad maker and all-around kitchen slave at a local steakhouse, for the same low pay. But 13 hours a day on my feet and too little sleep were more than my 52-year-old body could handle. After a month, I quit the mind-numbingly boring shelf-stocking job.

The restaurant job isn't much better, making gallons of salad dressing, chopping lettuce and assembling relish trays. But it has its upsides. We can cook up "meat bits" on the grill and eat salad or baked potatoes. And the crew there is well worth the price of admission: Two of the servers bought me a gift certificate so I could afford to eat my birthday dinner there.

My take-home pay is about $660 a month. At $310, my mortgage takes the biggest chunk of that. Phone and Internet cost $70. Heat in winter is usually more than $100 -- it's Montana, after all.

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Water runs $41 a month. The car takes $127. So, just about every penny is gone even before I buy gasoline or food for myself and the dogs.

Since I'm in the hole every month, I dip into my small savings to pay the difference, plus things like car insurance.

There is no room for error. At these wages, anything unexpected is a financial emergency. I worry especially about my health. I can't afford prescriptions, though I have used the county's health clinic rather than my own doctor.

Listing the wants and won'ts
Down to one job, I came up with new rules to govern how I spend:

When I think about buying something, I think about how many hours I have to work to pay for it. That's a sobering thought.
For instance, washing the steakhouse kitchen counters down with bleach water gave my fingers the consistency of coarse sandpaper. The gloves provided by the restaurant didn't help. My fingers began snagging the napkins and tablecloths when I folded the laundry.

The cost of good hand lotion? Three hours of labor. The cost of better gloves: a half-hour. But that's also $3 subtracted from essentials like paying the heating bill.

I will not touch the small safety net I still have in the bank. It's there for emergencies, like a new transmission if my old van needs one or a new gas tank. The patches on the old tank have lasted far longer than anyone thought they would.
I will not touch my 401(k) and other retirement accounts. I'm better able to fend for myself now than I will be when I'm in my 70s.
I won't sell my house. It's cheaper than rent and provides more old-age security.
I have only one credit card and I use it only to purchase gasoline so I can monitor my spending on gas. I walk when I can, and if I have to drive, I combine several trips into one.
The programmable thermostat in my house is set at 63 degrees when I'm home, and at 60 when I'm not or I'm asleep. I sleep in pajamas and a flannel robe underneath a comforter and blankets.
I use half the recommended amount of laundry detergent and wash everything in cold water. I stopped using face cream and I buy the cheapest soap I can find.
I don't turn down free food. At a recent community gathering, people -- apparently noticing my dramatic weight loss -- gave me leftovers to take home.
I refuse to let my situation depress me -- most of the time.

It could happen to anyone
For Thanksgiving, I helped cook dinner at the home of the same couple I've shared the holiday with for five years. I looked at their kitchenware and wished I still had my own. Then I realized I was feeling sorry for myself.

When work at the restaurant is slow and I have time to feel the pain in my back, arms, feet and hands, I try not to think about what will happen if health problems mean I can't work. There's no sense in indulging such worries.

I remember there is no shame in being poor. Others seem to share that view. I was talking to one of my bosses about something I'd done in better times that involved spending money. I said, "I did that . . ."

". . . Before you were poor," she finished my thought matter-of-factly, without condemnation or pity.

The fact is, a fall from financial grace can happen to anyone. And in reality, I'm not really poor. The official poverty line for a one-person household is an income of $9,800 a year, and I'm still above that. And can I really be considered poor if I still have some savings, or still have my house?

I've decided that the only acceptable course of action, poor or not, is to consider this an opportunity. I used to wake up with the notion that my situation was temporary and that I'd somehow return to my "real" job. Now I have no illusions. But I do have solutions.

I've put in my notice at the restaurant in favor of a much better paying job at a new discount giant moving into town. The pay still will not be enough to live on, but it will do wonders to reduce my stress.

I've begun a pet-sitting business, taking care of pets in their own homes when their owners are away. I charge $10 to $15 a day, competitive with local pet boarders.

I volunteer my writing services for local nonprofits that I support. I've gotten active in community affairs that my previous occupation required me to keep at an arm's length.

I no longer define myself by what I do for a living. On the flip side, I won't base my identity on my income.

A number of readers have contacted us to find out how they might help Karen. Her response: "This really made my day. But I'm going to tell them to find someone closer to home who needs it more than I do." Karen hopes to deal with her circumstances through additional work and budgeting.

Wed, 03 Jan 2007 08:25:14 -0800

Dear Tyra
I am a huge fan!I reccord your show every day amd watch it after school. I think you are an inspiration to many women.So I know how you like to go undercover as someone else to see how it feels to be them. My idea is for you to go as an over weight person with a disibility. I know that people who are overweight have a hard life and also people with disibilities. Wether your in a weelchair or you have downyndrom. My little brother has a weight problom and is a little slow. I know he has a hard time getting decent friends. He has to fight to even stay alive in High School. I think you might be able to show people that words hurt more then they think by doing this.I hope you like my idea. I have one more idea for a guest for your show.Kelly Clarkson. She is an inspiration since she lives only 10 miniutes from me. i am a huge fan and i know i would love to see my two favorite famous people together.!!!!!!! God Bless

Nichole Madewell
Thu, 04 Jan 2007 15:21:37 -0800

Tyra my mother was killed in a car accident by a man that was driving under the influance of perscription drugs that he had been abusing. the abuse of perscription drugs is so huge today. this person who killed my mom was doctor hopping,yet the new hippa law protects peoples privacy to the point of causing harm to them selves and others. MY FAMILY AND I DIDNT RECEIVE ANY JUSTISE THROUGH THIS TRAGIC AND HORRIFIC LOSS.PLEASE help give us a voice on this huge problem. I would love to come on your show and talk about this.Maybe THEN THERE COULD BE SOMTHING GOOD DONE IN HER MEMORIE. MY mother was my best friend and also to many others, she touched the lives of many people because she was such a giving person.LET ME THROUGH HER LOSS HELP OTHERS BE AWARE OF HOW ABUSING EVEN PERSCRIPTION DRUGS CAN DESTROY LIVES.

Danette White
Fri, 05 Jan 2007 11:32:48 -0800

Hi Tyra,
I am 33 years of age and everyone tells me that i look like Eva Pigford,and i should have tried out for Americas Next Top Model.Problem is i am to old.Is there any type of modeling carrers for women of my age.Please invite me to your show.I watch you everyday on MY9 channel 9

Tamara Larrier
Mon, 29 Jan 2007 10:41:11 -0800

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