Tips for Ruth Madoff: How to live in the middle class

Dear Mrs. Madoff:

I understand that with your husband in jail for the rest of his life and you losing claim to millions of dollars worth of real estate and other assets in the bargain, you are being left with only $2.5 million to your name. That gives you an income of about $125,000 a year.

Keep this in mind: 90% of Americans don't make anywhere near this. But for two-income professional couples on either coast, this represents a middle class income.

So allow me to give you some general tips on how to live like the middle class, although, as the character in Casablanca says, I don't know why because it can not possibly benefit me.

First thing's first, I'd find your AARP card and join up. Lots of discounts for you there. And you're gonna need them, lady.

Housing: You might have trouble finding affordable housing. This is sure to surprise you, having up until recently enjoyed lavish homes in half a dozen locations without a thought over how they were paid for. But, and I'm sorry to tell you this, your yearly nut won't qualify you for any home anywhere you'd be interested in living. The average cost of a home in Beverly Hills is $1.9 million. While in Manhattan the average cost is $1.4 million. It's looking like nobody in town is going to rent you anything there, anyway.

There are a few options to consider in your new financial circumstances: You could become somebody's roomate (use your maiden name, though). And a lot of larger homes in the suburbs have "granny flats," to let. They're a safe choice for older ladies of modest means, and it allows you to enjoy the comforts of wealth, if not the actual financial bits.

Actually, Ruth, if I were you, I'd just get the hell out of Dodge. You can rent a lot more apartment for your money in the Southern states. And I'm told you can rent a lot of house in Alabama for less than $1,000 a month. A new beginning in a state known for its high bible sales could be just the thing for you.

Auto: Now that it's not about status anymore, I recommend you swallow your pride and get a set of good, reliable wheels. Used, of course. Toyota makes good cars. What about a Corolla? They get great gas mileage and with regular maintenance you can get a good 15 years out of it. Plus they're cute. I know, not as cute as a Mercedes E-class, but you'll get used to life without seat warmers, I promise. Here's the link for Check it out.

Retirement planning - Well, Ruth, to tell you the truth I think this is your biggest challenge. Mostly because I can't fathom you finding a financial planner that you can A.) trust and B.) would take you on as a client after the whopper your DH pulled. The Wall Street Journal has a few suggestions, but again, I'd be very cautious entrusting your precious nest egg to anyone. Surely you, of all people, have learned this lesson.

To close, I'd like to leave you with a list of vocabulary words to familiarize yourself with. Listen and repeat these words every day, and soon you'll be saying them like a real middle class lady!

Payless Shoes
Olive Garden
Rent Check
Jersey Shore
Savings Account

Good luck!

Julie Tilsner
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