'Sometimes I'm Down To Pennies Before It's Time To Get Paid Again'

Nicole Bethel, 31, works as a registered nurse in Dayton, Ohio.

This morning as I stopped at the gas station, my card was declined. My gas light was on, but I drove my daughter to school anyways. Driving home, the car sputtered a few blocks from home and I pulled over.

This is my life -- the middle-class single parent, wages too high for help but too low to get ahead. I am the working poor.

I am a 31-year-old registered nurse. My income, after taxes and insurance, is about $2,400 a month. I get paid every two weeks -- my first paycheck goes towards my rent and groceries; the second to all of my big bills, things like student loans, electric bills, gas, water, trash. Sometimes I'm down to pennies before it's time to get paid again.

I've had a car repossessed, and the car I have now is an endless money pit. I can't get a loan unless it has high monthly payments, a large down payment and extremely high interest. My only mistake was not caring for my credit score as a young adult, and now I'm paying deeply for it.

Owning a home is out of the picture, so I'm stuck with high-priced rent for mediocre living. I pay high money for health insurance and do not go to the doctor's because co-pays are not in my budget. I've learned to live off of thrift store clothes, hand-me-down appliances and rental store furniture.

My daughter is 11 years old. I didn't mean for her to be this way, but she is very money-conscious. She's always asking how much things cost, and then she'll say, "No, I don't need that. It's too expensive."

We do different things to save money. I make my own laundry detergent. I saw a recipe for it online. It costs maybe $10 to make and it lasts for over two months. It works really well, too. I feel guilty if I buy something that I don't need, like if I stop to get a coffee. I always feel as though I shouldn't have bought that because that could have been more money that I could have used towards something else.

I try to be optimistic, but it's hard when your head is barely above water. I'm hoping to go back to school and get a better degree or find more of a 9-to-5 job that pays more. I feel like if I just made more money, I'd be better off.

I tried going back to school a couple of years ago to get my bachelor's in nursing. I was taking classes on the weekends and working Monday through Friday, but it was just so much. I didn't have any time for myself or my daughter, and I wasn't able to finish my degree. I'm hoping that if I take online classes, I'll be able to better work it into my schedule, because I can't afford to cut my hours or quit.

Having this type of financial burden -- it's all you think about. It's constant. You can't relax or ever really have a day off. You can never just sit and enjoy something. Bills and money are constantly running through your mind.

Waking up to an overdrawn bank account is nothing new, but I am a survivalist. I will keep going and living and working and contributing. I tell myself that I can do this, that today is just another day, because tomorrow always comes.

So when my card was declined this morning, when I was pulled over on the side of the road because I had run out of gas, I just kept going. I called my uncle and he brought me enough gas to get me the rest of the way home. Tomorrow is payday, so I just have to wait until then to be able to fill up my tank. But when you are constantly waiting for that next paycheck and counting down the pennies to make it all last, life is just too long.

As told to Kasey Varner. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nicole Bethel's story is part of a Huffington Post series profiling Americans who work hard and yet still struggle to make ends meet. Learn more about other individuals' experiences here.

Have a similar story you'd like to share? Email workingpoor@huffingtonpost.com, or give us a call at (408) 508-4833, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.




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