Judy Sheindlin, who just launched a new show on IMDb TV, recalls struggling to make ends meet before she made it big on court TV
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Judge Judy Sheindlin is currently worth an estimated $460 million, according to Forbes, but before the 79-year-old made it big on court TV, Sheindlin struggled to make ends meet.

"The majority of my life, I spent buying on the sale rack," she tells PEOPLE for this week's cover story. "I didn't bother going into [Neiman Marcus], [Bergdorf Goodman] and Saks [Fifth Avenue] because I couldn't afford it."

Sheindlin's days of worrying about money are long over. After 25 years on the air, her hit series Judge Judy came to an end in May. Now, she's launched a new show, Justice Judy, on IMDb TV, Amazon's free premium streaming service.

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"We left on top, which is perfect," she says. "Amazon had the confidence in me to say, 'Let's do it in streaming. Let's let you do your thing in a fresh version with new people.' And I'm excited!"

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When she got her start as a lawyer back in 1972, the Brooklyn native prosecuted child abuse, domestic violence and juvenile crime cases in New York's family court. She later became a judge in 1982 and a supervising judge in 1986. 

Her tough reputation earned her media buzz, first in a 1993 Los Angeles Times profile and later that year in a 60 Minutes segment that caught the attention of a CBS production company.

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Judge Judy premiered on Sept. 16, 1996. "I was hoping we would have a three- or four-year run and that my husband and I would be able to afford a two-bedroom apartment one block off the beach in Florida as a retirement place," she recalls. "We were civil servants. We had five kids that were all educated, most went to graduate school. We tried to see to it they weren't burdened with a lot of debt."

Watch the full episode of People Cover Story: Judge Judy on PeopleTV.com or on the PeopleTV app.

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In early seasons, Sheindlin engaged in serious salary negotiations, but as the show's ratings skyrocketed, she demanded paydays to match.

"We should be partners," she says she told CBS executives after a decade on-air. "I can do this program without you. Good luck, you can't do it without me."

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Credit: Jeffery Salter/Redux

In subsequent negotiations, Sheindlin would slip her bosses dollar figures in sealed envelopes across the table. Her annual earnings grew to a reported $47 million, making her one of the highest-paid people on TV.

Her plainspoken advice for anyone negotiating for better pay? "You have to make yourself indispensable — and that is irrespective of what you do," she says. "Once you've done that and have leverage, make a reasonable demand and know what the commodity is worth." 

Judy Justice premiered Monday with four episodes on IMDb TV. New episodes arrive every weekday.