For many stars, their first big paycheck is an excuse to splurge, often on something fun and frivolous. For actor Timothee Chalamet, it was Knicks season tickets. For basketball star Shaquille O'Neal, it was a million-dollar shopping spree, which included three Mercedes Benz cars.
But for actress Mae Whitman, who stars in NBC's new comedy series "Good Girls," it took her decades to treat herself, and it was with a surprisingly normal purchase.
"I've been working for 28 years," says Whitman, 29, who's starred in hit movies like "The Duff" and "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," as well as popular T.V. shows including NBC's "Parenthood" and Fox's "Family Guy." "And I was still like, 'It's not enough,'" she tells CNBC Make It about her frugal tendencies.
But Whitman says she recently took the plunge.
"I finally got myself a king-sized bed, and I was so happy about it," she says.
"And it's not even a fancy one. But I cried about it for three hours because I was like, 'This is so much money to spend in one place,'" she adds. "But then when I finally did it, [it was] like a dream come true.
"I spend big chunks of money so rarely," Whitman says. "The only thing I will really spend money on is if it improves quality of life or convenience. That's something that's big for me."
There is one thing in particular on which Whitman absolutely refuses to spend a lot of money: Mexican food.
"I grew up in east L.A. and I'm used to eating delicious Mexican food for like $2, so I get a little frustrated when I go to the fancy cantinas and it's like an enchilada for $55," Whitman says. "That to me, I'm like, 'It doesn't even taste good, it's not authentic and I'm going home to have my enchiladas in my neighborhood.'"
Whitman also admits she struggles with understanding finances, but recalls the good advice her "Parenthood" mom Lauren Graham once gave her.
"She told me, 'Don't panic.' Just the words 'don't panic' take the story out of things," says Whitman. "Just focus on each little thing as it comes.
"It's really complicated, and I really struggle with wrapping my head around numbers. But I think it's more about the daily maintenance of not letting things pile up to a place where they feel insurmountable, and taking each and every situation with a breath," she says.
Whitman is on the right track — experts recommend that one of the keys to getting on solid financial footing is taking small steps. That might include tackling debt by starting with the smallest balances first, contributing a little bit each month to an emergency savings account and slowly bumping up your retirement contributions on a consistent basis.
"You're going to get through it," assures Whitman. "Baby steps will get you where you need to be."
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC and CNBC.