The inspiring reason 'Rise' and 'Moana' star Auli’i Cravalho saves ‘every penny’

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Auli'i Cravalho — star of Disney's "Moana" and NBC's new show "Rise" — is only 17, but her approach to money is savvy. The breakout star reveals she's actually a stickler when it comes to saving.

"I hate to be that person, but I'm smart with my money," Cravalho tells CNBC Make It.

"I'm not used to having a lot…. I grew up in really humble beginnings on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean," explains the actress, who is from Hawaii.

"I knew that if my mom brought home white bread, we were like, in it big. We were going to be okay for the next month," she says.

Now her bank account has changed but her priorities haven't. "I mean, it's crazy now to come to this industry and to have excess," she adds. "I'm not used it, so I'm saving every penny, and also looking for philanthropic causes, because I can't give in the way I have been given, but I can certainly try."

While Cravalho's career has already hit high notes — she took the stage at the 2017 Academy Awards, belting out the hit song "How Far I'll Go" and won fans over as the voice of Disney's first Polynesian "princess" — she reveals another refreshingly relatable reason she's so keen on saving: She's college-bound.

"I have not treated myself with any of my paychecks at all," Cravalho tells CNBC Make It. "I'm still in high school, so thinking about college, putting that away."

For other university-bound young people, Cravalho suggests setting up a savings account that you don't touch until you turn 18.

"Use your money wisely," she says. "We can say it doesn't grow on trees, and it's true. Know that you've worked for every cent you've put in, and be proud of that work."

Indeed, when saving for something big, experts recommend having a set amount of money automatically deducted from your bank account and sent to your savings account. "Do it on the same day you get paid. You'll never even see that money and it's a really easy way to make sure you stay consistent with your savings," Katharine Perry, financial consultant at Fort Pitt Capital Group, previously told CNBC Make It.

As for where Cravalho will go to school, she's looking at colleges in California and New York because they are the busiest coasts for acting work.

"Growing up in Hawaii I thought, 'Well, somewhere in the mainland, somewhere where I can make it big and get a really good education. Now I'm looking at NYU, I'm looking at Julliard because, well, Julliard is Julliard," she says of the famous music and arts school in Manhattan.

Adds Cravalho, "I'm realizing college applications are kind of sucky. They're really hard. But I know they're well worth it."

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC and CNBC.