Money Talks

'This Is Us' star Chrissy Metz on her worst credit card fail, why she shops at Costco and her Warren Buffett mindset

Chrissy Metz went from being broke with 81 cents in her bank account one minute, to starring in NBC mega-hit "This Is Us" practically the next. Today, the 38-year-old Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actress is also known for FX's "American Horror Story" and a best-selling book, "This Is Me." And, she stars in the upcoming movie "Breakthrough." Metz's journey to financial independence hasn't always been easy, but it's taught her priceless lessons about money and the importance of being real and responsible about your financial situation.

Metz sat down with me for CNBC Make It's new series Money Talks to chat about everything from why she still refuses to splurge to how much money her character Kate Pearson makes.

CNBC Make It: So I'm a huge "This Is Us" fan, and I've been dying to know what you think your character Kate Pearson's salary is in a given year. And Kate's brother Randall's — he lives in that big house.

Chrissy Metz: Yeah, I know Randall makes at least six figures, although now he's a politician [on the show]. At least six figures previously.

Kate — sister does not have a steady income. You know she's an aspiring singer and moves in with her husband Toby. So Chris Sullivan [who plays Toby] and I always joke about it. I'm like, I'm glad that you're supporting her singing career. I would say she makes less than $30,000. And I think that's from Kevin, Kate's brother [who she used to work for]. He's like, "Here's a little severance pay."

Scene from NBC's "This is Us," featuring Chrissy Metz as Kate and Chris Sullivan as Toby.
Ron Batzdorff | NBC
Scene from NBC's "This is Us," featuring Chrissy Metz as Kate and Chris Sullivan as Toby.

You've been really open about how your family struggled with money. You said your mom didn't even always eat to make sure you and your siblings had enough food. How did that affect you, and how did that shape your money philosophy?

Goodness, I guess I didn't really have one. I mean I had a credit card at 18 years old and I bought perfume with it. I think I spent, like, $200 on a couple of bottles of perfume and I think I ended up spending, like, $2,300 after interest and all is said and done. I was like, "Oh, I'm never doing this again."

So it's been sort of trial and error and figuring out what's right for me and just sort of educating myself about it and talking about it and being honest about it, which is not always easy.

You have been really open about your finances, and now you're working with Turbo on the #RealMoneyTalk campaign, which encourages people to talk about money.

Absolutely. It's all about just being honest and talking about money and being open about, how do you do this? Let's get real, because there's such a stigma around our finances and who am I as a person if I don't have money or the financial freedom that I would like to have. So it's just about talking and being honest, which I think if we do more often, it will become easier.

Why do you think it has been such a taboo subject?

I think it's been taboo because, as we've seen in history, particularly with women, we were housewives or the stay-at-home moms who didn't have anything to do with the finances and had no idea what that looks like and felt very dependent on their significant other or even their family if they weren't married. So there are not conversations about it because there's still a stigma attached to that. And now obviously women are running things and they're much more independent and they're CEOs and they're doing all these incredible things. Hopefully as we evolve, so do our conversations.

In the spirit of being open about money, I would love to know how much cash you carry on you. And what else is in your wallet.

"This Is Us" star Chrissy Metz and CNBC Make It managing editor Jenna Goudreau
CNBC
"This Is Us" star Chrissy Metz and CNBC Make It managing editor Jenna Goudreau

I hardly ever carry cash. My wallet is really not that exciting.

I've had this wallet for probably almost four years. It's really good inside, because there's multiple places, also a zipper and also secret, like if you want to put some bills that you don't want anyone to know about. I got a very expensive wallet and it's not functional and I'm kind of bitter about it.

How much did this wallet cost?

I think I got it at Nordstrom Rack, and i think it was like $44? She's already paid for herself.

I have my California driver's license. And then I have an American Express, which I never thought I'd ever have. And it's the hard, thick one. It's the business account. Crazy life. ... Then I just have a debit card. I have my SAG AFTRA card ... performer since 2005!

Oh, I got my Costco card. My best friend had been begging me to join Costco. I'm like, we don't need that much toilet paper! Well, we need that much toilet paper. So now I am an executive member at Costco because we buy a lot of toilet paper.

CNBC

I try to keep a little change just because of parking meters in LA.

I read that when you booked "This Is Us" you had 81 cents in your bank account. How is your life changed now that you have money?

Yeah, 81 cents is quite accurate. Scary.

Diddy once said "mo' money, mo' problems," and sometimes that's accurate. I mean, you have a bigger life, a lot of responsibilities, and I'm basically a business.

I often ask, you know my castmates or other actors, like, how did you do this? Because it's uncharted territory for me. So it's exciting and it's wonderful, but it's also overwhelming. It's only been three years in, so it's all very new to me.

But you know, I don't have to lie and say, "Oh I can't go to dinner tonight because I'm not feeling well," because now I can pay for dinner or I can take friends out. And that's really important to me. Not that lying is ever condoned, folks. Just saying we want to save face sometimes. And buying presents, ones that I would love to give but haven't been able to do before.

What do you splurge on and what do you refuse to spend money on?

I don't know what splurge means, because I don't think I've ever done that.

I mean, even if I were at the grocery store and I'm like, "Do we really need that much toilet paper?" Yes, I'm on a hit show, but I don't know how long it's going to last and I want to be smart about the future.

Is there something that you refuse to spend money on?

Gosh, I guess I really don't spend money. like I went to buy a purse, probably a year and half ago, and the credit card was declined because the bank was like, "fraudulent charge! This much money never been spent! Something's wrong."

Just because I have the money or might have a bit of a cushion doesn't mean I'm like, "make it rain!" I'm not interested in that. I've been broke once, you know what I mean?

What are some of the big money mistakes that you've made in the past and what did you learn from them?

I think being frivolous and not realizing what it was that I had in my bank account. I was like, "I don't have any money so who cares? Let's go spend it!" The money that I did have. But that is not smart.

You mentioned credit cards — did you rack up credit card debt?

After that credit card/perfume debacle, I was like "I don't want a credit card ever again!" And then I realized how they work. And if you spend the money, you got to pay it back folks! In a timely manner!

Educate yourself and have a plan. That's something I never really did. I had a plan for a lot of other things — finding a man, my career. But not my finances.

Do you have heroes that you look up to, like Warren Buffett or someone else?

You know, I heard recently that he lives in the same house [he bought in 1958].

Warren Buffett's Omaha residence is relatively modest
Orjan F. Ellingvag | Getty Images
Warren Buffett's Omaha residence is relatively modest

He eats this one particular breakfast that's like $1.99. I'm like, am I doing it wrong? Did I spend too much on that latte?

I want to talk to him about that. Why does he do that? And maybe it's out of comfort.

But also, Justin [Hartley who plays Kevin Pearson on "This Is Us"] is like, get this kind of car. I'm like, "I have a lease." He just bought this gorgeous Porsche. I'm like, don't put that on me because you got a really nice Porsche. I don't need a new car. My car works fine.

So you've got a little bit of the Buffett mentality in you.

I guess I do, now that I'm thinking about it. But not ... I like breakfast. And maybe his $1.99 breakfast or whatever it is, is delicious but I'll spend money on some breakfast.

For people watching who want to make it and want to reach their potential, what is your best piece of advice?

If you believe in yourself and you want something and it comes from the soul, the spirit, the heart of you, you have to pursue it. I think I credit my success to just working really hard and not giving up and standing in line long enough.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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