Power Players

The money milestone that convinced Harry Shum Jr. he could make it in Hollywood — and his big 'Crazy Rich Asians' splurge

Harry Shum Jr. attends the E! People's Choice Awards - Press Room at Barker Hangar on November 11, 2018 in Santa Monica, California.
David Crotty | Patrick McMullan | Getty Images

A career in Hollywood may look like a life of glitz and glamour, laden with lavish parties and big pay packets.

But it can also mean long days of auditions, relentless rehearsals and struggling to make ends meet — especially for those just starting out.

That was the case back in the day for Harry Shum Jr.

Prior to landing his major gigs in "Glee," Freeform TV's "Shadowhunters," and the upcoming sequel to "Crazy Rich Asians," Shum was a college dropout just scraping by as a backup dancer in Los Angeles.

As the son of Chinese immigrants who moved first to Costa Rica and then the U.S. in search of a better life, that was a tough life choice to sell. But when he managed to cross his first financial milestone, he knew it was one worth pursuing, Shum told CNBC Make It.

"It was when I was able to make my car payments across six (consecutive) months," said Shum. "Then I was like 'okay, this could work.'"

Shum, who was then in his early 20s, said it was also at that point that he convinced his parents, themselves entrepreneurial Chinese restaurant owners, of the business case for a career in the arts.

My parents would always teach me that if you can get something on a discount, it's better.
Harry Shum Jr.

Shum's circumstances have changed in the 15 years since then. Indeed, by some estimates, he has a net worth of $14 million.

However, old habits die hard. Shum, now 36, said he is only just getting over the "humps" of his parents' entrepreneurial ideals and developing his own money values.

"My parents would always teach me that if you can get something on a discount, it's better," said Shum.

"(Now I think) if it's something you need, then you go and buy the quality one and it will last longer. You'll have less things, but you'll have better things," he added.

That includes the occasional unnecessary splurge too, Shum admitted.

When he landed his big role as Charlie Wu, the former flame of major character Astrid, in "Crazy Rich Asians" pre-production sequel "China Rich Girlfriend," Shum said he splashed out on not one, but two, electronic skateboards, known as Onewheels.

"When you look at the price tag you think this is a lot of money," said Shum. A classic Onewheel retails for around $950, while the longer range XR edition starts from $1,799.

"But I bought two because I want to ride them with friends, not on my own," he continued. "I don't feel bad (about that)."

Don't miss: Why 'Crazy Rich Asians' actor Harry Shum Jr. says being authentic in Hollywood 'completely changes the game'

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