At a Glance

Celebrities…they’re just like us, right? That thought may trigger an eyeroll, but before they were famous, some celebs went to college and took out student loans just like the rest of us. Some faced financial hardships, even poverty. And many carried debt.

So if you are still paying off student loans or credit card debt, you may find inspiration in the fact that there are famous women who walked the same path as you before getting out of debt and turning their financial fate around. Here are five of them.

  • Gabrielle Union
  • Lady Gaga
  • Cheryl Strayed
  • Chrissy Metz
  • Michelle Mone

Gabrielle Union

Make no mistake: actress Gabrielle Union’s wealth doesn’t come from her marriage to NBA legend Dwayne Wade. She even made him sign a prenup to protect her assets, which she built from the ground up after going to UCLA. In fact, she initially got into acting to pay those student loans.

“I make sure to let people know all of the hard work that’s gone into my career. I want people to know the work that it took to get through UCLA, that I had student loans and worked. I was eating Top Ramen and lived well below my means,” she shared with Yahoo.

Today, she owns several businesses, such as her natural hair care line, Flawless by Gabrielle Union.

Lady Gaga

Yes, Lady Gaga herself was technically bankrupt during her 2009 Monsters Ball tour. She was famous by then and had $3M to her name, but she threw everything she owned into building her stage, hoping to get the attention of music industry mogul Alex Fogel. The risky investment paid off, and after the show, Fogel and Live Nation wrote Gaga a $40 million cheque, according to Business Insider.

Cheryl Strayed

Author Cheryl Strayed is known for her memoir Wild, which got adapted into a 2014 movie starring Reese Witherspoon. But before she sold the rights to the book, she was $85,000 in debt. “My husband and I were both buried in student loan debt well into our 40s (we both grew up poor/working class with families who couldn’t/didn’t contribute any money to our college educations),” she shared on Twitter.

Chrissy Metz

Chrissy Metz got her big break in the TV show This Is Us. But she was completely broke and in debt right before the show, as opportunities felt like they had dried up for her in Hollywood. “I kept auditioning, with no savings and no money, credit card debt gaining interest. I went on unemployment. I bought ramen noodles at dollar stores. I never had to–God forbid–live on the streets; I moved in with a roommate who told me, ‘Stay with me until you can afford rent. Don’t give up,’” she told People. When she landed the role in This Is Us, she had 0.81 cents in her bank account.

Michelle Mone

British entrepreneur, baroness and parliamentarian Michelle Mone is a household name across the pond. She disrupted the lingerie industry and created the Ultimo bra brand after realizing that her own bra was uncomfortable and that she could create something better.

But she came from humble beginnings. After her brother tragically died when he was eight, she started working at 10 to support her grieving parents. When she launched Ultimo at 24, she was £480,000 in debt and went to Selfridges with a bag of prototype bras, according to The Guardian. Now she is worth millions.