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Fame & Fortune: Actress Meg Tilly
Tragic childhood teaches her: Live within your means

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Bankrate: Were you aware that your family had it worse than most?

Tilly: We knew they didn't live the same way, so we had to really pretend. People would always say, "Oh, you're so lucky, you have the happiest family," and I would think, "Oh, if you only knew." But we had to keep the smiley faces on because there were social workers coming around all the time, and we would get in really, really bad trouble if we ever hinted that anything wasn't right. This is why it's kind of scary coming out now, even though I'm 46 and nobody can get me.

Bankrate: How did you cover up from your friends?

Tilly: We got very good at scouring the Sally Ann (Salvation Army). The trick was getting into the Salvation Army without people seeing you get in; you walk straight on the sidewalk, you glance around to make sure there are no kids from your school, and then right as you get to the door, you make a sharp turn, zip in fast and go directly to the back of the store. Then you can kind of shop at your leisure because anybody who's in there shops at the Sally Ann as well.

Bankrate: How did you survive?

Tilly: Because our stepfather didn't work after the first three years of being married to our mother and with there were so many of us kids, it was very hard for my mom to support us on a teacher's salary. We had tons of siblings. Four of us were full blood, then two halfs, then three stepbrothers and sisters, and then there were a couple other stepbrothers who were full-grown. And then there was one kid who lived with us for a little while. I worked as a waitress from the time I was 14. That was Fridays and Saturdays usually until 2:30 or 3 in the morning. It was hard work, but I was really excited because I was earning money. Then I worked at a deli and the restaurant. I had been saving that money. You make money where you can and you save. Coming from that kind of background, you either learn how to save or you learn how to spend. I saved because it gave me a sense of having choices in my life.

Bankrate: You finally danced your way out of town. How did that happen?

Tilly: My grandmother paid for my ballet lessons once we moved to Victoria, so I was able to take ballet. I got on full scholarship with ballet in New York, and it wasn't that expensive to get to New York, because Greyhound Bus was having a $99 one-way special. I got a ticket and just got on the bus and took it cross-country. I was 18. It was scary because I didn't have money for hotels or anything, but the problem solver that I am, I washed up in the bathroom. Landing in New York was a very, very scary experience for me, but I survived. Every time you survive something hard, it makes you stronger.

Next: "I would have loved to have a white-picket-fence job. ..."
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