When It Comes to Bargain Shopping, Debra Messing Gives Grace Adler a Run for Her Money

Money Talks, and so should we. Here, powerful women get real about their spending and saving habits.

Debra Messing
Photo: Monica Ahanonu

For two decades, Debra Messing has kept us laughing as the highly relatable Grace Adler on Will & Grace. From the series’ initial run through its recent reboot, we’ve watched the scrappy protagonist build her own successful interior design company, flip houses for profit, and, of course, navigate the annual Barneys Warehouse sale with gusto and a game plan.

In real life, Messing’s own business prowess isn’t so different from her beloved character’s. “I tend to think that Grace is very responsible,” she tells InStyle. “In the past 11 years, her company has really thrived and she’s become more successful. She couldn’t do that if she wasn’t practical, smart, and mindful. I think that’s a place where we might be similar.”

Both women also love a good bargain. Messing says she started hitting the sale racks at a young age, and it shaped her spending habits for years to come. “I grew up shopping at T.J. Maxx in Rhode Island with my mother every other week,” she says. “We would go treasure hunting, and I was competitive about it. I always felt so excited when I found something that I loved.”

In fact, Messing’s best style score to date came courtesy of the discount retailer. “I was in college in Boston, and I needed a cocktail dress for a formal that was coming up,” she says. “My mom and I ended up going to T.J. Maxx, and I realized that I had never looked in the [formal] section before. So I did, and that’s when I found the most beautiful dress that I’d ever seen. It was a vibrant green cocktail dress, sleeveless with velvet up top and satin on the bottom. It was also the most incredible price, and I remember looking at it and thinking, This is a miracle. My mom was like, ‘Yes, you can have it!’ I left the store feeling like I got away with something, because I had this incredible dress for a really amazing price. I won!”

Despite years of wearing designer pieces on TV and on red carpets, Messing’s love for T.J. Maxx is forever ingrained in her. So much so, she recently teamed up with the company for its The Maxx You Project, a program that, through workshops and a Facebook group online, encourages women to work together to embrace their individuality and achieve professional success. “It’s so important to offer actual strategies and real tools for women to take their goals and activate them in an accelerated way,” says Messing. “And it’s wonderful to have a community where women can talk to each other, network, problem solve, and root each other on. I have a group of women in my life and I lean on them all the time; they lift me up when I’m down and I’m there for them, as well.”

Here, Messing spills on her own negotiation tips for women, the best financial advice she’s ever received, and the style staples that she is willing to splurge on when she’s not on the hunt for a good deal.

On her first job… My first job was babysitting. I saved up for records—back then we didn’t even have CDs. After that, when I was in high school, I was a concession stand girl at a beach. I sold hotdogs, French fries, and ice cream all summer long.

On her first big splurge after starting Will & GraceAfter the pilot, right before we started filming the second episode, I got engaged. So my wedding was the big splurge!

On her fashion indulgences… Honestly, I rarely spend a lot on clothes because I refuse to pay full price. I just won’t walk into a store and buy something full-priced anymore. That’s just a rule of mine, especially now that there are so many apps where designer brands are marked down quickly. So I save money by not buying off the rack, but I will splurge on shoes and jewelry. I save up for pieces of jewelry, actually, and I recently bought an emerald ring. It was a gift to myself, an early birthday present. It’s something that I’ve wanted forever, and I thought, What am I waiting for? Am I waiting for a man to buy it for me? I realized how silly that was, so I bought it for myself.

On the best financial advice she’s received… When I graduated from graduate school, my father told me that it was imperative that I think long term. The rule he gave me was “Take away ten percent of every pay check, put it into an account, and pretend it doesn’t exist. You can then live off the rest of your money.” This way, if there was ever an emergency, I would still be okay. When things are going well, it’s so easy to think, “Oh, I’m good! And, I’m going to be good my entire life!” But that’s not always the case. I’m grateful that he taught me that lesson at a young age because as a result, I’m really responsible with my money.

On the money mistake that got her in trouble… Before my dad taught me that lesson, I was given a credit card for emergencies. But I went into CVS and I went to town! Like, all of the sudden I needed batteries and all of these random things, and I ended up with $300 worth of stuff in my cart. I was like, “Cool!” and pulled out the credit card. My dad drove up from Rhode Island to yell at me: “This cannot happen! NO!” I just remember being on the college campus with my father, feeling so embarrassed. I learned not to let myself go like that.

On financial regrets… I always have something that I regret not buying. I remember there was this pair of jade Fred Leighton earrings that I borrowed for a movie premiere, and I tried to negotiate with them for a better price. They actually ended up giving me a better price, but I just could not pull the trigger. I just felt like, “How can I do this? It’s just for me.” They were the perfect earrings, and I regret not buying them so much. But I really tend to be thoughtful about buying material things for myself. I will spend a lot of money on adventures, though. My son and I just went to Tanzania for 12 days, so when it comes to travel, I will splurge.

On her best negotiation tips… I think if I had to fill out a form to apply for a new job now and it asked, “How much compensation are you looking for?” my answer would be “The same as what you would pay a man for the same position.” That would be my answer.

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