Julianne Hough
Credit: Monica Ahanonu

These days, Julianne Hough’s life is filled with Instagram-worthy getaways and glitzy red carpet events. But that may be because the 29-year-old star, who rose to fame alongside her brother Derek on Dancing with the Stars, started her hustle early. The first time she had to shake down an employer to get paid? At the ripe age of 11.

Hough was living in England at the time and began dancing at age 9. “My partner and I were supposed to be paid 250 pounds for a show that we were doing,” she says. “Our coach told us to make sure that the woman in charge actually paid us that, and warned us that she would try to cheap us out. Sure enough, when she handed us the money, there was only 100 pounds there. I looked at my partner and he was like, ‘I’m not doing it.’ So at 11 years old, I walked up to this scary woman, tapped her on the shoulder, and said, ‘Excuse me, miss. You promised us 250 pounds, and there's only 100 pounds here. I'm not leaving until I see my money.’ Having the guts to do that at 11 said a lot about who I was and who I have become.”

Hough's parents, who were scrappy and made a modest living, taught her and her brother that "money wasn’t meant for things; it was meant for helping us achieve our dreams" so she continued to be entrepreneurial through her teens. “When I was in high school, I worked at a physical therapist’s office,” she says. “He paid me under the table, so I don’t know if that really counts. But my first real job where I actually got a W-9 and everything was Show Me the Money. It was a game show hosted by William Shatner, and I was a $1,000,000 Dancer—sort of like the Deal or No Deal girl, but I opened scrolls instead of briefcases.”

After ultimately finding success on Dancing with the Stars and going on to appear in remakes of classics like Footloose and Grease, Hough has found her stride, both professionally and financially. She's not a big spender—except for when it comes to her spoiled dogs, who get blueberry facials. Below, Hough gets real about her shopping habits and why she thinks her husband Brooks Laich should burn more cash.

On her first big splurge… I think that my first major splurge was my car. I got the Mercedes [Benz] G-Wagon, and I decked it out. It was pretty aggressive. I had it for a couple years, and then ended up trading it in because the mileage was crazy, going up and down the Hollywood Hills.

On the best financial advice she’s received… It was actually just recently, when someone said, “Have you seriously been sitting on cash for 11 years? What are you doing?” I thought I was doing a good job at trying to save my money, but I think I need to be an adult and try to invest in more things. So in the last few years, I've felt more grown-up and adult-like.

On shopping for staples… I will spend money on the same T-shirt in four colors, and I probably have a closet full of gray sweaters. I don't need one more gray or cream sweater, but I constantly buy gray and cream sweaters. I feel like I need to clean out my closet and just start saving some really good pieces. I actually have a trunk full of really cool designer pieces that I'm probably never going to wear again, but I'm like, "Oh, I want to give this to my daughter one day."

On pampering her pups… I will buy anything for my dogs. The vet bills are outrageous, but it's like, I don't care. Whatever they need. I buy them teepees, and dog beds, and toys, and baths. They get blueberry facials. As far as being spoiled, I think they're the ones that get it. I think this is a pre-vision of what it's going to be for our children. I'm probably going to spend a lot of money on our kids.

On her husband’s spending habits… I’m the more free spender, but sometimes he'll purchase something random and I’m like, "Wow. That was surprising. You spent some money on that." He's not cheap, but he's not a material person. I get excited when he spends money. So every once in a while he'll spend money and I'm like, "Yeah. Get it, babe."

On working with Chase and Marriott to launch the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus credit card... I’m willing to spend money on a great party, event, or vacation—and my husband and I really love to travel. Using this credit card makes you feel better about spending money because you feel like you're investing in memories, experiences, adventures, and passions, as opposed to just spending [blindly]. I think a lot of it is a mindset, but these rewards and points offer people who already travel the chance to explore more, and it gives people who don’t travel much a little pep in their step to do something that they’ve always wanted to do.

On splitting the bill… If somebody asks you out, I think that person should pay, just in the sense of, ”I’m asking you out. I would like to take care of you." My dad is also very traditional that way. I remember him telling us a story that he saved up his money to take this girl out on a date, and she only ordered a salad and he got offended because he was like, "I saved my money. I wanted you to get a steak and have the best meal ever, and it made me feel bad that you didn't order something grand." It was like, okay, there's something about giving and receiving that I need to take from this. As far as my husband and I go now, we split the check sometimes or I'll pay one time and he'll pay the next time.

On negotiating… If you’re up for a job, you really need to show up. You have to show what you are here to offer and what value you'd bring to the table. And if you bring great value, then [that should should be reflected].

On the importance of charity… As cheesy as it sounds, I think that the secret to living is giving. The more you give, the more you personally feel fulfilled because you're making something that is greater than you a priority. We can get consumed with ourselves. But when you think about it, we have so much and we are so fortunate to live in the United States where, for the most part, we have running water, roofs over our heads, and education. We want to be able to give people the basic necessities to live in places like Africa—and water is the first step. With our charity, Love United, we're building wells in Ethiopia right now, and it’s amazing because the communities actually get to build and maintain the wells themselves.

On the best and worst things that money brings… There's always two sides to every story. Water can be there to hydrate you and keep you alive, but it can also drown you. Fire can keep you warm, but it can also burn someone's house down. It's all about how you choose to use it. Personally, I think money is meant to be used for good—to take care of yourself and your family, and then do what you can to help others. Eventually, you basically give it away. Because when you hoard it for yourself and just hold onto it, it's not serving anyone.