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Nina Dobrev
Credit: Monica Ahanonu

Nina Dobrev didn’t come from money. The actress, who rose to fame on Degrassi: The Next Generation and The Vampire Diaries, learned early on that in order have expensive things, you need to work for them — or, failing that, you could just bend the truth.

“As a kid I remember not having new clothes,” she told InStyle earlier this summer. “We would shop at Value Village, which is kind of like Salvation Army. My mom nicknamed it Versace, so if anyone asked, we would say we went to Versace.”

Dobrev started working as soon as she was legally able to in Canada, where she lived, nabbing her first job at Hollister. “I got my first savings account when I was 14 or 15 — whatever the legal age is to work in Canada — because I got a job almost immediately,” she said. “I was always a go-getter. I was born in Eastern Europe, so I have this Eastern European/Bulgarian mentality. I didn’t really have much growing up, so everything was valued.”

Although the thesp admittedly spent most of her hard-earned Hollister money on the clothes there, she operates differently now. “I splurge more on trips and flights than purses and clothing,” she told InStyle at the Los Angeles debut of the 2nd Annual Maison St-Germain, hosted by Kate Young at Little Beach House Malibu in in California, celebrating the 1,000 elderflowers that go into St-Germain liqueur. “But every now and then I’ll splurge. Like, I bought a Chanel purse in Paris. It was a moment. Whenever there’s a moment to celebrate, I’ll treat myself.”

There’s another reason why she’d rather not overshop. “It takes a lot to impress myself — so I don’t do it often.”

When it comes to her career, Dobrev is all for negotiating, but she won’t accept a gig for the payout alone. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities over my career that would’ve been money gigs, but every time it’s happened I’ve said no,” she said. “I can remember one specific one that I said no to, and it was a lot of money, so it was hard. But the way I see it, money will hopefully continue to come if you work hard and you do a good job.”

Below, Dobrev dishes on why she doesn’t plan to die rich, how she spent her very first paycheck, the best thing she thinks money can buy.

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On “cash-only” places… Whenever a place is cash only, it really throws me because I rarely ever have cash.

On her first-ever paycheck… If you don’t count paper routes as a kid, then my first real job would’ve been at Hollister, and I spent most of the money on buying clothes at the store. It was a complete waste of my life that made no money! It was almost every time something new came in, I would be like, “I want that,” and then I would spend my entire paycheck on that item. It was just a vicious cycle.

On her money philosophy… I don’t want to die with a lot of money in my bank account. Here’s what I mean: In terms of trips and stuff, for my birthday this year, I bought a house for 18 of my friends and family. That was a pretty gigantic splurge for me, but I remember eight years ago, I was in Tulum, staying at a hotel, and I walked by a house on the beach. I said, “One day, I’m going to be able to afford to stay in this house, and I’m going to invite all of my friends and not ask them for anything.” And I did it. That was a big milestone for me.

On her most embarrassing money moment… Every year, tax season. Yeah… [laughs].

On what she learned about money from her parents… They didn’t necessarily teach me anything verbally. We didn’t have money talks, but seeing the struggles of family and people around me, I learned a lot of lessons by proxy. But it gave me a really solid work ethic because I wasn’t handed anything, so I always had to work for everything I achieved. That’s the biggest lesson — that hard work will pay off. And I don’t take anything for granted.

On saying no to well-paying but boring acting gigs… If I choose the right things to do right now that I’m passionate about, it will guarantee that money continues to come. But if I take a pay day and it doesn’t go well, it can stop the money from coming in the future. And then is it worth it?

On the best thing money can buy… Trips with your friends and your family. That’s why I spend the most of my money on those kinds of things, because those are the people — my friends and family and loved ones — that I want to spoil and be around. I spend money on seeing them. My mom lives in France, my dad lives in Bulgaria, my brother lives in Canada, and I live here. So each one of my family lives in a different country, and 50 percent of my family lives in a different continent.

On her negotiating style… Every person is negotiating every day. I definitely have fought for parity and succeeded sometimes, and then not succeeded most times. But, it’s definitely something that we’ll continue to fight for and I think needs to change. When it does happen, it feels very good to be appreciated at face value. People should be compensated for work that they do no matter race, religion, gender, or otherwise. If you do a job, you should be paid for it the same as any other person. It seems so simple, and yet you have to fight for it.