We’re used to seeing Shailene Woodley immersed in a world of excess on Big Little Lies, surrounded by a sea of wealthy parents with fancy cars, designer clothes, and beachfront mansions (and the actual sea). But Woodley’s character, Jane, is anything but glamorous. A single mom with a full-time job at the local aquarium and no-fuss wardrobe, by Monterey’s standards, she’s downright simple.
In real life, Woodley is just as down-to-earth as her character — especially when it comes to finances. Her practicality can likely be credited to her childhood in Simi Valley, Calif. “I was fortunate to grow up in a way that we didn’t have a ton of money, but we never had to worry about not having it,” she tells InStyle. “I was very blessed to have that. But I’ve always been a hustler when it comes to money. I started babysitting at 10 years old so I could make a little extra cash.”
For Woodley, earning her own wages was an important step in her journey to adulthood. “It helped me as a young person with my sense of freedom,” she says. “Obviously my relationship with it has changed a lot and how I identify with it now probably wouldn’t be defined the same. But as a kid, if I had enough cash to put gas in my car, it meant I could go on a road trip with my friends. If I had enough money to go see a movie, I could go to the movie theater.” Woodley never took those privileges for granted. “It wasn’t that I ever felt like I needed a lot of money,” she says. “It was this idea of the payoff and reward system: I’m going to work really hard, put my nose to the ground, and dig into some effort for a few hours a week in order to get something else that I want. I’m someone who loves the play-hard mantra, so working hard meant I could earn money, which then meant I could play harder in the ways that I wanted to.”
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These days, Woodley is certainly working hard, especially when it comes to her passion projects. Known for her commitment to environmental activism, Woodley has recently taken an active approach when lobbying companies to make eco-friendly changes. “I’ve started having more conversations with people in places of power that can make direct change,” she says. “I’ve been talking to local managers about changes that I wish to see in their companies — for example, at grocery stores, why are we still using single-use plastic bags? Or at hotels, why are we still using single-use plastic shampoo bottles? It’s a new practice for me, and it’s something I wouldn’t have done before now because I felt like I couldn’t or didn’t have permission to.” Once she became confident vocalizing her concerns, Woodley realized that her input was welcome. “Managers and CEOs actually want feedback from their consumers,” she says. “They want customers to tell them what matters to them.”
One of the issues that matters most to Woodley is combating marine plastic pollution, which is why she’s supporting American Express’s new #BackOurOceans campaign with the awareness organization Parley for the Oceans. “Many people can’t directly see the impact that they are having on our seas, or they live in landlocked areas and can’t get to a beach to clean it up,” she says, praising the campaign — which introduces a first-of-its-kind credit card made primarily from recycled plastic — and its pledge that AmEx and Parley will remove two pounds of plastic on the beach for every #BackOurOceans comment left on their Instagram posts through Sept. 23.
“For people to be able to do something as accessible as leaving a comment on an Instagram page and then to know that that comment alone has the power to clean up some waste — and have it be properly recycled and disposed of — it spreads awareness. It also empowers people to come together to use all of their strengths and resources in a holistic fashion.”
Woodley takes a holistic approach in all areas of her life, finances included. Keep reading for more revelations from our interview, from her spending habits and negotiating skills to the one Big Little Lies character she’d never trust with her money (it’s surprisingly not Renata).
On getting her first credit card… "I can’t remember what age I was, but I was quite young, a teenager still. I had no clue what having a credit card meant. It was a cool discovery in terms of the amount of responsibility that I took with it: that this one small object in my hand had the power to lead to a lot of responsible and disciplined decisions. It was such a coming-of-age moment. I really felt that I had transitioned into a new chapter of my life where I had the responsibility of being a credit cardholder. It felt like a badge of honor, in a way."
On her saving habits… "I’m one of the most frugal people you’ll ever meet. I try not to buy anything I don’t need. I’ll wait two years to find the perfect lamp for my house or five years to find that special tea cup. It doesn’t matter if it’s $5 or $60 — even though I would never spend $60 on a tea cup. Prices don’t matter to me as much as sentimentality does. I end up saving a lot of money since I’m not buying a lot of things. There’s just not much that holds a lot of importance to me, and the things that do hold importance are heirlooms that I’ll keep forever and can pass on. Or, things that truly bring me joy."
On her biggest splurges… "The areas that I don’t save a lot of money in are experiences. I’m just a believer in experiences. I may save a lot of money on clothes or things we assume that we all spend money on every day. I’ll eat the same thing every single day to save money, but then I spend money on plane tickets, destinations, and travel. Because that’s where I get the most out of it: experiences versus material goods."
On purchase regrets… "There are for sure [things I’ve regretted buying], and most of them would probably be clothing. I’ll buy something and be like, ‘Why, why, why did I buy this pair of shoes that I never wear? They are just sitting in a closet.’ The biggest regrets are probably the impulsive decisions. I’m not a huge impulsive buyer, but I do realize that every time I impulsively buy something, weeks later I tend to go, ‘Why did I do that?’"
On her negotiating prowess… "I am such a good negotiator! For me, negotiation is all about play. And I’m a very fair negotiator — I’m not cutthroat. It’s not my way or the highway. It’s all about balance: How do we find a solution and a compromise that will work? I’m also really good at walking away from a situation that doesn’t feel good for me, my life, or for the people that I love. That helps me negotiate, because if I don’t get to a place where I want to get it, I’ll happily walk away."
On the best and worst things that money brings… "I think the best thing that money brings is a sense of accomplishment. When people work really hard and get a paycheck, that feeling of hard work paying off is beautiful. On the same note, the worst thing about money is that we could also experience that sense of accomplishment without it. I feel like money in and of itself is sort of a double-edged sword. It’s something that brings a lot of joy, and yet also brings an extreme amount of stress and hardship and division. It all lies in how we approach it as a society and on an individual level, and where the disparities lie when it comes to those issues."
On which Big Little Lies character she’d trust the most (and least) with her money… "To be honest, I would probably trust Jane the most with money. Jane, or Bonnie. And I would trust Madeline the least, for sure. Definitely Madeline, because she is so impulsive."
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