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

By Samantha Simon
Updated: May 16, 2019 @ 1:23 pm
Michael Kovac/Getty Images

She may be a successful Hollywood actress, but Kristen Bell hasn’t forgotten the value of a dollar — and she’s determined to teach it to her daughters, too.

Mom to Lincoln, 6, and Delta, 4 — whom she shares with husband Dax Shepard — Bell hasn’t given in to the excess that can often go hand-in-hand with fame. Sure, she’s bought a few crazy-expensive handbags over the years (more on that below) since landing her first major role as the lead on Veronica Mars. But when it comes to frivolous purchases for herself or her family, these days, the 38-year-old star of The Good Place keeps the purse strings tight. And for good reason.

“I have to be honest — I don’t splurge a lot on my kids, because they’re kids and they ruin everything,” a candid Bell told InStyle last week when she teamed up with American Express to launch the new Blue Cash Preferred Card. “I buy a ton of their clothes secondhand, and I don't buy them a ton of new toys because A., that's what grandmas are for and B., I don't have a ton of new plastics in the house. So I tend to be aware of that.”

Something Bell wasn’t aware of until recently? Her kids’ thrifty nature — something she only discovered thanks to, of all things, a Westeros-inspired viewing party. “When I went to get my Game of Thrones costume for the first episode of this season, I stumbled across something that I think is kind of genius,” she explained. “My 6-year-old came with me to Goodwill, because I needed to find a big fur coat that I could cut up and put on my husband's lap when I put him in a wheelchair [dressed as Bran Stark]. We got there and she freaked out, begging me to buy two dresses that were $3 a piece and then a pony that had clearly been loved before. It was like two feet long and two feet tall, and the hair was all matted. It was an old pony. But it looked clean enough and it was also $3, so I let my daughter spend $9 at the Goodwill.”

Bell couldn’t have predicted just how long her daughter’s infatuation with her new purchases would last. “She was happy the whole month with these three things,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute — maybe this is a really smart purchasing technique.’ I'm taking her to the Goodwill so I'm supporting a system of used goods and not putting things that I already love in a landfill. Also, I'm not buying any new plastic! I think I might have hit the lottery. Maybe we'll just be taking my kids to the Goodwill on their birthdays now.”

Keep reading for more of Bell's financial revelations, including her farmer’s market obsession, her spending regrets, and how she and Dax decide who foots the bill on date night.

On her humble upbringing… “I grew up in Detroit. We didn't have a ton of money, so I really learned how to spend wisely. I had a checking account when I was 15-years-old and learned to manage my own money. I learned how to make it last and stretch it out. I would go out on a limb and say that Michigan teaches you the value of money, because my husband and my sister-in-law have this bone in their bodies, as well.”

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On loving a good deal… “God, yes! Feel free to put a bunch of exclamation points in there. I like to get the most bang for my buck, and AmEx offers rewards programs that let you do that — particularly with this Blue Cash Preferred Card. It offers me cash back on my everyday routine, which is where I’ll see the biggest amount of cash back. The reason I love this card and wanted to be a part of this campaign is because I believe every CEO of their family deserves to know there’s a card that gives 6 percent cash back on streaming services — which, duh, everybody has those! — and grocery stores. And 3 percent on transit and gas, including ride sharing.”

On her biggest splurge… “Food! There are some incredible farmers' markets in California. For instance, there’s a farm called Harry's Berries out here that has strawberries from an heirloom seed they've been using since the '40s, and they are incomparable to any other strawberry. Now, they're also $3 more than any other strawberry — not per strawberry, obviously. I’m not crazy! When you see them at the farmers' market, they are almost always sold out. But I will absolutely pay more for better food. I pay a ton of attention to labels because I'm obsessed with nutrition. Not because I'm obsessed with dieting, per se, but because I really care what's in it and also about the joy of having it and how it tastes.”

Dana Pleasant

On teaching her kids the value of a dollar… “We just had our spring fair at preschool, and my daughter asked for more tickets to play the games. I said, ‘If I give you $5 more in tickets, I'm going to take $5 out of your piggy bank.’ I think she thought I was joking, but I wasn't. When I came home, I definitely took $5 from my daughter — not because I wanted to drain her piggy bank, but because I thought the lesson was very important. Then the next week she wanted that $5 back so badly that she cleaned my room and her room for a dollar each and did a bunch of other chores to get the $5 back. So she knows that there is an exchange with money.  She wanted her savings to be intact, so she worked harder.”

On treasuring possessions… “We take waste very seriously in our household. We compost and I find the girls saying cute things like, ‘I’ll keep those bottle caps. I'll use them in a craft.’ And then tomorrow they will just put glitter on the bottle caps and glue them to a piece of paper and make a sculpture. And yes, that then gets thrown away — but at least it had a little more life before it was tossed. So I think part of it is asking them to cherish the things they have and not have their life be a revolving door of stuff. So I think the lesson is twofold — it's not just about money, it's also about cherishing something.”

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On experiences over things…“I find experiential spending is something that I'm teaching them to savor over materialistic spending. Entertainment and food are the two places where I would want my kids to spend. I think experiences — like going to an Airbnb somewhere with your family, having my kids buy their favorite movie on a streaming service, or cooking a meal together — are always my preference over buying an expensive pair of shoes.”

On who foots the bill on date night… “It depends. We linked our bank accounts long ago, so it doesn't really affect us. But each time I pick up the tab, I feel good — like I'm treating him — and I know he feels the same when he does it. To be honest, when we go out to dinner, he usually picks up the tab because I pick up the tab for all the groceries.”

On her biggest spending regret… “Thankfully I don't think I've had a big one, but definitely a surplus of clothing and shoes and handbags has been a big mistake. Impulse buying on a gorgeous well-made — albeit trendy — item has sometimes been my downfall. I'll see a couple beautiful handbags I have and just go, ‘Oh wow. I spent $1,000 on those handbags and they’re truly just sitting there.’ Because if I'm being very honest with myself — I’m like Marie-Condo-ing my brain! — the one I love is the one I'm using. And it’s the one that sort of doubles as a trash can, because everything is in it. Beyond that, it's nice to have just a few special items in my closet, like two or three handbags and five awesome pairs of shoes.”

On keeping up with the Joneses… “I find that I can easily fall into the trap of needing what everyone else has and getting into a bit of a comparison hangover. So I try to check myself. There are two ways to rectify that: number one is buying secondhand, like with thredUP and The RealReal and all these amazing services where when I’m buying clothing, I feel a lot better about it. I’m giving it a second life, and it also saves on the budget. And I also find it helpful to just value and take stock of what I have.”

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