Rachel Bilson Spent Her First Paychecks on Chanel and Taco Bell

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

Money Talks Rachel Bilson
Photo: Monica Ahanonu

Rachel Bilson simply cannot believe the wage gap between women and men in Hollywood has lasted this long. With movements like Time’s Up turning up the volume on this conversation, not only in Tinseltown but across industries, she thinks the message hasn't quite gotten through as loudly as it should. “I think it’s important that it’s being discussed and that people are aware of it,” Bilson tells InStyle. As an actress trying to negotiate, she says she's learned that, “you learn to ask the questions and hope your representation is being honest.”

It's understandable that she'd have leaned on her agents and managers for financial guidance at first; Bilson became a household name thanks to her role on The O.C. which premiered 15 years ago; she was only 22 at the time. But her first foray into the working world as a waitress at an Italian restaurant in the Valley. Now, she pulls on that experience as well as her two decades of acting work to inform her biggest job: being a mom to her 3-year-old daughter. “I’m setting an example for my daughter that you can support yourself, go for your dreams, and succeed at them,” she says.

That doesn't mean her career as an actress has slowed down. The season one finale for her new show Take Two aired last month on ABC, and she recently remodeled her home. And as you may have guessed, she also makes some much-needed time for fashion. Though she’s one of our all-time style faves, Bilson doesn’t really do the Fashion Week thing much anymore, so we were surprised to catch her at a NYFW event for the launch of PopSugar’s new collection with Kohl’s. “Every woman deserves to be able to buy what they want and feel good in what they’re wearing,” she said of the importance of affordable fashion. Bilson definitely walks it like she talks it, and is known for wearing everything from next season’s Chanel to the same fast-fashion brands we all rely on.

Below, Bilson talks about her earliest childhood memories about money; why having the right representation as an actress is crucial; and how motherhood has changed her approach to spending and saving.

On her earliest childhood memories about money… My mom always taught me “love first,” so money wasn’t always apparent. We didn’t talk about it as much, but she always made sure that I was grateful for every little thing I got. She put that in my head and it gave me a different perspective about money. And now, with my daughter, we’ll be out and she’ll say, "Mommy, can I buy this?" and I’ll remind her that you need money to buy things, and in order to get that, you need to work. So I have to explain the whole thing and make her understand there’s a principle with it, so she doesn’t think it just grows on trees.

How motherhood has changed her approach to spending and saving… As a single mother, you look at things differently. Sometimes we’re trained to think in the traditional, patriarchal ways and so much of that has been thrown out the window now. I feel very lucky and fortunate that I’ve been able to support myself my whole adult life, for the most part. I’m setting an example for my daughter that you can support yourself, go for your dreams, and succeed at them. I’m very fortunate to be able to show that sort of model.

How the popularity of The O.C. changed her life…That was my first real thing and it changed everything. It gave me everything and I will forever be grateful to The O.C., Josh Schwartz, and Stephanie Savage. It changed my life. It was such a great experience and I feel lucky for it. Definitely counting my blessings, and it’s one of them.

On entering back into the workforce as a mom, and her latest role… The show has been so much fun, and it was such a great experience. It was my first role back after having my daughter and that was new because being a mom is always first for me. I couldn’t be more blessed by the people I work with, both behind and in front of the camera. It was a really fun show, and the character was so fun to play. I really hope I get to do it again. We had the best time.

On work-life balance, and teaching her daughter how to achieve it... Well it’s tricky. For instance, I flew in on a red eye so I got to put my daughter to bed. Then, I’m taking the red eye back tonight, so I’m only gone one night. I factor all those things in because she comes first. And when I’m working, I’m lucky enough to have my mother help. Her dad helped a lot while I was working, as well. I just want to make sure that she feels secure and that’s the biggest thing. At work, she had her own side of the trailer. It was really cute. I want her to feel comfortable, and comfortable in the workspace. Also, if you show that you love to work and you love what you do, it sets a good example so that she won’t look at it in a negative way. Every time I’m gone in the mornings when she wakes up, I leave a map with a little treasure for her to find. It’s a positive spin on it and a positive way for her to relate to work. I hope it will help her develop.

On her first job… I was a hostess at an Italian restaurant in the Valley and then I started doing commercials.

On how she spent her first paycheck… With my first real paycheck, I bought a vintage Chanel purse. My first waitress paycheck was probably on Taco Bell.

On her biggest money regret… I don’t believe in mistakes. I learn from it and then tell myself I’ll never do that again. But I’m sure there were some lavish shoes that I’ve never worn. But The RealReal exists for a reason.

On why affordable fashion matters… It’s hugely important. Speaking from a mother’s perspective, moms want to look cute, feel good, and be comfortable, but we know most things will get dirty. I’m always dirty, but I honestly spill stuff on myself without my daughter; that’s a whole other thing. Every woman deserves to be able to buy what they want and feel good in what they’re wearing. Just to be able to afford clothes you actually want to buy is huge, and everyone should be able to wear the things that they love.

On negotiating and the conversation around the wage gap… You learn to ask the questions and hope your representation is being honest, especially when it comes to deals for TV shows and movies. It’s at the forefront right now, so people are treading lightly and they’re nervous about it because it’s crazy that it’s been this way for so long. I think it’s important that it’s being discussed and that people are aware of it. And hopefully they’re representing you in [what] they say.

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