Sarah Michelle Gellar Is Making Sure Her Kids Know “Money Doesn’t Grow On Trees”

The actor and mom of two shared with Scary Mommy how she and Freddie Prinze Jr. teach their kids about finances, privilege, and the true value of family time.

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Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, John Russo

Any parent of tweens and teens will tell you the same: They can burn through some money. And in this digital day and age, they tend to think money just magically materializes from thin air to — poof! — pay for their every whim. As a mom to an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old, Sarah Michelle Gellar gets it.

But Gellar is also acutely aware of the fact that money does not, unfortunately, grow on trees. While we all know (and love) her as a '90s icon, scream queen, and all-around super-successful multihyphenate, Gellar didn't grow up in a position of privilege like her children are. She was raised by a single mom working "just above the poverty line."

Her husband of 21 years, Freddie Prinze Jr., was also raised by a single mom. So, for the couple, teaching their son Rocky and daughter Charlotte the value of money is something they prioritized early as parents.

Although Gellar arguably hasn't needed to worry about money in quite some time — in addition to being a sought-after actor, she is also an author and co-founder of organic baking mix company Foodstirs — it hasn't changed her feelings about responsibility when it comes to finances.

In fact, instead of blowing her first big Buffy paycheck, she saved it. And, even with her success, she's known to clip coupons.

But at this stage of her life, Gellar feels confident in her grip on finances. She's now turned her attention to teaching her young teens financial literacy. The actor, who has partnered with Fidelity on their new app, Fidelity Youth, shared with Scary Mommy how she teaches her kids about money management and more.

Scary Mommy: It feels like kids today prioritize financial literacy in a way previous generations didn't. Do you find that to be true for your kids and their friends?

Sarah Michelle Gellar: Absolutely. When I was growing up, money was taboo — you didn't talk about it. Maybe you took economics in high school, but by then, you'd kind of shaped your opinions on money.

I think it's changed so much because money is so much more in the ether now. It's not physical. So many transactions are on this phone or on a device, and they don't really see it. There's this tendency to think it just keeps getting reloaded … you don't understand and have accountability for your money and how you're spending it.

SM: I never once thought about investing as a teen, but like skincare, I wish I'd started earlier. How did you first approach this convo with your kids?

SMG: We started when [the kids] were four and five and getting birthday money. We had the three jars — the spend, the save, the donate — just so they could start to see what it was like to save up for something and what it was like to put money aside for people who are less fortunate so that you do have the ability to give back.

Moving into the teen years, a lot of these conversations started for us because our daughter came to us and said, "I need a credit card." And I was like, "No way," because, in my head, she's just going to keep spending my money and have no idea what it is or where it's coming from. And she turned to me, and she said, "But Mom, you give me cash when I go out, but so many places are cash-free. I can't even spend it. I can't get food; I can't pay my fair share." And I thought, She's actually right.

With the Fidelity Youth app, I have parental oversight, but she has the ownership — and that's the combination that I think is most important.

SM: How do you balance teaching kids about the value of hard work while tempering the expectations we tend to place on money, i.e., money solves problems?

SMG: That's an interesting question. It's like they always say when your kid comes to you and says, "Where do babies come from?" Instead of giving the whole story, you say, "Well, what do you think? What do you know?" It is always being open and trying to meet them where they are, not making it more complicated than it needs to be or giving them so much information that it's overload.

SM: What about financial privilege? How did you approach that?

SMG: We said, "Everything that we have in our house is because Mom and Dad work hard, and that's how we pay for these things. There has to be an appreciation for the things that we have. You're lucky that when you need new sneakers, we can afford them — we could buy you new sneakers, but some people don't have that luxury."

Really, it's just starting to have them understand that money doesn't grow on trees or money just doesn't come on the phone.

SM: Well, alas, based on the research, gender disparity is present even in the way teenagers view money and investing. Do you approach financial convos differently with your daughter than your son?

SMG: I was shocked by that because we didn't in our house. Our kids are very different, and what's funny is our kids break the stereotype — my son is the saver and my daughter's the spender, interestingly enough.

We talk about wanting to have equal pay, yet we're not having these conversations as a whole. We're having them more with the boys than the girls, thus setting that same cycle up of expecting a man to pay for you and take care of you. We need to break that now.

I saw some of the statistics about asking, "Are you excited about financial independence?" The boys were eager, and the girls were hesitant. How do we change that? By teaching them accountability.

SM: On the topic of gender and money, you've been married for more than two decades. How do you bridge the gap between your styles when teaching your kids about money?

SMG: My husband and I are fortunate; we're pretty much on the same page. He may think I spend too much on shoes and bags, but he doesn't begrudge it. (laughs) He just doesn't necessarily get it.

But we're on the same page when it comes to the kids because it's about learning, and it's about need versus want. I'll say, "They really want this; what do you think? Is it something we should have them save up for? Is it something we should purchase for them?" And we'll discuss it and come to a mutual place before we go back to them.

I'm very fortunate that, nine out of 10 times, we're on the same page.

SM: You've described your family of four as very tight-knit. In a world so commodified, how do you keep the value of time with your family in perspective?

SMG: That's easy. Both my husband and I didn't have this. We didn't have a two-parent sibling household, and so this is just something that we've always wanted.

We eat the majority of our meals together. Sometimes we can't with the kids' schedules, but then we'll eat with one, and then when the other one comes back, we'll still sit down and eat with the other one. The other day, we had gone to a football game, and my son had just eaten so much at the game. So, when we had dinner — it was my mom's birthday — he said, "I'm so not hungry." I'm like, "That's totally fine. You still have to sit at the table and have dinner with us, but you can have water." And he said "OK" and came down.

It is those things that are putting the value on what's actually important.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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