How to discuss money with your parents

This influencer couple is on a crusade to make these conversations more comfortable.

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Key takeaways

  • Kiersten and Julien Saunders were a happy new couple until they realized how differently they approached spending and saving.
  • This clash made them rethink their relationship—and later, their communication styles and perspectives on finances.
  • Now they help others have tricky conversations about money through their website, Rich and Regular.
  • They believe successful talks with parents start with preparation and patience—and don't involve judgment.

Fresh off their first vacation as a couple, Kiersten and Julien Saunders broke up. But it wasn't all the getaway togetherness that pulled them apart: They discovered they were handling their trip expenses in vastly different ways. Julien planned to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and stay in every weekend until he could pay off his half of the costs. Kiersten, on the other hand, added her share to the already hefty balance on her credit card, figuring she'd deal with it another day.

Neither understood the other's approach, but Julien in particular couldn't let things go. "He told me that if he had known about my spending and my credit card debt, then he would not have dated me," says Kiersten. Cue the split.

From breakup to breakthrough

The couple eventually reconciled, but not without making some major changes that would inform their lives—and careers—together. Kiersten took charge of her finances, moving into a smaller, more affordable apartment and curbing her spending so she could pay down her credit card balance. Julien, meanwhile, reassessed his all-or-nothing approach to money.

Both say their early breakup was a blessing in disguise. "We were really fortunate that I was such a jerk," jokes Julien. "Obviously I regret it, but it did force us to have that conversation, to reveal a bit of history about ourselves." Honing those communication and financial skills with each other proved helpful for their joint business venture, as well as future talks with Julien's mom.

Family matters

Today, the Saunderses, who have been married for 5 years, run Rich and Regular. The digital brand is focused on inspiring better conversations about money and helping the Black community build generational wealth. That's because of wide wealth gaps between typical Black and white families.* Plus, it's common in communities of color for adult children to take care of their parents during prime working years. The burnout that ensues can cut careers short—and limit earnings.

Kiersten and Julien are members of this sandwich generation themselves, bringing up their 4-year-old son while also caring for Julien's mother. These roles mean they're constantly talking about money: who has it, who needs it, and whether there's enough for today—and tomorrow.

The financial advice they share comes from their hard-won experience. For instance, Julien learned to ease into conversations about money with parents after he offered his mom unsolicited saving suggestions. "That didn't go over well," he says, noting that it was a repeat of his relationship-ending argument with Kiersten.

Then Julien's mother lost a close friend to cancer. She died amidst tension with her daughter, a doctor who had given her advice that the mom ignored. Wanting to avoid similar tension, Julien's mother grew more agreeable to hearing out her savvy son. After open conversations about finances, Julien became his mom's main source of income. "Some people have to hit rock bottom" before they're willing to ask for help, Julien says. Patience during these talks and active listening are both key to talking to your parents about money, the couple says. And if you really remain open throughout the discussions, they say, you might walk away feeling more connected than before.

Conversation starters

On a practical level, the couple suggests scheduling the first discussion about your parents' finances roughly a month in advance. Doing so gives everyone time to prepare: to pull together bills and account statements, recover account passwords, and get in the mindset of "being transparent in a way they likely haven't been able to do," says Julien.

Being that transparent might be challenging for you and your parents alike, but these topics create space for meaningful conversation—and even sharing family history. One of the opening questions Kiersten likes to ask is, "What's your first clear memory that you have with money?" "You learn a lot about who they are in that process," says Julien, "and that's what typically unlocks your ability to provide them with some counsel."

If you remain empathetic and probe respectfully for information, the end result can be a closer connection from having addressed important issues. "It's a lot easier to solve a problem when you have a clear understanding of all the variables that are on the table," Julien says. "And as you ask questions, you learn more about [your parents], and they learn a little more about you."

Next steps to consider



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*Vanessa Williamson, "Closing the racial wealth gap requires heavy, progressive taxation of wealth," Brookings.edu, December 9, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/research/closing-the-racial-wealth-gap-requires-heavy-progressive-taxation-of-wealth.
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