Something’s gotta give, honey

I spent a good portion of my Christmas break learning some pretty amazing, sometimes too intricate, details about a mate.

Over many nights, and many lagers, I heard a lot of stories about his youth.  Many of them were stories about the 20-something backpacking lifestyle that I wished I’d lived. Others were experiences I’m happy aren’t in my memory bank.

But it was mostly two middle-aged blokes talking about the trials of married life – the stuff rock songs are NOT written about.

How many LPs would Bon Jovi have sold if they’d belted out ballads about middle-aged couples? Perhaps it just needs a mix of Johnny Cougar Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” and Everclear’s “Volvo Driving Soccer Mom”?

Anyhooooo … conversation turned, as it eventually would, to couples and money. Turns out we organise our home finances the same.

Everything goes into the same pool. The lot. From there, bills are paid. The mortgage, the credit card, the groceries, investment costs, the unending expenses of tin lids, nights out, clothes, splurge spending, etc. There is only one account. To me, that has always been “normal”.

But it isn’t normal. It’s more X-Files paranormal.

What’s “normal” is actually the polar opposite. Most couples organise their finances in categories of “yours, mine and ours” (as my mother-in-law, a relationship counsellor, recommended Mrs DebtMan enter our marriage).

Money is the top reason for couples fighting. It almost certainly happens, at one stage or another, in your house. Unless you’re single. Even then, I’m guessing, some weeks you get pretty peeved with yourself.

It’s usually about spending priorities. And the fighting is differentiated from home to home only by scale.

The reasons can be endless. The person paying the bills doesn’t do it on time. One is a spender, the other a saver. Single-income households usually have obvious money tensions – the one who earns it believes they should have a greater say over how it is spent.

One spends money in secret, or secretly accepts money from parents. Disagreements over spending priorities for the kids (including whether schooling should be public or private).

And right in there is whether bank accounts should be combined or separate.

As I’ve previously written, if you’ve got a home loan, the most powerful tool in paying it off sooner is to have all of the money going into the offset account, which minimises the interest paid.

And it is, financially, the best way. But that simply won’t work for all couples. There’s no point paying off the home loan a few years early if you aren’t together as a couple at the end because of the fights it caused.

If you and your partner are fighting over money, I can guarantee you one thing. The bickering will continue indefinitely unless you agree to do something differently.

What can you do differently?

Communicate. Sorry, but if you’re not much good at that, there’s no way around it. Sit down with a bottle of wine and talk through the issues. What are they? Why do you have different priorities? How might you both see the other side?

Then compromise. Or there’s no hope. It sort of doesn’t matter who earns what. You’re in this together … or you’re not. But something, or someone, has got to give. Preferably both.

Having some semblance of separate finances, if you’re not doing that already, might also help. This is “yours”, this is “mine” and this is “ours”. The “ours” account should be used to pay joint bills, such as rent, groceries and utilities (not necessarily evenly), while the separate accounts are for “no-justification spending”.

Assign, or divvy up, the role of bill payer. Better still, get them automatically paid by direct debit so all you have to do is make sure you transfer enough money in there (automate that too).

And finally, if you can’t sort that out yourselves, get professional help. A marriage counsellor or a financial adviser, depending on the problem area, could help force some compromise on the above issues.

Understand this, tennis fans. Nothing will stop fights over money. Money is personal, powerful and emotional, just like your union itself. But something’s got to give, or that thing you call a relationship is in more trouble than Bernard Tomic’s calf.

Bruce Brammall is the author of Debt Man Walking (, a licensed financial adviser and mortgage broker.