Depending on how you feel about single life, it can be the best of times or the worst of times. Either way, it’s more expensive than being coupled up. Sure, no romantic partner might mean saving on birthday, anniversary, or other holiday gifts. But it also means picking up the tab for routine things like rent, food, and travel yourself.
That seems unfair.
No kidding. Most aspects of American life tend to favor the nuclear family, aka couples and their kids. Even though nearly 30% of US households are made up of solo dwellers. Also not cool: A 2021 study found that a woman living alone would need to earn 65% of a two-person’s household income to reach the same standard of living as a hetero-married couple. Psst…same-gender female couples face their own income gap.
Here are a few ways it costs more to be single:
The “marriage bonus.” When one person earns significantly more than another in a marriage, that unequal income can help lower their total average earnings. And because tax brackets are wider for married couples, filing jointly could mean they pay less in taxes than if they filed as single taxpayers. (BTW: there's also a "marriage penalty" when a couple winds up paying more in taxes filing jointly than they would filing separately because their two incomes combined bumps them into a higher tax bracket.)
Social Security’s cards are stacked. A person who earns less than a spouse could be entitled to benefits that equal 50% of their partner’s benefit (if theirs would be less). That means more retirement cash for anyone who’s married. Or was married — the rule also applies to divorced people who were married for at least 10 years and haven’t remarried. That could make a big difference in a married person’s retirement vs. a single person’s.
Housing keeps getting more expensive. And the cost is a disproportionate burden on single people and solo dwellers. The 2021 study mentioned above also found that, for couples, living separately costs more than living together. Because couples can split the rent, while single people have to either foot the whole bill or get roommates (read: people who can move out at any time). Buying a home can be harder when you’re single, too. You could get approved for a larger loan and better terms with two incomes since it lowers your risk as a borrower and increases your buying power.
Health insurance options = opportunity. A married couple with two employed people has the option of choosing the employer-sponsored health plan that’s cheapest. Or if one person is self-employed, they get the choice of joining their spouse’s plan or buying their own on the marketplace. As a single person, you’re stuck with the plan your job offers. Which could hold you back from making career moves, or leave you stuck paying high-priced COBRA coverage if you lose work suddenly.
Dinner’s on you. Every time. Feeding two people generally means more food, and therefore, more costs. But groceries bought in bulk are often cheaper per portion than smaller packages. For singles, that can easily lead to food waste and overspending. Plus, rising costs at the grocery store (hi, inflation) tend to hurt women more than men, meaning single women need to stretch their dollars even further.
Solo travel can mean added costs. Similar to housing, costs for hotel rooms or other accommodations are usually cheaper if you split it between two or more people. And vacation and group travel packages often charge an additional fee for solo travelers because room rates are negotiated assuming a double occupancy.
So, what’s a (single) person to do?
Going it alone can make it harder to keep up financially with your coupled peers. But there are a few things you can do to level the playing field:
Have a plan. No partner, no problem. Schedule money dates with yourself. Single women are especially less likely to have a financial plan than people with partners, so prioritize making one. Focus on nailing down your top financial goals, then figuring out what steps are needed to reach them.
Prioritize retirement. As a single woman, you’ll need to save more for retirement than a single man. For a few reasons. Like lower lifetime earnings and a longer average lifespan. Which is why it’s important to save more for your golden years and start earlier. Not exactly fair, but necessary.
Advocate for yourself. Unfortunately, there’s a societal stigma to singleness. But you don’t need us to tell you there’s nothing wrong with independence. So be the change you’d like to see, whether it’s creating a community that you can count on or advocating for changes to the tax code and Social Security.
Being single has its advantages. But it’s not usually cheap. Consider what options you have to make your everyday life more affordable, and make sure to have a financial plan that supports you.
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