Single? It's costing you more than you think - Give Me Back My Five Bucks

Single? It’s costing you more than you think

In a recent Moneyville post where I discussed how it’s more expensive to be single, I received a lot of feedback – not only in the comments, but my inbox was flooded with messages from people offering their own insight. In fact, I probably received more e-mails from that one post, than all of my other articles combined.

What I talked about just scratched the surface of what seems to be a sensitive topic. A quick scroll through the comments, and it’s obvious that people have strong opinions. But still, the numbers don’t lie. It is significantly more expensive to be single. For example, did you know that over the span of a lifetime, a single person will end up paying over $385,000 more on essential living costs, than somebody living as part of a couple? And when you add that on top of discretionary spending, it turns out that singles end up paying around $7,400 extra each year, compared to those who are shacked up with their significant other. The numbers shocked me. Seriously?!

And then I started to think about it, and it seems to be about right. I mean, my mortgage/strata fee/property tax each month costs me approximately $16,320/year (or $1,360/month). Cut that in half, and that’s already $8,160/year I could be saving if I were splitting the cost with someone – and that’s just my housing expenses!

A one-bedroom apartment might cost you $1,000/month in rent. Split that between two people, and all of a sudden, your housing costs get slashed in half. If you’re single, you’re responsible for that entire amount yourself. Or, if you’re single and choose to live with a roommate, a 2-bedroom apartment might cost $1,500/month ($750 each) – which is still more expensive than the one-bedroom you could have shared with a significant other. If you had one, that is. And what about if you lose your job? If you were living with a partner, they would be able to cover your expenses until you get back on your feet – but will a roommate? Probably not. And what about if you’re living on your own? You’d better have a healthy Emergency Fund!

Single homeowners who have to pay strata/maintenance fees, and property tax also have it rough. For example, I produce less garbage/recycling, use less heat/hot water/amenities, and use less city services than the couple who lives beside me. Which means that I’m essentially subsidizing their overall strata/maintenance/property tax costs, because I’m paying the same amount as the two of them combined, yet I’m using far less. Fair? You tell me!

It’s true that when you’re single, you can spend and save as you please. Because there’s nobody else depending on me financially, I pretty much do whatever I want with my money – like travel to Toronto, NYC and San Francisco to watch the Blue Jays play. Or eat hummus and pita every day for dinner for a week straight (what? It’s good!). Or order a huge iPhone “slide to unlock” magnet for my fridge, because it looked awesome. But, it can also be a lot harder to manage your money. For me, it’s not just the big expenses (rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries) that hurt my budget, it’s the little things that always add up so quickly. Gas. Dinner parties. Gifts for friends. Household furnishings. Cleaning products. All of these things cost the same whether you’re single, or living with someone. The only difference is, when you’re single, you have to pay for it all yourself.

All of these added expenses will also mean that you will have a harder time paying off debt – not to mention the fact that you will end up paying much more interest too. Oh, and it will also be much harder coming up with money to save for retirement, for travel, for school, for a car, or for anything else you’ve been planning on buying. So basically being single not only affects you in the present day, it’s also affecting your future.

Still though. My days of living with a roommate are over, and plans of shacking up with a significant other are so far into the future that it’s laughable. Living on my own is worth every penny, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world right now.

About Krystal Yee

I'm a writer, personal finance blogger, and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I'm a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner's Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I'm not working, you can usually find me running, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.

39 comments

  1. Agree on both counts! I just (seconds ago) got over a panic attack about how much my new-to-me car is going to cost, even though I've saved for years and could buy the thing outright if I weren't getting an interest rate that is lower than what my savings are earning me. I loved being a one-car household, but not enough to stay with my crazy ex any longer!

    Money isn't everything, and frugality can't dictate every decision (no matter how often I try to use that strategy). After all, you only live once :) I saved for this car, did my homework, and am finally pulling the trigger on it after hemming and hawing for months in a city that has effectively no public transportation, so at least I'm being as smart as (I think) I can be about it all. Besides, if I freak out about the monthly payment in the future, I can just pay the thing off…my views on the value of liquidity have changed a lot now that I'm single, though! Have yours?

  2. This is so true.

    I'm a graduate student, and though come fall I'll have a tuition waver and stipend, it's not a living wage. Because I live with my BF, I won't have to take out additional loans – we split rent, utilities, groceries, etc., so our combined income creates a living wage.

    But without him, I would have to take on additional student loan debt to subsidize my small stipend, instead of putting my excess funds toward paying off previous student loans like I'm doing now.
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  3. I agree with all your points, however it should be noted that a "couple" doesn't necessarily mean two incomes.
    My recent post Camping With Young Kids – Frugal Folly?

    • True. But if one person isn't working, at least you have the option available to you should you need more than one income coming in.

    • I agree. I'd have to say the most expensive living style is married with kids on a single income & student loans. Housing costs remain static (or more for the larger place) plus food, cars, gas, education, College loans from both parties to pay off.

      otherwise it is Just economies of scale. of course it cost more with fewer incomes distributed over shared resources.

      1 income costs more then any other form of combined income 2 income one house, 3 income one house.

  4. I think you also have to remember when your single you spend more on going out to meet people, bars, dates, new clothes for the dates etc. Now that I am married I see how much I used to spend trying to meet potential candidates.
    My recent post Sewing For Myself????

  5. But cleaning products are so fun to buy…and use! Seriously though, being single has is pros, and its cons financially. Thanks for sharing!
    My recent post Using Social Media to Get Hired – How to Land the Job Even When the Resume Fails

  6. You forgot to mention the dreaded single supplement which often has to be paid when travelling, either for hotel rooms or package holidays.

    And another thorny issue, depending on which country you live in, you might be entitled to some tax breaks if you're a married couple (possibly also co-habiting couples to some extent but I think that's probably less likely). I have a friend who flat-out argued with me once that marriage is hard work and she and her husband deserved to get the tax breaks they did. At this stage, they have two kids and her husband stays at home to look after them and in that case I can understand and support help by way of tax breaks. But when they were a two-income, no kids couple I had absolutely no patience with the fact that I was at a tax disadvantage just because I hadn't yet found Mr Right – they not only had the joy of a great relationship, they paid less tax than I did. It was like rubbing salt in the wound!

    • You can understand and support help in the way of tax breaks because her husband is staying home with the two kids? Uh, why? They chose to have those kids. I'm helping to support them by simply paying taxes for things such as schools that I will never use (beyond my personal use of them, which is true for everyone) since I don't have children. I consider that a societal duty. But why should they pay LESS in taxes for such things?

    • It’s not true that dual income no kids (DINK) couples pay less tax than single people. Two people, each making $50,000 a year for a total of $100,000, will pay double the tax of a single person making $50,000 per year. One kids come into the picture, yes there are tax breaks. Here in Canada we have a $2000 deduction per child, which saves a person about $400 per year. Big deal. The single person has no need to change diapers, attend to every need, etc., but instead keeps total freedom with what he or she does.

      Having children is a good thing for society in general in order to continue creating a tax base for the future so that hospitals will still be functioning when the single person retires. The miniscule tax breaks for people with kids hardly add up to the enormous sacrifice they have to make with their time and money.

      If single people think it’s such a big deal to have to pay for housing on their own, that’s fine – just buy or rent a place with only half the space in it to reduce the cost. If you’re getting a place that is huge all for yourself, of course it’s going to cost you a lot!

      • Well, I did mean property tax, not income tax. But I do understand where you’re coming from. Also, who’s to say that a single person doesn’t have a kid? It’s not just married/common-law partners that can have babies. And when that single person has a kid, it’s costs even more than if you were living with a partner.

  7. Krystal,

    Great minds do think alike! I loved your moneyville post and this one is great too.
    Like your self, I'm in the same boat, between the mortgage/condo fees/property taxes which amount to $1,200 monthly, that would be a nice $600 I could be putting towards something else. Maybe an investment property perhaps? One can dream for now, but I'm working extra hard towards it.

    • One day I'd love to own a rental property. But it's hard in Vancouver, and it's even more difficult to fathom as a single person! I need to figure out how to double my income, lol. :)

      • I think that your main goal should be to spend only half of what a couple would be spending… that shouldn’t be too difficult.

  8. Great minds think alike! I posted about the extra costs of being single a few weeks ago, too. Like you, I'm willing to pay extra to have my own space and the opportunity to leave my mess lying around, only clean the bathroom when *I* think it's dirty, and possibly eat hummus for supper for a week (though in my case, it's more like eat ice cream for supper for a few days, with nobody to judge).

    Sucks to pay for double-occupancy room for just one person, though. Travelling is way cheaper for two.
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  9. I spent a lot more when I was single and I usually had a roommate. I shopped more and went out a lot. I think that the living expenses are the main thing that add to the cost. I did travel quite a bit more when I was single because it was a lot cheaper and easier. Finances are always subject to change. As long as one is happy in their situation, the financial portion will work itself out.
    My recent post No Weekly Spending Reports

  10. Good on ya Krystal. Living alone teaches you a lot about independent living and being self sufficient.
    But it sure is pricier (I had the better part of a decade learning this).

  11. You're forgetting how expensive a divorce is!!!!!!!!!

  12. What is a 'single supplement'? Is that a Canadian thing?

    My friend always says, 'Two can live as cheaply as one.' Perhaps, but i find it's been HARDER to save since moving in with BF. For one, he's not willing to eat 'beans and rice' type meals any day of the week, whereas when I was single, I could do that. I was also fine with not going out some weekends, but he gets bored, I think, if we don't go out at least one of the weekend nights. Not to mention we also have a dog now! :) (Totally worth it, though.)

    • Well, I'm Irish and I live in Germany – so maybe it's more of a European thing. Example: package holiday costs 500 but that's per person sharing. If you don't have anyone to share a room with, you usually have to pay an extra charge, often quite substantial so you might end up paying 600 or 650 for the same holiday just because you'll be in a room on your own. What really bugs me is when you end up being given a single room with a tiny single bed – even though you've had to pay extra.

    • But does the food that you buy, and the entertainment costs you have to spend money on, outweigh the positives of having your housing expenses cut in half? When I moved in with my ex-BF a few years ago, my expenses plummeted. Maybe they didn't get cut in half, because I found I was spending more money on gas, food, and entertainment, but my rent and utilities were significantly cheaper compared to paying an entire month's rent on my own.

      • I think my expenses will go up or stay the same if I ever move in with my boyfriend. Right now I'm living a "single" lifestyle, although I'm in a LTR of over 5 years (we don't live together yet), and my basic living expenses are probably cheaper now then they will be when I get married. Right now I share a 3br apartment with two other girls (granted, my bf and I could get a 1br, but we both need personal space so we'd be getting a 2br when we move in together.) My rent now is $630/month. If we get a 2 bedroom around here, that would be $1500+. It would be more difficult to find a third person to live with us for a 3br situation. I'm not sure if food would be more expensive or cheaper. I could see food costs coming down if I kept a regular food schedule now, but I tend to buy food when I'm hungry and nosh on office snacks during the day. If I have to buy weekly groceries for two, then my costs would go up. Travel might be a little cheaper — but it's not a huge issue right now since I'm in a relationship and usually travel with my bf. I spend more in a relationship on going out because when I was dating more often than not the guy would get upset if I wanted to pay for my meals. So I think I'll end up spending more when I'm married.
        My recent post Health, Diet, Life: A New Road to Thin

  13. Don't forget food costs – being single and trying to cook all the time doesn't often work. Being single, you can't buy in bulk because it goes bad too fast.

    • Exactly! No more trips to Costco as a single person.

    • Boloney. All canned & dried & freezable goods can be bulk bought by singletons assuming you have the space (which you may well not, as a singeton, but then I had less space living with my girlfriend than I ever have had on my own, so).
      All you need afterwards is to regularly buy fruit, veg & dairy, e.g. on the way home form work. No big.

      One thing about op’s post: to a certain extent it’s unfair to say that you still have to buy the same stuff as a singleton but the cost isn’t shared. True, you still have to buy food, gas, cleaning products, but they’ll all last twice as long so you’ll buy less regularly. Except cleaning products. Which will last 97 times as long since most guys almost never use em, heh.

  14. I don't agree with much of that article. If I were single, I could easily live on a 1/3 of my income and work a lot less. My personal expenses are very minimal, but my wife's is very high. Since she doesn't work, I pay for everything. Her debt is my problem. Being single would be a blessing for anyone looking to get out of a financial hole.

    • Really? Really? You don't think the option that your wife could GET A JOB makes a difference?

      • I agree with Schmootc. The fact that your wife doesn't work is only *because* you are part of a couple. You have the potential earning power of two people, but you choose to get by with one income. It's a lifestyle choice that is only available in a partnership. A single parent, for example, wouldn't have the option to stay at home even if they wanted to.

        • And the single person only has the earning power of one person because he or she chooses to live alone. You could get a roommate to share living costs, or simply rent or buy a place that costs half of what a family would require.

          I used to live off of $1000 a month as a student (with a car) but now that I’m married I live off of about $4500. As a married person you can’t just live off of rice and beans like I did when I was single as I now have the responsibility of other people. I hardly think living single is more expensive than as a couple.

  15. I agree with most of what you said. Shouldering rent/mortgage can be harder when single. And the emergency fund definitely has to be higher, but I disagree with your conclusions about utilities and property tax. You might use less heat/water/etc than your neighbors, but chances are you pay less because of it. Cities generally do not charge a flat rate for everyone. Also, you might pay the same property tax as your neighbor, but you get the whole place to yourself whereas your neighbors have to split the same space. You pay extra for the privilege of having extra space.

    • True. But when you pay your monthly maintenance/strata fees, it's the same as the couple next to me. But they produce twice as much garbage than me, use the garage door twice as much as me, drive on the roads in the complex twice as much as me … yet we are paying the same amount of monthly fees. So when something breaks down in the complex, the two of them combined are paying what I'm paying. Yeah, I get the place all to myself, but I also have to pay more because of it. I don't get a choice.

  16. How can you be truly financially independent when you are depending on the income of another?
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  17. This post just got picked-up by The Consumerist:
    http://consumerist.com/2011/07/the-hidden-costs-o

    By the way, great blog, keep up the good work!

    -JP

  18. Great points Krystal! On the flip side, I spend much more on food than if I were single, because we're cooking 'real meals'. However, overall, when I was single, the cost of living was more, but in a couple, the quality of living has increased (no kids), because we have that float … and usually spend it …
    Great discussion!
    K

  19. This is an old post, but I wanted to let you know I appreciated it — it made me think more about my own situation, and also inspired the title of the personal finance blog I’m just starting (http://thesingledollar.blogspot.com/) Being single has its benefits…but also its downsides, for sure. Every time I write a rent check or think about how to save for retirement on a teacher’s salary, I think about them.

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