Living Single

The truth about singles in our society.

The Single Best Bit of $$ Advice for Single People

A recent report shows that single people are not as far along in their retirement planning as married people are. Here are some big-picture answers to why that is and what can be done, and not just with regard to money. Read More

Retirement math

I don't know how they calculate how much money you need to retire. Those calculators always seem off to me. For instance, I own my home and have no debt and do not anticipate any borrowing in the future. In the years when I make a lot of money, the calculator assumes that I need a certain percentage of that money to maintain a lifestyle (a mortgage in a certain income bracket, savings for kids' college tuition, etc.), so I get a big scary message that I'm not saving enough. But because I'm single and childfree and not a big consumer, I really can't imagine what I'd be spending all of that money on. There's no way to explain to the calculator, though, that I do not want an SUV kind of life and so I'll be saving that $40K this year.

For this reason I have to say that I think I'm better off financially because I'm single. I've been able to take career risks because they affected me only. These risks happened to have paid off, and I worked extremely hard, which may not have been possible had I been partnered up in a traditional marriage with all of the extra work that requires and the intense consumerism that always seems to accompany that lifestyle. My desire to be financially and professionally independent was the main reason I stayed single.

Regardless of what the numbers say, though, I feel rich.

Unfortunately, one of the big

Unfortunately, one of the big expenses included in the calcuations is not one we foresee or desire: spiraling health care costs. :(

One downside which wasn't

One downside which wasn't mentioned in the article was that the cost of housing is not amortized over two people. If you rent or you have a mortgage, then having two people means (usually) two incomes to pitch in on the housing payments. The same goes for furnishing as well, since the house will probably have a similar amount of furniture regardless of if it has one or two people. I know when my then fiancee moved in with me, we both had households already and had to integrate and downsize.

Congratulations to Simone (the commenter before me) on being debt free and having your life in order! Being married does not equal suddenly becoming materialistic and consumer-focused. It only does if you choose to let it be that way. I'm a proud driver of a beater car, for example, and I'm married!

I think the majority of single people live with others

I think one of Bella's more recent posts looked at demographics and showed that at least half of single people live with someone else. I suspect most of this is renting but I have heard of unrelated single people buying homes together.

And I'd point out that "having your life in order" depends upon your goals, it doesn't necessarily mean debt-free. That's only the case if your goals are heavily materialistic (which is why I avoid financial planners, since everything for them comes down to $$$)

Another thing to consider about single lifestyles

Is that they may give one freedom to pursue non-financial goals, which may also explain the difference in income. If you have goals or values to pursue you're less likely to be focusing on your 401K or the value of your house.

I love education and going in different directions in my life. As a result, I have a small mortgage in educational loans. Owning a home is pretty much out of the question.

But I don't care. I've been able to make major career changes and finally find a career that's a good fit, with a good sense of mission. And I plan to keep making career changes throughout my life, even after reaching the traditional retirement age.

I'll always rent, I'll always drive a used car, I'll live simply, I won't have big vacations or fancy clothes or lots of possessions. Because none of those things are important to me. When the Grim Reaper comes for me I want to know that I've helped other people and traveled many paths in life.

I was going to post exactly

I was going to post exactly when Jason said (above).

There are certain "fixed costs" that are the same or almost the same of singles as couples .... furniture etc, sure, but also gardening costs, maybe motor vehicle costs if only 1 car, and electricity if the house isn't much bigger for having a 2nd person

It's the "variable costs" that increase with more people - food being the best example.

I was going to post exactly

I was going to post exactly when Jason said (above).

There are certain "fixed costs" that are the same or almost the same of singles as couples .... furniture etc, sure, but also gardening costs, maybe motor vehicle costs if only 1 car, and electricity if the house isn't much bigger for having a 2nd person

It's the "variable costs" that increase with more people - food being the best example.

Said it before and I'll say it again

Everyone always says divorce is an "economic sinkhole" or some such. Well, I was married to a guy whose financial values were not at all similar to my own. We were in horrific debt and at one point I insisted we declare bankruptcy. I was being harassed by collection agencies at work--always me, never him, even though I had no control over the finances in the dynamics of our marriage. The accounts were totally pooled and I had to ask permission to buy anything! When I got divorced, my standard of living rocketed (from bare ground to cheap carpet, mind you) because even though I had a much smaller income, I had full control over it and could make my own choices about what to have and what to do without. I am a homeowner now and my credit score is 781. I am definitely the exception to the divorce-is-bad-for-women rule.

Was just speaking from my experience

Of course there is always the adage that two can live as cheaply as one. They can, but it doesn't seem to me that they do. It could just be where I live and the demographic I belong to, but the married-with-kids people I see everyday consume exponentially more than I do in cars & transportation, food, clothing, entertainment--in just about every way you can list. I notice a subtle competitiveness among the married people I know--maybe you could call it a striving for status. I also notice a greater disregard for the environment (they generate a lot of trash, drive a lot, use a lot of electricity, have to have every comfort) and an attitude of insularity; "we" always refers to the spouse and kids, never to humanity as a whole. "Good" is what's good for "us," no matter what the repercussions may be on others in the world.

I'm not suggesting that these people are irresponsible, evil, or insensitive. I believe they are unconsciously following societal prescriptives that are becoming obsolete. These societal prescriptives are becoming obsolete because people are realizing the erroneousness of the assumptions behind them and the damage that following them causes.

Insular Nuclearity

What Simone is describing is covered in Singled Out, the phenomonon of "insular nuclearity," the nuclear family living in its own little bubble. What kills me is when those overconsumers turn around and judge the single people for not "being responsible" and having families. My boss used to do that, and I reminded him that the street festival he took his kids to the previous weekend would not have been held if it weren't for the people like me who volunteered to put it on, and we gave and he took, and that's kind of how it goes. And I'm not complaining about it, because I gain too in a lot of ways or I wouldn't do it, until they turn around and use it to attack me and my lifestyle choices. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

Insular Nuclearity

What Simone is describing is covered in Singled Out, the phenomonon of "insular nuclearity," the nuclear family living in its own little bubble. What kills me is when those overconsumers turn around and judge the single people for not "being responsible" and having families. My boss used to do that, and I reminded him that the street festival he took his kids to the previous weekend would not have been held if it weren't for the people like me who volunteered to put it on, and we gave and he took, and that's kind of how it goes. And I'm not complaining about it, because I gain too in a lot of ways or I wouldn't do it, until they turn around and use it to attack me and my lifestyle choices. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!

Is lower pay for singles really down to discrimincation?

There are lots of very valid points I agree with here, both in the articles and the comments. I'm not 100% sold on Bella's theory that lower pay is mainly due to discrimination though: surely age must come into it? For example, if I graduate at age 23 and enter the workplace, I'm probably not earning very much (and chances are, I'm single). Fast forward 20 years and I probably earn much more than I did (and I may be married). I don't earn more because I'm married, but because I have more relevant experience and have built up a career. I'm happy to be corrected if i'm wrong though.

As regards sharing the cost of owning and furnishing a home, I agree entirely. I'm in my mid-30s and live in a VERY expensive city (a small one-bed apartment in an halfway decent area costs $400,000)and it's just little old me paying for everything, so I've been unable to buy yet. Most of my coupled friends regularly tell me I need to get on the housing ladder (you think I hadn't thought of that!) but they conveniently forget that they had financial help (times two, from both sets of parents) in raising a deposit and furnishing a home. They also received lots of wedding gifts and donations to help them on their way, something single people miss out on. Most of my married friends received a $100 gift when they bought their place, another $100 engagement gift, a $300 gift when they got married (not to mention a small fortune on attending the wedding itself), and many many baby gifts since. I get a small birthday gift every year. It reminds me of the episode in Sex and the City where Carrie jokes that there's no "congratulations on not marrying the wrong guy" card for single people.

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Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., is author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After. She is a visiting professor at UCSB.

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