Singles might be free, but they’ll pay more for that freedom

Marriage was once used to secure wealth between families. Courtship and modern romance may have evolved, but getting hitched or cohabitating with your significant other still has the potential for larger long-term savings.

While National Unmarried and Single Americans Week (Sept. 17-23) celebrates singles and the things money can't buy, like freedom, the reality is that being one half in a world of twos can also be pricey.

"There are so many ways in which people who are married are given more financial benefits," says Bella DePaulo, author of the book, "Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After."

Relationships don't alter the basic price of services, but it does give couples one competitive advantage: their expenses are cut in half. Two people can split the bill on housing, utilities, groceries and social events.

"During the holidays, I'll buy one gift for each member of a family," says Jean Marie Baiardi, a small business owner and actress in Los Angeles, who is single. "But they'll give me just one gift. It feels a little uneven. There's a lot of money attached to general societal expectations."

Wedding season may have passed, but the bills for wedding presents, trips to destination ceremonies and fancy attire are still present. Singles who never marry are not repaid with gifts at their own wedding.            

"If you're a single person, you're buying things for two people who likely have two salaries on only one salary," DePaulo says. "But it's not reciprocal. If you're a single person and had an important life event and wanted to celebrate, people are unlikely to take it seriously."            

A lack of a safety net is another problem many singles encounter. If you're flying solo and get sick or lose your job, you might not have anyone to fall back on. A new survey by TD Ameritrade, a brokerage firm in Omaha, found that singles make an average of $8,800 less than their married peers each year. ($52,900 vs. $61,700.) Not only do singles have less money to start with, but the survey, which looked at 1,000 unmarried and 1,000 married people, all over the age of 37, found that one-third of singles rated themselves as financially secure, while nearly one-half of married people said the same.

Many people are aware of the higher tax deductions for married people than individuals. But, legally-bound folks are also assigned less risk with many auto insurance companies and are more likely to be approved for a home loan. TD Ameritrade reports 58 percent of single people own a home, compared with 90 percent of their married counterparts.

But the day-to-day expenses single people face are the most costly.

Cellphone plans, gym memberships and cable TV often offer deals for couples and families. The travel industry coined the term "single supplement."

Grocery shopping is cheaper if you're buying in bulk or family size, something that is hard to do if you live alone. When DePaulo, who is also a visiting professor of psychology at the University of California, takes the shuttle bus from her town outside Santa Barbara, California, to LAX, she pays more than a couple traveling together.

Even if you're trying to change your status, it's hard to be frugal while dating. Men are often expected to pick up the tab, while women end up shelling out large sums of cash for grooming products and clothes.

"People who are paired up tend to be more cost conscious of each other's lifestyles and do things together on a budget," says Hayley Lind, a bartender in New York City.

Lule Demmissie, managing director of retirement and long-term investing at TD Ameritrade, says there are steps single people can take to even the playing field.

  1. Find a financial adviser. This can also be a friend who is financially savvy. TD Ameritrade found 63% of married people are saving for retirement, compared with only 44% of single people. Two heads are better than one, an advantage that married people have. An outside support system can keep individuals on track.
  2. Educate yourself. Another benefit of a financial advisor is that they will keep you updated to benefits you are eligible for.             
  3. Share expenses. You don't have to be in a couple to have a roommate. Friends can share Netflix accounts and Groupon deals. DePaulo recommends challenging the language of couples discounts. "If couples get a two-for-one deal, ask if you can have it half price," she says.            
  4. Establish an emergency fund. You don't need to be married to set up an IRA, mutual fund or 401(k) — something to fall back on in case of an emergency.            
  5. Marriage is also expensive. The biggest mistake a single person can make is to rush into marriage or living together. According a study conducted by the 2016 Singles in America study conducted by the Match Group, 91% of women and 82% of men want a partner with similar views on spending money. Mixing finances with a person who is financially irresponsible can be costly. Aside from picking up bad money habits from a spendthrift partner, divorce is unsurprisingly expensive.               

About the Author