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Is it easier to Retire Early if you’re married?

by retirebyforty on August 27, 2014 · 37 comments

in early retirement, family

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Last week, I got one of those emails arguing that I can’t be retired if Mrs. RB40 is still working. Well, I’m not fully retired, but it’s not because my wife is working. The blog takes a lot of work, so I consider myself semi-retired, which I think is the best way to retire. Most people like to work a little bit so they feel productive. Not working at all is just too idle time. From what I read, many retirees have a hard time transitioning to a completely unstructured schedule and this can lead to depression.

early retirement easier if married or single?Anyway, I’d like to clarify that Mrs. RB40 chooses to work. She can quit her full time job if she really needs to. Our expense is about $4,000/month and we can cover it without her paycheck. We can use our other income to pay the bills when she decides to retire. Here are our other sources of income.

  • Dividend portfolio: $1,000/month
  • Dividend from our retirement accounts: $1,600/month*
  • P2P lending: $80/month
  • Rental properties: $200/month
  • My online income after tax: about $2,500/month (If I stop contributing to my i401k and our 529 account).

*Most of the investments in our retirement accounts are in low cost Vanguard funds. I just pulled this data from my Personal Capital page so it should be reasonably accurate. Personal Capital is quite useful when you’re going over your investments.

Our other streams of income add up to around $5,000 and that should be enough to cover our monthly expenses if Mrs. RB40 does quit. Of course, we’d have to pay penalty and tax on the amount withdrawn from our retirement account and that would reduce our total income. We also have to buy private health insurance so that will be the biggest additional cost. To mitigate these factors, we’d probably move to a cheaper location to lower our monthly cost of living. Anyway, I think we can make it work even if Mrs. RB40 quits her job. Of course, we have some safety net and extra disposable income from her paychecks. Financially, it’s better that she keeps working until we can tap our retirement accounts with no penalty.

Early retirement easier if you’re single

Okay, now that I’m done justifying my “semi-retired” status, let’s talk about early retirement and marriage. Do you think it’s easier to retire if you’re married or single? That’s a hard question because we’ve been married for almost 20 years. It’s tough to imagine being single at this point. Well, I think it would be a lot easier to retire early if I was single. Let’s see my reasoning.

Fewer responsibilities

When you’re single, you only have to worry about yourself. You can control all your costs and cut back when you need. I think I’d be able to live on much less than $4,000/month if I was single. I wouldn’t mind living in a small studio. I can wear my clothes until they disintegrate. I can drive an old crappy car into the ground. I can live cheaply and probably wouldn’t even mind it much. Actually, that’s pretty much how my younger brother lives now.

If I was single, I’d probably go live in Thailand and other SE Asian countries for a while. That way, I’d spend very little on rent and food.

No kid

Raising a kid costs more than $250,000 over 18 years according to the USDA and that’s not including higher education. If I didn’t have a kid, then life would be so much simpler. I can save money for myself or just spend it and not worry about our kid’s higher education. A child is a huge responsibility and the family needs financial stability. Most people take much fewer chances when they have children and quitting a job would be much more difficult at that point. Life would be much less interesting without a maniacal 3 year old boy, though.

More Flexibilities

One of our readers commented last week that he purchased a house and rented it out to roommates. The extra income pays his mortgage and early retirement is a good possibility. When you’re single, you can do that kind of thing, but it’s much more difficult when you’re married. You have to consider how your spouse feels about your money making schemes and probably throw out many of those ideas…

What if you’re married?

On the other hand, being married also has some great points.

  • One person can work longer – If you think a couple needs to retire at the same time, I got news for you. It’s not true. Most couples don’t retire at the same time. There are just too many factors to consider. One person can be older, enjoy working more, or simply just isn’t ready to retire yet. There are numerous benefits to having one person work longer. For one, obtaining health insurance is much easier if one spouse is working.
  • Safety net – Sure, it’s more flexible if you’re single, but what happens if you become disabled? Being married means you have a backup. If something goes wrong, there are more alternatives. Having 2 adults in the household is much more secure than just one.
  • Teamwork and emotional support – If a couple has the same financial goals, then it’s easier to reach those goals by working together. A good team can complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Social security benefit, life insurance, and other spousal benefits — If you handle it right, your spouse might be able to retire early when you’re gone…

From the comments

  • Married with no kids – Being married (or having a partner) with no kids is probably the best way to go financially. You can combine expense and live on less than being single. In theory, I agree, but it’s tough to find the right partner that have similar values and goals. The odd isn’t good. It’s highly dependent on the couple.

Even with the benefits of marriage, I think being single makes it much easier to retire early because you can cut costs to the bone and live on very little as a bachelor. A single person has total control of his/her life and where to take it. When you’re married, you have to consider your spouse and kids too. If you have a good team, early retirement is reachable, but forming that good team can be very elusive.

What do you think? What would you add to this list? I’ll update the article with your input.

Photo credit: flicker See-ming Lee

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

JenniferM August 27, 2014 at 2:21 am

I’ve enjoyed your site for a while, but generally don’t comment. However, I think you’re conflating two different things in your argument here, which makes a huge difference. Just because you’re married, it doesn’t mean you have kids (and vice versa). While I agree that having kids makes retiring early harder (for all the reasons you mention), that can apply whether you are married or not.

When just looking at married vs. single, I think being married makes it significantly easier to retire early. There are a lot of expenses that do not double between one and two person households, so having two incomes means that on average you’re likely to have more disposable income, and if both people want to, can still apply any of the cost cutting measures you mention in the single case.

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retirebyforty August 27, 2014 at 8:34 am

You’re right! I’ll update the article with this one. Having no kid is probably the easiest way to go.
Being married would make it easier if both people are on the same page. I think that’s pretty tough, though. You would have to have very similar personalities and goals. The odd isn’t good.

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Fab August 27, 2014 at 5:13 am

Hi RB40,

Well I also think it is easier to retire early when single. Mainly when you are single you can really focus on having minimum expenses: you can cut / make sacrifices without impacting other people. And then doing so, you can save money with a good saving rate. Being single, you can push things to extreme if you want to.
Being married, you can still minimize expenses but not as much.

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retirebyforty August 27, 2014 at 8:39 am

That’s right. I can be more frugal, but Mrs. RB40 is pretty comfortable right now. You can only go as frugal as the level of one person’s threshold.

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No Nonsense Landlord August 27, 2014 at 5:27 am

Maybe, but only if your finances are separate. It’s cheaper to live as a couple than 2 individuals, but you have two people eyeing up the money pot.

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retirebyforty August 27, 2014 at 8:43 am

Yeah, two people eyeing the money pot is the big obstacle. :)

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Stefanie August 27, 2014 at 5:28 am

If you’re married WITHOUT kids, then yes, I think it certainly takes less as you can share resources and responsibilities and hopefully you each have a different skill set that helps keep you from hiring everything out.

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Emily August 27, 2014 at 5:40 am

I think your examples are pretty personality-dependent, if there aren’t kids involved. I could also see that two people committed to a spartan lifestyle would be able to encourage one another to be more frugal than they were on their own, like accountability partners.

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retirebyforty August 27, 2014 at 8:46 am

It pretty unlikely to have two people committing to a spartan lifestyle. It’s highly dependent on the couple, of course. I don’t think Mrs. RB40 can live a spartan lifestyle anymore….

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Andrew August 27, 2014 at 6:24 am

I agree with the others…I think retiring early can be easier if you’re married…with NO KIDS of course. It’s easier to save a large amount of money with two people (if they have the same goals) and share resources like apartment/house. Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme makes it work with a wife…no kids though!

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retirebyforty August 27, 2014 at 8:47 am

I don’t think Jacob is retired anymore. I doubt his wife would enjoy the spartan lifestyle in the long run. When you’re older, you want more creature comforts. :)

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Justin August 27, 2014 at 6:50 am

In general I think it’s easier to retire early if you’re married. You have double the income without double the expenses (houses are a relatively fixed cost, for example). In our case, we have two sets of fringe benefits so I was able to skip my employer’s crappy expensive insurance and use Mrs. RoG’s awesome free or nearly free insurance for the whole family (a $9000 savings per year).

Assuming your spouse is financially compatible, it can also mean very low spending if you tend to do inexpensive things for fun. If you aren’t trying to impress a date, you can go cheap on cars and other classic (shallow) indicators of success.

I think you have a point though – if you’re alone, you can choose to go the bare bones route and spend almost nothing. That’s not a route my wife is willing to take with me! But I’m not sure I want to take that route either.

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retirebyforty August 27, 2014 at 8:49 am

Looks like your expense will increase quite a bit after Mrs. RoG quits her job. The health insurance is a big problem here in the US. I think I can go bare bone for a few years, but probably not forever. I don’t think Mrs. RB40 is willing to do that at all…

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EL August 27, 2014 at 7:13 am

First off I disagree with the notion that it costs 250 grand to raise a kid. The media is constantly saying that, and I know for a fact it is false. Now If you are married you can retire early only if both of spouses are on the same page with the goal to retire. If one spouse is saving while the other is spending, then your not retiring as quickly as possible. Being single you can use the tactics you mentioned, to speed up retirement, but single people tend to spend more on entertainment/ lifestyle costs. I vote for being married as a tool to retire sooner.

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retirebyforty August 27, 2014 at 8:50 am

I used to disagree, but I changed my mind now. A bigger home cost a ton of money these days and that’s the biggest factor. Good vote.

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Jay Cup August 27, 2014 at 7:26 am

I agree, it would be easier to retire early if you were single. But would you want to?

I’d much rather have a wife and kids than retire early and be single. I know that’s a personal preference though. And in regards to how expensive children are, I get that, but to me they are worth it. Children are a blessing that outweighs their financial cost. Plus, when they are older they can support you financially, emotionally, etc.

So I would never give up my children or wife to retire early. But I think you’ve shown that you can have both, it just may take a little more time and planning.

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retirebyforty August 27, 2014 at 8:51 am

I like have a wife and kid too. :)

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Sam August 27, 2014 at 7:27 am

Definitely easier to retire early with a spouse who pays the bills, even if you have kids!

Donald’s Trump wife retired real early!

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Josh August 27, 2014 at 11:00 am

His ex wives retired real early too! I’d take a multimillion prenup deal over working for the man anyday!

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Sam August 27, 2014 at 5:32 pm

All about finding that sugar mama!

In definitely rooting for more female breadwinners.

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retirebyforty August 28, 2014 at 5:26 pm

The gold digger strategy. :)

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ALDO August 27, 2014 at 7:30 am

You don’t necessarily have to be married, but sharing responsibilities with somebody else helps bring down cost.

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Tawcan August 27, 2014 at 9:08 am

I definitely agree on the emotion support part but at the same time you’re assuming the spouse is working as well. What if the spouse doesn’t work? Then maybe it’s not as easy to retire early compare to when you’re single.

While I think it might be easier to retire early if you’re single, I don’t think that’s going to be a lot of fun. You won’t have someone to share moments with you.

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retirebyforty August 28, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Yeah, I like being married and being a dad. It’s the best thing in the world. Not everything has to be optimal financially.

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canadianbudgetbinder August 27, 2014 at 11:20 am

I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to that. Everyone has a unique situation although being married might offer the security of two people rather than just relying on yourself. We are having our first child any day now and although we are debt free including the mortgage I’m still working because those benefits come in handy and I love what I do. My wife on the other hand she might want to stay home and that’s ok too because we can afford for her to do that if she chooses. Time will tell.

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retirebyforty August 28, 2014 at 5:28 pm

It’s great that your wife can afford to stay home. Congratulation on your first child, it will be a grand adventure.

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Andrew August 27, 2014 at 12:33 pm

I’m single w/ no kids, but having dual income no kids would be even better. Could 100% pack away the one income and live on the other.

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retirebyforty August 28, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Yeah, we saved a lot more money when we didn’t have a kid. But a kid brings so much life to the family. Life is a lot better with him around. most of the time…

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Tommy August 27, 2014 at 7:33 pm

I have to go with the all time cop-out answer, it depends. If both are true partners and on the same page then it would be easier. If not then being single would be easier. Not all costs double for 2 and there is opportunity for 2 incomes. A big plus is you have a companion on your journey. Kids can cause retirement delay but I think they are worth it. Relationships with our adult kids and now grand-kids brings us a lot of happiness in our early retirement. Sure they cost money to raise but we still pulled it off if you can consider age 51 being an early retirement. Now one last comment about you getting crap about not being retired because…. I have had a couple of similar comments because I live a retire early and often lifestyle. I get to define my retirement and if I do what I want to do, what I am passionate about, paid or not, then I am retired living MY retired life on my own terms. I left behind and retired from a career-mindset and see you as have done the same. You pulled off an amazingly young retirement. I say power to the people who challenge the outdated definitions of retirement.

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retirebyforty August 28, 2014 at 5:31 pm

I think 51 is the perfect age to retire early. :) Kids are a joy. Life would be much less interesting without our kid around. It’s a different lifestyle.
I like your retire early and often philosophy. That’s a great way to live. Don’t let anyone else dictate your life.

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Ernie Zelinski August 28, 2014 at 12:37 am

I would imagine that the same would apply for early retirement as for retirement at the normal retirement age. According to a 2012 study, the amount of money singles in their late 60s have saved for retirement is overwhelmingly less than that of married couples. The study found that the median married household had saved up nearly 10 times more for retirement in 2008 than the median single-person household, or $111,600 compared with $12,500.

There are many reasons for this including that singles don’t enjoy the cost savings incurred when two or more people share household expenses.

Having said this, I am single and better off in retirement than 99 percent of people my age — married or single!

The key is not to use any excuses and instead take 100 percent responsibility for your life and for your retirement. Fact is, taking 98 or 99 percent responsibility for your retirement is far too little!

This passage from my new book applies:

“Reasons only help you sound reasonable. They have nothing to do with manifesting
achievement and prosperity in your life.”
— from “Life’s Secret Handbook”

In short, how committed are you to early retirement? Forget about whether you are married or single. “Riches do not respond to wishes, stated Napoleon Hill. “They respond only to definite plans, backed by definite desires, through constant persistence.”

Ernie J. Zelinski
The Prosperity Guy
“Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
(Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
(Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

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retirebyforty August 28, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Sure, you have some cost saving as a couple, but I don’t think that’s the major factor. I doubt it account for the 10x difference. I suspect the married people feels more responsible and probably want to save for the rainy days. Maybe being single make you want to live in the moment more. I don’t know… Thanks for sharing!

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Cindy @ GrowingHerWorth August 28, 2014 at 5:50 am

There are so many variables here. I’m a single girl (never married) with no kids. At 35, I’m in the beginning of getting my financial life together. On my own, I could probably retire “early”, but early as in being in my late 50’s.

The boyfriend is in his mid-50’s, with a great pension, but is currently not in the best situation financially. He’s been married before (which actually hurt him, as she racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in consumer debt), and has 2 kids in their 20’s.

I have a plan to fix his financial situation, and enable him to retire within the next 10 years (as opposed to never being able to, which is what would happen if he didn’t make some changes). Of course, it take both of our incomes for the plan to work. We can both “retire” then. But getting married will play a big role; Otherwise, if something happened to him, I’d have to head back to the workforce.

So, I guess I’d say it depends on who you’re marrying, their financial situation, the choices you make, including having children, as to whether it’s easier to retire early being single or married!

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retirebyforty August 28, 2014 at 5:35 pm

Oh man, a financially irresponsible partner is huge obstacle. I’m really glad my wife is pretty frugal. Good luck with your plan. Keep at it.

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Mrs. SSC August 28, 2014 at 12:04 pm

I will vote for married with no kids as being the easiest. (I am married with 2 kids) The reasons why are 1) if I was single, I would work all the time – but, I would likely work more fun, lower pay jobs since I was only taking care of myself. 2) As I plot and plan my early retirement, I am realizing that my husband and I are being extremely conservative – for the kids.

But – if I didn’t have 2 amazing children, I might not be as motivated to retire early to spend more time with them…

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Jason September 2, 2014 at 11:30 am

I’d also vote for married with no kids being the easiest.

Early retirement is very difficult and I believe that, without good emotional and financial support from a committed partner, most people wouldn’t be able to do it.

The next easiest would be being single, and finally the hardest would be married with children.

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Big-D September 2, 2014 at 11:40 am

The answer is simple. Expected income – expected expenses = Savings. Savings * investment rate of return * years = Nest egg. Nest egg / expected expenses when retired * years = years of retirement.

If you can have less expenses by having one or two (or 5) people living with you while generating 10 times the income doesn’t that make sense? If you want to compare the two all you have to do is make more income as two people than your expected expenses, thus save more, thus have a bigger nest egg to cover your additional expenses as you age. Married or not, kids or not, all of these things are just simple math.

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