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Is It Easier To Save When You’re Single?

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Is it easier to save when you’re single? This question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s not. We move though life in stages and it’s tough to compare them. I was single in my early 20’s, got married and we were a DINK couple for ten years after that, and now we have a rambunctious 4 years old son. Eventually, RB40 Jr. will be off on his own and we’ll move to the next stage. That’s the ideal progression, right?

Is it easier to save when you're single? Financial security was important to me even when I was single so I have always saved a good portion of my income. Saving got easier as my income increased because my goal has always been to keep lifestyle inflation under control. Then I learned about financial independence and I made early retirement my mission. We saved much more seriously after that. If I knew about financial independence when I was young, I probably would have saved even more when I was in my 20’s.

What if I’m single again? Would I be able to save a bigger portion of my income with financial independence in mind? Times have changed and there are a lot more tools available now to help you save and invest. It’s easier than ever to increase your income and cut your expense, but a huge portion of the population is still struggling. It’s been a while so it’s tough for me to imagine being single again, but I’ll give it a go.

Single

Being single is the best! You can do whatever you want and nobody will give you a hard time. My knee jerk reaction to this question is – of course, it’s easier to save when you’re single! However, is that really the case? Let’s give it a thorough look and see if that’s really true.

The biggest advantage to being single is the flexibility. You can live as cheaply as you want and hustle as hard as you can. If I’m single with no kid at this point in my life, I’d probably be off seeing the world. I can flit from one cheap country to the next while making a little money online. Or I could stay in the US and can probably still save a good portion of my currently small income.

Here are some of the biggest expenses for the US household.

  • Housing – Being single wins hands down. There are so many ways to live cheaply these days. You can rent a room in a friend’s home. Or you can buy a house and rent out your extra rooms. If I was single, I’d probably put a bunk bed in my spare room and rent it out via Airbnb.
  • Transportation – I live in Portland, OR so I have a big advantage over most other parts of the country. I could get by with the combination of public transportation, bicycle, and a car sharing service. Alternatively, I could drive for Uber to make some extra income if I have a car.
  • Food – I don’t think being single really makes a big impact on your food expenses as long as you cook at home. I’d probably eat easy to cook food more often. A grilled chicken breast with some vegetables and rice is easy to make and very healthy. I’d probably cook in big batches more often as well.
  • Discretionary expenses – This is the Achilles’ heel of being single. It’s tough to be frugal on entertainment when you’re single. Going out can cost a lot of money and I’m pretty sure single people go out more than couples. Also, I’d probably spend plenty of money on gadgets, sports equipment, books, music, games, and all the other fun stuff.
  • Tax – I’m not an expert, but I think single people pay a bit less tax because of how the tax bracket is structured. Unless you’re in the 10% or 15% bracket, you’ll probably pay more when you’re married. This is because the tax bracket for married couple is less than 2x of a single filer.

Cons of being single

I think the biggest challenge with being single is controlling your discretionary expenses. It costs money to socialize and have fun. Of course, there are many ways to have fun without spending a lot of money also, but many of those things are more fun as a couple.

Dual Income No Kid

Being single was great, but having two incomes can’t be beat. In the old days, being married could cut costs quite a bit because you can share your living expenses. You could practically cut your combined expense in half by moving in together. This gap narrowed quite a bit in the recent years with the sharing economy. Now, you can reduce your cost of living expenses significantly by sharing even when you’re single.

As I mentioned above, the biggest advantage of being single is the flexibility to follow your own agenda. When you’re married, the odds are slim that your partner will share your goal of financial independence. Most Americans are still stuck in consumer mode and don’t give much thought to saving money. Our national saving rate hovers around 5%, for goodness sake. If you are aiming for financial independence, you’d need to convince your spouse to get on board. Luckily, Mrs. RB40 was pretty frugal to begin with and I was able to nudge her to align our financial goals.

You also need to take your partner’s needs and comfort into consideration when you make financial decisions. For example, I’d probably refinance a lot more often if Mrs. RB40 wasn’t around. She hates all that paperwork and the inconvenience.

Let’s see how the biggest expenses look when you’re no longer single.

  • Housing – Being a couple can win in just one scenario. That’s sharing a one bedroom apartment/condo. Your housing cost is optimized in that case. If you move up to a house, then your partner probably wouldn’t want a roommate or boarders.
  • Transportation – If you can share one car, then that’s the way to go. Having one vehicle each isn’t optimal at all, but that’s unavoidable in most parts of the US. You’ll probably save on auto insurance when you’re married so that’s one good point.
  • Food – It really depends on your culinary skills. If you can cook, then it should be about the same. However, if you eat out all the time due to the fact that you can’t cook, then maybe your partner will come to the rescue.
  • Discretionary spending – I think being a couple wins here. There are so many frugal ways to have fun as a couple. You can go hiking, play board games, sports, explore the city, and enjoy various free entertainment options around town. You also need to take your partner’s feelings into consideration when you make discretionary purchases. Mrs. RB40 just told me she would spend a lot more on theater tickets, museum memberships, clothing, haircuts, and various other things if she was single.
  • Tax – Singles probably wins here as outlined above.

Cons of being a couple

Now that I went through it, saving as a couple isn’t much more difficult. As long as both partners have the same financial goal, then you can work on it together. However, the hard part is to get your partner on board the financial independence train. Most people won’t be able to sacrifice today for a more comfortable future. Our culture is one of credit cards, shopping therapy, and instant gratification. It’s not easy to buck that trend and it will be even more difficult to do it as a couple.

Add a kid or two

Saving money is definitely more difficult when you have a kid or two. All your expenses will increase. Daycare is ridiculously expensive. You need more space so you probably have to move into a bigger home. The kids will eat a ton of food when they’re teenagers.

I’m sure we can all agree that adding children into the mix will be a drag on your saving rate. However, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Kids are so much fun and they keep life interesting.

Making Money

We focused on the saving part of the equation today, but I’d like to give a quick look on the making money side as well. It’s much easier to hustle on the side when you’re single. You can spend your free time any way you want and if making money is your priority, then you can spend all your time on it. You can blog, drive for Uber, deliver pizza, invent a gadget, sell stuff online, and freelance. The possibilities are limitless. When you have a spouse, you really need to cut back a bit to spend more time together.

Saving is easier when you’re single

So is saving easier when you’re single? For me, I’m pretty sure I’d be able to save more because I would really optimize my finance. Mrs. RB40 said it’s easier for her to save as a couple because she’d spend more if she was single. So I guess it really depends on your mindset. Anyway, I like being a couple much more than being single. There are pros and cons, but life is much better when you have a supportive partner.

Do you think it’s easier to save when you’re single?

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, he hated the corporate BS. He left his engineering career behind to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. At Retire by 40, Joe focuses on financial independence, early retirement, investing, saving, and passive income.

For 2018, Joe plans to diversify his passive income by investing in US heartland real estate through RealtyShares. He has 3 rental units in Portland and he believes the local market is getting overpriced.

Joe highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help every investor analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.
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{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Ernie Zelinski May 29, 2015, 1:25 am

    As a single, I have no problem saving money. But I know many singles who do. Fact is, studies show that married people have a much easier time saving for retirement than singles. Again, refer to this article titled “Singles swing into retirement with little savings”:

    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/singles-swing-into-retirement-with-little-savings-2013-04-18

    Regardless of the financial implications of being single, these quotations offer some food for thought:

    “What a lovely surprise to finally discover how unlonely being alone can be.”
    — Ellen Burstyn

    “When someone is murdered, the police investigate the spouse first. And that tells you everything you need to know about marriage.”
    — Unknown wise person

    “Marriage is a very good thing, but I think it’s a mistake to make a habit out of it.”
    — W. Somerset Maugham

    “Currently 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. The other 50 percent end in death.”
    — Jon Hanson

    “Someone stole my credit cards, but I won’t report it. The thief spends much less than my wife.”
    — Henny Youngman

    “You cannot be lonely if you like the person you’re alone with.”
    — Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

    “The other night I ate at a real nice family restaurant. Every table had an argument going.”
    — George Carlin

    “My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.”
    — Rodney Dangerfield

    “My wife and I have a secret for making our marriage last. Two times a week we go to a
    nice restaurant, a little wine, good food. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays.”
    — Henny Youngman

    “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone.”
    — Robin Williams

    “I think, therefore I am single.”
    — Liz Winston

    Incidentally, perhaps it’s time for me to bring out a new version of a book called “The Joy of Not Being Married” that I self-published in 1995. I sold 10,000 copies of that edition even though it was not put together all that well. I know that I could create a much better newer edition which would sell over 100,000 copies. Of course, if I end up doing this and the book ends up making me $500,000 or more in pretax profits, many married people will say that I was “lucky” to be able to do this because I am single.

    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 250,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 280,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    • retirebyforty May 29, 2015, 9:11 am

      Thanks for the link. I didn’t see that when I was researching this article. It sounds like being married is helpful for the general population. I guess I’m an outlier. You should get that book out. 🙂

    • Mike Drak May 30, 2015, 6:57 am

      Ernie, thanks for making me smile. I really miss Rodney D he was special and that line about investigating the spouse of the decease first was priceless. We all need to learn to laugh more especially at ourselves!

  • Chuck May 29, 2015, 1:42 am

    I think it also has a lot to do with age, what you are doing at the time, and societal expectations. For example, when I was younger and single, and getting my BS and MS, I was surrounded by like-minded, single folks who didn’t care that I was not making a lot of money (they weren’t either). Because most activities were free around campus and I dated mostly other students, I was able to save like crazy. But when I was older, single, and working, the potential “pool” of other single people my age in my immediate surroundings was reduced, and the dating game became more expensive as fewer individuals tolerated the same quality of car, apartment, or clothes that I had as a student.

    • retirebyforty May 29, 2015, 9:13 am

      That’s why it’s difficult to compare. My single friends who used to be frugal are not really frugal anymore. They tend to live it up. I imagine it’d be tough to get a date if you’re really frugal.

  • Paul May 29, 2015, 2:35 am

    For me being single would be easier to save. My fiance is very particular about where we live and housing has to be right. For me I don’t care where I live honestly. I would probably end up doing something similar to your idea of buying a place and renting it out. Or live at home with my parents while I buy up properties to rent out, and invest the rest in the stock market

    • retirebyforty May 29, 2015, 9:14 am

      Housing is a huge part of it. When we’re single, we don’t care about school district and that has a huge impact on housing cost.

  • Jon May 29, 2015, 5:19 am

    I’m married without kids and find it much easier to save as a married couple. The more income goes a long way to putting more away. We still spend like we are single and with some of the bills combined, it allows us to save a good chunk of our money.

    • retirebyforty May 29, 2015, 9:14 am

      Just wait until you have a few kids. 🙂

  • Retired To Win May 29, 2015, 5:28 am

    I am married, but my wife and I operate financially as a partnership instead of a single collective financial entity. In other words, in our marriage there is my money, her money and our money. With regards to saving and investing versus discretionary spending, that has allowed us to each follow our own preferred course. It has really worked for us.

    Regarding housing, our experience is a bit contrary to what you present, Joe. We have always found it financially better to own a house together, when compared to what each of us might have had to pay in apartment rent had we remained single. Housing is one budget line where there’s real leverage for 2 earning people.

    • retirebyforty May 29, 2015, 9:17 am

      That’s a great way to do it. We combined out finance when we got married. I didn’t know of the alternative back then.
      I definitely spent much less on housing when I was single. That was also 20 years ago so maybe I should check the rental price again. 🙂

  • beth May 29, 2015, 6:05 am

    I have been single, married and back to single and if costs more to live as a single person because there is no one to split the bills with. Of course it depends on who you are married too because when I was married we were in overdraft every month because the ex had to have the newest latest everything.

    • retirebyforty May 29, 2015, 9:18 am

      So do you find it easier to save as a single person? The cost of living is higher, but you don’t have to spend as much on the latest gadgets.

      • beth May 29, 2015, 2:08 pm

        2 can live cheaper than 1 and so there is more available to save. Saving is an entirely other matter and that depends on the mind set of all of those involved. I made an unwise choice when I got married and I am behind in retirement savings because of it.

  • nicoleandmaggie May 29, 2015, 6:14 am

    It’s got to depend a lot on who you’re married to. In terms of in general, controlling for number of kids, I would imagine it would be easier to save as a married person because you have a lot of built in insurance when you have a partner. You share living expenses, one partner can take risks because the other partner can provide income, childcare, and health insurance etc.

  • Money Beagle May 29, 2015, 7:46 am

    I saved a lot more before I got married, and the savings went down even more with each kid. That’s the way of life, I suppose! 🙂

  • Vawt May 29, 2015, 9:11 am

    In my experience, I think you can save more as a couple. With lower housing costs and splitting all of the bills, I have had an easier time savings since getting married. Of course there are pressures to spend more too, so this could really vary depending on your situation. Kids obviously change the situation, but I haven’t found them to be as expensive as everyone else says (we actually spend less in several areas by staying home more often).

  • Smart Money MD May 29, 2015, 9:34 am

    Great analysis. The married dual income no kids scenario is definitely the stage in life that you can (and should) maximize your savings. I am currently in this scenario, but with a really late start in earning income (didn’t have an income until I was 28). Once the kids start coming along, then savings and earnings will likely go down (daycare or cutting back on job).

  • Gwen May 29, 2015, 10:09 am

    As a current single, I burn green with jealousy when I see couples’ savings rates. Right now I’m hovering at around 50% by myself, and that’s about as much as I can do right now. Between taxes and “high rent” (I live by myself but my rent is actually pretty reasonable), I don’t have much wiggle room. However, with a partner I’d have someone to help split the rent and utilities which would be huge.

    All that being said, the freedom of being single is incredible. I decided to move to a new town for my next position. The thought process went like this: where do I want to live? There. Done. Whereas if I was with someone, I’d have to take their wishes and career into consideration first. I’ve done that and it’s a pain.

    • retirebyforty May 30, 2015, 9:15 am

      The freedom is very nice. We hate to move now that we have a kid. It has to be a really ideal situation for us to uproot our family.

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods May 29, 2015, 10:09 am

    I think it honestly depends on who you marry. Like you two, my husband and I are 100% on the same page financially and so we definitely consider our powers combined to be stronger. We both save and invest more as a married couple than we did when we were single. But, I think the reverse can be true too–if your spouse doesn’t share the same financial goals, I think it makes for a very challenging household financial picture.

    For us, ours years as DINKs were absolutely gangbusters for our savings. Now that we’re expecting baby #1, we’re adjusting our spreadsheets to accommodate the (very welcome and exciting) additional expenses. It’ll be interesting to see how our savings rate changes when we go from a family of two to three. All part of the adventure of life ;)!

    • retirebyforty May 30, 2015, 9:16 am

      That’s great! I’m looking forward to reading about your baby more. It will be more expensive, but it’s worth every penny. Congratulation!

  • StockBeard May 29, 2015, 10:10 am

    I’d argue that having kids can save you money.
    In some countries, kids give you a good tax cut. But more importantly: once you have kids, you have absolutely no time to go out. Kids force you to be home early in the evening to get dinner ready. They force you to cook healthy stuff, which turns out to be much, much cheaper than eating preprocessed crap every day.

    Interestingly, I blogged about this recently:
    “Are Kids really that expensive?”: http://howtoretireearly.net/2015/03/30/are-kids-really-that-expensive/

    • retirebyforty May 30, 2015, 9:17 am

      I don’t think any tax write off or habit change will offset the cost of the kids. They are expensive little buggers. 🙂

  • ambertree May 29, 2015, 12:44 pm

    I think your analysis is spot on.
    Being single allows you to design the live you want, putting the priorities where you want.
    Being with someone, it then depends to what extend you are aligned. Being able to split bills is nice (you dont pay double the electricity and heating and internet and cable for 2, so overall, you pay less). Me and my wife are getting more and more aligned since I started reading FIRE blogs. That is nice.
    Being late starters (nearly 40, not even close to FIRE) with kids, we have some expenses related to our lifestyle that we could cut out… Not quite ready for that.
    And according to some research, kids costs over a period of 20 year quite some money. Yes, there is the tax advantage and the extra money we get in belgium for the kids, but it does not cover all the expenses. I do NOT consider that a problem. I wanted them, I love them. They enrich our life. but, they are not free.
    Without kids, we could FIRE way sooner: Smaller house, less expenses on food, clothes, daycare,…

    • retirebyforty May 30, 2015, 9:24 am

      Kids aren’t cheap, but life isn’t all about money. We would be better off financially without our kid, but life is so much more interesting with him around. Childcare and housing are the two big bills that cost more with kids. Good luck with FIRE.

  • Big-D May 29, 2015, 1:30 pm

    I think there is a lot more to this, but it is a good synopsis. I disagree with your thoughts on the “Marriage Penalty” thing as you are looking at it as a pure financial perspective, versus a household expense method. Every spreadsheet I have run has come back simply that being single, you pay more in taxes and expenses than you do if you are married. The reason is the expense of living apart. You are looking at paying more taxes, versus living a life apart (apartment/houses, cars, food, etc.) Those things cost a ton less when you are together than when you are apart.

    Yes you pay more in taxes, that is the way the democrats want it with a progressive tax system and socialist policies (Not starting a political war here, just applying the US terms which cover a political platform for taxation and social policies). However your expenses are much less as well. I understand people don’t want to pay more in taxes, but you also have a ton more money to play with.

    I have been both single, married, head of household and I can tell you that married was the best by far (with two incomes) for creating savings.

    • Leigh May 29, 2015, 5:52 pm

      That’s true that it can be cheaper to live as one than separately, but you don’t have to get married to live together. You also don’t have any more money to play with when married than single – you just have two incomes combined.

    • retirebyforty May 30, 2015, 9:26 am

      I think for 99% of the people, being married is easier for saving. It’s just the few people who are single minded about saving that can pull ahead while being single. My brother lives really cheaply and I doubt he can save as much when he get married.

  • Dividend Dreams May 29, 2015, 1:31 pm

    For me it is easier to save being married. When I was single I didn’t have responsibilities so i spend all of my money on travel, eating out, partying, etc. Now that I am married with children, I have become a long-term saver.

    • Mysticaltyger May 31, 2015, 6:18 pm

      The statistics say yours is the most common scenario. Married couples, especially those who get married & stay married, accrue a lot more assets than single or divorced people. I don’t think living together works all that well in the long run, either because those who live together have a higher breakup rate than married couples, at least in the US.

  • SavvyFinancialLatina May 29, 2015, 2:20 pm

    I spent less when I was single. I probably would spend less now if I were single. My husband eats a lot. LOL Plus, I wouldn’t have a house, I would have roommates in an apartment, or if I had a house, I would find roommates. Maybe I’d date more? Honestly I don’t know. The stories I here, and the guys I meet, meh…

  • Tawcan May 29, 2015, 3:02 pm

    I think when I was single I could probably save way more than what we can do today being married and with a kid. However I probably didn’t care as much on my quality of life as a single guy.

  • freebird May 29, 2015, 5:23 pm

    The fed’s survey of consumer finances pages 49 and 13 can make this comparison,
    http://www.federalreserve.gov/econresdata/scf/files/BulletinCharts.pdf

    Median net worth by family structure on page 49 shows how couple/no child is the highest at 200K, with single/no child age>=55 and couple with child(ren) tied at about 100K, and single with chil(ren) and single, no child, age=55 may run a bit higher, around 4 years. But single with child(ren) and single, no child, age=55 have a significantly higher accumulated savings than singles with children and childless singles age<55.

    The missing link is a correction for age which I don't see in this chartbook, maybe use the Excel sheets posted on this website. There are a ton of charts in this PDF with lots of interesting personal financial comparisons, pretty much everything I can imagine to ask.

  • Jason May 30, 2015, 3:30 am

    Definitely saving far less as a married couple with (nearly) two kids (and two cats!). My wife isn’t working, so I’m basically supporting 3 others, with all that comes with it including a bigger house.

    I wouldn’t change a thing though – life is great with them all! I’m far happier than when I was single, but definitely makes the financial equation a little more difficult!

  • Alexis Smith May 30, 2015, 9:36 am

    Amazing post. It’s really a great information. Thanks for sharing. God Bless.

  • Matthew Olszewski May 31, 2015, 8:07 am

    Nice article, when it comes to me, I’m single and frankly around me there are many temptations to which I could spend money. Maybe in the future when I’ll have a family to support, more will cost me current expenditure, but probably less money I’ll lose on some of my cravings.

  • [email protected] May 31, 2015, 4:56 pm

    Now that I am 44, married with 2 children, I would say it is much easier to save when you are single -as long as you have a long term goal/focus, such as early retirement. Unfortunately, my friends and I saved minimally for retirement in our 20s and spent the rest on who knows what. If I knew then what I know now, I would have lived very differently in those earlier years. And, I would be financially independent today! Love your blog, Joe!

  • Bob Tennant June 1, 2015, 12:46 am

    Single here and (as of this moment) lacking the knowledge of what married life entails. Being single can prompt you to experience more of the instant gratification options simply because nobody will get on your face for it. It is indeed easy to make decisions and optimize for more saving and less spending if you can abstain from fixating on a gadget you just want and have to have.

    In any case, having children will certainly impair one’s ability to save. Single parents were not explicitly mentioned in this post, however they are the ones who have it the hardest when it comes to saving I believe.

    The combined income of two parents can only work for the better should both have the same financial goals. If not (its known to happen), than it stands to reason to be even more difficult than being single.

    Anyway, will have more to compare with once (if) I start a family.

    Till then, singleness all the way 🙂

    • retirebyforty June 1, 2015, 9:57 pm

      I can’t imagine raising our kid as a single parent. It must be extremely difficult to get ahead as a single parent.

  • Pyper B. from Weird Scholarships June 5, 2015, 9:18 am

    I think it truly depends on how you spend your money and what your priorities are. When my husband and I were single, but dating we often found savings impossible. As a married couple with no children, we still were living paycheck to paycheck. Now, with children we find that our number one priority is saving money in every way as a cushion even though we have so many more bills.

  • Chella June 6, 2015, 1:01 am

    For me, saving is really easy now that am married as compared to when i was single. Back then, i did not feel i had any responsibility apart from paying my bills. Now i think about the entire family and i have managed to save even for holidays and those weekend treats!

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