7 ways single people have it tough

For starters, saving enough for retirement with just one income can be a daunting feat.

By Karen Datko Oct 31, 2011 7:08PM

Nearly 44% of U.S. adults -- 99.6 million folks, nearly a third of whom live alone (.pdf file) -- are not married and that number keeps growing all the time. So why does it seem that married people are getting all the breaks, particularly financial ones? They certainly have it easier, particularly if they choose not to have kids.


Think about it, fellow singles: When I realized it often takes two incomes to live comfortably in many parts of the U.S., I knew I had to:

  • Live frugally.
  • Live where the cost of housing is low, and choose a smaller house than many people would consider desireable.
  • Save, save and save some more.

All that, so I could have enough for my retirement years -- which can be a daunting responsibility for a person with one income. (Are you saving enough? Try this calculator.)

As if that weren't hard enough, a social stigma lingers against those who haven't tied the knot. Sociologist Naomi Gerstel told The New York Times, "There is this push for marriage in the straight community and in the gay community, essentially assuming that if you don't get married there is something wrong with you." That's so unfair.


Let's look at some of the ways married couples have the upper hand financially:


Retirement savings. "Despite the perception that 'single people have got it made,' they have the very big hurdle of having only one income" to fund their retirement plan, Joe Mont wrote at The Street.


Also, a new study by Schwab "found that singles are actually significantly less prepared and less confident than married individuals in their retirement readiness -- 85% of married Americans have already started to save, compared with only 67% of singles," Mont reported.


Family obligations. Single people are more often caregivers of aging parents. Says the Council on Contemporary Families, "While 68% of married women give help to their parents, 84% of the never married provide such care. And while just 38% of married men help out their parents, 67% of never married men do." It's been noted that being a caregiver can cause a substantial drain on finances. Post continues below.

Housing. This is simple math. Married couples with two incomes have more money to spend on housing, but don't require twice as much space. Add to that Internet, cable and utility bills split between two people.


Taxes. The marriage penalty doesn't apply to many couples. Also, Bankrate notes: "The overwhelming majority of married couples do -- and should -- file jointly. Usually, couples can save thousands of dollars filing together." How nice for them.


Travel. Ed Perkins at Smarter Travel points out:

Package tour operators and cruise lines openly and formally discriminate against single travelers. They price their products on the basis of "per person, double occupancy," and almost always impose a supplement --often quite stiff -- on singles who travel by themselves.

Assorted other perks. Bella DePaulo, author of "Singlism: What It Is, Why It Matters and How to Stop It," wrote on the Living Single blog at Psychology Today:

Who gets the breaks on car insurance, health insurance, vacation packages, and gym memberships? Married couples do! The singles who pay full price are subsidizing them. If you have followed the same-sex marriage debate, you probably already know that there are 1,138 provisions in federal laws in which marital status is the basis of benefits, rights, and privileges.

Safety net. If I get sick or lose my job, there's no one to help me pay the bills. That makes having a substantial emergency fund absolutely essential.


Some have tried to quantify the advantages of being married. Wrote "Nickel" at FiveCentNickel.com about this article from Great Britain:

According to a survey by uSwitch, the average annual premium for being single works out to nearly $7,400. This added cost is a byproduct of "having to carry the full burden of a mortgage, holiday (hotels, cruises, etc.) costs, insurance premiums and utility bills."

OK, do I have a point? Are single people paying a steep price for living alone, or do the benefits -- the freedom to do what you want, etc. -- outweigh the burdens?


More on MSN Money:


Nov 1, 2011 12:21PM
I feel like some of you are missing the point of the article. It's hard for everyone right now, but there is an unfair sway against the singles (whether parents or not). And this article is not about personal happiness in love or singledom, it's about the financial aspects of being single or in a partnership. Financially, one person with one income is financially harder these days. Period.
Nov 1, 2011 12:38PM

What is it with this roommate garbage?  I do not make a 6 figure income, I own my own place and don't need, nor want, nor would I have a roommate.  Seriously, what is the point of being single if you have a roommate?  Scale down your housing expectations, manage your money better and you don't need a roommate.


Oh... and I wouldn't trade my freedom for that second bedroom for anything. 

Nov 1, 2011 10:00AM
I see people below, "I make 6 figures and ..."-we'll if you make great money, you live great period married or single but for the rest of us, I do believe the article is intended for less than 6 figures and average income. This article is about spot on for myself. Everything out there is intended for 2 persons or more, and the pricing usually reflects that. Groceries are hard to shop for singles as everything is boxed and wrapped for family sized meals, travel isnt worth it for a single person trip, utilities are a heavy burden on a single income or with no roommate, the statement in the opening paragraph about "there must be something wrong with you" stigma is absolutely true and affects your career as your boss and people around you really do look at you differently, you never get to cash in on the two for 1 deals, and the big ticket item if you arent fortunate to have a paid for house is the full mortgage or rent on one income. You really do have to be creative or make sacrifices to live comfortably on a single income, and you almost always have to have a roommate.
Nov 1, 2011 8:46AM

i don't know about anyone else but this article is quite the contrary for me. for example, i make roughly the same as my married brother who is one year my junior who actually has two incomes coming through and i am doing far better than them. and no, i am the one with the mortgage, THEY rent! the difference is i don't have someone spending most of my paycheck at the mall  :D

Nov 1, 2011 1:23PM
The only gripe I have to being single and finances is the tax breaks that married people get. Not fair, at all. I've never been married. Have no dependents, so most my money goes to me and my grown up toys and my house. My single friends and I add a great deal to this economy with the many things we purchase and the vacations that we take. In addition, I provide my siblings and their families with a great deal of financial support. I've given three cars to family members who needed them. I've paid many times for their kids' athletics program fees and extra school fees. Not trying to boast. Just trying to make a point that single people shouldn't be financailly penalized for being single. We add more to the economy than those who are married with children.
Nov 1, 2011 12:15PM
well duh, nice filler piece Karen. Being single has always been a disadvantage in America. All the reasons sited are true here. Males may have an advantage in the workplace, but divorce court has always favored women. Try being a single dad, raising two girls, on a modest income, and enduring an dead-beat mom. After the courts allowed her to take her half of mine, like a tornado swath of financial destruction, she drops off the kids and leaves the state. As a single male, the state has little sympathy. As a female, my ex got her single life back, burden free. My kids were still better off, because I cared enough to persevere for them. Doing so on a single income, meant I had to sacrifice much for myself. Couldnt afford to date, and the ladies who sympathized my plight, interfered with my parenting and upset my kids. Single life might appear to be a selfish lifestyle, but every situation has it's own circumstance. My personal story is about being a single male, loving father, lonely for a female companion, but made stronger through being single minded for  the most important people in his life. My two amazing daughters  now understand the value of unity as a family. Being single is not necessarily easier, it might simply be a chosen path taken to get to God's front door.
Nov 1, 2011 1:56AM

It would be an honor to be a caregiver for my parents. Whatever the cost may be.

Nov 1, 2011 12:31PM
So many narrow-minded, judgmental people! Perhaps you should speak to the facts! I just wonder how many people actually earn $300,000/year; it should be easy to live on one income and do well. Anyway, I was just telling a neighbor about being divorced (or single), living next door to a married couple who owned a very similar home fewer years than I, yet they were able to sell for more money and then have a maximum of $500,000 in capital gains, as opposed to my being able to  claim $250,000 in capital gains. Even if one of them did not work they could still claim $500,000 in capital gains. Hmmm, is something wrong with that picture Mr. Government?  I worked, earned under $50,000, kept my home up, sent 2 children to college, student loans, everything. Not everyone is so blessed to have a high income, not everyone lives at home with their parents and is lazy, etc.
Oct 31, 2011 11:25PM

It's better not hearing yak, yak, yak.  Where have you been?  blah, blah, blah  


Nov 1, 2011 11:15AM
For me personally: I was married for 15 years, been single for 13 years. As a single, I am much better off finanacially and emotionally. I can do whatever I want whenever I want. I am responsible for my own finances and don't have a man around who wants to use them for his own purposes. Even when I was a single mother, I was happier than when I was married. My kids are grown now and doing very well.
Nov 1, 2011 10:27AM

I am in my late 40's and went through a crippling divorce from an addict that left me bankrupt, because as a Dad getting custody of his daughter - the court system is highly prejudiced. So I get myself almost on track, being a single Dad after getting custody through 5 years of h_ll... I don't get the minimum wage, court ordered child support from the low-life ex-wife who moved out-of-state to avoid the consequences of being a deadbeat Mom. .. and the economy wipes away a huge chunk of my meager 401K. I am working to get my daughter through university and have to go into more debt because I am not considered 'poverty' and 'need based' college funding that my taxes support are not available to me.


 So I get to read how I am now being consistently prejudiced and penalized by society for not being anxious to 'jump' into another marriage just so I can have a partner. ADC1234 and the likes can kiss my ***.

Oct 31, 2011 11:37PM
One thing not mentioned in this article is emotional burnout.  Having to make 100% of decisions 100% of the time is mentally exhausting.  I was a single parent because my alcoholic partner did not want to take on the responsibilities of parenthood.  I didn't have any family to help me, and friends quickly became "too busy" to be of any help.  Being single was not really my choice, and it certainly isn't a great life-especially after one hits 50.  I'm so exhausted, I feel that if I get cancer, it will be a blessing.  Without any health insurance, it would kill me and I can finally rest.
Nov 2, 2011 5:04PM
Vienna Farmer, is your wife a "lazy liberal"? Sounds lazy if she's never worked.

Anyway, I'm single and thriving on one income. I've never had a roommate because I personally wouldn't consider the savings to be "worth it" to give up a piece of my freedom and privacy.

Nov 1, 2011 8:13AM
i thought being single and selfish was fantastic when i did it, now I don't know how i ever lived without this incredible person and would probably rather check out than go back there. Funny. Perspective. You can absolutely have being single, and the financial strain is all relative. When i broke up with the wrong girl, i suddenly didn't know what to do with all the money I had where before it was never enough. Now, with the right girl, I suddenly don't know what to do with all the money I have where before when I was single it was never enough!! Just depends on if you have the right person in your life. 
Nov 1, 2011 3:01AM
I live in a tiny apartment with a dog.  I'm content.  The rents are secure, they'll be fine by their own doing, (good for them).  I've been in relationships and, at some point have grown tired of the partners complaints and bitchiness... No person should have to live unhappy, do good things for yourself.  Yes, with 2 incomes you will have a bigger place.. but, you will also have that person who represents that 2nd income, living in your home, making decisions, buying furniture, desigtnating each room as 'baby', or 'den', or 'utility'... these are decisions that any male out there with a partner, can look forward to.  Good luck! 
Nov 17, 2011 7:39PM
The only thing that bugs me about being single is married people being like....'you're 25 and you're not married?  you don't have kids?  really?? How come??' Leave me alone!  LoL  Just because I'm doing something different than what society pushes us to do doesn't mean I'm a weirdo! 
Nov 1, 2011 9:41AM
single is not hard, single parent is.
Nov 1, 2011 8:38AM

I disagree. I am single earning a six figure income with a good 401k, own a home  and two rental properties.  I save over 22% of my income. Most importantly, being married is not what it is cracked up to be. Many of  my married relatives and close friends are unhappy, broke, no retirement accounts,  and do not own homes. One relative is actually renting a unit I own with her sorry husband. 

Nov 1, 2011 12:26PM
I'm happy to pay the price of being single. I don't have to bring my hardearned check home to a guy who likes to bat me around the house for sport, expects me to keep the house spotless, do his laundry, entertain his business associates, be beautiful and exciting in bed, and go back to work in a physcially grinding job while he sits on his a$$ and makes phone calls in a job that pays 4 times what I make. We never had kids because he said we could never afford them because I spent too much on groceries, I look at that as a blessing, I didn't have to have anything to do with him after the divorce.
Nov 1, 2011 11:06AM
well, single in my case , choice, companionship today , unaffordable, men see independent women as  cost effective to them, they never seen the hard work, especially today, to keep above  the water ,to keep every day expenses , and issues going, had nice guys, that lied they were working, loans unpaid, don"t dare ask, for it back, looking for a independent man, that gets thru life  , and  appreciates  the  strength, and wisdom  it takes , becuase they did the hard things, but to  others made it look easy, not complaining, embracing what  ever,and learning, I left the city,  sold my my tri level, lived in it for 10 years, alone , had lots of friends, and great times, downsized, and surprisingly, still  very happy, no regrets in this, learned , its a new adventure,just different challenges, these  uncertain times, negatitivity played soo much, my life now listens to more music, and  surroundings of simple pleasure, it  really is  great, stress  not a factor , no pressure, sweet !
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


    MSN Mobile: Go to msn.com in your phone's browser.