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The Hidden Costs Of Being Single

Millennials are partnering later – and sometimes not at all. This wave of singles may be heading for a fraught financial future, writes Brenda Ward.

5 October 2021

Autumn 2021

Being single could be a huge blow to your financial future.

In fact, in the US, a survey of the costs of being single found an unmarried person could pay as much as a million dollars more than their married friends over their lifetime.

That’s because costs for singles are often the same as those shared by couples, but the single person has just one income to pay for their expenses and lifestyle.

And couples have the capacity to earn twice what a single person earns, so saving is usually easier for them.

After a lifetime of working, singles generally face retirement worse off financially.

A British survey by peer-to-peer lending platform Lending Wise found 24 per cent of single adults despairing that they’ll never be financially secure enough to retire.

Ageing and caregiving

It gets worse. Forbes magazine in the US has suggested that extended singledom and having children later in life can leave millennials facing a clash between career prospects and caring for ageing parents.

In late life, they’ll have less of a nest-egg themselves, so they may be forced to pay for caregiving, rather than having the unpaid support of a partner.

Forbes says tasks often shared by partners, like taking out the rubbish, cooking meals, shopping, and even changing light bulbs are tougher if they have to be done alone in retirement.

Singles will also need more retirement income to cover the costs of things like cars, food, and healthcare that are usually shared with a partner.

More of us live alone

The number of Kiwis living alone is projected to grow to between 491,000 and 522,000 people by 2023.

A Statistics NZ report suggests that 37 per cent of people who live alone are not partnered. The figures show 63 per cent of people who live alone are divorced, separated, or widowed.

Being a singleton has a big influence on their wealth and whether they’ll have people to care for them in later life.

And singles in older age groups report lower levels of life satisfaction than people who live with others.

Let’s look at some of the factors that hold back the unpartnered.

Saving and investing

When two people are co-habiting, costs like rent or a mortgage are spread across two incomes.

Savvy couples can sometimes pay their home loan with one income, using what’s left over for saving or investing.

That also means couples can afford a bigger mortgage to buy a more expensive house, so their capital gains will be proportionately higher.

On the other hand, singles will find a higher percentage of their income will go to cover household expenses, making it harder for them to put money aside.

Buying a house

With two in a household saving for a first home, couples can buy sooner, which means they benefit from capital gains over a longer period of time.

Saving for the minimum deposit for a low-cost First Home Loan will take a single person longer. You need a minimum 5 per cent of the purchase price of the house you want to buy.

The First Home Grant also favours couples, because two people can claim a maximum First Home Grant of up to $20,000, whereas a single person can claim a maximum of only $10,000 towards their house.

When singles do buy, it’s harder because banks have to consider that there’s only one income to service a loan. It has to cover the mortgage unless they’re sharing the house and costs with flatmates.

Transport costs

The cost of a car will be a higher burden on a single person.

A car loan will be harder to pay alone, and petrol and registration costs will take up a larger amount of a single person’s budget.

Food

Cooking for one can cost nearly as much as a meal for two.

If you want to save at the supermarket, specials are mainly for buying in bulk. For example, at New World, a one-litre Anchor milk is NZ$2.86, but a two-litre bottle is NZ$4.58, working out a good 50c more per litre for the one-person household.

Meat packs at supermarkets are often in packages of two, three, or four, with steaks intended for one person both bigger in size and more expensive than the multi-packs.

Household bills

One-person households pay the same council rates as a couple or a family would, even though their use of refuse services and roading costs will be significantly less than bigger households.

A rates bill of around NZ$2500 can be a huge cost to face with only one income coming into the house.

Heating the living areas of a house costs the same for both couples and singles, so the power bill can be similar for one person as it is for four.

Hot water cylinders still have to be heated, even if only one person is using the water.

Using an oven can also be a big drain on power, whether you cook for one or for a horde.

Fibre will cost the same for a single-person household, even though they’ll be using the internet a lot less than a couple.

Two-for-one deals

Cheap package holidays come mainly in double rooms. If you’re cruising, single cabins are much more expensive than twin rooms.

Car insurance companies give discounts for more than one vehicle. Few singletons run two cars, so they never get the benefit of these savings.

Even wills and enduring powers of attorney are cheaper to buy in pairs.

For example, at Public Trust, enduring powers of attorney cost NZ$129 each, but just NZ$229 for you and your partner when you get a mirror EPA, bringing the cost to couples down to just NZ$114.50 per person.

Even dating…

Not all singles want to stay that way.

Singles who invest in finding a partner online will pay around NZ$180 a year for annual subscriptions to one or more online dating services. And they may spend on their appearance and clothing for dates.

Retirement

Even though the bills, rent, and rates of a single person household are similar to the costs of a couple in retirement, singles receive less in NZ Superannuation payments.

There is a small premium for singles, but 2021 rates before tax are:

  • Single, living alone or with a child NZ$490.73 a week.
  • Couple NZ$744.54 (NZ$372.27 each) a week.

The outcome of higher costs and lower levels of saving are likely to leave the single well behind their partnered friends at retirement age.

But there are ways singles do better:

They’re less likely to have been victims of crime.

Stats NZ says people who live alone have higher rates of face-to-face contact with family and friends. So, living alone does not necessarily mean being socially isolated.

And the group of younger people who live alone reported better health than their partnered friends, even though in general people living alone rate their health status lower, the Statistics NZ figures show.

Childless singles avoid the costs of child-rearing, with no childcare costs, school fees or more expensive holidays to fund.

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