Is it more expensive to be single or in a relationship?

27 Comments

Having spent almost an equal amount of my 20’s in long-term relationships as out of them, I have a pretty balanced perspective of couples vs. singles finances. I can definitely know which one caused my wallet the most pain: being single.

Before we continue, I want to point out that it is obviously more expensive to be in a relationship if you have to financially support someone else. You can read my thoughts on the matter in this post: A Spouse is Not An Alternative Income Stream, but the short version is: don’t do it.

Being in a relationship doesn’t change the cost of your basic needs.

There is a basic fixed amount required to keep a human being alive. One single person eats enough food for one person. One coupled-up person eats enough food for one person.

The person in a relationship doesn’t go on a weird diet as a result of being madly in love that magically cuts their grocery bill in half, they still need the same amount to survive. Likewise, they’ll still require the same amount of clothes, shampoo, and so on.

That said, you get to enjoy a lot of cost-saving in a relationship because you bundle purchases to reduce costs. It has been my experience that the grocery store is notoriously unfriendly to single people, always selling food in portions of 2 or 4 for families.

As a result, you either pay a singles premium for one-person portions as a single person, or you end up with a lot of food waste.

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In a relationship, you’ll find a lot more efficiency with your purchases. For example, a couple can rent a one-bedroom apartment just as easily as a single-person can, but at a much lower per-person cost.

Likewise, a single person might need a car, but a couple might also only need one car between them, effectively splitting the cost of vehicle ownership.

Double incomes equal double spending power

There are some financial perks of being in a long-term relationship and sharing space with one another human being, and one of those is the serious buying power that comes with a two-person household.

Two incomes buy more than one, no matter how you slice it, but this is even more powerful when costs like housing, cable, and food are shared.

It’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to out-earn the other, which further increases the spending power of a couple compared to a single person. If someone is making $50,000 per year but they shack-up with someone making $100,000, they’ll enjoy a significant lifestyle boost even if money never changes hands.

High-earners often bring high-spending to a relationship, and the lower-earning counterpart in the couple gets to enjoy all the perks without putting any strain on their own wallet! Of course, an imbalanced relationship in terms of spending can go wrong very, very fast.

Don’t marry a money moron.

Many people think being in a relationship means arguing about where the money should go. While I think everyone has their own saving style (or lack thereof), I want to assume that if you’re going to go to the trouble of building a life with another person, you will select a spouse with the same financial values as you.

One time I dumped a guy for being totally blasé about his $50,000 debt.  Don’t marry people that are going to put your financial future at risk. I know, it feels mean and makes you feel like you’re not “loving them for who they are” but guess what:

How people spend their money is who they are.

If you hate it, it’s basically the same for hating them for not brushing their teeth or always kicking puppies. DON’T MARRY PEOPLE YOU WON’T BE HAPPY WITH LONG-TERM.

Just go on a few dates then get really busy and quietly stop texting them back. Find a partner that wants the lifestyle and financial security you do. This won’t eliminate all arguments about money, but it will dramatically decrease their frequency. In almost all incidences, it is more expensive to be single, but there is one exception: when you marry someone bad with money.

Single people date way harder than married people, and dating is expensive.

Married people need fancy dinners but single people are hardly satisfied with Taco Bell. They go out and date, and that comes with a high price tag. When it comes to dating, it is way more expensive to be single than in a relationship.

Dating is the act of hemorrhaging money for the small chance that a human being you can tolerate for more than 30 minutes will also find you moderately attractive and interesting enough to spend time with.

Spending in dating can approach a level that can only be adequately described as financial carnage as people do any of the following:

  •  Buying 3 glasses of wine/beer instead of the one you intended to drink because conversation is going so well you just can’t stop talking to them (enjoy it, because they’re never going to call you again)
  • Going out for coffee 4-5 times/ week because coffee dates are so non-committal and casual which is awesome, but then you buy a latte because it’s kind of a “special” coffee run isn’t it, and all of a sudden you’re giving Starbucks $100/mo.
  • Paying for dinner for two. It doesn’t matter if your the girl or the guy or anything in the middle,  sometimes you’ll be treated but other times you’re doing the treating. God help you if they pick an expensive restaurant and it’s your turn to shell out.
  •  Splurging on a new outfit or day at the spa because you’re still in the trying-to-impress-them phase which really means you still don’t want them to know you wear faded flannel pyjamas and ratty t-shirts during 90% of your downtime. No, when dating you are a new person entirely, one that gets manicures and wears designer denim.
  • Going to movies, concerts, or plays because you’re trying to “like what they like” and you just hope it’s not something with an exorbitant price-tag. You are doubly effed if it requires lessons in preparation, which is why I just avoid men that are really into golf.

But that’s just in the short term. What about long term?

It is more expensive to buy a home, raise children and save for retirement as a single person

The average cost to raise a child in Canada is almost $250,000. This means a couple will spend $250,000 to raise a child, at a cost of about $125,000 per person. It also means a single person will spend $250,000 to raise a child.

Maybe someday society will say, “oh you’re a single parent? 50% off everything!” but today is not that day. As a result, single people who want to have children have to take on more financial strain than a couple sharing the child-rearing burden.

Additionally, single people need to save more for retirement than people in relationships. Don’t believe me? The numbers are here. Much like I don’t believe in treating your spouse as an alternative income stream, I don’t think marriage is a good retirement plan!

However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come with serious financial perks. A second household income lets you take advantage of tax breaks, particularly when moving money to your spouse’s retirement accounts, which lets you keep more money in your pocket. When it comes to child-rearing and retirement savings, it’s definitely more expensive to be single.

According to this article being a single woman will cost you over one million dollars more than your married counterparts. There is very, very little that’s cheap about being single. The real payoffs is not having to share your cereal or bedcovers, and getting to pick the movie on Netflix every time, but I’m not sure if that’s really worth one million dollars.

Getting married can be a major money mistake, particularly if you get divorced

The average wedding in Canada costs over $32,000 — a bill single people don’t have to bother with. Additionally, more than 50% of couples are throw divorce into the mix for another few thousand dollars.

Divorce is one of the most costly financial setbacks a person can experience in their lifetime, and it can negatively impact their wealth accumulation for the rest of their lifetime. In other words, what might be most expensive is being single, then in a relationship, and then single again!

But if you get it right, a healthy and happy marriage will bring you more than bliss, it’ll keep cash in the bank. Married people can save big time on housing costs, insurance, taxes, and child-rearing.

So what does it all mean? 

It means that regardless of your relationship status, you have to manage your money responsibly.

If you want to be single, be single and be a little bummed that you’re going to pay full-price for some things marrieds get at a serious discount. If you want to be married, be smart about it and choose a partner that shares the same financial goals as you. 

No matter the situation, make sure you pay off debt, save for retirement, and work hard to maximize what you earn over your working lifetime.

Money can’t buy love, but it can buy everything else — and that’s really important so try to get as much of it as you possibly can.

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27 Comments. Leave new

  • Oy! Apparently you must be living in a bubble because when it comes to money and relationships it’s not always black and white.

    For instance, you say “don’t marry people that are going to put your financial future at risk”. Life is a risk in general. When you commit to someone, they may not always have that job due to no fault of their own (no job these days is 100% stable) and as a unit, you will have to sacrifice your own needs to make sure you have enough funds to cover your basic needs for both of you – food, water, shelter. Even aspects like going on maternity leave or if your spouse is on disability/medical illness is still a financial risk that you don’t know if or when it will happen. You can’t just toss your partner to the side and expect them to tough it out on their own.

    I could go on about a lot of other things you have written as they are quite presumptuous, however, one last thing I’ll mention that shows you don’t have much consideration for others is your advice towards giving the cold shoulder to someone who doesn’t meet your financial expectations; “Just go on a few dates then get really busy and quietly stop texting them back”. Ridiculous. It would certainly help them to know why you are being evasive with them. Maybe they are trying to dig their way out of debt and/or need help. Have a little heart and be honest. If you can’t be honest with someone you’ve invested time with then how can you possibly have an honest long term relationship.

    Reply
    • Someone not having a job and putting your financial future at risk are different beasts. It’s the difference between someone who is actively looking for work and someone who is working but living well beyond their means with zero interest in changing their behaviours.

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    • I was being sarcastic about the “quietly stop texting them back” thing; it was meant to be funny.

      I don’t really understand your argument otherwise, since marrying someone that wants to spend every penny they earn and marrying someone that wants to save 30% of their income are totally different risks. If your partner has bad money management skills it’s not “life”‘s fault, it’s theirs. Someone that is responsible with money is better prepared to weather a financial storm like job loss or critical illness. A money moron is going to drag you through the mud with them to survive a financial catastrophe. You have a choice of who you get to be with.

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    • I’m going to have to agree with Bridget here. Even though I’m deeply in debt myself, I don’t need to ADD to it and be with someone stupid with money to drag me down. I spent my life trying to GET AWAY from a parent who ruined my life with her financial irresponsibility–I would never voluntarily sign on for that.

      Besides, if you read the post where she talks about the guy, he talks about being that deep in debt like it was no big deal. Getting involved with someone like that means that your financial future could be on the line. I would rather marry someone who has their shit together, money in the bank, and everything sorted out. It would make it easier to fix my own finances, which are badly in need of fixing.

      I am trying to become someone who is smarter with money and actually deserves to be with someone who doesn’t make foolish money decisions.

      Reply
    • I also want to say that someone who repeatedly makes money mistakes that hurt other people (and they do, always) is not a caring, thoughtful person. If your financial ruin extends to other parts of your life and messes things up for others, you’re being a careless jerk.

      My money problems have created difficulties in the lives of other people and I regret this more than anything. Knowing that there’s nothing I can do to change what happened in the past is my motivation to stop screwing up.

      I agree that the dumb things people do with money DOES reflect who they are. I like to think that even though I mess up, I WANT to change and I’m aware of the problem. It would be worse if I wasn’t aware.

      Reply
  • Amen! You can be cheap or spendy, regardless of your relationship status, definitely. These are the bulk of the costs that tend to affect either relationship status, but there are even more, too. For example, transportation costs can often be lower for couples, if people are willing to use one vehicle and combine it with other, cheaper, forms of transportation.

    Reply
  • I really enjoyed this post! As a single, self-sufficient, 30-year old chick, a lot of these points really hit home with me.

    I’ve been dating off and on for a couple years now, and you’re absolutely right that it can get expensive. If I were in a relationship or married, I like to think I would still spend money on the gym, hair, nails, going out, etc… but maybe I wouldn’t spend as much, I guess it all depends when you have to take into consideration another person’s goals and/or your joint/family goals.

    I also agree that it is a bad idea to get involved with someone who is not on the same page as you financially… it may be sad, but it’s true. I have worked too hard to get myself ahead that I do not want to spend time or money fixing someone else’s mistakes, I’ve already fixed my own.

    I don’t expect anyone to support me and I don’t want that expectation placed on me by someone else. The key is to find balance and someone with whom you want to form a team.

    It is really great advice to have your own financial goals and plan as though you were going to get divorced…you need to always protect yourself.

    Cheers
    D

    Reply
  • It’s true that other than shelter, most expenses can’t really be shared. Single people should figure out how they want to manage their own money, so they can find a potential partner with a similar financial perspective as themselves. Many couples fight over money because they weren’t financially like minded to be compatible in the first place. I like how you mentioned “how they spend their cash is who they are.” Money certainly influences our personalities and our actions.

    Reply
  • Yes, you’re such a jerk! 😉 This is an excellent rebuttal to the topic. I truly did mean the post to be one of sparking conversation rather than a strict diatribe against married (or single) life. Of course, because of the title, and my married status, it obviously went more towards the single side of things. Grass always greener and all that.

    I particularly like your closing bit: “It means that regardless of your relationship status, you have to manage your money responsibly.” So very true.

    Reply
  • I like the thoughts here. It definitely is more expensive to be single. But, I disagree when it comes to food, as it’s a scalable expense. You can buy more food for a lower cost (like buying in bulk). For example, if you’re single, you might go through half a gallon of milk per week, at a cost of $2 per half gallon. You opt for the half gallon because you know you won’t finish an entire gallon, and it is more expensive at $3. You know the cost per ounce is cheaper, but the overall price to you is more expensive. When you’re married, presuming you and your spouse each drink a half gallon of milk, you can buy a gallon of milk for $3, thereby effectively reducing your costs to $1.50 per half gallon, instead of the $2 you would have spent as a single person. The same can be said for housing, especially if you have a one bedroom apartment as a single person, and then a one bedroom as a married couple. That might change in the future (kids, pets, etc.) But, I do agree that nobody should get married solely because of money, but I will say that once I got married I did notice my bank account growing faster than when I was single.

    Reply
    • This is true about the food (and something I personally complain about a lot!) but I don’t think the difference is substantial.. maybe a couple hundred dollars per year? I think it’s something that can be mitigated.

      Reply
  • I agree with most of this, but two coupled people can share one bed in a studio or one-bedroom place. And cooking twice as much of the same dinner isn’t twice as expensive — especially when factoring in labor costs.

    But you’re so right about the dating costs though. Prowling and wooing are so much more expensive than maintaining (Sorry if these aren’t all the most romantic terms for these things).

    Or as some married friends would say, “Something something love something something you can’t put a price on that! Something something WORTH EVERY PENNY!”

    Reply
  • LOL exactly.

    And you’re right, it is not twice as expensive to make a meal for two.

    Reply
  • Great article! A lot of your points resonated with me, and your bottom line is spot on :).

    Further to your + Beating Broke’s comments about 50+ hour work weeks and whether singles have more free time than couples… both of you touched on the different time costs of singles vs. couples lifestyle choices. But the other piece is the time cost of “maintaining a household” – just as how per person housing costs go down when you’re married, combining two households into one would also help reduce overall time spent on household chores (no need to vacuum two places or make two separate trips to the grocery store each week)! So in that sense, singles actually have less available time than couples do.

    Last note from me is just on the $1M single price-tag article you linked to. I would be interested to know about the Canadian numbers – have you seen any articles or studies that crunched the numbers there? The four pieces the US article touched on were income splitting, retirement/social security benefits, health, and housing. In Canada we don’t have income splitting (yet… this is a favourite election issue for the CPC), and obviously our health care costs are different. On the other hand, retirement income can be split and our housing costs (real estate anyway) are much higher than the US. Would be interesting to see if our numbers are really all that different or if they wash out to be about the same in the end!

    Reply
  • It kind of seems like the entire premise of the original article was build on the foundation of having to pay your significant other’s way through life. Granted, there are couples that live that way but my perspective seems to be that the idea is going away. The only time one might have to support the other is if kids come into the picture and they want one to stay at home full time to raise them.

    Reply
  • Great article – I’m currently single so can relate to that side of your argument.

    However, I think in certain situations its cheaper to be single. For example, I never have to pay for drinks when I go to a bar / out for dinner by myself or with my girl friends. Maybe once in a blue moon, or if I’m served by a girl which is rare & avoidable most times. If the guy sees a ring on your finger – you pay for your own drinks.
    If I receive say 5 free drinks a week that’s a lot of $ saved over time. One of the perks of being single 🙂
    I’ve been on the flip side though, paying for a guys meals every time we met up. Actually 3 out of 3 dinner dates to be precise. I’m kicking myself for not ditching him after the 2nd time.
    His card was “declined” and so were the other 4 or so he tried..
    He must have been seriously maxed out – pretty bad that he did t know the balance on any one of them :s

    Reply
  • ” faded flannel pyjamas and ratty t-shirts ” I feel like you are looking into my mind, this is exactly my outfit right now haha. Definitely moved past the trying to impress stage long ago, and my wallets thanking me.

    I’d have to say for me, a relationship is slightly, if any, cheaper. Because of those big bills (living, etc.). But my boyfriend and I have never been into going out much and don’t spend a lot of money. Even when first dating it was mostly low-key nights since it was usually after classes/work for me.

    I think you can be cheap in both situations, it’s just about how you live your life!

    Reply
  • I’m much more inclined to agree with you. From my own experience getting married and combining households, two do NOT live as cheaply as one. As you said, you eat just as much whether you are single or married. We experienced very few economies of scale when we got married because we were living rather frugally as singles (with roommates).

    Reply
  • Whoa, I think my comment disappeared. What I said was…

    I truly love being single and independent (I wear my feminism on my sleeve), but, that being said, I often wish I had a boyfriend to supplement my income. It is so effing expensive to live in a city (or probably anywhere) by yourself (just like it’s also pretty expensive to cook for yourself, to note another one of your recent posts). I would never, ever expect someone to financially support me, but it would sure be helpful to have someone to split the costs of things like rent/utilities and food.

    Also, I’d just like to point out that delivery minimums are discriminatory to single people.

    Bye.

    Reply
  • stupidest article ever. You are bunching everyone under your lifestyle.

    I never spend money on “dating”. I buy on sale even though im alone and keep it foe long. i can go on and on…

    probably the only valid part of this article is housing cost.

    Reply
  • Sorry but your article is bullshit.
    When it comes to relationships women treat men like cash machines and its much cheaper to be single as a guy than dating a women.
    Men are always the ones paying for everything, you can even see the discrepancy when you walk into any shopping center.

    Reply
  • Hmm. I also spent about 50/50 of my time in my 20s between single and dating. At 22 single was very expensive because we went out 4-5 times a week and drank. At 28 single is very cheap because I figured out how to keep in simple.

    Being in a relationship becomes very expensive when you’re partner isn’t as good with their money as you are. I would say to do your due diligence, but sometimes the chemistry is so strong that you don’t mind dating someone with money problems.

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Insidious_Sid
    June 24, 2016 12:59 pm

    Hey guys when you turn “two rents into one” but then can’t figure out why you’re getting further behind than ahead after she moves in… just look at her credit card statements (if she’ll let you) and Google “retail therapy”.

    Moving in: good for female, bad for male, every time.

    Women are messed up when it comes to how they burn through cash and feel entitled to do it. Also note that women have this “monthly patriarchy beauty standard expense” which means a couple grand on shoes, clothes, makeup and hair that they are *forced* to spend on that you had BETTER not mention because, as a man, it’s YOUR FAULT she is under all that pressure! Sob sob, boo hoo, I spent $750 at the mall today because of institutional sexism and beauty standards imposed on me. Boo boo hoo…. it’s so all your fault you b@stard man!

    Riiiiight. Yeah, this is pretty much crazy talk. Forget shacking up. I’m getting a dog.

    References: Living with four different women in 20 years and being married once – and never again!

    Reply
    • I don’t think it’s fair to lump all women together under that stereotype. Having lived with four women doesn’t prove anything – just that you have always dated the same type.

      There are women out there, myself included, that don’t feel the need to do ‘retail therapy,’ and have very reasonable budgets for personal hygiene every month. And guess what? Just as there are women that enjoy a high “beauty standard expense'” there are men that equally love to shop. They just spend it on different things – like electronics, vehicles and other toys.

      I think the point of the article is that you should find someone that matches your goals and values. The type of partner you have is your choice – and if that’s one that spends money at the mall, either resolve it, move , it or don’t complain!

      Reply
  • I’m 43 and single. All my friends have paid off their detached sing;e family homes, and are now buying cottages, boats, trips abroad etc.
    I’ll be paying my mortgage, driving the same car, and sitting on the same 15 year-old couch for the next 10 years. They’ll retire to timeshares in Florida; I’ll be in my bachelor apartment eating cat food. The tax system is set up to benefit married folks, especially the ones with kids, and screws us singles who already have a hard enough time making ends meet, even with a good income. Nice cover photo by the way.!

    Reply
  • “Dating is the act of hemorrhaging money for the small chance that a human being you can tolerate for more than 30 minutes will also find you moderately attractive and interesting enough to spend time with.”

    Basically this. In my experience, when I’m dating, I am definitely spending more money than when I’m not dating. And not beceause I was subsidizing the person I was dating. I just spent a lot more on restaurant meals than my typical food spend (lower cost take out places or grocery store) because that’s what she wanted to eat. I didn’t mind at all, but I definitely noticed that I was spending more than I would have if I was entertaining myself. For me, this is not just true for dating women, but socializing in general.

    Reply

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