Paying for the single life
Being free and single may conjure up images of wild, carefree living interspersed with spontaneous holidays. However, the reality can be very different.
Official figures show that approximately 39% of the adult population - almost 19 million people - are single, yet singletons are often overlooked by financial services providers, and many find that being single can work out more expensive than being in a couple. However, there are ways that single people can save money - on buying property, insurance, going on holiday and gym membership, for example.
The trials of being a first-time buyer in the current property market are well documented. Getting that vital first step on the ladder can be even more difficult if you are trying to do it alone. If you don't have a partner to share the cost of a deposit and mortgage, buying a property can seem just a distant dream.
Those buying alone can seek help from their families. Parents are coming to the rescue of many first-time buyers by acting as mortgage guarantors or helping with a deposit. Melanie Bien, spokesperson for Savills Private Finance, suggests asking lenders if you can have a guarantor element on a standard residential deal. "Many will allow this," she says, "and it means you can choose from mainstream deals, rather than just a limited few."
An increasing number of first-time buyers are clubbing together to buy property. Some lenders offer mortgage products specifically for sharers.
If none of your friends are in a position to club together, there are websites where you can find your perfect property partner. Sites such as sharedspaces.co.uk and gohalves.co.uk enable you to post an advert stating where and what kind of property you want to buy, inviting potential co-buyers to get in touch.
If you live on your own, paying for utilities such as gas, electricity and water can be a struggle, as can finding the cash for your council tax bill.
Switching your gas and energy suppliers is an easy way to save - according to switchwithwhich.co.uk, switching energy providers for the first time can save you around £245 a year.
To save on your water bill, get a water meter installed. Generally, this is a good idea if your property has more bedrooms than occupants. Most households can have a water meter installed, but a water company can refuse to install a meter if it is too impractical or expensive to do so - in a block of flats, for example.
If you cannot have a meter installed, your water company should still be able to offer you an 'assessed charge' or 'averaging', where you pay a bill based on an estimate of your water use or what other metered customers in your area pay - this should work out cheaper than being charged at the standard rate.
Council tax bills are calculated on the assumption that two adults live at a property. A 25% single-person's discount applies if you live alone. To qualify for this you need to sign a local council form to say that you live alone.
Advertised prices for most holidays are based on two people sharing a room. So if you travel alone, a charge, known as a single supplement, will most likely be added to you bill. Single travellers argue that this penalises them unfairly, but tour operators justify the charge by saying that the cost of providing a room - heating, lighting, cleaning and so on - is the same regardless of how many people occupy it.
Fortunately, there are a few things single people can do to make their holidays cheaper. A number of tour operators, such as Solos Holidays, specialise in the singles market and either do not charge a single supplement or pair up single travellers of the same sex to share a room. Also, you might be able to find a cheaper room if you travel out of season, when rates are lower and you can often persuade the hotel to waive the single supplement.
Single people often get a raw deal when it comes to insurance, as they are deemed to be a higher risk than married or co-habiting people.
Sean Gardner, chief executive of MoneyExpert.com, says: "This is particularly true with motor insurance. Whether you're married, cohabiting or sharing a policy with another driver, insurers will look more kindly on you if you're not single. Costs will vary, but you could save anything from £20 to £200 by avoiding the dreaded single status."
While tying the knot just to lower your premium is perhaps a little extreme, there are other things you can do to get a good deal.
Shopping around should be your number one priority - going online to compare as many providers as you can is a good starting point. Also, single people can often lower their premiums by including another person, such as a friend or relative, on their policy, as insurers reckon two people driving presents less of a risk than one person.
If you're a single parent you might be paying over the odds for travel insurance. Family policies are typically based on cover for two adults plus children, but policies are available specifically tailored for single parent families, such as those from the AA.
"Why should single parents be penalised by having to pay for family travel insurance that typically covers two adults and up to four children?" asks Kevin Sinclair, managing director of AA Insurance. "AA single-trip travel insurance for one adult aged between 18 and 65, and up to four children under 18 who live at the same address, will bring big savings."
Most gyms and health clubs offer a discounted membership rate if two people join as a couple. However, some gyms offer cheaper membership to two friends joining together.
Another tip is to check whether your employer has a corporate membership for a gym near your home or work.