More people than ever are romantically unattached in their 30s and beyond. Around 51% of adults in England and Wales are single, according to the most recent official figures from the Office for National Statistics.
Being single may be a choice or it can mark the end of a serious relationship, whether through a break-up or bereavement.
The figure, from the 2011 census, marks the first time that more than half of the population is single. Meanwhile, around a quarter of households contain only one person.
Family life is pricey, but the price of single life also involves financial pressures without being able to split the cost of living and a mortgage with a partner.
It also means feeling the burden of saving for the future and a retirement that might be spent solo, particularly with people living longer.
Alistair McQueen, savings and retirement manager at Aviva, says: “Four in 10 people over the age of 65 in the UK are single, divorced or widowed. That’s four million people, and more than ever before. The rising cost of living is cited as the main threat to this group.”
However, there are ways to cut the cost of some of the biggest expenses and to make extra cash to help meet outgoings.
Whether you rent or pay a mortgage on your home, the cost can prove prohibitive as a single person.
The cost of renting has been rocketing, and it may be tricky as a single person to climb on to the property ladder without a partner’s salary to boost a deposit and mortgage sum. The latest figures from estate agency Countrywide show the typical UK rental property now costs £945 a month, while those in London are an average of £1,292.
But there are ways to cut costs. You could opt to be a property guardian in one of the many empty properties around the country, ranging from stately homes to pubs.
You benefit from cheaper rent in exchange for keeping an eye on the building – and you won’t be living in shoddy accommodation. Take a look at Dotdotdotproperty.com and Adhocproperty.co.uk.
If you own your home, you could let out a room to make extra cash. The Rent a Room Scheme lets you earn up to £7,500 per year tax-free.
Alternatively, Airbnb enables you to offer paying guests temporary accommodation, from a night to weeks or even months. Plus, from 6 April 2017, you will benefit from the first £1,000 of income earned this way being tax-free.
Paying energy, water and council tax bills takes a chunk out of a salary or pension income. And that is before spending on other essentials, such as broadband and phone.
If you live alone, contact your water company to see if you can get a meter installed. This is typically a sensible option to cut bills if your property has more bedrooms than occupants.
Your supplier will do this for you if you ask. However, there is a charge for meters in Scotland, while Northern Ireland residents don’t pay for water. The Consumer Council for Water estimates that single occupant households could save about £100 a year by installing a meter.
You can also claim a 25% council tax discount if you live on your own. So if you haven’t already done so, contact your local council to claim this. The discount can be claimed whether you rent or own your home.
Also use comparison sites, such as uSwitch.com and MoneySuperMarket.com, to see if you might benefit from switching energy, TV or telephone suppliers. You could save hundreds of pounds a year. There are growing numbers of smaller energy suppliers on the market, for example, offering some of the cheapest deals.
Car clubs form part of the ‘sharing economy’. As a single person, this can be a useful way of reducing outgoings, making some extra cash, and perhaps meeting some interesting people along the way.
Companies, such as Zipcar and Enterprise Car club, mean you could ditch your car and save a small fortune – if, for example, you only use a car occasionally or for weekends away. By using these clubs, you don’t have to pay for road tax, insurance, MOTs or parking permits. Many car clubs offer members a certain amount of free petrol as well, so fuel costs can be slashed.
Enterprise Car Club charges £7 a month or £60 a year for membership. You get a membership card to book and unlock a car, and you are charged from 21p per mile. Insurance and petrol are included in the price.
Alternatively, if you have a car you could find a companion to share a journey with instead and reduce fuel costs. For example, Liftshare.com matches people with similar journeys to reduce congestion and pollution.
Food and shopping bills
Cooking for one person can be tricky, with the likelihood of food being left over. But the single-size alternatives in supermarkets are often over-priced. Check out Lovefoodhatewaste.com for a handy portion calculator. It will help you to work out how much you need to buy on your food shop.
Or if you like cooking, you could cut the cost of a shared dining experience through Mealsharing.com.
You set up a meal at your home and open the invite up to other people in your local area who pay to join you.
Turning to other shopping needs, there are plenty of ways to slash costs. For big purchases, check out sites such as Vouchercodes.co.uk to see if you can buy products at a discount.
Cashback sites, such as Quidco.com, also enable you to earn money back on shopping online. You can also share items ranging from crockery to rollerblades with your local community and neighbours by using Streetbank.com. This way, you don’t have to buy the item in the first place.
“I didn’t fancy sharing with people again”
Funding the cost of living alone became too difficult for Suzie Bartle, 34 (pictured above). “Rent got so expensive, and I didn’t fancy sharing with people again,” says the health and wellbeing public relations consultant from Nottingham.
She has moved back to her parents’ house in Nottingham so she can afford to set aside savings, after paying £1,300 a month to rent a one-bedroom flat in Stoke Newington, north London.
For Suzie, housing is the biggest financial challenge of being single in her 30s. “I’ve got to an age where I don’t want to live with strangers or compromise on living conditions. And, obviously, buying is easier when you’re pooling incomes and savings with a partner.”
She adds: “As a couple, you can run decisions past each other, and you have a savings buddy. You also have clear life events, such as buying a first home, maybe a wedding, children, and joint travel plans. I think the overall biggest challenge when single is relying on yourself for every eventuality, with nobody to lean on.”
Turning to pension plans, she hopes her business will prove profitable. “Luckily, I enjoy working and run my own company. I plan to make smart investments over the next 10 years that’ll hopefully help with retirement plans.”
However, she adds that it’s not all rosy for couples. “One person might be less financially savvy, or have a poor credit rating that impacts on the other person – or there might be different incomes and views on how to spend money. This could also cause problems.”
Tips on being single in retirement
The financial challenges of being single in retirement can be particularly difficult without the cushion of sharing living expenses with a partner. Here are some tips to help make ends meet.
Review your savings: Vince Smith- Hughes, retirement expert at Prudential, says: “It’s particularly important for single people in or approaching retirement to look carefully at their finances and make sure they are structuring their savings in the most tax efficient way possible to maximise their disposable income.”This includes using cash Isas, and seeking financial advice to ensure your money is working as hard as possible.
Cultivate a social circle: Search for senior support organisations in your area. They might be able to help with numerous things, even if it’s just company over a cup of tea. Perhaps you need a lift to the shops or appointments, because you can’t afford a car. Or you may simply want to find out about groups around the area that don’t cost to join. Go to Ageuk.org.uk/get-involved/ social-groups for further details.
Living arrangements: Perhaps you’re a long-term singleton who is used to living alone. But if not, it could come as a shock. There are options for creating your own close-knit community.
Co-housing communities enable you to move into a housing development, in which each person has their own apartment and front door, but residents share communal facilities and eat together. An example is the co-housing scheme for older people in Barnet, north London,
at Owch.org.uk. Check out the UK Cohousing Network at Cohousing.org.uk for further details.
Check your benefits: Billions of pounds goes unclaimed every year by people aged over 60, according to Age UK. Many benefits are based not only on your individual wage, but also household income.You may be entitled to extra cash you’re unaware of. Go to Entitledto.co.uk to check if you can claim any extra benefits. Also call Age UK for more information on 0800 169 2081 or go to Ageuk.org.uk.
Get help with energy bills: There are heating grants available for householders aged 60 or over who get means-tested and/or disability benefits. These might help towards insulating your home, for example, or by installing energy-efficient boilers. Ask your energy provider for moreinformation.
Get help with health bills: If you’re over 60, you’re entitled to free prescriptions and eye tests. If you have less than £16,000 in savings, you might be able to get help towards dental, glasses and travel costs to hospital too. Visit https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/information-and-services/pensions-and-retire....
I’ve had to look after myself and you find ways to do it”
Betty Robertson, 70, (pictured above) has been single for 25 years, after a divorce. She retired six years ago from her work as a childminder and carer of cancer patients.
The only income she receives is from the state pension, at about £450 a month. She owns her home outright, so her monthly outgoings don’t include rent or mortgage payments, and she meets all of her household bills with her pension income.
Betty, from Aberdeen, has about £30,000 in savings tied up in a five-year fixed-rate bond. “This savings pot means I’m not entitled to benefits. I receive some interest on this money every year, and it helps,” she says.
To cut down the cost of food, she visits the supermarket late in the day.“They’ve usually started reducing prices by then, and around closing time you can get a lot of food very cheaply. I also use supermarket loyalty schemes and shop around for the cheapest options.”
Turning to socialising, she got involved in voluntary work at her local art centre. “As a volunteer, I could see all the shows I wanted to there for free,” she says. “I also pay £17 for a monthly cinema pass and this means I can go and watch films whenever I want.”
To make some extra cash, she used to take in students from the local medical school as lodgers. “The money from this went into my savings,” she says. “When I got divorced I worried about meeting all the bills alone, but I’ve always worked and found a job. I’ve had to look after myself and this makes you find ways to do this.”
She also has a bus pass to travel for free – you can apply for these once you’re 60 in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In England, you get free travel once you reach state pension age, unless you live in London when you can travel for free in the city from age 60. “I’ve travelled all over Scotland,” Betty says.
She adds: “I’m used to being independent now, rather than relying on someone else – and I like my own company.”