Is It Cheaper to Be Single or in a Relationship?


Valentine’s Day might not seem like a single person’s holiday, but it’s got its advantages: no cards, no gifts, no hefty tab at a restaurant with tablecloths. While overall participation is actually down this year—and more millennials are choosing to stay single—the National Retail Federation estimates that average V-Day spending will increase to more than $160 per person, up 13 percent from 2018.

So, clearly, it’s nice (financially, anyway) to be single on February 14. But for the other 364 days a year, we wondered: Is it cheaper to be single or in a relationship?

Who pays more for everyday expenses?

Household costs: In a 2015 Confused.com survey, couples said they spent about $150 more a month than single people on household costs. This likely boils down to single people having more choices—to split the rent with several roommates, live where commuting costs are most economical, save on utility bills by programming the thermostat to however low they can live with during the winter, and so on.

Food: Most recipes and even prepacked foods from the grocery store aren’t made for parties of one—meaning single people may wind up wasting more food than couples. In fact, singles living alone spend about $300 more a year on food than those in two-person households and devote a higher percentage of their total budget to eating out.

Related: 12 Ways Anyone Can Cut Their Food Bill

Dating and miscellaneous costs: Singles who pay for premium dating apps are shelling out about $58 per year. And overall, singles are dropping about $146 per month on dating, compared to $139 per month for people in a relationship and $130 for married couples.

But that’s where the financial benefits end for couples in this category. In a National Endowment for Financial Education and YourTango.com survey, 89 percent said they spend more while in a relationship (think: gifts, vacations and other costs of not being solely in control of your own budget). Seventy percent think that adds up to an extra $600 per year spent on love.

Winner, round 1: singles

Who fares better financially over the long term?

The biggest advantage of committed coupledom is the potential of budgeting with two incomes—if you’re married. According to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, single and coupled (but not married) people have similar levels of debt and assets, but married couples have a 77-percent higher net worth than singles (and increase it at a level of 16 percent per year). Marriage also means you’re eligible to file taxes jointly.

What’s more, a TD Ameritrade study found that we feel more secure when we’re partnered up versus single, and The Atlantic calculated that a single woman could pay over $1 million in a “single’s tax” for health care, taxes and more over her lifetime.

On the flip side, an unhappy marriage can lead to a shorter lifespan and unexpected financial costs, like couple’s therapy (that’s more than $1,500 for a full series of sessions) or divorce, which runs about $15,000 on average. Emotional costs not included.

Winner, round 2: the happy, married couple

So, now what?

Your relationship status doesn’t doom you to overpaying for food or housing or even having a low net worth. There are plenty of ways to maximize your budget, whether it’s fed by a single or double income.

Opt for budget-friendly dates and activities, like free days at local museums or picnics in the park. When traveling, take advantage of credit card rewards programs and aim to book on cheaper dates. Look for ways to minimize existing debt, like through refinancing your student loans. And to really start growing wealth, make sure to start investing as soon as possible.

Related: 101 Ways to Save Money Now