Being single comes with certain perks. You get to live by your own rules, and you don't have to endure the struggles and conflicts so many married couples face. But when it comes to finances, being single can put you at a major disadvantage. For one thing, you need to have more emergency savings on hand than someone who's married, as there's no other source of income to fall back on if you lose your job or fall ill. Additionally, single people often get the short end of the stick with regard to taxes, since they can't take advantage of the breaks that come with filing jointly.
In fact, single people often have a harder time saving than married folks because of the challenges of living on one income. After all, just because you're single doesn't mean your costs are only half those of a married couple. A married couple can split housing expenses, for example, but as a single person you may not find a suitable living space for just half the price, which may lead you to stretch for a proportionally higher rent or mortgage payment on your own. Similarly, single folks don't get any sort of discount for common expenses like utilities and cable television, which married couples can share.
All of this paints a dark picture when it comes to retiring on a single person's income. Because single people have fewer opportunities to save money on their day-to-day expenses, funding a retirement account can be a challenge. Recent data suggests that almost 50% of single women and 33% of single men enter retirement financially unprepared, as opposed to just 20% of married couples. Furthermore, single people have fewer options when it comes to Social Security benefits: Those who are married, widowed, or divorced can claim benefits based on their current or former partners' earnings, while single folks are limited to benefits based solely on their own earnings.
So what is a single future retiree to do?
If you're several decades away from retirement and expect to be single when you reach your 60s, then your best bet is to ramp up your savings early and take advantage of whatever matching program your employer offers. This is one area where single and married folks truly have a level playing field. When companies offer 401(k) matching dollars, they do so at the same rate across the board, regardless of marital status. Make sure to allocate enough money to your 401(k) to max out on employer contributions.
Make plans to take care of your health
Healthcare costs in retirement can constitute a significant financial hardship. According to Fidelity, the average couple who retired in 2015 at age 65 can expect to spend $245,000 on healthcare costs in retirement -- and that's not even including long-term care expenses. (Note: The vast majority of data on healthcare costs in retirement centers on couples, not singles.) Factor in the cost of a nursing home, which currently averages about $91,000 a year, or 'round-the-clock home care, which can exceed $170,000, and it's no wonder so many retirees prefer to rely on spouses and family for their healthcare needs.
Nonetheless, about 70% of adults aged 65 and older will require some type of long-term care at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. So if you're single, you may want to purchase a long-term care insurance policy to cover nursing-home or home-care costs, as there's a good chance you'll face them in the future.
Use your freedom to your advantage
Being in a relationship often means being tethered to a particular location. When you're single, however, you're free to pick up and move as you please, which means you have the chance to pursue career opportunities that may prove more lucrative than your current arrangement. While some people do well sticking with the same company for the long term, many find that the quickest path toward higher salaries is to move from company to company every few years. Consider this: For 2016, the Social Security Administration's cost of living adjustment was -- get ready -- zero. That's right. Zero. This doesn't just mean that those receiving Social Security benefits won't get an increase; it means that some companies with a practice of dishing out cost of living raises may not give their employees an extra dime this year. If you're offered a higher-paying job at a new company, take advantage of the fact that you're free to uproot yourself with fewer repercussions.
Lower your housing costs
While you can't necessarily score a smaller house or apartment for half the cost of a place better suited toward a couple, you do have options for saving money on housing expenses. A smaller place might seem cramped if there's another person you need to share it with, but if you're on your own and want to ramp up your savings, start by downsizing your living space. Even a short-term reduction in rent can work wonders for your savings account. Say you're able to lower your rent by just $200 a month. Over a three-year period, that's an extra $7,200 in savings.
Get some documentation in order
You may not need life insurance if you're single without dependents, but that doesn't mean you're off the hook when it comes to estate planning. You should still create a will and name your power of attorney and beneficiaries. Without them, you have no way of dictating where your assets will go in the event that you're not around to make those decisions yourself.
While being single might hinder you financially, it also gives you the opportunity to take control of your finances without having to seek approval from anyone else. This means that you have the option to invest your money as you see fit without having to take another person's feelings or concerns into consideration. You may need to work harder to retire in comfort, but when you do, you'll know that you did it all on your own, and that's something to be proud of.