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'Everything is set up for families': The true cost of being single in a cost of living crisis

Bills can mount up quicker if you've chosen to go it alone rather than with a partner

The true cost of being single. Illustration: Big Issue

“That’s not enough.” There’s nothing else to say when the mortgage advisor is presented with my house-hunting budget. Skimping and saving with hopes of buying my first home, I thought my efforts would at least be rewarded with the option of an ageing shell. I have a good job and decent deposit thanks to inheritance from four relatives and half a decade of saving, but the bank won’t budge. I can’t afford anything. “It’s because you’re doing it alone.” 

It’s a sinking feeling increasing numbers of people can relate to. You might be signing a phone contract (“It works out cheaper to sign up for our family plan”), planning a holiday (“The double room is the same price whether for one or two people”), or, like me, trying to get a mortgage. You’re constantly bombarded with reminders that not only are you single, you have to pay for it too. 

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As both a financial expert and single person, Finn Wheatley understands this professionally and personally. “The cost of living alone adds up. For one, taxes hit single people harder than couples or families,” he says, referring to the Marriage Allowance which can reduce a couple’s taxes by up to £1,000 a year. “Living by myself, everything from rent to groceries to healthcare was my responsibility alone, without anyone to split costs with.” 

It’s understandable how some costs – paying bills, mortgage or rent – are cheaper for couples who simply share the costs. But it’s also more expensive to have fun when single. Steven Kibble, a financial planner and advisor, found his “clients who live alone spend 20-30% more on non-essential shopping and leisure activities compared to partnered clients with similar incomes”. Why? Because, despite single households being the fastest-growing demographic in the world with 8.3 million single-occupancy households in the UK alone, everything is set up for couples or families. 

For one example, take television. A TV licence is £159 per household, whether there’s just you or a large family at your address. It’s the same with streaming subscriptions. Single people also miss out on group deals like two-together railcards, which save travellers around £153 a year. In their Average UK Household Cost of Food 2024 report, NimbleFins found food costs more too as items are packaged with a two-to-four-person meal in mind. For a couple, weekly shops cost just over £1,900 each a year, while singles fork out around 25% more at £2,340.  

These everyday costs aren’t included in the ONS’s unbelievable findings that singles spend £7,564 more every year on outgoings like rents, mortgages, utilities and council tax (single people can enjoy a stingy 25% discount on the latter) than their coupled-up counterparts. Additional costs like these have created what’s known as the ‘Singles Tax’. It may have a name, but with no official data consolidating the true price of being alone, the exact cost is unknowable. Still, its effect is evident.  

“When my wife left, the cost of everything ironically doubled,” Mike, a 40-something divorcee I got chatting to in the pub garden, told me. “We had a good arrangement going when it came to expenses; I paid the mortgage and bills and her pay cheque bought in food and kept the drinks flowing.” He lifts his pint and nods to it. “Now I’ll be nursing this one all night so I can keep the lights on.”  

Currently, the only solution lies with the individual. Both Wheatley and Kibble suggest “discipline and strategic planning” to “achieve financial stability”. But with singles bringing in half the income of a couple while facing more than £8,000 in additional costs every year, this feels like a sticking-plaster kind of fix. Like Mike, we can cut down on leisurely spending. Or we can lobby councillors and MPs to address discrepancies when it comes to council tax and accessible housing. But real solutions could lie closer to home.  

Opening up about money struggles with friends and family following my mortgage appointment from hell showed me how much everyone is struggling. Money is a touchy subject for us Brits. Research from shopping service Klarna found a third of UK adults feel too uncomfortable to talk about money with friends, despite 44% regularly worrying about it. Being able to be open about the issue can have a real impact on the way we handle our finances.  

I now split my Netflix subscription with my sister, and we recently went halves on a two-together railcard which paid for itself with what it saved us in just two trips. I’m even in talks with a lifelong friend about the practicalities of buying a home together as we struggle to do it alone. 

The world may not be set up for singles, but the couples it favours don’t have to be romantic ones. Platonically couple (or even throuple) up and find ways to beat the system without giving in and downloading every dating app out there. 

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue or give a gift subscription. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play

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