Financial Health as a Single Person
A wee disclaimer before we get too deep into this conversation. I am not an accountant, financial advisor, economist, or anything that would certify me to tell you what to do with your money. So, I will not be doing that.
What I hope to do is highlight some factors that make finances a tricky part of life for singles and provide a few questions to help you start thinking about what you might like to work toward.
When we talk about the many things that are wonderful about being single, I notice a theme coming up consistently. Freedom. Freedom to travel when and where we want. Freedom to make decisions independently. Freedom to spend our time how we choose. While this is accurate to a certain extent, I’m sure you know that it’s not entirely fair to paint a picture of a responsibility-free life.
The reality is that “freedom” can assume a level of financial stability that may or may not exist. The assumption is that, because we aren’t spending our money on children (which completely leaves single parents out of the conversation), we have more disposable income. According to a 2019 Pew Research survey, however, “On average, unpartnered adults have worse economic outcomes than partnered adults.” The study continues to describe that, on average, single adults experience less financial stability and lower incomes than married adults. What might that mean? Is that systemic, individual, or both?
I’m not sure, but it brings to mind a story I heard once about Oprah. She was working at a TV station in Baltimore and learned that her co-anchor was making twice what she was making. When she went to ask for a raise, her employer was less than inclined to see her side. He listed the expenses of her co-anchor, such as his children and his mortgage. Because she didn’t have those expenses, why should she make the same amount of money as he made?
This story took place several decades ago, so hopefully, this mindset has shifted. The point I’m trying to make is that when we think about financial freedom, there are a number of factors that can affect how we are viewed and how we view ourselves.
There are also the more subtle gaps that we might expect marriage to fill (I say “expect,” because many marriages do not operate this way). There’s the idea of complementary skills. For example, we might imagine that, if we were married, we’d marry a person for whom finances come less effortfully. Or perhaps they have lots of experience negotiating their salary and can give us tips. Since our spouse is part of our household, we might feel less awkward about asking for help. There’s also the expectation of shared responsibility. We might like the idea of having a partner who is equally responsible for the collective livelihood. If we become injured or sick, it might not completely derail our financial plans because there is another person who can earn income, whose financial future is tied up with ours.
In my mind, the problem isn’t just individual. There are many resources available to those who want to shift their mindset around money, or cultivate better spending habits. Those are important, and at the end of the day, we are responsible for stewarding our resources. However, I think it’s worth noting that many of our systems and policies assume that most people will get married.
So, what does this have to do with you, a single person who is trying to navigate the world of financial planning? I think it’s important for us to at least name the ways that financial stability as a single person is uniquely challenging. Mayhaps we feel embarrassed that, as a grown adult human person, we still need our parents to act as guarantors to make us a good applicant for an apartment. We might feel that we should be better with our money or we should trust God more. Mayhaps we’re anxious about the future because we’re in debt or we’re one large medical bill away from debt.
When it comes to your finances, what are some goals you have? If you don’t have any, consider why that might be. Could you name some of the challenges you’re experiencing? Think about your social circle. Who seems to be good with money? Could you ask them for some tips?
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