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Singles Vs. Married Couples: Who's Better Off Financially?

Whether you're single by choice or circumstance, it's a lifestyle that certainly holds much appeal. After all, when you're single, you only have to answer to yourself, and you have the opportunity to pursue whatever goals or career you want without another person holding you back.

But even though being single has its benefits, it's a status that might end up hurting you financially. That's because new data from TD Ameritrade shows that married couples are more financially stable than singles. Specifically, only 29% of single adults consider themselves financially secure, whereas 43% of married couples say the same.

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Single folks also tend to earn a lot less than married folks -- $8,800 less, on average, to be specific. They're also less likely to own homes and contribute money to savings.

But here's what's surprising about this data: Since married folks are more likely to have children, and children cost a boatload of money, you'd think singles would have the edge regarding finances. But singles face some key disadvantages, too -- namely, the fact that many live on their own, and therefore don't have another person to split the bills with. Furthermore, because singles only have to worry about themselves, they may be less inclined to save or plan for the future. Either way, that's not a particularly healthy way to live.

Singles need savings, too

One major benefit of being single is having complete control over your finances. The flip side, though, is having no one around to keep you in check. In the aforementioned study, single adults were found to be less knowledgeable about the stock market than married folks, and only 27% of singles have emergency funds, compared to 39% of married couples.

But the one area where singles are really falling behind is retirement. Only 44% of single workers are setting money aside for the future, compared to 63% of those who are married. And that's a problem because retirement is the one stage of life where married folks seemingly have a natural advantage.

For one thing, married couples in which both members worked can collect up to twice the amount in Social Security as a single person. Furthermore, married folks can serve as one another's caregivers as the need arises, thus keeping long-term care costs to a minimum. Singles, on the other hand, get whatever Social Security benefits they're entitled to, but not a penny more, and they might have a harder time snagging free care when their health begins to fail.

All of this points to one major takeaway: If you're single and have yet to get your finances in order, it's time to change your ways. Otherwise, you risk not only running out of money in the present, but in the future as well.

Getting back on track

Though single folks certainly aren't the only ones not saving money, they're also, as they acknowledge themselves, solely responsible for their own finances. This means if you're single and run into a financial crisis, you can't count on a partner to bail you out. That's why the first thing you need to do is establish some emergency savings so you're covered in the event of an unplanned expense. Ideally, you should have at least three months' worth of living expenses in the bank at all times, and if your earnings are variable, you're better off shooting for six months' worth of income.

Once you have that safety net in place, it's time to look toward the future. Your Social Security benefits alone won't fund your retirement, so it's on you to save independently, and the sooner you start, the better. Even if you can't afford to part with a large chunk of your income, if you give yourself a decent savings window, you can get away with setting aside a series of smaller amounts over time.

The following table shows how your nest egg might fare if you start saving $300 a month for retirement at various ages:

If You Start Saving $300 a Month at Age:

Here's What You'll Have by Age 67 (Assumes a 7% Average Annual Return):

32

$497,000

37

$340,000

42

$228,000

47

$147,000

52

$90,000

57

$50,000

TABLE AND CALCULATIONS BY AUTHOR.

As you can see, the longer you wait to start saving, the less financially secure you'll be in retirement. On the other hand, if you're able to set aside $300 a month starting at age 32, you could retire with close to $500,000.

One final thing: Just because you aren't married doesn't mean you can't benefit from a cost-sharing arrangement that frees up room for savings. Find a roommate, split your rent and utility bills, and bank the difference for retirement. You can always part ways if things don't work out, but this way, you'll get one benefit that married couples enjoy without actually having to tie the knot.

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