Better off alone: why money is a solo affair

New research challenges our belief in the single premium

Kate Hughes
Money Editor
Friday 22 November 2019 13:46
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Emma Watson is happy being single, or as she calls it ‘self-partnered’
Emma Watson is happy being single, or as she calls it ‘self-partnered’

Whether you’re splitting the bill for a slap-up meal, a weekend getaway or a whole house, the common consensus is that you’re financially better off if you’re part of a couple.

But all that assumed knowledge, the surveys and stats are based on the idea that we spend the same money in the same way regardless of whether we’re single or in a pair.

New research from Lloyds Bank, which looks into how money attitudes differ between those who are single compared with those in a relationship, has found that more Britons are opting for the single life.

And it seems they’re financially better off when they do because they spend their money differently, though they don’t always believe it.

Most single adults living in the UK have chosen the single lifestyle, especially single women, the research found, often because of the personal freedom, ability to be spontaneous, and not having to deal with relationship issues.

About two-thirds of us think it’s financially worth being part of a couple. Think of all the split bills, tax perks and even the chance to double up on property assets if two homeowners get together.

Overall, we think we’re forking out an extra £193 of our disposable income on average in “singles premiums”. But we actually spend £300 less every month than those in a relationship – a difference worth up to £3,600 a year, Lloyds has found.

Author Lucy Vine says: “I’ve been single for the past eight years and I genuinely love it. It’s the way I choose to live my life and people should stop assuming I’m in some kind of limbo, waiting for a partner to come along to ‘complete’ me.

“It’s time we address those stereotypes, because – as this research shows – I’m not alone in feeling this way. More and more of us are choosing to be single, which is why it’s great to talk more openly about life choices and finances.

“Being single has made me happier and healthier, but also braver when it comes to talking about money and I hope to encourage more people to do the same.”

But as a society, we’re also making some big, inaccurate assumptions about how we manage money in couples.

Far from pooling everything we have in a “what’s yours is mine” melting pot, couples only actually transfer around a fifth of their monthly pay into a joint account on average.

Meanwhile, a separate study by AIG Life found that while couples “aren’t opposed” to sharing their money – and more than three quarters do split some of it with partners – in practice, they prefer to keep it to themselves.

More than half of UK couples say financial independence is important to both of them, but, for 15 per cent, trust is an issue. One in six couples keep their finances entirely separate, but financial advisers warn total financial separation can cause problems if, for example, one partner is unable to earn an income.

Legal advisers also warn against cohabiting couples assuming certain financial rights, particularly around the myth of common-law couples.

For the most part, cohabiting couples still seem to be treated as single people who happen to live together in the eyes of the law.

Regardless of how much money you contribute, or don’t, to the communal pot, you’ll have to be legally married to have financial protection if you subsequently become single again.

“The issue of money, in general, is very distinct,” says Emma Roberts, a family law solicitor at Stephensons Solicitors LLP. “If you are living together and both cohabitees have separate bank accounts, neither has access to money held in each other’s account. If as a couple you have a joint account, both have access to the account, regardless of who pays into it.”

A former cohabitee has no right to their ex-partner’s pension on separation, for example, or an automatic right to make a claim against their property. Nor can they request a greater share of a jointly owned property.

Unless they did indeed jointly own assets such as a home, a cohabitee also has no automatic right to inherit their partner’s estate when they die either, even if they have children together.

When it comes to formerly cohabiting couples and child maintenance, things are reassuringly different though.

A parent is able to apply to the Child Maintenance Service, known as CMS, for a child maintenance assessment. An individual can also apply to the court for a “top-up” maintenance order if the paying parent’s income is above the maximum of the CMS limit of £3,000 per week gross taxable income.

The level of top-up maintenance will depend largely on the standard of living and the lifestyle of the parents. It is also possible in certain circumstances for a parent to apply to court for a lump sum payment and property provision for the children of the relationship.

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