Miércoles 28 de Mayo de 2008, Ip nº 231

Who can afford to stay single now?
Por Huma Qureshi

Jane Austen heroes and heroines, prepare to move aside. A single man in possession of a good fortune might have been 'in want of a wife' 200 years ago, but that no longer holds true.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, the number of people - especially women - living alone has doubled since the 1970s. Many singletons celebrate their independent status - the term 'freemale' has been coined to describe single, successful career women who don't need to rely on a man, financially or otherwise - but with everything from fuel to food getting more and more expensive, just how sustainable is life alone?

'There's just no monetary benefit to being single,' says Tracey-Ann Christian, 33, who lives in Chislehurst, Kent. 'Other than the council tax reduction [a 25 per cent reduction for people living alone], you get no discounts or benefits at all and what little money you do have is taken away from you in bills.'

Recent figures from comparison site Uswitch.com show the cost of living is up by 9 per cent from last year, and not being able to share that cost is a particular gripe among singletons.

'When you're on your own, you do sometimes think that if you had a boyfriend, and he moved in, you could share everything: the bills, the television licence ... ' says Annette Meesschaert, a 26-year-old solicitor who lives in Surrey, and pays £700- 900 a month on rent and bills. 'I used to lodge with someone, and wasn't used to paying bills by myself. I did try to calculate how much it would come to, but there are things such as home insurance that you forget about and don't account for but still have to pay. Even if it is only £18 a month, it's yet another cost.'

Tracey-Ann, who works as a PA, bought a house with her ex-partner, but when they split last year, she remortgaged the property in her own name and now pays twice as much (£1,000 instead of the £500 she contributed before) on the mortgage. 'It would still cost me £700 to rent somewhere, so I decided to stay on the property ladder. But the bills worry me more than the mortgage - they aren't always constant, and they never go down, only up,' she says. 'I really struggled at the beginning financially: I did find myself in debt and my overdraft kept going up and up. But when you don't have anyone to bail you out - no boyfriend who earns more than you and offers to help you out - then you have to monitor your money constantly.

'I'm always keeping a tab on how much I'm spending and I'll usually have £500 left at the end of the month to spend on socialising, clothes and so on, but I don't save much at all. I might be able to save some, but when you're single, you don't want to spend a whole week in on your own.'

When it comes to car insurance, singles usually have to pay more than their coupled-up counterparts. According to insurance comparison site Tesco compare.com, a single 35-year-old woman driving a Ford Puma would pay £232.55 to insure a car in her name only, but would pay £173.75 if she added on her 36-year-old partner as a named driver, saving nearly £60. Her partner, meanwhile, would save around £70 by adding her as a named driver on to his insurance policy for his car.

'If you add a spouse to your policy, then the chances are that your premium will come down because of the shared risk,' explains Niki Bolton from insurer eSure. 'We call it the "family factor". A man that adds his wife to his policy is considered more settled, possibly drives with children in the car and so on - so these factors may bring their car insurance down.'

Single travellers are often charged a single supplement fee for a hotel room, paying the same price that two people would pay to share. Tracey-Ann is going abroad for two weddings, and has to pay single supplements for her accommodation for both events. 'I know I could stay in a cheaper hotel, but when all the other guests are staying together at the nicer hotel, you don't want to be the only one that isn't there,' she says. 'It's a double-edged sword: spend more to be on your own, or spend less - to still be on your own.'

Buying groceries is another sore point, especially with the cost of food up by 11 per cent since last year. So many singles are worried about this that online discussion forums are springing up to address the issue of buying and cooking meals for one. Most forum users say they either end up spending too much money on food, they don't eat, or don't bother buying 'proper' food at all and live off ready meals and endless bowls of cereal instead.

Single mother-of-two Sarah Compton, who lives in east Sussex, says she's aghast at how much her weekly shop is costing now.

'I used to overshop and buy whatever I wanted to, but I've noticed recently that everything is so much more expensive,' she says. 'I now stop and ask myself if we really need things before buying them and I've started to cut out so many of the luxury items that I like - posh chocolates and exotic things. But even then, you can't buy anything for under a pound any more and I'm still spending around £80 to £100 on food.

'I used to go to Sainsbury's, then switched to Tesco and didn't notice a huge difference in prices, so now I'm going to start going to Lidl for basics. In my ideal world, I'd order my groceries from Waitrose, but that would probably cost me as much as my mortgage.'

  11/05/2008. The Observer.