September 13, 2023

Is living alone more expensive?

By Sylvie Tremblay

Nearly half of Canadian adults are single, which is a major change from recent decades. If you're living alone, what does that for you mean financially?

Ah, the single life! Half the dishes, half the laundry and the whole bed to yourself. But it also means taking on full financial responsibility. At a time when inflation is driving up the cost of living, the impact is even greater.

In Canada, 15% of adults aged 15 and older live alone. This trend is even more pronounced in Quebec, where the percentage rises to 19%, making it the leading province in Canada for living alone. These are the conclusions drawn by Statistics Canada in its latest census, for the year 2021. This is the highest rate ever recorded in the country, and it is only expected to increase.

Do you know what living solo means for your finances? Béatrice Bernard-Poulin, a financial education entrepreneur and Quebec author, knows a thing or two about it. “I’ve lived alone since 2007 and have always been single. But eight months ago, I met someone. Even though I still live alone, this new situation makes me realize the huge financial benefits of splitting certain expenses between the two of us. Not just for food,” explains the woman behind Le Blogue de Béatrice and the books Ça coûte cher, être un adulte ! (Being an Adult is Expensive!) and Vivez mieux pour moins (Live More for Less).

5 ideas for saving while living solo

Everyone benefits from taking care of their finances, that’s for sure. But these tips may be even more useful if you live alone:

1. Manage your spending

Focus on the things you can control. That’s the first piece of advice from Stephanie Holmes, CEO and founder of CacheFlo. “People get all worked up about high electric or gas bills. You can yell and scream all you want. The reality is that you have no control over it,” explains the author of two financial books, Defusing the Debt Bomb and $pent.

Holmes recommends that her clients divide their money into two categories:

  • Ongoing expenses, which are the sum of your fixed monthly expenses
  • Discretionary expenses for everything else

“When you do that, it changes the way you look at things,” Holmes says. In fact, it’s easy to go on autopilot when it comes to spending. But then it takes longer to build your savings and pay off debt. That’s why it’s important to create a budget to better manage your spending.

Psst... Don’t underestimate the power of cash

When she first entered the job market, Bernard-Poulin lived paycheck to paycheck. Then she decided to calculate her total discretionary and living expenses per week. We’re talking groceries, morning coffee, lunch on the run, subway tickets, and so on. “I came up with $100 a week. So, I’d take $100 out of the ATM on Sunday night and try to live on my cash all week,” she explains.

“It makes sense: you can see physical money disappearing. We’ve lost the instinct to think about it, to count it. When you pay with a card, sometimes you don’t even look at the total. So, I’d recommend cash to anyone who has trouble managing their spending and wants to cut back.”

2. Use websites and apps to save

There are several websites and apps that can help you save money without depriving yourself. They include Reebee and Flipp, which aggregate flyers from local grocery stores. It’s a great way to find the best deals on food nearby!

Flashfood and FoodHero, on the other hand, allow you to buy food that is approaching its expiry date at low prices. And it helps reduce food waste. Most grocery stores offer a loyalty card that allows you to earn reward points that can be redeemed for cash. It’s an easy way to get more bang for your buck.

You can also buy second-hand goods on resale sites like Facebook Marketplace or Kijiji. Bernard-Poulin recommends setting up alerts on these sites. That way, you’ll be notified when an item you need goes up for sale. It’s also possible to barter or swap goods on sites like Bunz and Partage Club. The precious dollars you save will help you build up your savings even more.

Read now: 8 websites for bartering and swapping (in French only)

3. Get your grocery shopping under control

To help you save money, learn how to efficiently shop for groceries and cook for one person. Here are our tips:

  • Take advantage of sales on nonperishable foods to stock up. If you have the storage space, this is a great way to save money.
  • You can also stock up on meat and certain fresh produce. Then you can just freeze them in individual portions for convenience.
  • Opt for seasonal fruits and vegetables to lower your grocery bill. In the summer, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries are great choices.
  • Mix business with pleasure by hosting cooking parties with friends. You can prepare large quantities to share at the end. Win-win!

4. Try before you buy

No one is immune to life’s uncertainties, like needing a major car repair or losing a job. It’s even more important to be prepared if you live alone.

As a single person, you are your own safety net. That means your emergency fund should be larger. It also means you need to be extremely careful with your money. “When you’re on your own, you have to think beyond the immediate future. You also have to plan for any unforeseen expenses. And the tighter your budget, the more you have to think ahead,” says Bernard-Poulin.

All the more reason to be extra careful when making big purchases. For example, before buying a house or condo, calculate all the costs involved:

  • Mortgage
  • Insurance
  • Taxes
  • Condo fees
  • Maintenance and renovations
  • Utilities and services
  • Unexpected expenses

Then, for six months, set aside the difference between your estimated costs and the rent you pay. This will show you if the extra expense is reasonable.

Don’t forget that homeowners are never immune to unexpected expenses and renovations. All the more reason to build an emergency fund and avoid using your credit card.

5. Balance spending and saving

A balanced budget is more than just covering your day-to-day expenses. It means thinking about today as well as your savings for tomorrow.

The 50/30/20 model is a smart way to think about your finances:

  • 50% of your take-home pay for essential expenses
    As in housing, transportation, food and insurance.

  • 30% of your take-home pay for discretionary spending
    Such as entertainment, shopping and vacations.

  • 20% of your take-home pay for savings
    Like a short-term emergency fund and a long-term retirement plan.

If you’re able to put money aside while enjoying life, you’ve struck the right balance.

Our budget calculator can help you keep better track of your income and expenses,
making it easier to stay on track with your financial goals.

Two incomes aren’t always better than one

It may seem harder to save when you’re on your own. But not in all cases, because opposites attract, even when it comes to finances. This contrast can add stress to a relationship and upset the balance between spending and saving. When you’re single, you only have to worry about your personal preferences. You are in complete control.

Stephanie Holmes agrees. She says being single allows you to make more focused decisions more quickly. For example, you don’t have to compromise on the type of car you want to buy, let alone where you want to live.

“One of the biggest advantages of being single is that you don’t have to worry about anyone’s opinion. Ever. You’re in complete control of your life, and that’s a huge advantage,” Holmes concludes. But it’s important to use that advantage wisely. So take control of your finances today and take control of your life!

This article is meant to provide general information only. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada does not provide legal, accounting, taxation, or other professional advice. Please seek advice from a qualified professional, including a thorough examination of your specific legal, accounting, and tax situation.

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