When an email landed in my inbox about new statistics on ‘the cost of living alone’, I rolled my eyes and thought it would be much too depressing to open.
Did I really want official numbers from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) reaffirming my long held belief that I’m far worse off not only emotionally as a single person, but also financially?
Statistics released on Thursday (4 April) showed people living alone spend an average of 92% of their disposable income, compared with two-adult households who spend only 83% of theirs. People living alone are also more likely to feel less financially secure than couples without children.
I’ve regularly bandied about that it costs about US$3,555 (€3,167) more per year to be single than in a relationship, based on data I once read. I’ve joked the reason my financial situation is dire (barely any savings, no discernible assets to speak of) is because I’ve been partnerless my whole life.
But it’s no joking matter. Given that I’ve been single for all of my adult life (except for two six-month relationships), that’s $67,545 (€60,197) more I would have in my pocket by now.
Imagine all the things I could have spent that money on that would guarantee me security like; a deposit on a house, paying off my student debt, or a car.
This year’s Digital Pride, an online festival dedicated to taking pride to everyone – whoever or wherever they are, is focusing on tackling loneliness and isolation. It takes place on Gay Star News April 29th to May 5th, 2019. Find out more.
It really does pay to be shacked up
A quick ask around to all the single people in the office about the frustrating extra costs they endure revealed being single is so costly.
Splitting the cost on living expenses like rent, council tax, bills, food, phone plans and transport all save couples a lot of money. As one colleague pointed out, ‘transport being cheaper too has knock on effects: it’s cheaper to visit family, far-off friends, weddings etc. Couples railcards are a thing too.’
Long gone are the days where I peruse cute rental properties, fantasizing about how I could afford to live in them, ‘if only I had a partner’.
Cash breaks are everywhere for couples and families. Even the UK government offers a ‘marriage allowance’ which gives married people or those in civil partnerships a tax break of $624 (€557) per year.
Learn to love your own company
When I complain about my single status and loneliness, I’m often lectured to ‘appreciate alone time’ and ‘learn to love my own company’. Considering I’ve been single for almost 20 years I’m well and truly sick of my own company, thanks.
So what I do, like many others, is increase my social and recreational activities to fill the glaring gap of a loving partner. Much of my time outside work is filled with sporting activities, catching up with friends and trying to do as many different social activities as possible. They include going to the cinema, cultural activities and more. I belong to so many ‘Meetup’ groups I’ve lost count.
I also travel a lot, which is much cheaper when you can get a package deal for two, but alas, I can’t.
In the realms of entertainment and recreation I lose out as a single person as I can rarely take advantage of 2-for-1 offers. Even Spotify offers a monthly discount to couples which leads to an annual saving of $78.60 (€70.20).
Loving yourself is expensive
But in attempts to fill my personal time to avoid being alone, I have well and truly drained my bank account.
Let’s take for example my recent foray into the sports world. I have joined a basketball team and an Aussie Rules football team since moving to London. I even deliberately chose my gym based on its sense of community (some would say it’s tragic that I get my social life at the gym).
Even though I joined these teams because I’ve always wanted to play sports – especially Aussie Rules – I quickly realized how much I enjoyed the social aspect of them.
So when I got a diagnosis of serious tendon damage in both my feet that might sideline me for up to six months, I was completely devastated.
Instead of waiting to get treatment on the NHS which meant being on a significant waiting list, I forked out about $786 (€702) to see a private podiatrist and ensure my recovery was fast tracked so I could get back to my sports and new friends.
Before relocating to London, back in Melbourne, I combatted my loneliness with two dogs. But even they cost me a bundle. According to a study by Sainsbury’s Insurance the annual cost of a dog is about $1,548 (€1,380) per year. A cost I absorbed alone.
But career pressures forced me to leave my home city in Australia multiple times (another massive expense I took on solo) and now my life is much worse and lonely without my canine companions.
Loneliness costs more than just money
The reality is that loneliness is a modern epidemic that is expensive not just for the individual, but society as a whole.
In 2017, the American Psychological Association labelled loneliness a ‘greater public health hazard than obesity’.
‘Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need — crucial to both well-being and survival,’ said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor of psychology at Brigham Young University.
Loneliness refers to the discrepancy between the number and quality of the relationships that you desire and those you actually have, according to the World Health Organisation.
‘But loneliness is not just about how you feel. Being in this state can make you behave differently, too, because you have less control over yourself – for example, you’re more likely to eat that chocolate cake for lunch instead of a meal or order take-out for dinner and you will also feel less motivated to exercise, which is important for mental and physical health. You’re also more likely to act aggressively towards others,’ said University of Cambridge PHD candidate, Olivia Remes.
Loneliness is absolutely a public health issue. Public Health England’s chief executive, Duncan Selbie, said feeling isolated is the equivalent to ‘smoking 15 cigarettes a day’.
It can damage your brain, immune system and lead to depression and suicide.
‘If you feel lonely, you tend to feel more stressed in situations that others cope better in, and even though you might get sufficient sleep, you don’t feel rested during the day,’ Remes said.
The social costs of loneliness
In the UK, it costs about $7,855 (€7,005) per person in health costs and increased pressure on local services according to the London School of Economics.
British Prime Minister Theresa May even appointed a Minister for Loneliness last year, recognizing the health epidemic.
‘I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, by carers, by those who have lost loved ones — people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts and experiences with,’ she said last year.
What I’m trying to say is, when you’re single, it’s a constant, expensive shitfight against loneliness. And even if you choose and enjoy the single life, it still costs a huge amount more to fill in your time.
Many times I’ve had friends tell me ‘relationships can be really hard too’ and that I should enjoy being single.
But next time they send me that message while likely curled up under a blanket on the couch with their loved one bingeing Netflix, I’ll just remind them that being single is very lonely.
And that loneliness is killing me.
If you or someone you know needs mental health support, please visit this link of global resources.
What is Digital Pride?
Digital Pride is Gay Star News’s truly global pride, which anyone can take part in whoever and wherever they are. Connecting LGBTI people all over the world, the online festival happens every year in April.
In 2019 Gay Star News is focusing Digital Pride on tackling loneliness and isolation. It takes place on Gay Star News April 29th to May 5th, 2019. Find out more.