Single Person Money Traps

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about whether or not a single person who is looking for a spouse should budget money for that search.  You can read that post here.

Today I want to talk about handling money in general as a single person.  I’d like to share some thoughts that I wish more people would have spoken into my life.  The truth is a lot of unmarried people, especially younger folks, don’t get a lot of help with this area of life.  I’ve often said that if there was one aspect of my over 20 years of adult singleness that I would live differently that it would be how I handled my money.

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Should You Budget Money For Dating?

The other day while driving I was listening to some Dave Ramsey.  In case you’re not familiar, briefly, Dave wants people to live biblically with their money, meaning stay out of debt, control your money instead of letting it control you and be generous along the way.

He has a radio show and people call in with all kinds of scenarios asking his advice.  Very rarely do I ever see Dave not have an answer.  In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen it . . . until the other day.

A young never married guy called in and said, “Hey Dave, I’m following your plan.  No debt, I have a budget etc.  I’m not married but I want to be.  Here’s my question, how much should I budget for that pursuit?”

One thing about Dave is that he’s always honest with people and he just laughed and said, “I have not been in that world for so long, I have no idea.”  After both he and the caller laughed a little, he did toss out a couple of thoughts, but it made me think of a couple of important ideas and some practical ones if you find yourself in that position.

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Money and Singleness

One of the lies out there about singleness  is the idea that singles are better off financially than marrieds.  Being in full time ministry over the last 20 years and surrounded by married people (about 90% of the people in my position are married) I’ve often been told to enjoy the freedom I have and how it is tougher with a family etc.  And I bought that.

But here’s the problem.  In general it’s not true.  Single people are not better off financially. Not even close.

Here are some numbers.  The median income for a married man is 109% greater than that of a single man.  Before you go and say that is just an age thing (for sure a factor) the median income for a married man is 33% greater than that of a divorced man.  The median family income even with only one person working outside the home is still higher than that of the single man.

We’re not done.  Married men get promoted more, receive better appraisals and oddly enough miss work less.  But it’s not just jobs and income.  It’s also taxes, laws and health benefits at companies.  A recent study  found that a single woman making $40,000 a year until she is 60 years old ends up missing out on over $484,000 over that period compared to a married woman.  That’s crazy.  Even if their estimates are off, it’s still crazy.

Now statistics are just that and for sure you can manipulate them in different ways.  But make no mistake, no matter how you do the numbers, married people end up with more than singles.

Now there’s all sorts of practical reasons that marrieds do better.  For one you share expenses.  You have one mortgage, get group insurance rates, have one electric, water, and sewer bill etc.  When something goes wrong in a job, sometimes the other person can keep you afloat for a while. You get a more tax help for being married.  The list goes on.

I’m not sharing this today to complain.  I’m not looking to start an equality in single pay movement.  I share it mainly for two reasons.  First to bust the myth that if you are single you have it easier financially.  That is completely false – especially over the long haul.  The second is because there are some things singles need to think about that can help them navigate finances in light of the this truth.

First off it is important to not fall into the trap of believing that because you are single, you should be “freer” with you money.  Here’s what I mean.  There were a lot of times over the last 20 years of singleness that I kind of had the attitude of “why not” because no one else was really counting on it.  Why not go ahead and take out the car loan. Why not go ahead and go on the trip I can’t really afford – I’ll pay it back.  Why not buy dinner for everyone, no one else will need my money right now.  The list goes on.

Why have a good health plan?  Why have good insurance?  No one but me is counting on it.  Here’s the truth – we tend to make different decisions when others are counting on us than when we are just dealing with ourselves.

Now to some extent that is reality.  But we have to be really, really careful.  What if something goes wrong?  What if I can’t pay it back?  What if I get hurt?  If you are disabled tomorrow – who pays for that?  Know what I’m saying?

Adding to the complexity is that others around us (especially married friends) have also bought this lie.  So they think you’re fine.  If a married friend of mine blew a few thousands bucks they’d probably get called out. “What are you doing?  You have a family.”  A single friend blows it – not so much.

Which leads to what I believe is the biggest trap for singles when it comes to finances.  No one knows what you are doing with your money.

Ask yourself right now – who knows how much you make, what you spend, what your expenses are, how in debt you are.  Is there any person in your life who knows any of it, let alone actually holds you accountable in any way in this area of your life?  My guess is no.  Do you even have financial goals?  Does anyone know what they are?  Are any of them more than 5 years long?  If you spent a few thousand dollars tomorrow who would know?

Everyone wants singles held accountable in dating, sex, porn etc. but we almost never talk about this.  And it is costing us.  Literally!  The funny thing is that scripture talks more about this than any of the stuff we are worried about.  If there is one thing I’d do different in my 20 years of singleness this might be it.  I’d try to be able to answer all the above questions with a yes.  I’d have some people who knew all the above and held me to it.

The biblical principles for money are the same for married and single people. But the context is different and we are foolish not to recognize that.  We can’t control tax codes and company benefits.  But we can control what we do with what we have.

What are you doing with what you have?  It’s a huge question.  Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Where’s your treasure?