When it comes to retirement planning, who has it better, singles or married couples?
The answer — singles, according to many Americans — may be based more on perception than reality.
A recent survey by Schwab looked at the attitudes and behaviours of singles and married people around retirement.
It found that most singles (69%) and a majority of married couples (53%) think being single is an advantage when it comes to retirement planning.
This attitude isn’t backed up by the facts, warns Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, Charles Schwab senior vice president.
The same study found that singles are actually significantly less prepared and less confident than married individuals in their retirement readiness — 85% of married Americans have already started to save, compared with only 67% of singles.
Those stats could get even worse given a weak economy and rampant unemployment that has left many Americans in their 20s underpaid and often moving back in with their parents.
There is also a growing population of singles. Census figures show there are record numbers of singles in America — nearly 100 million last year, or one-third of the population.
The study also found that 58% of married Americans say it would be easier to decide when to retire without having a spouse to consider; 62% of those couples say choosing where to retire would be easier if they were single.
The details of when and where to retire, however, are less problematic than being prepared for that phase of life.
Despite the perception that “single people have got it made,” they have the very big hurdle of having only one income.
“You are not sharing household expenses with someone like you would if you were married,” Schwab-Pomerantz says. “If you have a roommate you can share some expenses, but you don’t get quite the same benefit.”
Every relationship is different, and life situations — such as a live-in partner or having kids — can make a difference. Psychologically, however, many singles may not have the urgency to save, rather than spend, that comes with a financial responsibility for someone else.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, I’ll get there when I get there … I’d rather go on that exotic surfing vacation in Indonesia, I’ll save for retirement after I get back,'” Schwab-Pomerantz says. “In fact, time is of the essence and if there isn’t a prince or a princess on the other side you’ve got to take care of yourself by saving early and at a good rate.”
Schwab-Pomerantz stresses that the issues faced by singles don’t mean that couples necessarily have it easy, even if they perceive their challenges to be tougher.
The disconnect between couples when it comes to retirement goals — and the discord it causes — often stems from having to make joint decisions.
“I’m convinced that opposites attract and you can fall in love with the behaviours, value and characteristics that you don’t have and ultimately that is what gets in the way of your relationship,” Schwab-Pomerantz says. “You might be in love with someone who checks every penny and saves a lot of money and it makes you feel like this guy is so together and responsible. Then you are married and he doesn’t let you spend some of the money you want to spend and it’s a blow-up. Compromise s really hard and so is sharing — sharing your wealth for different goals.”
It also doesn’t help that many couples go out of their way to avoid these necessary discussions.
“Money comes with so much meaning and baggage and experiences that the conversation about money is really about more than just money,” Schwab-Pomerantz says. “Our studies show that few families have frequent conversations about money and investing. It falls between sex and drugs as one of the least-talked-about topics.”