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A typical, sought-after life path usually goes something like this: Graduate university (hopefully with minimal debt), find a good job (ideally with benefits), date (a few losers likely, but they will make for good stories and serve nicely as a point of comparison when you meet The One), marry (again: The One), join bank accounts, buy a house, have kids.
Decades later, you ease into your golden years on a cruise ship somewhere, the mortgage paid off and a healthy savings account at your disposal. Your children will someday repeat this cycle, thanks to the tidy model you provided.
Central to all this, of course, is The One or, at least, The One’s second income.
I’m Jessie Willms, the visuals editor for The Globe’s Report on Business Cannabis Professional. I don’t intend to marry, have kids, or change my mind about either of those things – and yes, I’m quite sure, thanks for asking. I would, however, appreciate more readily available financial guidance as I plan for my (distant but inevitable) retirement.
Rarely do we see clearly defined financial paths for the intentionally unattached. And that’s a problem. Unless we wake up to the idea that the future includes a significant number of people going it alone and help put them on equal footing to their coupled counterparts, an entire cohort is going to fail to achieve the traditional markers of financial independence: owning a home, building a robust emergency fund and saving enough to be able to retire comfortably.
There is comfort in knowing I’m not alone (ironic, yes, I’m aware): More Canadians than ever are living solo. In 2016, one-person homes became the most common living arrangement in this country, accounting for 28.2 per cent of households, up from 7.4 per cent in 1951, according to Statistics Canada. And 53.7 per cent of today’s single-dwellers are women.
Obviously some of these people are living alone because of circumstances they may not be able to control. But some, like me, are making an active choice.
I like being alone. My solitude is a comfort, a constant. It’s the way I’ve defined myself for so long that the possibility of finding myself in a relationship seems as likely as waking up fluent in Portuguese. It’s only when I consider my financial future that doubt slips into my mind. Achieving monetary success and security is easier when you can split the bills with someone else.
And, as we all know, doing without a partner is tougher financially, especially when you’re a woman. Consider the long-term impact of the gender wage gap. Women live on average four years longer than men, but make, on average, only 88 cents on the dollar. As the Globe’s Tavia Grant reported, this “carries long-term consequences. Depriving women of equal pay hurts their ability to save. With longer life expectancies, this means they are living longer on reduced retirement income.”
This is a truth The Globe’s personal finance columnist, Rob Carrick, has also spelled out: “Single women, you’ve got to save more than the men in your circle of friends, family and contacts.” He goes on to cite research that says women need about 9 per cent more savings than men just to make up for their longer life expectancy.
But saving can be damn hard when you’re alone. Despite having a steady job with a good salary, I teeter closer to the edge of financial insecurity than many couples I know. If my job disappears, it’ll be a line of credit, not a partner, I’ll be depending on.
Despite all this, I’m optimistic things are changing on the money front for us perma-singles. As social norms continue to evolve and our numbers grow, financial institutions will inevitably start to offer more solutions tailored specifically to us.
There’s already an app out there to help you split a mortgage with a stranger (Tinder, but for a house). New models for home ownership are becoming more common (the Golden Girls, but in real life). And tiny homes can open the door to big possibilities (your own house, but with less to clean – and, bonus, a smaller mortgage.)
I recognize I face particular financial challenges as a millennial woman choosing a solo future. My financial path may not be as clearly laid out as my coupled friends, or even the single men I know, but ultimately, being unattached is a joy for me. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, not even The One’s second income.
What else we’re reading:
I am an avid consumer of newsletters. Three of my favourites – the Grist, CBC’s What on Earth and Minimal Viable Planet – provide lively coverage of environmental issues, something I care deeply about (see: no kids, veganism, and my vocal, some might say “deeply irritating,” objection to plastics), without being alarmist. Sarah Lazarovic’s excellent newsletter, Minimal Viable Planet, recently featured a link to her illustrated piece from Yes Magazine about the upside of borrowing things from neighbours instead of running out to buy them. The piece includes this upsetting fact: the average drill is used for less than 15 minutes in its lifetime. The obvious next question should be “why buy when you can borrow?” Borrowing can not only help the planet and your wallet, but can also rebuild lost human connection. Next time you run out of flax seeds for vegan chocolate chip cookies, pop by and borrow some of mine.
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