Question from Maria, aged 30, living in Toronto: I’m single. I feel stuck. I’m 30 and I have a great salary – $60,000 – but I feel like life is built for two incomes. I’d love to move out of my small apartment, but I can’t afford the higher rent. I’d love to buy a home, but buying feels out of the question. I also have to save a ridiculous amount for retirement because I’m saving on my own, so I end up feeling broke because I have to save so much. It’s great that I can actually have savings, but the tradeoff is that I still live much the same way I did when I was broke in my early twenties. How are other single people financially surviving? Are they feeling broke all the time as well or are they just digging out of debt? Are there some sort of single-person-money-hacks?
Shannon Lee Simmons is a financial planner and founder of The New School of Finance in Toronto.
Answer from Shannon Lee Simmons: There’s no question about it; single life, by choice or otherwise, is a tough financial gig for a lot of people. You have to pay for housing, transportation, save for retirement and have a life – all on one income. But there are single-person money hacks that can maybe get you where you want to go in a roundabout way.
Money hack #1: Negotiate a better salary
Your income and future cash flow from that income is the most powerful tool you have. Let’s make it as high as can be. Sounds obvious, right? But people tend to think that their income is fixed. An “it is what it is” mentality, especially for employees out there. But is it truly fixed?
First: negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Try to get a raise or an income adjustment at your current job if you’re an employee. You have a great salary but find out what the realistic salary range is for your job with a site like Glassdoor and see where you fall in that range. If you’re not at the top end of the income range, find a way to get there. Put together a proposal to show how you are adding value to the company. The worst-case scenario is that your boss says no. Yes. That sucks, but at least you know that you tried. If they say no, ask what you can do to improve performance so that the answer would be a yes next time. Don’t be scared to negotiate for a higher salary.
Money hack #2 – Bring in side hustle money
Get creative. If your employment income is what it is, don’t be scared of that side-hustle life. Find a way to make some additional cash on the side. It doesn’t mean you have to run a full-fledged side business or get a part-time job at nights. A side hustle is a creative way to bring in some additional cash when and where you can.
If you’re single and most of your income is going toward bills, often there isn’t extra money for fun things like vacations or fun splurges which can perpetuate the feeling that you’re broke. Use your steady income to pay your bills, save and live your daily life, and use your side hustle money to pay for fun things in your life.
For example, a single client of mine would crash at a friend’s house for the weekend five times a year and would rent out their flat on a home-sharing site (with permission from their landlord). They were able to charge $150 per night, which ended up bringing in $1,500 in a year before tax. After putting aside 25 per cent for income taxes, there was $1,200 left for their vacation fund. That’s not chump change.
Other side-hustle examples could include freelancing if you have a skill set that you can use outside of employment or using technology-based on-demand companies such as ride-share, delivery or task companies. Aim for at least $100 per month after tax; this will help you to feel less broke and still enjoy your life without making huge changes to your employment situation.
Money hack #3 – Share the cost of living as much as possible
Life costs money. The biggest financial hurdles for people, single or coupled up, are housing and transportation. This is truly where the cost of living skyrockets for a single person. I’m not sure what you pay in rent, but according to an Urbanation Inc. report in January, 2018, the average monthly cost of renting a condo in the GTA was $1,867. If your take-home pay is approximately $3,700 per month, the rent would be 50 per cent of that pay. Without any other expenses in your life, half your money is gone to rent. Poof! This is what’s so financially frustrating for people who are single. So much of your take-home pay is lost to housing, regardless of whether you own or rent.
Since housing and transportation are the toughest expenses to tackle solo, if there is any way to offload or share the costs with another person, do it. Take on a roommate. If you’re renting, you’ll often be able to get into a nicer place and keep the rent at an affordable amount for both of you. Think about sharing bills beyond your housing as well. I’ve seen a number of friends share parking spots, transit passes, monthly subscriptions to TV and music apps, cleaning services and pet walkers. Go through your expenses one by one and make a list of ones that you think you could share with a pal. I’m sure they’d welcome the offset in expenses as well.
On the bigger end of things, I’ve seen some successful car-sharing efforts between friends save them a chunk of money. If you and another friend are both longing for your own vehicle but can’t afford it solo, share one. Draw up a sharing contract before you buy or lease a vehicle to ensure everyone is on the same page with the money, usage, ownership and repair expectations. If you hammer out all the logistics before you buy or lease, it’s a great way for both people to get access to their own car while offsetting the cost.
Money hack #4: Co-ownership
Think Golden Girls with real estate. I’ve seen a lot of people who really want to own a home but couldn’t afford to do it on their own buy property, houses or condos with friends and family members. Definitely ensure that you’ve mapped this all out with a financial planner, accountant and lawyer before you jump into something like this. But if you dream of home ownership, have the right person that you’d share property with and a solid legal contract, you could find a way to make it work in an affordable way.
There’s no question – life on one income is tough. But, with some creativity, you can bring in a bit more money and spend a bit less so you can keep your head above water, save for retirement and still manage to have a life.
You can also join the Gen Y Money Facebook group.