Launched at the start of September, the Living Well Alone survey has already attracted more responses that we could ever have anticipated. Together with in-depth interviews and focus group sessions, we’re starting to build a comprehensive picture of how those living alone (primarily in the UK, though we have a few respondents from overseas) experience the world and tackle the everyday challenges that come with this increasingly common way of living.
Each week, we’re using this blog to explore one of the themes emerging from our research.
When we asked, ‘what do you (or did you) like least about living alone?’ a number of those we heard from talked about the proportionately higher financial costs (along with loneliness, struggles with household maintenance, and worries about getting sick, all of which we’ll come back to later).
In this recent tongue-in-cheek article, Emily Hill talks about the hidden costs of ‘being single.’ On a close read, it’s clear that many of the costs she describes are ones that almost everyone living alone will recognise, irrespective of relationship status (incidentally, around a fifth of those completing the survey told us they were in a relationship, they’re just not living with their partner).
When you live alone, you bear the costs of running a whole household – for example, the mortgage or rent, bills, insurance, and council tax. These are literally almost halved the second you move in with someone else (assuming you are both paying your way).
There are also financial penalties associated with living a solo lifestyle. From gym memberships (where couples get a discount), to holidays (single supplements to sleep in your own room), to the mark-up on smaller-sized portions, cartons and containers in supermarkets, those living alone pay more per person to exercise, travel and even eat!
For some people who completed the survey, the additional costs of living alone are relative – compared to co-habiting peers earning similar amounts, this group have far less disposable income month to month, placing limitations on their participation and making them feel like the ‘poorer party.’ For others, the choice to live alone – with the additional costs that entails – means facing financial hardship. For this group, there is a very real trade-off between having cash, and having a space of their own.
It’s hard to see how companies could be persuaded to reduce costs for individuals. When customer numbers are everything, it would be counter-intuitive for any business not to incentivise the ‘easy to reach’ members of an existing customer’s circle – or to encourage the upsized purchase – by lowering the per person cost of a product or service.
Could it be, then, that businesses wanting to attract those living alone need to focus on the experience they offer to those living solo, if reducing per person prices isn’t an option? (On this, see my 23rd September post on Facebook about a recent trip to Ikea, and reflections on some tweaks to their service offer which would make the experience that much more ‘solo friendly,’ in a way that complements their existing family friendly policies).
And might there be other costs which could be reduced? While rent, a mortgage, buildings insurance and others are costs inextricably tied to a property, council tax is – according to the Valuation Tribunal Service, ‘a mix of a property tax and a personal tax.’ Calculated on the basis of property valuations, there’s an implicit assumption that the value of property is a good proxy for income. As described above, however, it doesn’t always hold that those living alone have a lot of disposable cash. In addition, much of the pressure on services for which council tax is paid – police and fire services, parks, sports centres, libraries, education, waste and recycling, street lighting, cleaning, road maintenance – is created at the level of the individual, not the household. Or is created by families, not by those who live alone (for example, pressures on schools). On that basis, does the 25% reduction for adults living alone go far enough?
We’re interested in thoughts on all of this. Are the higher costs of living alone inevitable? A fair price to pay for the luxury of one’s own space? Or an unfair burden on those who have little choice other than to pay up?
‘Til next week!
Ps: links to two of our favourite money advice services, below…