Single and Middle Aged? Is It Time to Check Your Retirement Plan?

A recent survey shows that many middle-aged and older single people are less well situated for retirement than their married counterparts. Here are ideas. Many middle-aged and older single people are less well situated for retirement than their married counterparts
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If you’re single and middle-aged, you might not be saving enough for retirement, a new survey shows.

Less than one-third of single Americans (29%) rate themselves as very financially secure, versus 43% of married individuals, according to a TD Ameritrade "Singles and Money" survey of 1,000 unmarried and 1,000 married adults ages 37 and older. The survey shows that 3 in 10 single Americans aren’t saving money for anything, versus just 17% of married Americans.

The survey also shows that singles are making less money, are more likely to spend their entire paycheck without saving, and are less likely to own a home than their married counterparts.

Because survey respondents were at least 37, this wasn’t a comparison of young people just out of college to married people, who conceivably would tend to be older and more financially secure. The findings show that married and single people who may be comparable from standpoints of age and work experience are in very different places financially.

“When it comes to retirement, many singles don’t feel they’re able to afford it,” said Dara Luber, senior manager, retirement, TD Ameritrade. “According to the survey, they’re clearly making less and saving less.”

Although the survey didn’t break down singles by status—meaning never married, divorced, or widowed—one thing that likely crosses all statuses and could make it hard for singles to save is not having another person to help with life’s key expenses.

“Generally speaking, two incomes are always going to be better than one,” said Robert Siuty, senior financial consultant at TD Ameritrade. “The gist of it is that married couples with dual incomes tend to have an easier time accumulating assets for retirement.”

If you’re single and struggling to save, both Luber and Siuty have ideas to consider. Some of their thoughts could apply to anyone trying to build a secure retirement, but others are more geared toward people who find themselves single, whether it’s planned or not.

  • Set up an emergency fund. This is key for anyone trying to reach financial security, but it might be even more important for single people. “Roughly one-quarter of single people have an emergency fund, versus 40% of married people, the survey found, and that’s alarming,” Siuty said. If a married person has an accident and can’t work, they can often rely on a spouse to help them get through. A single person, on the other hand, may have to rely on his or her own savings. The rule of thumb is to have three to six months of living expenses. Here are some ways you can begin building an emergency fund.
  • Consider disability insurance. “Make sure you have enough health and long-term disability insurance to cover yourself if something happens,” Luber said. “You don't want to have to eat into retirement savings. That typically should be the last resort. You’re going to pay a penalty, and you won’t get the benefit of compounded growth.”
  • Have savings goals and cut back on spending. These two are tied together, because the survey shows more singles than married people spending their entire paycheck and not putting any money away. “It’s important to prioritize saving toward various goals,” Siuty said. “It appears, based on the survey, that singles tend to spend more, and my takeaway is that it’s because they may not have as many specific goals or any savings goals at all, for that matter.” Here are some ways to consider building your financial goals.
  • Consider a roommate. You might like having your own space, but if you’re way behind on savings and have no emergency cash, it’s important to consider sharing housing expenses.
  • Make a budget. Everyone should consider having a budget, but if you’re single and struggling to pay bills, this makes even more sense. “List your top 10 things and look at what makes you happy,” Luber said. “Cut out the ones at the bottom. Do you need to cut back on coffee? Nights out with friends? Vacations? Maybe you can do without cable. A few extra bucks can make a difference over 30 or 40 years.”
  • Save early and often. Yes, this applies to everyone, not just singles. However, singles might need to pay special attention since they don’t have a spouse to help keep them on track and share expenses. “Consider having money auto-invested into a 401(k) or other retirement plan,” Luber said. “You don’t even have to think about it, and you get the benefit of compounding.”
  • Get a financial education. This doesn’t mean spending money on night classes. TD Ameritrade offers free educational resources for qualified investors*, including tools and calculators that can help you plan for retirement or fund a child’s college education, and figure out which investments might best fit your goals.

Looking at the survey results, it isn’t just single people who often come up short on planning and saving for retirement. The survey shows that many married people are also struggling, although to a lesser degree. That said, single people should take special care to make sure they’re prepared, and many don’t appear to be doing so.

“At the end of the day, the important thing is to take action,” Siuty said. “Take the right financial steps now to put you in a better situation for future years. This is something that all folks should be mindful of, whether they’re married or single. The key is to start early and save often, and have a plan in place.”

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