Single adults are making this major money mistake

Being single can pose a challenge from a savings perspective. Without a partner to split the bills with, it’s harder to find opportunities to sock money away. But if you’re single and don’t have a financial safety net in place, you could end up damaging your finances irreparably.

Unfortunately, that’s the very predicament 73% of single adults are in. According to a new TD Ameritrade study, only 27% of single adults have an emergency fund. By contrast, 39% of married folks have a healthy amount of emergency savings.

Of course, the statistics aren’t particularly pretty for either group. But if you’re single, it’s perhaps even more critical to have an emergency fund than if you’re married. And the longer you wait to start building some savings, the more vulnerable you’ll remain in the interim.

How much should you save for emergencies?

As a general rule, all working adults need enough savings to cover three to six months’ worth of living expenses. If you’re single with no dependents, no mortgage, and relatively few expenses that you’re committed to (like a car payment), you can probably get away with hitting the low end of that range. On the other hand, if you own property or have a child to support, you most definitely need to aim for the top end of that range — if not higher.

Why are emergency savings so crucial for singles, in particular? It’s simple. Married folks have more options for tackling financial emergencies by virtue of having each other. Say you’re dealing with a married couple where both spouses work. If one gets laid off, that household doesn’t lose all of its income. On the other hand, if you’re single and lose your job, you have nobody else’s income to fall back on.

Furthermore, losing a job often equates to the loss of subsidized health insurance. If you’re married and your spouse’s employer offers a plan, you can typically get added. But if you’re single, it’ll be on you to either purchase a new health plan on the open market, or pay for coverage under COBRA until you’re reemployed. And if there’s one thing you should know about COBRA, it’s that it can be prohibitively expensive. That’s because you’ll be paying for the cost of your employer’s health plan in full, without a subsidy.

Then there’s the prospect of getting hurt or sick to worry about. If you’re married and need surgery, and then require full-time care in the weeks following, your spouse might manage to provide at least some of it. But if you’re single and land in a similar situation, you may need to pay for someone to provide the care you need.

Of course, none of this is meant to imply that married folks don’t need savings. Like I said above, all working adults need an emergency fund. But that need is amplified when you’re single, so if you’re behind on savings, it’s time to start catching up.

Building that safety net

Though the idea of amassing enough savings to cover three to six months of living expenses might seem daunting, you’d be surprised at the number of options you have for meeting that goal.

You might, for example, opt to cut out a combination of small expenses to help build your cushion. That could involve scaling back on leisure and restaurant meals, or it could mean walking or biking to work instead of taking taxis or buses.

Or you might decide that you’d rather not give up the small luxuries that make your life more pleasant, but instead make just one larger change, like downsizing your living space.

Another tactic for building emergency savings is to work a side hustle. Of the 44 million Americans who currently work a second gig, a quarter of them bring home more than $500 a month extra. And that’s a good way to boost your savings without having to compromise too many aspects of your lifestyle — especially if you find a side gig you truly enjoy.

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No matter what steps you take to establish your emergency fund, get moving on it before a real financial disaster comes your way. The good thing about being single is getting to decide what to do with your money without having to consult another person on financial decisions. But that autonomy could end up coming back to bite you if you’re not prepared for the unexpected.

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