Finance Your Budget Cost of living: How the odds are stacked against singles

Cost of living: How the odds are stacked against singles

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People are marrying later, divorcing more and even eschewing romantic relationships altogether. They are having fewer children – or none at all – and are, in general, coming to live together under a single roof at a considerably reduced rate.

Although most children still grow up in a two-parent household and the majority of couples remain in their first marriage, families are shrinking and a growing number of couples are choosing to remain childless.

Since 2006, the average number of people per household has remained at 2.6. This compares with 3.7 in 1966, itself a decline from 4.5 in 1911.

As a result, Australia has experienced a significant rise in solo living in recent decades, with the proportion of single person households more than doubling in the past 60 years. ABS statistics show that in 1951, only 10 per cent of Australians lived alone: Today, lone households make up nearly a quarter of all living arrangements.

Social commentator Mark McCrindle said that the most recent census revealed the “traditional family” consisting of “mum, dad and children” had shrunk to one third of households from three quarters of households in 1991.

Despite this significant transition from family-oriented homes, single people are paying more and receiving less help, he said.

Australia’s preference for couple and family living is embedded in all facets of society, from easier access to housing, cheaper utility payments, supermarket deals and government tax offsets, he added.

“We are in a society that caters for the family or, indeed, the couple,” he told The New Daily. “Everything from ticket sales – like mum, dad and the kids’ passes – to grocery packs is geared towards the bigger household”.

The majority of Australian families with dependent children had two incomes so the costs were usually split, further shoring up their economic advantage compared with single people.

In a table published by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission in 2013, single people under the age of 35 were paying $278 weekly for housing.

Couples without children were paying $360, while those whose first child was under five were paying $364. The figure declined when the eldest son or daughter was between the ages of five and 14 ($325), then dropped again when they reached the 14-24 year-old bracket ($242).

When fuel, power, food, clothing and transport were added to the mix, singles were paying much more than their coupled counterparts.

Mr McCrindle listed the four most expensive areas for single people as: housing affordability, power and electricity, petrol prices, groceries and water bills.

“Solo person households don’t have the economy of scale with anything. Although they comprise of fewer people living in a house than the average – in Australia, the average home has 2.6 people in it – they don’t consume less power when they turn the heater on, or cook a meal,” he told The New Daily.

The housing market, which had become notoriously difficult to enter at any level, was increasingly out of reach for those on a single income.

“It is the single biggest cost for singles, and been the fastest to rise,” he said. “Someone buying or renting a home on their own will have great difficulty.”

And as the main supermarkets are volume businesses, focused on selling more items to consumers, single people are often left behind.

“Big grocery stores really push bulk purchases,” he said. “You go to any supermarket and they put the price per 100 grams. Often, the bigger the package, the lower the cost per 100 grams.”

That isn’t to say families necessarily have it cheap. A report released by AMP and Natsem in May, entitled “The cost of kids: the cost of raising children in Australia”, found that the financial burden of bringing up a family had increased to $812,000 in December, 2012.

Tax benefits and bonuses distributed by both federal and state governments, however, eased the pressure considerably. The government provided the Family Tax Benefit at a maximum rate for families whose incomes were around $48,000, while the School Kids Bonus, Baby Bonus and the clean energy payments were generally paid at the full amount for low- to middle-income families.

There’s also the provision of Paid Parental Leave, which currently provides that new mothers receive the minimum wage for 18 weeks. Under the proposed Abbott government scheme, working women will be paid their full salary up to a maximum of $150,000, plus superannuation, for 26 weeks.

So, if you’re a single home dweller and you’re feeling the pinch, you’re not alone. Most singles in Australia pay more than their share.

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Source: ASIC MoneySmart

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