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Saving & Spending

Being free isn't cheap: Financing your single life

Depending on who you ask, you'll probably hear two descriptions of the single life: either it's a carefree romp filled with coffee dates, new faces, and late night drinks or it's evenings spent alone with a herd of housecats, a full-to-the-brim wine glass, and Thai takeout.

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But, regardless of which story you choose, one thing remains the same: responsibility.

Think about it: Whether you're living in a romantic whirlwind or a house full of cats, the "me, myself, and I" lifestyle means that you're fully in control of your destiny, from your career and relationships to your finances. And that responsibility can weigh heavily. After all, being single can be tough on your wallet. If you live alone, there's no partner to share the rent, pitch in for food, or help with utilities. And, without someone to help, long-term savings goals can seem even more out-of-reach.

But there are benefits too. Namely: you're in control, which means that even your bad habits can be corrected with a little focus and determination. The healthy savings habits that you develop while you are single can last for a lifetime—and help you weather any financial curveballs that come your way.

Here are a few tips to get you started on your single savings skills!

Tip #1: Start with small savings goals

To ramp up your savings, start by identifying your goals. Do you want to travel? Save for a down payment? Start a business? Whatever the goal, break it down to bite-sized chunks to make it easier. For example, if you want to build out a $1,000 rainy day fund, begin by putting away small sums that won't strain your finances. If you want to take a big trip a year from now, begin by stashing away a little cash now.

"Save $50 a month, then $100, and keep moving up when you're able," says Shashin Shah, a Certified Financial Planner and Director at SFMG Wealth Advisors. If you really want to maximize your saving consistency, he suggests setting your bank account to automatically save money from every paycheck.

Tip #2: Make your kitchen your favorite restaurant

It can be tempting to go out to eat every night, but that can also put a big dent in your budget. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average US household spends over $3,000 a year dining out. That's a lot of money that could go into your rainy day savings or your retirement account!

To combat the creeping restaurant habit, designate one day a week—two at most—for eating out. The rest of the week, cook for yourself. In addition to saving you money, eating at home will give you a good reason to learn to cook some of your favorite dishes—a life skill that will pay off for years.

Tip #3: Cut your housing costs

Housing is one of the biggest expenses for many Americans—and that's especially true for singles. According to recent surveys, singlesespecially young singles—often flock to cities, which tend to have far higher rents than suburbs and the country.

To help out, consider getting a roommate or two. In addition to cutting your rent or mortgage costs, you'll also save on utilities, particularly cable, internet, or other services that come with a flat monthly fee. Or, if you're not thrilled with the idea of having someone live with you full-time, consider occasionally renting out a room through services like Airbnb or VRBO. According to a recent study, the average Airbnb host makes $924 per month. While you may not want to turn into a full-time amateur innkeeper, renting for just a few nights a month could help cover your rent or move you closer to your budget goals.

Regardless of whether or not you decide to rent out an extra room, get in the habit of negotiating your rent once your lease is up. And, if you are in the market for a new apartment, look during the winter. Most people don't like to search for apartments or move in the cold, so prices tend to be a bit more affordable.

Tip #4: Go easy on entertainment

While you don't want your life to be all work and no play, be sure to keep an eye on your entertainment budget. Small sacrifices here and there can save you money, while still giving you lots of room for fun. For example, instead of paying for a bunch of premium cable channels, check out subscription services like Hulu or Netflix, which offer a lot of the same shows and movies as cable at a lower monthly price.

While you're at it, be sure to look for free or heavily discounted events in your area. Most museums offer free admission on select weekends or evenings during the year, while local movie theaters have discounted matinee pricing for films if you show up in the morning or early afternoon. And a variety of websites offer discounts on local activities, from spa days to pottery classes to martial arts training. Do a little searching, see what deals are in your area, and get ready to try something new!

Tip #5: Stay motivated...and inspired

Cutting back on expenses can be a grind, but there are a few great techniques for motivating yourself. For example, consider peer ranking. That involves benchmarking yourself against others who are of similar age, income or career as you. It isn't designed to make you jealous of others, but rather to get you in the habit of exploring the data surrounding your peer group. "The goal is to ask yourself: 'How am I doing with savings versus my peers,' or 'What is my credit score compared to the national average?,' explains New York-based Certified Financial Planner Cary Carbonaro. "That kind of information is often super motivating for people."

Shah suggests a slightly different approach: periodically rewarding yourself when you hit a savings goal. "When you hit a milestone, plan on a reward," he says. "For example, if you save $100 for ten months, buy a $100 splurge gift without guilt." The key is to first engage in consistent savings behavior and then treat yourself to a modest reward.

One of the best methods is the one we mentioned in the beginning: keep your goals in mind. Whether you are trying to jump-start retirement planning, save for a home, or pay off student loans, focusing on your end goal can help you deal with the day-to-day inconveniences of saving. While you're at it, be sure to give yourself credit for your work: remember that, even without a partner or spouse, you're saving money and learning to stand on your own two feet.

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