By Tanya de Grunwald
Last weekend, I went to a party at my friend Catherine’s gorgeous new two-bedroom flat.
She’s recently bought the Victorian conversion in a desirable area of leafy south-west London with her fiancé, and as she played hostess, I dutifully admired the high ceilings and designer kitchen.
It was later, on the bus back to the flat in west London I share with three flatmates, that it hit me. Not just that their home was really lovely (envy envy), but at 32, I’m the only one of my friends still renting, unable to afford a mortgage. I’m also the only one who’s still single.
It was then that a shamefully un-feminist thought popped into my head. Despite the fact I’m happily unattached and earn just above the average wage doing a job I love, if I’m ever going to be financially secure (or at least get one foot on the property ladder), do I need a man? In other words, can I afford to stay a Miss?
I realise this isn’t how single ladies my age are supposed to be thinking. We’re meant to be revelling in our independence – splashing our disposable incomes on cocktails and girlie getaways, while squirrelling away a nest egg so we never need rely on a man.
But the recession has brought the single ladies’ party crashing to a close. As I look around at my coupled-up friends going halves on their houses, cars and holidays – the single supplement makes my blood boil – I have to admit that in 2012 it seems to make financial sense to find a partner.
Wages have flatlined, and as the cost of living soars, single women like me are struggling to make ends meet.
The irony is, as a freelance writer, I earn what most people consider to be a good salary, around £30,000 a year, which is above the national average of £26,000.
But once you factor in £550 a month rent, £250 a month for my office space, plus bills, food and travel in London where the cost of living is higher than anywhere else in the UK, I’m far from flush come the end of the month. Luckily, because I’m careful, I don’t have any debts – but nor do I have savings.
Since becoming self-employed in 2007, my earnings have been up and down and the savings from a good month are wiped out by a bad month.
So I’m not able to save a deposit for a property – though in these climes, no bank is likely to give a single, self-employed woman a mortgage anyway.
But say they did, would I be able to afford to live alone? Could I really pay council tax, all my bills (watching TV is so expensive these days!) and my mortgage? Hence I am now facing up to an uncomfortable, deeply old-fashioned truth. Perhaps I need a man to share life’s bills with.
I’m probably not alone in feeling this way, according to Professor Karen Pine, psychologist and author of Sheconomics.
“Everyone’s worried about money, but some single women feel particularly vulnerable,” she says. “They’ve nobody to share their concerns with and no one as a safety net if they fall on hard times.”
Thinking this way makes me feel like a character from a Jane Austen novel, praying a minted Mr Darcy will rescue me from my life of (relative) poverty.
“In a post-feminist world, it’s embarrassing for single women to admit they wish someone would come along and ease, or share, the financial burden,” says Professor Pine.
But life is cheaper in a couple. With two of you to share the outgoings, it’s easier to save, and twice the investment equals double the nest egg.
It’s been difficult for me to admit, but now, when I look at the lives of my coupled-up friends, I feel jealous. Secure in the knowledge they have someone to lean on financially when the going gets tough, I bet they don’t lie awake at night like me, panicking about what my life will be like if I remain single.
Realistically, there’s a chance I’ll never be able to buy my own home. It’s demoralising and I feel like my life’s going backwards. I’ve always been independent, so this feeling of needing a man has really unsettled me.
My last serious relationship ended in April 2011, and although I’ve dated I haven’t met anyone I want to settle down with. Until now, that hadn’t bothered me. I honestly like being single.
If I’m out with friends, I laugh at those wild-eyed 30-somethings you see trawling every bar, party and dating website for a bloke. Many women can’t hack being alone. How tragic, I used to think. But lately I can’t shake the feeling that it’s me who’s looking tragic.
Frustratingly, Professor Pine believes this urgency doesn’t affect men – who still out-earn women in the workplace.
“Cash-strapped single men feel they have options and greater confidence in their potential to make money in the future, whereas women often feel stuck and unmotivated,” she says.
“Plus, women still earn significantly less than men, so I’d expect them to feel the pinch more and worry more.”
So, what are my options? Am I really going to go out and search for a man purely for financial reasons? Hang on, there’s a word for women like that: gold-diggers. That’s not who I am. Is it?
“Arguments over money contribute to three-quarters of divorces, so taking your financial baggage into a relationship is not a good start,” says Professor Pine. “Yes, finances are an important aspect, but what if you marry a rich man and then he loses all his money? And wealthy relationships break down as easily as any other.
“It’s best to be economically independent, so you’re empowered to choose a man you love. Plus, seeing a man as a meal ticket is selling out years of feminism. Emotional and financial wellbeing are linked, but when it comes to relationships, love has to come first.”
I agree – coupling up for money would make me a traitor to my gender.
After reflecting on my panic, I think I must have lost the plot. Hooking up with a man may be a quick fix for my financial woes, but not a life I want. Tied to a man I don’t love? No way.
Instead, I’m going to take control of my finances; try to boost my income, cut my bills and prioritise saving. I’ve made an appointment to see an accountant next week. He sounded quite hot on the phone. I wonder if he’s single?
Make your single salary stretch
Single and frightened about your financial future? Money expert Sarah Pennells from Savvywoman.co.uk says:
- Check direct debits and cancel unnecessary ones. Unused gym membership and phone insurance are classic examples.
- Start saving, even if it’s just a little bit every month. An emergency fund that you can dip into if your circumstances change will help you sleep easier at night.
- Make clearing your debts a priority, as they will only get bigger the longer you leave them.
- Claim your 25 per cent council tax discount for single occupancy if you live alone.
- Keep a spending diary to see where your money is going and how you could save more.
- Don’t bury your head in the sand – seek professional independent financial advice if you need it and read financial articles to empower you. It can seem scary at first, but you need to be confident and comfortable dealing with your finances, without feeling you need a man to do it for you.