Hi, I am so happy to have found your blog! I didn’t know if I’d ever find another single woman in her thirties who writes about personal finance and cooking! I [was frustrated] with only ever hearing from writers who are partnered, which makes for a completely different financial context than my own…. It’s so great to see another me out there!
The writer is planning to start her own blog (which is awesome, and I look forward to plugging it here whenever it launches). I’m looking forward to the company! There aren’t that many 30- and 40-something long-term single bloggers out there; it’s one reason why I really appreciate Tonya from Budget and the Beach.
When I started to write about my relationship with money and the stuff it buys, I was reading a ton of personal finance blogs, but as I noted in my first post, I was especially thinking about the specific issues I would face as a single childless woman trying to stay afloat financially not just now, but later. Recently I found a blog that really spoke to me: Double Debt Single Woman. The writer is a couple of years older than me and much deeper in debt, so our situations aren’t totally comparable, but so much of what she wrote about seemed like it was speaking straight to me, particularly in this post where she discussed her lowered expectations for her future. Since I happen to be sitting on a twin bed in a rented room right at this moment as I write, as I try to dig myself out of the financial black hole of my 20s and early 30s, it really got to me. So much of my emotional journey in the last year has been accepting that I’ll likely never do the things I always assumed I would: for example, own a house. My two cities of choice/aspiration are both phenomenally expensive and I’ll be lucky, given my field of employment (education) and solo income, if I can even afford a 1-bedroom apartment rental in either, let alone buying even a modest house.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not all woe-is-me about this. Indeed, if I were married to a lawyer or a successful personal finance blogger, I’d likely be in better financial shape than I am as a single woman with a humanities PhD!
[Side note: the general public really overestimates how much academics make. Actual conversation I had with someone at the shelter where I volunteer a few nights ago:
Him: So, you make six figures?
Me (startled into laughing): HAH, I WISH.
Him: Half of that?
Me: Closer, but nope.]
But obviously being married/partnered often comes with financial challenges of its own. What if my husband had been a spendthrift, or had hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own student debt before I even met him, or became unemployed and needed financial support? What if he died, or we got divorced, and I was suddenly trying to support children and give them a home? Those things would all be very hard on the pocketbook, and are all based on real-life examples of personal finance bloggers I read (or in one case on a non-blogging friend of mine.)
My life as a long-term-single, childless person, is just…different. Different set of constraints. I’m free to make choices that, say, single parents would have a much harder time with, like moving into a room in a stranger’s house to save drastically on rent. On the other hand, I feel under a certain amount of obligation to make that choice — which wouldn’t necessarily be my first — so that I can focus on that retirement account, so that I’m not totally up a creek when I’m old and have no kids or spousal social security to backstop me.
So, what’s a girl to do with a mismatch between anticipated income and the cost of solo homeownership? Actually, when I sat down to think about it I came up with a surprising number of options I can see myself being into. None of them are the bungalow with garden and guest room that I had been sort of picturing, but none of them are really raw deals, either.
1) Cohousing. This is sort of a deconstructed condominium association aimed at building community among member-owners. Every family unit (including single people) has their own house or apartment, but they also share common spaces that vary from group to group (often a big kitchen/eating area, since groups often have shared meals on a regular basis, but also other kinds of things like communal guest rooms, which decrease the necessary size of individual units.) They often have quite good support for aging members, since the community is expected to act like it is a community, checking in on each other and helping out. Pros for me: I like the idea of being associated with other people in common spaces yet also having my own clearly defined space. Also like the idea of an all-ages group where I can have lots of contact with families, since I like kids. Cons for me: they can be nearly as expensive to buy into as normal housing, so I’m not sure I could even afford it; because of that they tend to be more racially homogenous and upper middle class than I’d like; I’m not sure it’s possible to artificially create community, but I’d love something like this with people I already know or have something in common with (like maybe a religious group.)
2) A tiny house. Pros: I might actually be able to afford this kind of house! They aren’t necessarily dirt-cheap, but they’re more within my potential reach than a normal house. I’m pretty minimalist and expect to be even more so in retirement (literally half my stuff is work stuff — books, files, papers — so I won’t need any of that) and I like the idea of not having too much cleaning to do or paying a lot for heating/cooling spaces I don’t use. Many of them are theoretically movable so I could even take my house to a new city after a few years without having to pack, although it’s expensive and a pain. Cons: The other half of my stuff is kitchen-related. I cook a lot and tiny houses are not usually good for that. Also, for obvious reasons they have tiny hallways and tiny bathrooms, and unless I’m very fit as an old woman I might have trouble with that — a walker would be rough. It can be hard to find a place to put one that is legal (though that might change by the time I retire.)
3) The Jane Austen option: live with someone else’s kid! Again, it used to be common for single women to live with family members. I have two godchildren and might have a niece or nephew eventually. We’ll see how things play out but perhaps it might be possible to join forces with one of them; I could contribute childcare and housework and money, and they could contribute community/family and help with medical issues. And I’d make them the primary beneficiary of my will, in exchange for being my quasi-son/daughter.
4) The Golden Girls option. As the above option suggests, I’ve been reminding myself that women living alone, as has happened much more often since the 1960s, is a historical aberration. Single women who didn’t live with a family member used to live primarily in group settings — convents, for example, or, more relevant to my personal life, boarding houses. Remember boarding houses? Probably not! They went out of style decades ago. Only the poor have used them, or similar situations, for a long time now. But I think some version of this way of life is returning; single women of my generation will likely have to unite with each other in order to have a middle-class lifestyle in other respects. I can afford my retirement account and clothing and my car and travel and the occasional wedge of fancy cheese from Whole Foods; but only if I keep my housing costs under control by sharing them with other people. Pros: I actually really enjoy house-sharing if I’m friends with the other people; nice to have some privacy (my own bedroom and ideally bathroom) while also getting some human interaction. It cuts down on the “heating all the spaces I’m not using” problem but usually provides more generous common spaces (kitchen etc) than anything I could afford on my own. You just get general help — rides to the airport, help moving furniture, all that stuff I never take for granted. Cons: I’m not crazy about the idea of doing this with people who aren’t already close friends. I’m fine living with strangers (I’ve done it a lot) but it’s not my favorite. If I’m going to live with people I want to love them! This would be my ideal situation if I had close friends that wanted to do it, but I guess we’ll just have to see where we all are in 30 years.
I came up with other ideas that are either too goofy (a tent on the beach) or quite practical, but not good for me and my priorities (moving overseas for lower COL.) Really, though, if I want to avoid any of my four ideas, I should probably find a nice lawyer to marry!