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Is it easier to be super frugal as part of a couple or as a single person?

Posted by on Wednesday 24 August 2011 in Featured, frugal | 13 comments

I was thinking about this question the other day – is it easier to be super frugal as part of a couple or as a single person? – but I think I should immediately clarify that while I’m interested in hearing people’s thoughts on it, I have no intention of leaving my lovely boyfriend if single “wins”! :)

It generally is cheaper, of course, to be part of a couple – often two incomes coming in but many living costs don’t go up (or don’t go up that much) so regular outgoings on bills are roughly halved. Two people who like spending time together don’t generally need a bigger house/flat than one person; insurance costs don’t really go up when there are two of you; utility bills might go up a bit and council tax will go up when you lose your single person discount – but since you’re sharing it, you’ll be paying less overall.

But while it’s cheaper in general, in my experience, having to consider the other person in the relationship can make it more difficult to be frugal in other parts of your life. I’ve noticed that when the two of us are home at the same time, we’re more likely to put the heating on/light the stove than if there is just one of us there (especially if that one of us is me). Similarly, our meals tend to be more extravagant when we’re both eating than when we’re dining solo – dinner becomes an event which necessitates a proper meal rather than just quick’n’easy snack that will more than suffice. Similarly, John doesn’t expect for me to live in a fashion show but I think I’d probably be even scruffier/pyjama-clad around the house than I am now if my only audience was feline/canine.

John and I are generally on a very similar wavelength when it comes to (not) spending money and that sort of thing but, for example, he buys more expensive bacon than I would or is more likely to put the heating/stove on before me when it’s chilly (he’ll put a jumper & socks on first, of course, but I’d be more likely to get under a blanket too). I’m fussier when buying home furnishings (fabrics, colours etc) so spend more money on that sort of thing than he ever would. John also earns considerably more than me (because he’s in a higher paid profession and works more hours) but even though we largely pool our money, our income disparity means we have different opinions on what is affordable and what isn’t because the same amount of money represents a lot more time worked for me than it does for him.

Basically, I think we’re both much happier to “make do” when we’re home alone. When both of us are here, we settle at a higher unspoken comfort level to possibly avoid upsetting the other unnecessarily.

That might just be us though – I’d love to hear what you think from your experiences.

If you’re in a relationship/have a family at home, do you & your partner/kids have the same frugal outlook? Does it cause any problems? Do you have to compromise on anything? If you have different frugal levels/requirements, how do you make it work?

If you’re single, do you have any habits that you think you’d change if you were living with someone else?


Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Maria

    I agree with you on several points! having been part of a couple for years, and now cohabiting for the past year, it is true that overall by living together rather than apart we save on bills, housing. However, he also earns more than I do, and so is happier to spend more on food, holidays and going out. In food especially we seem to differ – I wouldn’t by any means live off ‘value’ items exclusively, but I did use to shop more often, buy bargain reduced veg and make sure I didn’t throw away food. I also eat a lot less meat if eating alone. Eating together, I find as you do, means we eat ‘proper’ meals – with more planning, shopping, cooking (and faff!).
    There is also an element of spending more to settle at a higher level of comfort – for example, he would spend a lot less on heating than I do, as I get colder more easily, but he is not going to ask me to freeze so he can save money.
    Maybe I should do a spreadsheet and see how it works out. But as we both lived singly before and now we live together, I am very sure overall we are both saving a lot!
    Sorry if this is a very long winded way of saying I mostly agree with you!

    • Taphophile

      I read your post out loud to TOF over breakfast. Interestingly he said we’re more frugal together and I said less.

      Eating together we eat healthier and more cheaply. We cook from scratch and don’t result to the takeaway or ready meal alternative.

      We are fortunate to share frugal values. It’s just a matter of degree, really.

      Early in our relationship he asked me to meet him somewhere for lunch. Not knowing the area I decided it was time he knew something fundamental about me and asked him to name the nearest charity shop as a landmark as I thrift shop at an olympic level. I knew revealing this so early in our relationship was risky, but the sigh of relief he let out was almost audible in his next email to me, in which he triangulated the meeting place by charity shops.

      There is a degree of compromise/adjustment of expectation, but we both think our relationship is worth more than saving a few pennies in some areas. He will have the heater on more often and I tolerate his shoe collection.

  2. ilona

    I don’t think I could get anyone to live with me because I am so frugal bordering on tight. They would want to put the heating on if it got a bit chilly, I put more clothes on. They would want a regular hot bath or shower, I only need one ocassionally having a wash in the sink in between. They would want fancy food, mine is cheap and simple, tons of vegetables. They would want a tele, I watch a few programes on the computer. They would want to go out to eat and drink, I never buy food out, always take my own. I never go into coffee shops, fast food places, pubs, cafe’s. I don’t personally know any people who life their life like me.

  3. Albedo

    Frugality is as frugality does; by which I mean that everyone has a different reason for doing it. In our case (Aurora & me) it’s that we have a low income and can’t afford a lot of what ‘normal’ folk take for granted, so being ‘tight’ as Ilona calls it, allows us to splash out occasionally on luxuries like petrol (147.9p/litre up here), heating oil, ice cream, etc…

  4. Rachel

    I think it’s easy to think, “I could be a lot more frugal if only he…” (and I do think this from time to time), but for myself, I differ from you in the effects of married life on frugality. I find it much easier to cook frugally for two (or more) than to prepare meals for one. When I was single I went out a lot more and cared a lot more about what I wore. Now I’m married, home is a much more attractive place to be and – sorry Ian – I just don’t bother buying new clothes.

    Ilona – why would you be wanting to share your life with someone who wants all those things? There are other frugally minded people out there, I promise!

  5. Su

    I would think that it’s easier to be frugal as part of a couple. Although food costs may go up slightly, it’s got to be cheaper overall as you will only be heating & paying for one home.
    I find it really, really interesting though hearing what other people are prepared to do without. For example, I’m quite prepared to eat very frugally,I’ll walk or cycle to work without much of a thought, I’ll live in rags if i have to but I am NOT prepared to get cold. I hate being cold, I’m miserable, I don’t function well & I can’t sleep if I’m cold. So heating is a MUST for me, which is not to say that my home is tropical or that I won’t put another jumper on. Does nobody else suffer the agony of a cold nose?

  6. Su

    Oh, I’m more than happy to do without a computer too (actually, I wouldn’t have one given to me!)

  7. louisa

    Hi guys,

    I wrote a really long comment on this last week but it looks like I didn’t actually submit it, doh! Anyway, thanks for all your interesting replies :)

    I think nearly all the coupled-up people who have responded are in a relationship with a similar (if not identically) frugal person, I suspect it would be a lot harder if one person was more spendy-spendy. As I said above, John & I have our own areas where we’re more likely to spend more but our frugal areas more than outweighs those – and I think our particular frugal obsessions influence the other, even if it’s not a personal passion. If that makes sense.

    Su: I don’t normally feel the cold as much as many people seem to but you’d have to prise my computer out of my warm, dead hands ;) (Admittedly I work from home, on my computer, so I have to have it to earn money. I am trying to use it less “for fun” though.)

  8. Rachel

    Hi Louisa, I hate it when I write long comments that never appear!

    Actually, you’re wrong about couples all being similarly frugal. When I met Ian he was heavily in debt because of his inability to manage money (really, there was no excuse – he was earning but still living with his parents). I paid off his debts on the condition that he never, ever borrows money again, and he’s happy now for me to manage our finances. This is a little more difficult now he’s the only one with an income.

    His passion is old cars (neither green nor frugal, I know!) He recently bought another and, possibly for the first time, is suffering the frustration of having a new toy that he can’t play with because there’s simply no money in the pot to pay for the parts it needs. He gets no sympathy from me – I’d be happy to have no car at all, though it would make life difficult, living in the countryside as we do.

    I wouldn’t want live without my computer either, but we have been without heating since March. It’s getting a bit chilly now – we really need to get that sorted ASAP!

    Oh, and we don’t have a telly – this is much easier to do without as we do have computers – I love iplayer :-)

    • louisa

      Oh that’s interesting – sorry for making the assumption that he was as frugal as you :)

      We’ve been without central heating since about March too but we ran the living room stove for the first time in about six months the other day, and have run the office one a few of times over the last couple weeks – the latter to dry out the damp problem rather than particularly to warm us. I’m wearing socks for warmth for about the first time six months today too – must be autumn!

      • Rachel

        That’s OK :-)

        Our living room fireplace is nicely renovated ready to take the stove, but the stove is not yet installed, so all we have at the moment is a feeble gas fire in the office/dining room and an electric radiator that we bought as an emergency measure when the boiler broke. One day we will have a lovely wood-fired heating system (currently waiting for a quote from a plumber…) but in the meantime we have socks!

  9. Nina

    I know I could and would be a lot more frugal living alone. I sometimes find it hard to be as frugal as I would like living with my partner as clearly his ideals on frugality are a less than mine and as we live together it is about compromise, but then most things in life are!

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