On paper, marriage looks like it fosters financial well-being —one set of shared expenses, often two incomes — this should be the ticket to success, right?
For some it can be. A 2014 report from the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (now Cardus Family), found that marriage is a “powerful wealth creator” and poverty protector — with several studies noting that married couples seem to build more wealth on average than singles or cohabiting couples.
On the flipside, however, it seems many Canadians are trending away from tying the knot. As a recent Angus Reid public opinion poll showed, only 46% of respondents agreed with the statement, “Marriage is as relevant today as it’s ever been,” with less than 40 per cent of those between 18-34 likely to agree that marriage is as important as ever.
“Younger Canadian women may feel that marriage is no longer necessary for financial stability.”
The findings correspond with patterns documented by StatsCan of younger Canadians waiting longer to marry, or not marrying at all. Angus Reid says the trend could be a result of a shift towards values like education and careers, and for women in particular, could be as simple as no longer feeling like marriage is necessary for financial stability.
Indeed, long-term wealth building and financial well being have a lot more to do with factors like spending and savings habits, priorities and earnings than whether someone is single or coupled up, say financial planners.
“It really comes down more to the financial planning and the money management skills of the people involved. If they treat wealth building as a priority, then they will be financially successful,” says Jacquie Skinner, a certified financial planner with Premier Financial Planning in Midland, Ont.
“There are folks out there who only make enough money to make ends meet. But once you get above that, it’s then what you choose to do with your money. And so, building wealth, it’s a matter of priority and discipline, not the fact that you’re married,” says Skinner.
“It all boils down to individual spending habits and beliefs about money.”
Natasha Knox, a certified financial planner with Pax Planning in New Westminster, B.C. concurs – it all boils down to individual spending habits and beliefs about money.
“In my years of financial planning, I’ve encountered many couples that are in great shape and some that are not and money is at the absolute root of it. And the same thing with singles – there are some that are naturally good savers and careful with their money and some not so much.”
At the same time, the New York Times reports, a 2012 National Bureau of Economic Research study noted that the average 65-to-69-year-old married household in the U.S. had nearly 10 times as much in savings as their single counterparts.
But while being married can positively impact things like managing the substantial costs of housing and allowing people to afford extra perks, Skinner says couples often want to continue this way of life in retirement.
“If I look at my client base – are my married couples going to have more wealth accumulated than a single person? Yes, but I would also argue that they probably need to in order to sustain their standard of living,” she adds.
Ultimately, CFPs say there are certain things both married and single people should be doing in order to work towards optimum financial health. The first, says Skinner, is not fun or a hot stock tip – it’s simply to spend less than you earn. After you gain control of spending, you can implement a financial plan that shows you where you want to go, and what you need to do to get there.
“Treat your savings and investing like you would a mortgage or car payment…”
“Then, treat your savings or your wealth-building plan like you would treat a mortgage or a car payment – they’re not optional,” she says.
For those who have a partner, Knox says it is also crucial to be on the same page when it comes to finances, as the flipside — pulling in opposite directions, different spending habits, financial infidelity — can be devastating.
“When couples think of themselves as an economic unit, and they manage to get themselves on the same page, are working toward the same goals and are completely transparent and trusting with their spouse, I mean, they’re unstoppable,” she says.
For single people, the financial risk may also be greater in situations of layoff or disability, compared with a dual-income household, which might be able to function on one income if they’re not over-extended, say financial planners. As such, says Skinner, individuals may wish to place more importance on preparing for these scenarios by insuring themselves properly.