As a single American, how often does retirement cross your mind? Are you taking steps toward financial security in retirement, or are you taking a more carefree approach? A recent survey from TD Ameritrade suggests that the latter is likely.

Their "Singles & Money" survey found that only 44% of single Americans are saving for retirement, compared to 63% of their married counterparts. This finding is consistent with past surveys performed by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Among the singles, men (49%) were more likely to save for retirement than women (41%) were. 29% of single Americans don't save or invest for any reason, compared to just 17% of the married respondents.

This pattern isn't surprising – data for singles is likely to skew younger and singles generally have fewer family responsibilities and financial obligations affecting anyone but themselves. In addition, since the survey found that retirement savings started nearing age 32 for both married and unmarried Americans, a greater percentage of singles may not have started retirement planning yet.

Married couples typically have more income to work with as well. According to the study, the average personal income of married Americans was $61,700 compared to $52,900 for singles. Logically, this factor should cancel out through lower expenses of singles – but that may not be the case.

When survey respondents were asked what perks they would cut back on if spending had to be reduced to make ends meet, approximately 40% of both married and unmarried respondents would not cut back on eating out. Married and unmarried respondents also had similar rejection rates for cutting back on coffee (both 24%), beer/wine/spirits (22% and 21%), electronics (18% and 17%), specialty food items (14% and 12%), and housekeeping services (10% and 12%).

Combine this with other survey findings such as fewer emergency funds (27% of singles had emergency funds compared to 39% of married respondents), lower rates of automatic retirement contributions (34% for singles to 42% for couples), lower home ownership (58% for singles to 90% for couples) and lower rates of savings/investment (11.7% for singles, 15.6% for couples), and the message is pretty clear. Too high of a percentage of singles' income goes toward sources that aren't assets (such as home equity, savings, and investments).

Other survey results suggest that many singles realize this but rationalize the result. Only 29% of singles feel very secure about retirement, compared to 43% of married couples – perhaps because more singles than married couples spend their entire paycheck each month (40% to 37%). As a result, the survey discovered that half of single respondents are more likely to be completely unprepared for retirement, pushing retirement planning off, or expecting to just scrape by in retirement (compared to 35% of married respondents.)

Control may be a major factor. Almost 30% of unmarried respondents said that having complete control over finances is the biggest benefit to not getting married. However, the survey suggests that many singles may need some help establishing financial discipline to exert that control wisely – whether help comes from a spouse, roommate, trusted friend, or financial advisor.

Want to stay in control of your own finances as an unmarried American? Start with a budget. Where does your money go? You may be surprised at your findings when you track the percentages that go certain places. Cutting back on dining out may be required if restaurants consume a major portion of your budget.

Next, adjust your budget to set up emergency and retirement funds. "Start a retirement fund as soon as possible", suggests April Lewis-Parks, Director of Education and Public Relations at Consolidated Credit. "Have an emergency account ... even if it's just $10 a week, that's something ... have it become a habit and keep doing it week after week, month after month, year after year." Aim for three to six months' worth of living expenses in your emergency fund, and then shift your full focus toward retirement funds.

When fiscal discipline becomes a mindset, you'll find it easier to make wise choices whether or not you have a partner or adviser to keep your spending in check – although this advice works for married couples as well. However you choose to achieve it, fiscal responsibility is your goal.

Let the free Retirement Planner by MoneyTips help you calculate when you can retire without jeopardizing your lifestyle.


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