By Mike Dang, Bundle editor
Adam Edelman, a single, 25-year-old copy editor, met up with two friends, a newlywed couple in their early 30s, for dinner recently in New York. They talked about what's happening in their lives: Adam got a new job, and wasn't dating anyone seriously. His married friends were excited about a "buy one, get one for a penny" sale on Ben & Jerry's ice cream at the Food Emporium.
"They've gotten really frugal ever since they got married," Adam observed. "Before they got married, they were doing the regular New York thing — shopping, going out to restaurants — but the minute they got married, it seemed like they got much more frugal. They see movies on Sunday at 11 a.m. to get the matinee price, and they only go to restaurants where the menu is reasonably priced."
While New York's singles are burning holes in their wallets footing their date-night bills, New York's married couples are managing to keep their spending in check. According to Bundle data, from July 2009 to June 2010 the typical 26- to 35-year-old single (female or male) earning between $40,000 and $50,000 in New York City spent a combined average of $5,255 a month, not including rent or mortgage. If they got married and combined their incomes, our data shows that they would have spent $4,079 within the same period. This means that these single New York men and women spent a combined average of $1,176 a month — or $14,112 a year — more than they would have if they got hitched and were living the married life.
As we'd suspect, our data shows that the single men and women in the demographics above put a third of this extra spending toward dining out. Date night drinks and dinner — followed by more drinks (if the date is going well) — helped the average single New Yorker spend a combined average of $796 a month ($319 for single females and $477 for single males) in bars and restaurants, nearly twice the average amount of $402 a month that a married couple spent to dine out.
It adds up. Over the course of a year, the average single man and woman in New York spent a combined $4,728 more in bars and restaurants than the average married couple within the same age range and income level. That's 17 $275 prix fixe dinners at Thomas Keller's upscale Per Se restaurant — if you're fortunate enough to get a reservation, of course.
"As a single guy in New York, I think it's expected that men spend an unreasonable amount of money to take dates out to expensive restaurants," Adam says. "Women aren't going to be impressed, or might think you're not interested if you don't. But when they get married, the shift is immediate and dramatic. All of a sudden, a guy's efforts to be frugal is respected because it means that they're saving towards a car, or a house. Once you put a ring on it, it's like night and day."
Obviously, things change when two people marry and settle down. The motivation for heading out in the city to meet people is greatly diminished once you've finally found someone you want to be at home with. Goodbye Lower East Side bar scene, hello Netflix and carton of Ben & Jerry's (two spoons). There's no question that staying in saves money: Bundle data shows that the average New York married couple spent $130 per month less on travel than the combined average of $453 a month that the average single male and female spent on cabs and other forms of transit. They also spent less on entertainment than singles — $168 less in one year, or the equivalent of 14 movie tickets.
Then there's clothing. Being on the dating circuit means wanting to dress to impress, which means fighting through the crowds swarming the stores in SoHo or the Macy's in Herald Square and spending an average of $172 a month on clothing and shoes as a single male, and $262 a month as a single female. By comparison, the average married couple spent $270 a month on clothing and shoes, 38 percent less than the average single male and female combined.
So where do married couples outspend their single friends? Home improvement, for one. Over a year, the average New York married couple spent $996 more on fixing up their homes than the average single male and female combined did. It makes perfect sense — if you're spending time staying in and streaming movies on your flatscreen with a tub of ice cream, you want your home to be pleasant, appealing and comfortable.
None of this means, of course, that single New Yorkers in the demographics we explored above are completely incapable of controlling their spending. (Similarly, it doesn't mean all married folks are automatically wired to avoid splurging.) You are not sentenced to a life of overspending if you decide that you're not the marrying kind. It may just be that the motivations to be frugal for certain savings goals — a new house, a second car, a future child — don't come as easy when you're single and looking.
"It's hard to save in New York City, because the idea of buying a house seems so impossible," Adam says. "I might be motivated to be more frugal if I had a goal like this in mind, but I feel like it'll never be possible for me and that contributes to my careless spending."
We'll leave you with this thought: Spending all the money in the world won't guarantee you that you'll find your soul mate. But having it financially together is pretty attractive. If you're in the latter group, feel free to reward yourself with a carton of Ben & Jerry's.
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