The Fact and Fiction Behind “Two Can Live as Cheaply as One”

Everyone’s heard the phrase “two can live as cheaply as one.”  In one sense it’s absolutely true: when you live in a home by yourself and someone moves in with you – a roommate or spouse who pays his own way – your per capita expenses will go down.  You have someone to split the rent and utilities with.  But the way the phrase is usually applied is to married couples – as if just by getting married and moving in together, you should save money.  We didn’t find this to be automatically and immediately true.  I’ll share with you the four areas in which your spending could change when you transition from single to married, based on our experience and observations.




Automatic Savings


The sole budget category I can point to and say unequivocally that getting married saved us money is our car insurance.  We got a major rate cut for having more than one vehicle on our policy.  Other than that, I can’t say our finances and budget really changed right from the get-go.  We went from living in separate two-bedroom apartments with roommates to sharing a two-bedroom apartment, so our per-capita rent and utilities stayed more or less the same.  We ate the same amount of food and kept up our personal care the same as before – clothing, drugstore products, etc.  Our driving costs didn’t change, either, because we had only lived 1 mile apart before we were married and didn’t increase our frequency of commuting together until my car broke down.  Since our jobs both provide health insurance we didn’t access any benefits previously unavailable to us, nor did our tax rate budge since our incomes were so similar.





When you meld lifestyles with your spouse, there are bound to be a few differences in the products on which you choose to spend your money – on many items, one of you spends more and one spends less.  In the compromise, you could either upgrade or downgrade from the average of the two (or find a solution right between), but I have observed that at least initially we have compromised to upgrade.  The person who is paying more probably cares more about that product and so his/her opinion will win out.  Therefore, the person who used to spend less on the product is now spending more, and overall expenses rise.  For instance, when we got married I moved into Kyle’s apartment, which was nicer and more expensive than my previous apartment.  I’ll give you a couple smaller examples.


Cable: Before we were married, Kyle had a cable and internet package that he split with his roommate, and I and my roommate only had internet.  When we set up our first budget we kept the cable, so my expenses increased again.


Yogurt: At the time we got married, I had started eating Greek yogurt and I thought that was more healthful.  Kyle also liked yogurt but he bought cheaper brands.  I bought yogurt in the 2 cup bulk containers and took it to work in little Tupperware containers.  Kyle bought individual containers to take to work and thought it was a pain to aliquot the yogurt from bulk to individual containers.  By consolidating, we ended up buying individual Chobani containers, which was more expensive than either of our preferences alone!





Behavior changes are the main way we have realized spending reductions and saving increases since we were married.  This of course does not automatically happen upon marriage, but the act of delineating joint goals for the future and having in-house accountability facilitated it happening.  Because we wanted to aggressively save in some areas, we cut our eating out budget and cut the cable.  We entertain ourselves and friends more in our home than by going out and spending money.  I started feeling behind by only contributing 10% to my Roth IRA while Kyle maxed his out, so I increased my savings rate.  Impulse spending dropped because now that we had to justify our spending to the other (which I think is a good result of having all joint accounts).



Family and Peer Influences


This final area is one that I think can nudge married couples to increase their spending.  Some people view marriage as a passage into real adulthood and expect that you have a fully furnished home, preferably not from Craigslist.  You get all this awesome new stuff as wedding presents, and you may feel that you need to buy out your registries to complete the picture.  Many previous renters even buy a home or upgrade their rental when they get married.  We resisted this implicit pressure by crying “student” but I’ve seen others make the choice to scale up their lifestyles.


One area in which we have increased spending is that we travel together more.  Kyle never got a +1 or an invitation for me to any of his family weddings until we were engaged, so he only had his individual travel costs to contend with.  Now, we attend together.  So overall we’re attending more weddings and other social events per capita because we receive more invitations as a social unit now that we’re married.  We also have double the family to visit, which doesn’t quite double our travel costs for that purpose but it has increased them and we are less flexible in our dates to find low rates because we have to consider both of our work schedules.



Based on this qualitative retrospective, I’d say “two can live as cheaply as one” has not been true for us, and it’s even possible that we have increased overall spending since we got married.  This conclusion turns very strongly on our personal setup of living with roommates before we married and earning approximately equal amounts of money.  Your mileage may vary!


Have you found “two live more cheaply than one” to be true or false for you and your spouse?  In what areas did your spending increase and in what did it decrease after you got married?


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35 Responses to "The Fact and Fiction Behind “Two Can Live as Cheaply as One”"

  1. Emily too says:

    So far that hasn’t been true for me either. I think it only really applies to people who don’t have roommates first! We save a few dollars on rent and bills compared to my previous apartment, but only because that place had really inefficient heating. I also can’t sublet my room when I have to travel for research anymore because it’s shared (and I travel for weeks to months at least once a year), which is pushing me to apply for side jobs and grants, since paying to live here AND elsewhere will be a drain on us both. On the other hand, I would say the non-financial benefits to marriage definitely outweigh those of living with roommates 🙂

    1. Emily says:

      My last apartment had TERRIBLE insulation – I was always cold no matter how high we cranked the heater – so that is why I moved in to Kyle’s apartment. We pay more in rent but utilities are a bit lower (not enough to make up) and I’m sooooo much happier. That sucks that you are losing the sublet option for when you’re away. We’ve thought about downsizing to a 1BR if we know that one of us will be gone on internships and such for part of the year but so far we haven’t had the opportunity to have that problem.

      1. Emily too says:

        Yeah, I’d originally thought about downsizing as well, but it wouldn’t gain us that much – we live in a large one bedroom now, so we can’t go down that much in rent, and we don’t really want to trade off an apartment we like for the smallest one we can find to maximize our savings for a few months. This seems like one of those situations where increasing income could be more useful than cutting back. I hope you only have that problem if it’s for a great opportunity!

        1. Emily says:

          Oh yeah, if you’re already in a 1BR it’s not worth going even smaller. I agree it’s just better to hustle for additional income. Too bad fellowships and grants are chance-y.

  2. WorkSaveLive says:

    I’m with ya Emily. I don’t think two can live as cheaply as one but I do feel that two together can live quite a bit cheaper than two separate.
    WorkSaveLive recently posted..Recipe: Southwest Quinoa Salad

    1. Emily says:

      What cost savings have you experienced specifically?

  3. bogofdebt says:

    I’m not so sure about living cheaply as 1. I know that when I was single, my grocery bill could be as little as $50 a month. But I also know that I wasn’t eating as healthy as I should be. So my eating habits have improved tremendously but my grocery bill has increased.

    It is easier splitting the cost of a set thing between two people. Internet is a wonderful example of this. Granted we don’t “split” our bills but I know that it is a lot easier to live with my BF than it would be to live separtely.
    bogofdebt recently posted..Whoopsie!

    1. Emily says:

      Wow, $50/month, that’s not much! I think our eating habits changed a lot immediately after we got married but now that we eat fairly separately they’re back to how they were when we were single, except now we have a bunch of sweet kitchen appliances.

      I’m glad you’ve experienced some cost savings. Since I never lived without a roommate, I’ve always split utilities, so continuing that into our marriage was no big deal, and actually my/our budget was a bit shocked by the upgrades I experienced.

      1. bogofdebt says:

        I’ve done the live by myself and live with a roomate. And of course, live with my BF. And I wouldn’t recommend the $50 a month thing. That was hard.
        bogofdebt recently posted..Whoopsie!

  4. Julia says:

    I think that it depends on the two people and what they have already done to cut expenses. If you and Kyle had lived in two separate one bedroom apartments and moved into a single two bedroom you would have seen a cost decrease. I know that my expenses always raised when my ex-fiance was in town because we were more likely to splurge on eating out when we were together than alone!
    Julia recently posted..Striving Towards Goals (Why I Save)

    1. Emily says:

      I can definitely see how that happens in a long-distance relationship – we experienced it ourselves in the year we were long-distance. Whenever you’re visiting, it’s like a vacation. The eating out and such definitely calmed down when we both were living in Durham, and then again after we got married. I think we both became a little more serious about cutting expenses after we got married because we had to offset all the upgrades and increase in travel.

  5. AverageJoe says:

    The peer influences thing is the biggie to try to avoid in my life. I find myself going over to a friends home and thinking “Well, they have one….that’d be great at our house, too!” or “I’d love to have my house look as nice as XXXX person’s home.”

    When I coached people I also found that while you and Kyle talked each other into lower expenses and higher savings, most people talk each other into higher expenses. There’s someone to share the “I’ve gotta have….” with that reinforces the feeling and makes you actually spend the money.

    BTW, Cheryl just discovered Greek yogurt a few weeks ago. My fridge is full of it.
    AverageJoe recently posted..How to Lose 40% in No Time Flat!

    1. Emily says:

      Maybe there is a selection bias that the people with personalities to talk down expenses are less likely to seek out coaching than those who tend to talk up expenses? I think there might also be some one-up-manship going on related to what I discussed last week regarding joint/separate money within marriage – if one spouse gets a new toy, does the other spouse deserve one too?

      There is no way we can keep up with the lovely homes of some of our friends given that we are both students. We try to compensate by providing a great smorgasbord whenever we have people over. 🙂

      I don’t eat yogurt any longer and Kyle hasn’t for a while. Too much sugar for me and he switched to canned vegetables in his lunch.

  6. Jessica says:

    I guess I’ll find out for myself in a few months on how my spending habits change. I know we’ll definitely live cheaper in the area of housing. My fiance got an Resident Assistant position at an apartment style dorm for the following year which means housing will be completely free! We will have a lot of responsibilities though so I guess we’ll be working for our free housing
    Jessica recently posted..Pay It Forward Handmade

    1. Emily says:

      Wow, that is a great deal! Is it a room intended for two to live in or just one? And do you have access to a kitchen? I have a grad student friend who is an RA and he really enjoys it, but he is single so he has plenty of time to build relationships with the guys in his dorm. I think it will be great for the undergrads to see have a young married couple to look up to.

  7. I bet it wouldn’t lower my costs at all. I would end up cooking for two, all the time, which would increase, not decrease, my bills!
    Frugal Portland recently posted..My Lowest Point, Part 1 of 2

    1. Emily says:

      Also, men eat a lot. Sheesh. 😉

  8. Michelle says:

    Since I never lived with roommates before we moved in together 5 years ago, I really have no comparison. However, I do make more, so my expenses are higher since everything we have is joint.
    Michelle recently posted..Choosing a New Credit Card

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah, that was an easy thing about making our joint budget – basically just double the income and double the expenses.

  9. I made the mistake of upgrading my lifestyle when I got married too. That’s part of the reason we got divorced. I definitely wish we had a better handle on our finances, and took small calculated steps with our money. For that reason our expenses greatly increased when we got married. In the future I plan to make smarter decisions and hopefully decrease the expenses this time around.
    Careful Cents recently posted..Should We Pay Our Friends More Than We Pay Total Strangers?

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks for the cautionary tale. Is there one particular expense or area of upgrade that you would warn others to watch out for?

      1. For us it was buying too much house, way too quickly. We also bought 2 new cars within the same year. Basically we just took on way too much at one time, and didn’t think our decisions through as a couple. We continued to think as individuals.
        Careful Cents recently posted..Stop Impulse Purchases and Start Saving with ImpulseSave (Limited Time Only)

        1. Emily says:

          Hmm, that ties in with my post from last week! Interesting.

  10. I think somethings will get cheaper like you mentioned, like being able to split rent and bills, etc but other things wont. I think that when I live with someone else (Not just H but old roommates as well) I went out to eat more often than I did when I was living alone. Not too sure the reason for it though.
    Jeff @ Sustainable Life Blog recently posted..Weekly Links: Big Check Edition

    1. Emily says:

      Hm, that’s the opposite of our experience! I guess you need someone around to push you out of the house? 🙂

  11. Well for me, my expenses went WAY up, because I lived with my parents. My only living expense was buying groceries for the family. When I got married, my wife lost her roommate, so her living expenses doubled.

    As far as food, my wife ate out pretty much every meal, and I ate out only with friends or 1-2 times per month with family. We met somewhere in the middle. Depending on how well our schedules mesh, we eat out for dinner between 3-6 times per month. But I haven’t been able to get her to kick the habit of buying lunch.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..Why I Bought a Mobile Home

    1. Emily says:

      Sounds like you both had to make major financial adjustments!

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