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Can two live as cheaply as one?

When Mary Walden graduated from college and took her first full-time job, she lived with a roommate. Both were young teachers with little money, and they thought they could share many of the expenses and cut our total living costs almost in half. She asks her husband, N.C. State University economist Mike Walden, whether this strategy still works today.

Dr. Walden responds:

“Well it’s interesting you asked this question now … because we had a new study just released by the federal government that analyzed data for young individuals — by young, I mean between the ages of 21 and 29 — on this particular question (can two of those individuals live more cheaply than separately?) and the answer is, as you might expect, yes for some expenses, no for other expenses.

“I think what you found – yes, you can live cheaply, more cheaply for things like food and shelter. And that makes sense. I know you and your friend rented an apartment, so the common space, living room, kitchen, you were sharing. You each had your own room, but that came out to less per person than if both of you have had your own apartment.

“Also in terms of food, there are lots of foods you can share. Oftentimes … you can cook more cheaply if you make it in quantity. So for food and shelter, definitely, the data still support the idea that you can live more cheaply together than apart.

“But other expenses like transportation, health care, entertainment, the recent study found, no, that you didn’t save money by two people living together. And, again, this makes sense because those expenses tend to be more individualized. Transportation, unless you can share rides to work, if you’ve got … to work in two different places, you both have to have transportation. Health care, of course, is an individualized expense. And even entertainment, if you have different tastes in entertainment, you’re going to do your own thing.

“So I think it really depends on what expenses you’re looking at, whether the answer to ‘Can two live more cheaply as one?’ is a yes or is a no.”


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