How to Save Money Living Alone

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — According to the New York Times, nearly 50% of people in Manhattan live alone, while other major cities like Seattle and Denver have about 40% of residents living solo. Having a place to call your own, one without someone else's dirty dishes in the sink, is preferable for some, but it can also be a more expensive option.

Yet you don't need to find a roommate to save money. It is possible to manage your finances and cut down on the monthly bills, and we've got some of the easiest ways to save while living solo below.

1. Cut down on takeout

People who live alone spend about $1,800 a year on food away from home, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic's Consumer Expenditure Survey. That's a good amount of money, so do yourself a favor and learn to cook. You can find informative and free videos on YouTube for some pointers. Check out the channels Chow, FoodWishes and BBCFood to get started. You'll find everything from how to hold a knife properly to making cold-brewed coffee in your blender.

Another strategy to save on food, hosting a potluck can eliminate the cost of meals for several days. It can also be a way to socialize and possibly meet new people.

"The point is to socialize and eat for cheap," says Miranda Reiter, a CFP and founder of She & Money Financial Planning. If you're new to the city, Reiter suggests using a site like Meetup.com to attend a potluck or asking people in your apartment building to attend.

2. Cut out cable

The average bill for pay TV, not including Internet and phone, was $86 a month in 2011, according to the marketing research company NPD Group. And since the company also found pay TV costs are rising by about 6% each year, it's not getting cheaper. So consider doing what Julie Beltz did and cut out cable.

"I'm not a TV junkie, but I did find that anything I really wanted to watch, I could find elsewhere — if I was willing to wait," says Beltz, a young professional who works at home and lives alone in Washington, D.C. Beltz figured out she followed only a few shows, like "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report," which are available on Hulu the day after they aired.

"To watch the occasional morning show when I haven't already been online to read morning news, or a sitcom from time to time wasn't worth it," says Beltz, who hasn't had cable in seven years.

Currently, you can grab both Netflix's streaming subscription and Hulu Plus for $7.99 a month each, with thousands of TV programs and movies available for a fraction the price of cable. Add a basic model Roku for $50, an Apple TV for $100, or Chromecast for $35 and you'll have more than enough streaming shows and movies.

3. Buy in bulk

Buying in bulk sounds counterintuitive when you live alone. But since items are almost always cheaper in large quantities, it'll save you money in the long run—especially if you're running out to the corner store two or three times a month for marked-up items.

"It's much more economical to buy most of your household supplies in mass as opposed to buying them for a larger price at the corner deli," says Jill Jacinto, managing editor of WORKS by Nicole Williams.

Stuff like tin foil, trash bags, toilet paper, soap and paper towels from a place like Costco or Sam's Club will stock your cabinets for a long while, for cheap. If your one-room apartment doesn't have much space, reach out to friends and neighbors. "If you don't have the space, think about going 'halfsies' with a friend who also lives alone," says Jacinto.

4. Don't spill your wallet at the bar

Single people like to spend money on booze. According to the BLS, singles between the age of 21 and 29 spend about $660 a year on alcohol, or three times the amount married people in the same age bracket spend. But there are ways to rein in your spending at the bar.

Don't tip upfront. Instead, "run a tab and tip later, especially if you're a big tipper," says Jesse Sinopoli, who has worked as a bartender for four-and-a-half years. Take a look at the bill and calculate from there. Just don't be stingy, or you won't be welcome. "If it's a $40 tab, don't give me $2," says Sinopoli.

While looking for a watering hole, keep an eye out for specials. More popular bars may use an app like DrinkOwl, which tracks daily specials, but most bars have a happy hour or a shot special. If you don't feel like drinking but find yourself at a bar with a one-drink minimum, Sinopoli says it's fine to order a club soda or something non-alcoholic.

5. Practice self reliance

It's all on you. There are no roommates or spouses to blame for cranking the heat up to 85 in the winter, or a spend-happy partner. You're on your own, and you have to act like it.

"It boils down to good financial habits," says Greg McBride of Bankrate.com. "Be diligent about watching your expenses; if it goes awry, you can't blame it on anyone else."

Luckily there are apps to help track your spending. Sync an app like Mint.com to your bank account, and you'll receive email alerts if you go over budget or if your balance is getting too low. There's also Piggie, which lets you tag and group your transactions so you can know just how much Taco Bell costs each month.

It's also a good idea to build an emergency nest egg, since you won't have a partner to fall back on if you run into trouble. Ideally you want to save up three to six months worth of expenses, so make an effort to put away some money each month into your emergency fund.

"Stick to a budget, watch what you spend, and shop around to get the very best deals," says McBride.

--Written by Craig Donofrio for MainStreet

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