Saturday, 10 May 2008

Forget Stocks, invest in a spouse

by Merryn Somerset Webb, page 30, Money Week, 18 January 2008

A great many Money Week readers are likely to be pretty liquid at the moment. But if you are holding a lot of cash, what's the best way to make it produce value for you? If you are single, the answer is a simple one: use it to help you find a partner. This is not as absurd as it sounds. Marriage provides a basic insurance against many of the nasty things in life: get it right and every burden is a burden shared. Indeed, if you add up all the emotional benefits of marriage, says US economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald, you will find that they are worth the equivalent of US$100,000 a year in income to the average couple.

A study from the University of Zurich out a few years ago backed this up; it showed that the unmarried are pretty much always more miserable than their married friends. Only when they hit their 60s do happiness levels reach the same highs. And as an extra bonus, a variety of studies have shown that the married live longer on average than the unmarried. Then, of course, there are the actual financial benefits of being married: most couples have two incomes either all or some of the time, but living expenses of less than double those of one single person. Their income is higher, their expenditure per head is lower and, as a result, they get rich faster.

So how much cash do you have to lay out to find a spouse and start reaping the returns of marriage? That depends on how you go about it, says Mark Bridge in The Times. There are free dating websites about - (Freedating.co.uk and Flirtbox.co.uk, for example), but they aren't particularly "slick" and provide more for those after "casual encounters" than those seeking marriage. The next cheapest option is to place a lonely hearts advertisement in the press (£2.60 a word in Private Eye - http://www.eyeadvertise.co.uk/?section=classified&catid=1), although this can be labour intensive (you have to sift through all the replies), so a better option is probably to go for the paid-for websites. the two best known (http://www.datingdirect.com/ and http://www.match.com/) have millions of members, charge in the region of £60 for six months and come reasonably well-recommended. The Times rate them nine and eight out of then respectively. Also highly rates is http://www.speeddater.com/ ("good for older people").

However, the well-off and time poor might be better all round with a proper matchmaking service. You can find a full list of offerings at http://www.abia.co.uk/, but The Times points to Caroline Crowther (http://www.carolinecrowther.com/), a well-established agency with a good record. Asking this lot to help you costs up to £2,500 a year, but given that the returns could be worth $100,000 a year plus, perhaps they offer a better place for your money right now than Britain's ropey stockmarkets.

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