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Remember the movie "The Seven Year Itch" starring Marilyn Monroe?

It brings to mind the burgeoning apartment real estate market in the early 1980s. A contributing factor to the demand for apartments was the explosion in the divorce rate of the boomer generation, whose average marriage lasted -- you guessed it -- seven years.

One house or apartment was a cozy love nest for two, but suddenly there was a need for two dwellings for a separated couple.

In response, prices shot up everywhere, and an explosion of new construction eventually overshot the demand leaving all those limited partnership investments in bankruptcy.

That was one lesson boomers learned about real estate booms.

At the same time, divorcing couples learned that living as two singles was more expensive than when they shared a dwelling, car, TV, stereo, phone and everything but a toothbrush.

Single people preparing for retirement or already in retirement have issues that are specific to their status and that would introduce different considerations if they were married.

For starters, there is only one Social Security check coming in. By comparison, most retired couples in Northern California have had two spouses working over the years, and today they enjoy the benefit of two Social Security checks.

It's not unusual for most retired couples to have two government checks rolling in from $1,500 to $1,900 per month -- a total income of around $40,000 a year that just received a 3 percent raise last month.

Single people don't benefit from the dual-income Social Security option or even the "double occupancy" pricing phenomenon of many services.

They do, however, benefit from some advantages of being single when it comes to making financial decisions.

The luxury of being financially self-absorbed comes with the territory of life as a single person. Single people can manage money with their sole future interests in mind. No compromise is necessary, and this can contribute to more effective decisions over time.

This is important because there is no second income upon which to fall back in the event of job loss or health problems.

The best advice for a single person of any age, then, is to contribute the maximum possible amount into a retirement plan each year. There is no faster, more effective way to build a safety net.

Retirement as an objective is totally incidental. The most important reason for building up this value is to create a reservoir of financial resources as soon as possible.

Anyone between jobs or unable to work can access what they may have in a 401(k) or their rollover IRA. They may have to pay income taxes on the money and even a 10 percent penalty, but in a year when they may not otherwise be working, this income will be their only income.

While taking a modest amount from the plan to pay basic bills, their only tax might be the 10 percent penalty, and that is only 2 percentage points more than their current combined Social Security and Medicare tax. No Social Security taxes are owed on income taken from a retirement plan, so it can be an efficient resource for replacement income.

The financial services industry promotes retirement plans only as long-term savings programs for retirement. Their primary objective is to have assets under management, so the opportunity to take money out for other reasons is never offered as a reason for saving, much less emphasized. For single people, it should be.

Next year, the 401(k) maximum contribution will be $15,500. For most single people, who pay 35 percent in state and federal taxes on all income above about $35,000, a dollar contributed to their retirement plan includes 35 cents that would otherwise have been paid in taxes. The cost of that dollar in "take-home pay" is only 65 cents.

For someone making $50,000, a $15,500 contribution to a company 401(k) plan will reduce the April 15 tax bill by about $5,000.

In other words, $5,000 of the $15,000 contribution is like a government subsidy to a safety net.

In a small-company environment, the effective dollar limit for a retirement plan contribution (including the voluntary $15,500) is actually $44,500 next year.

Employers can contribute up to an additional $29,000 for anyone, but they will need some hand-holding by tax advisers and pension companies to accomplish this.

Meanwhile, armed with a hefty retirement account after taking this advice to heart, any single person meeting and marrying some product of the seven-year itch might do well to keep their IRA money as separate property.

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