The occurrence of group-living behaviour has often been explained by the benefits individuals receive through cooperation; including increased reproductive output, vigilance against predators, and load-lightening behaviour. However, to fully understand the benefits of group-living, it is important to quantify the costs of living alone. Here, we look at the fate of floaters (individuals who have no fixed territory and remain alone for extended periods) in a population of cooperatively breeding pied babblers Turdoides bicolor. We found that individuals spent less time foraging and more time vigilant for predators when found as a floater compared to when they were in a group. Consequently, they suffered a continuous loss of body mass, with long-term floaters suffering the highest losses. This had a long-term effect: floaters that eventually did regain a position in a group usually entered as helpers, in contrast to dispersers, who usually entered a new group as breeders. This high cost of living alone highlights the benefits of group-living and may help to understand patterns of delayed dispersal in some social species.