At a time when we fetishize opinions we don’t hold, the weekly “Moderate Mahila Mandate” presents pure, non-partisan views on what is happening to women in India today.
In 2006, my mother convinced me to invest in a small apartment. I had some savings working in Switzerland after my MBA, and she didn’t want me to “waste all that money on shopping”. My mother is the smartest woman I know. And, she has always been financially astute. But I still wasn’t convinced. I was 20 years old and wanted to “enjoy life”. The investments were aimed at people in their fifties.
And then we met a real estate agent. He inadvertently looked at my mother and me, looking for my father or my brother. In the absence of one or the other, he asked to “speak” to my father or my brother. He did not believe that women could work, save and buy their own apartment. That’s when I decided –– heck, it was time to challenge the stereotype that women can’t have their own agency when it comes to their own money!
Going through many such moments Mrs. and Mrs., I diligently began to put money aside for even small investments from my paychecks. Despite the pay cut from leaving my posh corporate finance job, to becoming a TV financial reporter, then leaving that to become a magazine editor, and then being left penniless by my ex-husband in Dubai, I pushed myself to be financially independent. I was simply living well within my means.
These small investments accumulated, like smart money does, and became my safety net. They allowed me to quit my full-time job in 2013
You can then imagine my little dead watching Mahua Moitra being interrogated and trolled for carrying a designer handbag to parliament. Society accepts that a woman earns her own money, but still does not accept that a woman benefits from her own money? What is this hypocrisy? Or do we still believe that women can only be “provided” by men? That their hard-earned money should only go into the family pool to pay for the children’s education and groceries, but not used for their own enjoyment? Is money another tool pushing women to sacrifice instead of indulgence?
I don’t know why people cringe when talking about money, especially when it comes to women. We talk about body positivity, sex positivity, age positivity, and mental health positivity. Why don’t we talk about monetary positivity? Why don’t we challenge society’s unstable relationship with money – you’re doomed if you have money and also doomed if you don’t? And why does a Louis Vuitton bag inadvertently teach us that we don’t associate women with money, even women in positions of power?
Over the decades, I’ve heard women find excuses not to care about money matters. Most women in India depend on their father, husband or son. They have no idea how money is handled, even within their own household! This lack of trust is compounded by the patriarchal assumption that women are the natural caregivers and not the breadwinners, and the horrible tradition of saving for a girl’s marriage but not for her education! Housewives are not recognized for their domestic and emotional work. Working women also face unique challenges, whether it’s working double shifts, i.e. in the office and at home, big pay gaps or being neglected. for promotions and raises. Then there is the economics of motherhood – women taking a maternity break, mothers trying to get back to work, and mothers who were never able to work again. It becomes even more difficult for India’s 13 million single mothers. Navigating motherhood is difficult, navigating motherhood and finances is even more difficult.
We can all agree that life is tough. Each of us faces our own unique challenges. Women generally face even more challenges than men. What can ease her burden and secure her is having her own money. Even a bit. Every woman in India should have a fund to lose herself – i.e. the crap fund, pardon my French – that empowers her and gives her the choice to live the life she really wants. It is crucial that every woman is financially independent. It saves him bad jobs, bad men, and a bad life.
And here’s the clincher: you don’t have to be a financial guru to adopt good financial habits! Keep it simple. Consult a financial coach to make investing easier and more accessible. Make money a priority because life is stressful and unpredictable. Start young so you can use compounding to your advantage. Write down your financial goals. Make sure no unused money is lying around. Think about medium and long term investments. Diversify: Invest in mutual funds, real estate, capital markets, gold bonds and pension funds, under professional guidance. Whether you are a housewife or a working woman, always set aside a little something for yourself from the family budget or your paycheck, each month, without telling anyone. Saving does not mean sacrifice, it means emancipation. Own it, enjoy it. Build your FO fund! Live within your means: don’t spend on things that don’t matter to you, but splurge on things that do. You deserve it! Make financial independence not the end goal, but the starting point of your life.
None of us have the wealth of Bezos. We all have a limited amount of money that we will earn or reach in our lifetime. So it’s not about how much money you have, it’s about your attitude towards money. I grew up as a middle class girl surrounded by wealthy people. My parents’ government jobs posted them to the posh town of Malabar Hill. I went through huge insecurities like hiding my cold dabba, packed in the morning by my working mother, while my school friends ate hot dabba brought in by gloved Mercedes drivers. Or pretend to hail a cab in front of friends, just to walk to the nearest bus stop when they’ve left. But I never grew up envying my wealthy friends. I never wanted to be rich. Because I was always happy with what I had. And I loved building my own corpus, little by little, instead of having it handed to me. This is the relationship a woman should have with money! A positive and uplifting that expresses freedom and not captivation.
Money is a societal construct like gender and age. Like everything else in life, it comes down to how you manage your confidence with her. So, be money positive! Have a positive view of your money, whatever its size! And encourage others, especially women, who do the same.
Meghna Pant is a multi-award-winning and bestselling author, screenwriter, columnist and speaker, whose latest novel BOYS DON’T CRY (Penguin Random House) will hit the screen soon.