As another year goes by, there are, as usual, mixed feelings. Taking pride in your achievements and regretting things that never took off are common.
Again, it is that time of the year when everyone is into making new-year resolutions. The word has become a joke and it is now accepted that resolutions never work!
We all know that a turning of the calendar is not going to weave its magic and get you started in the right direction. The cheer and positivity around this time is actually welcome and is far better than the ‘dekhenge,’ ‘sochenege,’ or ‘karenge’ attitude, which is what prevails for the rest of the year. How then do you ensure that resolutions do not remain merely on paper, but convert into something concrete?
What I have noticed is that when we endeavour to make small changes rather than daunting makeovers, which require a whole lot of change, we tend to stick to our resolutions. The same applies on the personal finance front – whether it is increasing your financial awareness or to improving your financial situation. Taking smaller actions that are more easily implementable are much more likely to remain as habits in the long term.
As a woman, if you intend to make your financial life slightly better than what it has been thus far, here are four things you can do.
Track your expenses
Well, I am one of those people that finds it extremely difficult to keep track of expenses. I will never be able to tally my expenses to the last rupee. After having tried and given up multiple times, I have made peace with the fact that there will always be a gap, which I classify as miscellaneous and try to minimise the head in subsequent months.
It has worked, and I now have a clear idea of how much and where I spend. Doing this once a month gives a lot of clarity and helps keep a check on impulse purchases and unnecessary expenses. Strangely, tracking expenses gives me the freedom to spend on experiences which I truly cherish, without guilt.
Small action 1: Track your expenses for the previous month by the 5th of the next month
Get involved in your family’s financial decisions
As planners, we notice that most women are very happy at not having to do anything with finances. Unfortunately, landing in such a situation is not the fault of men alone; very often, men do try to involve their spouses in discussions, but don’t make much progress. Many women say, ‘I don’t understand finances and am happy to let him take the lead.’
It is fine if you do not to take the decisions, but to be completely unaware of the family’s finances can be disastrous. Unfortunately for us, we come across many cases where women have had to pay a huge price for this reluctance. We have witnessed unforeseen divorce, death, and even cases where the spouse managed to get into a debt spiral. All of these were discovered when damage control was very difficult. Start with the objective of being involved in financial discussions and decisions. This is non-negotiable and cannot be delegated, no matter how happy and well-provided for you are currently.
Small action 2: Sit with your spouse (or your planner) and understand your family’s investments and financial plans. Do this in the first 15 days of every quarter this year.
Learn finance in small instalments, but be regular
“Treat your mind like money, don’t waste it” - Rita Davenport
We deal with many women clients, many of who were almost financially illiterate when we started. While some were well into their retirement and a few were suddenly required to step in and take control of their finances due to the loss of a spouse, some were perfectly normal working class women, who just hadn’t given the time for this.
You will be surprised at their ability to pick up the basics. They actively seek information, don’t hesitate to ask us and insist on keeping our explanations simple. They subscribe to blogs and reiterate their understanding time and again. If they can do all of this, so can you!
What truly surprises us is the progress they make when they keep at it. They can ask the right questions and are suddenly not easy prey to some sales gimmick of product sellers. The difference between where they started off and where they reach in a year in terms of understanding is very substantial. Believe me, keep chipping away, and you will be amazed at the progress you can make.
Small action 3: Subscribe to and read two financial blogs (weekly), and find time to read the financial newspapers during the week
Take appropriate insurance to outsource risk
If you contribute significantly to your family’s finances, take a life insurance policy. If you are financially dependent on your significant other, ensure he has adequate cover. Even in insurance policies, there is no one size that fits all. We once had a single mother with significant real estate and financial assets come to us with a significant life cover. Her only child was supported by the father; also her assets would have sufficed along with the father’s support. What she needed to do was to avert the risk of losing her ability to earn. In such cases (and if you have no dependents) ensure you have decent health, critical illness and accidental disability (which is different from accident death) covers.
Small action 4: Review your insurance policies with your spouse and/or planner, use the next six months to beef up your life/health insurances so that your family is adequately protected. Review every six months.
“Money is only a tool. It can take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as a driver” - Ayn Rand
These are baby steps to take for ensuring that you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your finances. These simple pointers are easy to adhere to. They may look insignificant, but can give you considerable peace of mind as well as the confidence to take it further once you are able to build on these four simple yet very effective habits.(The writer is a Certified Financial Planner and Founder of Finwise Personal Finance Solutions)