Our attitude towards money and the financial decisions that we make at various junctures in our life are influenced by our experiences right from childhood.
I am sure that this observation comes as no surprise. After all, money experiences are also a part of the various influences that form within us through our lives. Much of my attitudes towards money came from how people in my family handled it as I grew up. Where I see a bit of a twist is that while my family was a fairly orthodox one, the women in the family were still quite involved, and to some extent, even dominant, in some of the money decisions that were taken. In hindsight, I count myself as fortunate that I had these influences and could learn from them and there are three women in my life that I would like to give a shout out to.
Starting early and preparing for emergencies
My maternal grandmother was someone I visited very frequently as we lived in the same city, and from the time I stepped out of school, right through graduation, I spent a lot of time at her place. My grandfather had already passed away by then, but the house would still be busy with people coming and going. There are two memories of hers that I carry vividly, which somehow seem relevant even now. One, she carried on from my grandfather and regularly used to make daily/weekly contributions to a local chit fund. I found this interesting and when I started college, I started my first saving from my pocket money with the princely sum of Rs 35/week (Rs 5/day). I had my own passbook, which used to get updated regularly. At that time, I found all this very important and secretive of course, and told my grandma not to tell my parents about this. I may be romanticizing this a bit but I think my “save, then spend” habit kicked off then.
The other memory I have of her was her money locker in her cupboard, whose keys only she had. She always had some spare cash, which she used as an emergency fund. That emergency fund used to be her go-to whenever it was needed – by anyone in the household, which was a large one. Come to think of it, one of the not-so-intuitive dimensions of being “financially sound” is having sufficient liquidity when needed, and this was observed early.
Delayed gratification moving out of comfort zones
Growing up, we didn’t have the easiest of childhoods and, as the elder child, I had a ringside view to my mother stretching to make ends meet. Like all mothers I am sure, she always found a way to cater to our wants, small as they may have been (eating out once in a while for instance), while figuring out a way to forgo some of her more essential needs. I now wonder how she could put off her desires so easily, and think my early lessons in delayed gratification came from observing her.
The other thing that I found remarkable about her was the way she decided to start a career in her 40s. Though she was well educated, she had never worked post marriage, partly also because of the mobile nature of my father’s career. But once me and my sister left school, she decided that she didn’t want to waste her time at home, as well as could supplement the family income as well. And took up a clerical job in a small firm, travelling all the way to the business district six days a week from the distant suburbs. She worked there for many years, and while the salary wasn’t great, she enjoyed this “second innings” of hers. The doggedness and resolve that she had to go outside her comfort zone, start something new and make it work, is something that I found quite inspiring, both then and now.
Clarity at crunch moments and courage to take risks
In hindsight, I got married relatively early, and was lucky that my partner was someone who came from a similar middle-class background and had similar sensibilities towards money. Our financial journey over the last couple of decades would also have been like most people, we made our mistakes and learnt from it, and we had our share of luck riding the cycles. It would have been easy for us to pat ourselves on our back for our successes and ignore the mistakes, but her ability to distil the right learnings from our experiences and highlight the role of luck, has helped us stay grounded and temper our expectations from our financial decisions.
Our breakout towards financial independence started when she decided to leave her well-established corporate career to learn new skills and start our practice, and despite the many challenges associated with an entrepreneurial journey, kept at it for many long years. In hindsight, the lesson for me has been that not taking risks is in a way the biggest risk.
All of these experiences over the years have helped shape my outlook towards money and also encouraged me to take the decision to join our financial planning practice. Even in today’s age, as part of our practice, we still see many women not so involved in financial decisions of the family and this leads me to believe that I certainly have been lucky in this respect. In my experience, when it comes to taking financial decisions at home, two heads are always better than one.