If we look back into our history as a country, women have always been associated with the ability to bring prosperity into a home, the ability to save small amounts of money from the household budget and magically come to her family's rescue in times of need. Yet somehow, as modern Indian women, we shy away from handling money. We have spent the last three decades taking over workspaces across various sectors, working alongside our male counterparts in all professions and earning similar pay. Why is it then that we are still unsure of making financial decisions?
A study of the home loan applications in India's cities shows that women have signed on as co-applicants in over 40 per cent of the home loans sanctioned over the last 3 years. This means women have become equal earning partners in their homes, but the percentage of demat accounts and mutual fund portfolios held by women suggests that women are still not investing their money in equal measure.
Most of the women I speak to claim to not know anything about their own finances and they often leave the decisions to a male family member, a father, husband or brother. We seem unaware of the danger of not being in control of our own money. Most women have told me that they don't manage finance because they don't believe they are good at calculations or that they don't understand the complex financial products and, in several cases, managing a home and raising children doesn't leave them with enough time.
When I ask these same women what their biggest fear, is most talk about the fear of being caught unprepared during an emergency or being left penniless at the end of their lives, forced to depend on someone else to provide for their retirements.
I have a small request for you this year on Women's Day. If you are a woman, then take control of your finances. If you are a man, then encourage the women in your life to do the same. I'm not asking for a miracle, if you were uncomfortable handling money until today, it is unlikely that you will suddenly wake up to the desire to do so. But let's start small.
Step 1: If you do not have any investment until now. Start with a small recurring deposit in your name and your name alone. You local bank branch can open one for you. Put aside 10% of everything you make, so it does not matter if you are salaried or you earn money from a home-run business. If you are a homemaker, then put aside 10% of your family budget (much like our mothers would do, hiding money under atta dabbas and at the bottom of drawers). Over time you will find that parting with this money becomes easier and the growing amount will make you proud and confident enough to take on more complex products.
Step 2: Whatever you do, do not buy a product that you do not understand. I have spent the last 10 years reporting on personal finance and the stock market, and I am very familiar with the market's ability to launch complex investment products, often designed to benefit the agent and the company and not the customer. If an investment seems complicated, that's probably because it is not good for you. Keep your investments simple, understanding very clearly, what the rate of return is and what risk you are taking. Reject everything else.
Step 3: Seek good advice. Think about a garden that you would like to have outside your home. You would not need to do all the digging and watering yourself. You would hire someone or ask for help. But you would take the trouble to choose the plants or flowers and look at it on a regular basis. Your financial portfolio is a lot like that. You don't have to do the calculations and the paperwork by yourself. You can ask for help of a family member who understands these things or you could hire a strong advisor. But it is of paramount importance that you understand each product, choose the investments yourself and look out of your window every so often to see how your financial garden is doing.
This International Women's Day, let's face our fears and take control of your money. Let's save, invest and retire rich!
For more advice on investing your money watch 'Investor's Guide' at Saturday: 10.00pm, Sunday: 10.30am, Monday: 09.30pm on ET NOW