How can women plan finances without falling into ‘selflessness’ trope
“It was only when I started working and had become accustomed to a sound savings and investments routine that I realised one of the reasons why my mother has not been able to save and invest as much as she should have is because of the altruistic tendencies that women become conditioned with. It may sound like an exaggerated hypothesis but our behaviourial traits that govern our day-to-day routines have an irrevocable impact on how we handle our finances too,” says Megha Singh, a 31-year-old investment banker based in Mumbai.
Glorifying the many sacrifices that women make throughout the course of their lives is widely prevalent in our culture. This glorification stems from societal conditioning that classifies women who are selfless and who prioritise the well-being and happiness of others as ‘good’ women and those who do not typically fit into this mold remain relegated to the shadows of judgement. Traditional gender roles that demand women to be caregivers and nurturers for their family at the expense of their own comfort and ambitions and desires also add to this unsaid pressure on women to acquire the traits of being selfless and giving.
“As far as I can remember, my mother’s life has been confined to the domestic realm. She has dedicated all her time and energy towards raising me and my brother and taking care of the family and ensuring that the household runs smoothly like a well-oiled machine. Her story is painfully similar to that of countless other Indian women. Unsurprisingly she was also never involved in any major financial decisions of the family and things only changed after I started working and taught the nitty gritties of saving and investing and ensured she had a say in the family’s money matters beyond just household budget management,” narrates Singh.
It was only after a couple of years after Singh’s mother attained a certain level of confidence at managing her money that Singh realised her mother needed to wrangle free of certain thought patterns that she had developed over the years while fulfilling her domestic responsibilities to be able to manage money efficiently. “I noticed that she would let her budget go awry easily if someone came up to her and asked her for money. I sensed this was a byproduct of the sacrificial attitude that had become second nature to her in the course of her journey as a mother, wife and daughter-in-law. She also displayed cynicism for any investments that carried any element of risk. Again, this stemmed from her fear of being seen as immature or careless by the other members of the family in the event the investment incurred losses.” Singh narrates.
Preeti Zende founder of Apna Dhan Financial Services explains, “Women are synonymous with love, care, sacrifice and selflessness. They are always expected to put others' interests before their own interests. This trait is omnipresent in all arenas of women’s lives and finance is no exception. Whether a woman is earning or she is a housewife she tends to think of her family's interests or needs first. Most of her money goes on household expenses as well as funding goals like kids' education and marriage along with paying off home loans or car EMIs. Owing to an acquired tendency to put others' interest ahead of that of her own, she falls short of accumulating wealth on her name. Merely earning money is not important but women should be able to generate wealth out of it exclusively for themselves too so that in future they can be financially independent.”
Singh says mutual fund investments helped her mother take baby steps towards overcoming her aversion of investment instruments that were not fixed income ones. “The idea that she could start SIP investments with as small an amount as ₹500 and that she could choose between equity and debt and maintain a mix of both and even change those ratios as per need gave her the confidence to move beyond her comfort zone of fixed deposits and similar investments. After having seen that she can stay within tolerable risk limits through liquid funds and the capital appreciation power of equity funds in the last 2-3 years, she has become more confident in the investing game. As an offshoot, she has also been able to let go of her heightened fears of losing money by investing in non-traditional investment avenues.”
Zende suggests, “It is now high time for women to bifurcate their savings between family and self so that along with taking care of family responsibilities they are also making themselves empowered with money in real terms. First of all, women should set aside an emergency fund that can cover your personal expenses for at least six months. This emergency fund can be parked in a liquid fund. You can also add some extra amount as a medical kitty to your emergency fund for any routine checkup or any extra tests to be done in future.”
For goals with different timelines, mutual fund investments can be a judicious option, opines Zende. She explains, “An SIP in an ultra short term debt fund or a liquid fund can come in handy for short term goals for yourself like going for a short trip with your friends. For a medium term goal, say buying a car or setting up a small business in the next 4-5 years, you can think of going with a hybrid or balanced fund. And most importantly, women should think of their retirement seriously besides their children’s education and marriage. Investing in a simple index fund and a flexicap fund along with PPF investment can be a good move for that.”
- A standalone health insurance policy is a must even if you have corporate medical cover provided by your or your spouse’s employer. It will help you to take care of your unexpected medical expenses.
- If you struggle with prioritizing saving and investing for your personal goals and needs, you can seek help from a professional to draft strategies for effective financial management.
- An SIP in an ultra short term debt fund or a liquid fund can come in handy for short term goals for yourself like going for a short trip with your friends. For a medium term goal, say buying a car or setting up a small business in the next 4-5 years, you can think of going with a hybrid or balanced fund.
This article is part of the HT Friday Finance series published in association with Aditya Birla Sun Life Mutual Fund.