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Did a Louis Vuitton bag inadvertently teach us why we don’t associate women with money, even women in positions of power

Firstpost logo Firstpost 16-08-2022 Meghna Pant
Did a Louis Vuitton bag inadvertently teach us why we don’t associate women with money, even women in positions of power © Provided by Firstpost Did a Louis Vuitton bag inadvertently teach us why we don’t associate women with money, even women in positions of power

In 2006, my mother was convincing me to invest in a small apartment. I had savings from 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 was still not convinced. I was in my 20s and wanted to “enjoy life”. Investments were for those in their 50s.

And then, we met a real-estate agent. He inadvertently looked past my mother and me, in search of my father or brother. In the absence of either, he asked to “speak” to my father or brother. He didn’t trust that women could work, could save, and could buy their own apartments. That’s when I decided­­––heck, it was time to defy the stereotype that women cannot have their own agency when it comes to their own money!

Ploughing through many such Madam-Sir moments, I diligently began to set aside money for investments, however small, from my paycheques. Despite going down the pay-grade by leaving my fancy corporate finance job, to become a financial journalist on TV, then quitting that to become a magazine editor, and then being left penniless by my ex-husband in Dubai, I hustled to be financially independent. I lived simply, well within my means.

These small investments compounded, as smart money does, and became my safety net. They allowed me quit my full-time job in 2013 and return to India to become a full-time writer. I lived off my savings till money from other gigs began to come in. I had splurged on my dream, on my passion, on living life on my own terms, and that was my buy-in to financial freedom being true freedom.

You can then imagine my petit mort watching Mahua Moitra being questioned and trolled about carrying a designer handbag to parliament. Society accepts a woman making her own money, but still does not accept a woman enjoying her own money? What is this hypocrisy? Or do we still believe that women can only be ‘provided for’ 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 pleasure? Is money another tool propelling women to sacrifice not indulgence?

I don’t know why people cringe talking about money, especially in relation to women. We talk of body-positivity, sex-positivity, age-positivity and mental-health-positivity. Why are we not talking of money-positivity? Why are we not challenging society’s shifty relationship with money––you are condemned if you have money and equally condemned if you don’t? And, why is a Louis Vuitton bag inadvertently teaching us that we don’t associate women with money, even women in positions of power?

Over decades I’ve heard women make excuses for not showing interest in money matters. Most women in India are dependent on their fathers or husbands or sons. They have no clue how money is being managed, even within their own household! This lack of confidence is compounded by the patriarchal assumption that women are natural caregivers and not breadwinners, and the ghastly tradition of saving for a daughter’s wedding but not her education! Homemakers are not recognised for their household and emotional labour. Working women too face unique challenges whether it’s working double shifts i.e. at office and home, big pay gaps, or being overlooked for promotions and raises. Then there is the economics of motherhood––women who take a maternity break, mothers trying to get back into the work place, and mothers who have never been able to work again. It gets even tougher for India’s 13 million single moms. Navigating motherhood is hard, navigating motherhood and finances is even harder.

We can all agree that life is difficult. Each of us face our own unique challenges. Women typically face even more challenges than men. What can throw her burden into sharp relief and make her secure is having her own money. Even a little bit of it. Every woman in India should have a get-lost fund––aka the fuck-off fund, pardon my French­­––which emancipates her and gives her the choice to lead the life she truly wants. It is crucial for every woman to be financially independent. It saves her from bad jobs, bad men and a bad life.

And here’s the clincher: you don’t have to be a finance guru to follow good money habits! Keep it simple. Consult a money 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 idle money is lying around. Think of medium to long term investments. Diversify: invest in mutual funds, real estate, capital markets, gold bonds, and pension funds, under professional guidance. Whether you’re a homemaker or a working woman, always set aside a little something for yourself from the household budget or your paycheque, each and every 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 Bezos wealth. We all have a limited amount of money that we will earn or attain in our lifetime. So, it’s not about how much money you have but your attitude towards money. I’ve grown up as a middle-class girl around wealthy people. My parents’ government jobs posted them to posh Malabar Hill. I went through huge insecurities like hiding my cold dabba, packed in the morning by my working mom, while my school friends ate from hot dabba’s brought fresh to them by gloved chauffeurs in Mercedes. Or pretending to hail a cab in front of friends, just to walk to the nearest bus stop when they left. But I never grew up envying my rich friends. I never desired to be wealthy. Because I was always happy with what I had. And I loved building my own corpus, bit by bit, instead of having it handed to me. That’s the relationship a woman should have with money! A positive and uplifting one that spells freedom and not captivation.

Money is a societal construct like gender and age. Like everything else in life it boils down to how you manage your confidence with it. So, be money-positive! Have a positive view of your money, regardless of its size! And cheer others, especially women, who are doing the same.

Meghna Pant is a multiple award-winning and bestselling author, screenwriter, columnist and speaker, whose latest novel BOYS DON'T CRY (Penguin Random House) will soon be seen on screen. 

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