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Thursday, May 09, 2013

What does it take to manage your life better?

I once had a conversation with a friend of mine, who was telling me how I was so lucky to stay with my family and not have any financial responsibilities, and to not know what it was like to live alone etc.
I agreed with him, and I told him this was a decision that can be taken by everyone and anyone if they chose to. Unless you are forced to emigrate for a job as a refugee or something!

So, why wasn't he living with his family in Kerala? Well, here were the reasons (all of one!) why he came over to Mumbai: His dad didn't approve too much of his choice of career and he didn't want to put up with the constant nagging. So, I told him I put up with nagging and much worse at home. Therefore, I do pay a price for staying in my own home, which he and others like him, would rather not put up with. Therefore, they foot the cost of their independence. I choose to stay at home to save money to get a place of my own someday. If that is not a priority for people, then how they spend their money is not my problem, and I said so to this guy.

Well, he gave me a lecture on how pampered I was (which is not remotely true) and I finally got him to take it easy by asking him two questions: If you are living an independent life, then have you made anyone happy? Are you even caring for a pet or an adopted child? And his answer to me was no. So, I told him that I was supporting children in an orphanage since I was 23 with cash, clothes, toys and sometimes food. So I wasn't living only for myself unlike so-called independent people like him. Any money that I managed to save forking over for some dingy apartment somewhere, was being put into good use. Meanwhile, he was living from paycheque to paycheque. If one has to live on their own out of absolute necessity or their own desire, then do so.  But don't make it sound more virtuous than it is.

And anyway, for men like my friend who can't stretch their salaries, there is a website that I worked for, that claims to help them manage their finances better. Ironically, this site is targeted at men just like him (between ages 28-44) and not women. So does this mean that women are anyway better at handling money, and we don't need a website to show us how to do it? I think the answer is: Yes.

Even a maid who earns under Rs 10,000 a month, will somehow manage to send her kids to school and put food on her table thrice a day, in a city like Mumbai. (And most of the time, maids are married to drunk and abusive men who don't work, so they have this specimen as a burden on their shoulders as well.) Meanwhile, educated working men, (who trample over each other and their women colleagues to get to the money), will whine about how they can't manage! Well boys, don't check out faddy websites so much, ask your maids to help you out with their commonsense.  (Websites don't dish that out, if you don't have it!) In fact, they come with disclaimers stating that you need to go to a financial advisor for any actionable advice, so why not listen to your maids anyway?

Even stay-at-home moms are good at this. They run their homes on a budget and again don't check out a website to make sure their doing a good job of it. Really, more of you men should stay home and learn money management, since you can't seem to get the hang of it.

Besides malls are filled with stores aimed at women, to get them to splurge on more handbags, cosmetics, clothes, shoes, jewellery etc. And yes, we could go for cars and gadgets too. So where are men's salaries disappearing? Can't be on more cosmetics and lingerie..so probably on cars and gadgets. Well, if you can spare the cash, then cool. But like my friend, if you spend your initial, debt-free years buying frivolous stuff and then you complain that you can't make ends meet, then who is to blame? Too much peer pressure? Too much bravado? Too much showoff-iness?

Here's an open secret: Women can live without all the frills, especially when you can't provide us with the essentials to begin with. It's like stocking your kitchen with all the best spices in the world to cook a delicious biryani, but then you forget to keep salt. In such circumstances, I'd rather eat dal-khichdi with some pepper, ghee and curd, than that bland biryani any day.

Like food, so with money. If you men don't know how to get the essentials first, and run to get your thrills, frills and chills right away, then like I suggested earlier, let your maids or moms handle your money. They are unlikely to be stupid and casual about it, because handling money is a skill borne of necessity. When you don't have too much of it in your hands, then you figure out ways to stretch it. This is something men will never know because for them enough is never good enough. So, rather than make the money they earn matter, they will go out with their begging bowl and ask for a fatter paycheque. They usually get their way, as they know they will. Only some women in their organisations won't get that much of  a raise or a bonus. Yet, they will be able to manage their money matters better than men.

Touche..my friend. You needed to learn better finance management at home, from an early age, while you had the chance. Don't envy me for getting it, along with a cosy home. 

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