Dear Indian women, there’s nothing cute about being a financial mess

Of all the things that don’t enter the realm of polite conversation, money figures quite high: talking about it, wanting it, spending it, having it, not having it, having too much or too little. Most of us are brought up to think that talking money is not cool, almost vulgar.

I have also observed that women don’t talk about money nearly enough-they are almost apologetic when it comes up in conversation, or plain ignorant. Which explains why they often end up with the short end of the stick in negotiations-whether it’s a job, a business, a marriage or a divorce.

“I don’t really get money” seems to be an auto response of women for the most part. When I hear smart, otherwise successful women say this, it bothers me. Especially when they say it as though it’s a fashion statement. That’s like taking pride in not knowing basic shit.

Money is basic. It will be the only constant in your life, and will keep coming up for a dialogue with you. So if you don’t know it enough, now is not a bad time to start.

We learn a lot from each other about relationships or work, but we seldom learn (or even ask questions) about money. I have always had friends who I knew were doomed as far as money was concerned, and when I watched them be foolish with it, I offered my two bits, whether they liked it or not. I have some news for you ladies: Being a mess is no longer exotic or cute. Being a financial mess-even less so.

It is one thing to be ignorant about money and it’s quite another for this ignorance to be compounded by diseases of the retail kind. We can’t be Carrie Bradshaws buying Manolo Blahniks despite not being able to make rent. It’s not easy finding a sugar daddy to pay our rent or buy our apartment for us.

That’s not cute at 20, and most certainly not at 40. Life is not Sex and the City. Wearing your chaotic, reckless, money-ignorant self on your sleeve is not cool. Neither is not knowing how to negotiate salaries, plan investments or file taxes. It’s basic shit, and you better start now if you aren’t good at it.

For the benefit of all of you who are trying to have a better relationship with money, here is a list of…money rules I put together. They may seem pretty basic, but it is shocking how ignorant women are even on the basics.

Credit card 101

First things first: A credit card is not money you have. It’s money you owe. And you must know that this money will keep growing exponentially by a stealthy device called compound interest (which is actually interest on interest and just to give you a rough idea: it is twice that of a home loan). So if you only pay what is the minimum amount owed on your credit card every month, you are going to be in huge debt very soon.

Are you the type who cannot recall what you spent on that had incurred you a huge credit card bill? Are you using your credit card for things you cannot afford otherwise? Do you feel that your credit limit is actually your bank balance? Do you find yourself applying for a new card when all your credit cards are maxed out? Then you need some serious credit card therapy.

Shopaholics anonymous

Shopping is the most expensive way to feel good, and there’s a reason they call it retail therapy. Imagine giving so much power to clothes and shoes as a means of feeling good. It is an addiction, like any other, and to get over it, you need to divert the urge somewhere else, take occasional inventories of things you own and never wear and most importantly: try to distinguish between want and need.

A friend of mine suggested a small tip which always works for me: The next time you go shopping, wear your coolest clothes that make you feel super attractive. The urge to shop is much less.

Having spend-free days

Try a day in a month where you carry no money or cards and see how it goes. Walk, carry lunch that day, and try and observe where the urge to spend money strikes you the most. The experience will make you richer. The early days of demonetization in November 2016 was a reality check for me. I realised how much money I spent mindlessly, even though I don’t use credit cards.

Investing well

Instead of avoiding sections in newspapers that talk money, try reading up on investments and spread your money over some regular old-fashioned schemes like PPF and post office savings as well as newer ones like mutual funds.

There are books and columns on money management. You can set aside a small amount every month and track it and slowly raise the bar. Stocks and real estate are other options, but it requires a deeper understanding of the market. But nothing is rocket science really.

Giving back to the community

Once you have been good with money for a while, start donating for a cause you believe in and something you can track. It will create a feeling of abundance and joy that shopping can never match.

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