IS FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE THE KEY TO WOMEN EMPOWERMENT?

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“Kumudha … your lunch is packed, hurry up or you would be late for college,” Nalini called out to her teenage daughter from the kitchen as she did a thousand things in one go.

“Just a minute, Maa,” came a sweet voice floating from behind the bathroom door. Nalini sighed as she knew that the promised one minute would be several minutes before the bathroom door will be opened and a singing, posing, jubilant Kumudha would totter around the little house.

This was a typical weekday morning at Nalini’s house, and she treasured each such morning. A strong, confident woman in her mid-forties, Nalini had seen enough pain in her life that she tried to collect the tiniest moments of happiness, wherever she could find them.

As she bade goodbye to Kumudha, after dropping her at the bus stop, and rode her scooty to the office – an export firm where she worked at the front office – Nalini thought about her past, and her arduous journey thus far.

Mehul and Nalini’s marriage was arranged, but they soon found their soulmates in each other. Mehul came from a wealthy business family and had several businesses running successfully. Their friends and family members used to say that Mehul had the ‘Midas touch,’ “whatever he touches, turns to gold.”

The first three years of marriage were a bliss. The couple shopped in London and sailed the Pacific, partied in Vegas and strolled in Milan. At times, Nalini would worry about their colossal travelling and partying expenses and would confront Mehul.

“Your husband is a rich guy. You just enjoy all the attention he gives to you,” the ever romantic Mehul would brush off any protest concerning the couple’s mounting leisure expenditures.

In the fourth year, Kumudha was born, and that brought even more joy to Nalini and Mehul’s household. Mehul gave a star-studded party with the city’s who’s who on the guest list.

It was all like a dream for Nalini until one day everything came falling apart. A week after Kumudha turned one, Mehul lost his life in a freak road accident. His sudden demise enveloped Nalini like a permanent mist of gloom; and had it not been for Kumudha, she would never have come out of the shock of losing her love.

For a few months, Nalini received support and love from friends and family, but eventually, everyone got busy with their lives. Nalini, too, had to get on with her life. To take stock of Mehul’s businesses, she called up Mr Kamath, who looked after all accounting and financial aspects of Mehul’s businesses.

“The situation is quite dire, Madam,” Mr Kamath mumbled in a grievous tone.

Nalini was shocked to learn that most of the businesses run by Mehul were debt-ridden. While almost all his businesses churned out profits, he deemed fit to splurge his earnings on his leisurely life and ploughed in investors’ money to keep his businesses going.

“While Mehul was alive, investors didn’t mind putting in money in his ventures as they all believed in him. The situation is now changed,” explained Mr Kamath to a crestfallen Nalini.

The long and short of it was that all the businesses owned by Mehul were acquired by investors and most of his personal assets, including his house, jewellery, cars, etc., were claimed by the bank and other creditors.

In less than a year from Mehul’s death, Nalini found herself without a roof over her head and no assurance of the next day’s meal. Her ageing parents had just enough to support themselves, and she found it unacceptable to be a burden on them; and though, her friends and family helped, Nalini knew that she would have to take charge of her situation if she wanted to give her daughter a decent, dignified life.

Thus, started the struggle for a livelihood.

Years passed, and Nalini worked hard to provide for her lovely daughter. She tried to give everything to her darling Kumudha that her meagre salary could afford. Nalini now banked on a good education to give her daughter a golden future. Yet, the rising cost of higher education and her ill affordability gnawed on her day and night.

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“Maa … Maa,” Kumudha came home running and shouting one day. Nalini was alarmed to see her so excited about something.

“Oh my god, Kumudha, calm down, why are you bringing the roof down,” an incredulous Nalini lovingly scolded her daughter.

“Mom, you won’t believe this … I have seen how to grow money on trees … and we will plant ours … with a small seed …regular watering…” Kumudha babbled between gasps of breath.

“Money … tree … seed … watering, have you gone mad,” said Nalini giggling.

“No, Mom … true … it’s easy … needs and wants,” Kumudha started a fresh deluge of broken words in her excitement.

Nalini gave her a glass of water and told her to catch her breath before saying what actually happened.

After ten minutes, Kumudha finally calmed down, and after taking another minute to collect her thoughts, she said, “Our college hosted a noted financial mentor for a talk, and I attended it. This mentor said that anyone could grow rich with patience and discipline.”

Still at sea, Nalini urged Kumudha to spill more beans.

“He told us the first thing that we need to follow to become rich is separating needs from wants,” explained Kumudha, “I have understood now. I don’t want a new dress, we will now buy only those things that we need,” she added in haste, much to the amusement of Nalini.

“Hmm … that’s food for thought. What else did he …” Nalini couldn’t finish her sentence.

“Oh god, Mom; don’t interrupt else I will forget,” Kumudha lovingly warned her dear mother.

“Second, we must invest before spending,” she added, “Do you know what investing means, Mom? It means that you put aside some money in any investment.”

Nalini took all this silently, holding a finger to her lips, amused by her daughter’s enthusiasm.

“And lastly, if we start investing as low as 500 rupees in mutual funds through … wait, what was that … Yes! SIP or Systematic Investment Plans, we can accumulate lakhs of rupees over a period of time, say ten to twelve years,” concluded Kumudha with a happy, forlorn expression in her eyes.

Nalini, influenced by Kumudha’s enthusiasm, offered to meet the financial mentor to know more. This part was easy as Kumudha had already got his contact details and a meeting was fixed at the earliest opportunity.

Meeting the financial mentor, Nalini felt like talking to a well-wisher after years. She poured out all her life’s struggles and the worrisome financial situation she expected to be in in a few years when she would need money to fund Kumudha’s professional education.

The mentor patiently listened to Nalini’s story and assured that with patience and dedication, the mother and daughter could actually look forward to a smiling future.

Taking out a pen and paper, he explained how Nalini must apportion her salary towards expenses and investments. Stressing on the need for life insurance as well as Mediclaim, the mentor made provisions in Nalini’s salary to meet the annual premium expenses. He also suggested some areas of expenditure that could be minimised.

Nalini was incredulous as she found it difficult to manage her monthly expenses out of her small pay, and here, the mentor made provisions for her to not only take care of the family’s immediate financial needs but also made goal-oriented plans to meet future expenses.

After the visit to the advisor, both the women sat musing about their future possibilities.

Nalini had already resolved to start a long-term SIP for Kumudha that would take care of her higher studies. She also thought of investing a little sum regularly in building a substantial corpus for her own use after retirement. Nalini smiled proudly as a beautiful and powerful thought emerged in her head:

I will not seek my daughter’s fortune in her would-be husband’s coffers,

Nor would I want her to trade her dreams for higher pay offers.

For years, I would invest every penny I can spare,

Building her wealth, telling her that I care.

To her, I would teach the tenets of conservation and financial discipline,

Because financial independence is the true way to empower a woman.

 

Dr. Celso Fernandes and Nave Marg Financial Consultants are on a mission to spread financial literacy, primarily among the people of Goa. Through a series of free illuminating workshops and seminars, the author of four much-loved books, Dr. Celso Fernandes help families fight their financial woes and set on the path of wealth creation. To know about upcoming events and seminars, call at 9422058741 or write at navemarg@gmail.com.

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It Ain’t Gonna Rain Forever

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The sun shone strongly as Jason raced to the little, dingy bar that nestled under a giant banyan tree. As soon as he reached there, his eyes began to search for a familiar face in the crowd of people who preferred sipping wine over siesta. Jason heard Kevin’s voice before he saw his face.

“What do you know man, my car itself was worth over a crore…”

Sitting in the farthest corner of the bar, nursing a half-emptied glass of cheap liquor, Kevin was telling his friends of the good old luxurious life he once lived. At 45, Kevin had already seen the best and the worst in life. A bright, young fellow with a passion for earning loads of money, Kevin ventured for his maiden voyage – aboard a luxury cruise liner – as a Trainee Engineer, some twenty years ago.

His skills, passion and determination to excel at his job won him a lot of praise, promotions and popularity in the shipping circles. The latter resulted in a slew of shipping engagements at lucrative salaries. For the next 15 years, Kevin worked diligently on one of the finest assignments and earned truckloads of money.

“Wait! Kevin’s story doesn’t match with his current state, right?” You would ask.

Well, this is the second part of the story. While Kevin earned a lot of money, he also splurged in luxuries he never needed. Every year during Christmas holidays, Kevin would come home to his family (he got married to his childhood love, Jennifer, two years after starting his job) with crates full of gifts and would shower his friends and family with expensive gifts without the want of an occasion.

Add to this, he spent heavily in transforming his humble little house into a palace-styled mansion and filled its garage with luxury cars. It was raining gold and Kevin did his best to let it flow down to the sea.

But something unexpected happened about five years ago. Kevin found himself amidst a pool of middle-aged engineer, just as qualified and skilled as him, waiting endlessly for the next assignment. The downturn in the economy had slowed down the business and jobs were scarce. Months turned into years and Kevin, quite unexpectedly, became the yesteryear star engineer persuaded by shipping companies with lures of riches.

Kevin came home to an opulent house and always stepped out in his swanky car. However, his sparse savings were fast dwindling. There were bills to pay, school fees to deposit and a social status to maintain. Without any sound financial advice, Kevin’s precious funds soon withered out. And he also took to drinking heavily.

There came a time when he had to sell his house, which was his pride, and began living in austere conditions. Unable to bear their financial and social downfall, his wife left him, and the rest of his funds were sucked up in sorting legal matters.

“Kevin, brother! See I am selected as a part of the crew for that big ship,” Jason jumped up and down excitedly as he delivered this good news.

Kevin was ecstatic to hear this news. He ran and embraced his little brother.

“You’ve done it!” exclaimed Kevin.

After telling the good news to all his fellow bar mates, Kevin suddenly turned serious.

“Let’s talk,” was the only words a confused Jason heard before Kevin sat in his ramshackle car.

After a brief drive, during which no words were spoken, Kevin stopped the car near a cliff that overlooked the vast blue ocean.

“Jason, my brother,” said Kevin after both brothers settled down on a short boulder, “you are going to start what I started twenty years ago. I just want that you must not end like me.”

Tears swarming in his eyes, Kevin added, “This job will take you places you could ever dream of and will earn you money you could never think of. Yet, it is all for a little while.”

Jason listened intently to his elder brother like he always used to. Kevin was his hero. A fallen hero, unfortunately.

“If my very adventurous life has taught me anything, it is these three mantras:

“Spend on needs and opportunities. Don’t splurge on wants and indulgences.

“Invest your money before spending.

“Plan your future, today.”

As Jason mulled over the three tips given by his brother, Kevin added, “It isn’t gonna rain forever.”

Kevin also told Jason that he met a financial consultant while sorting out his legal matters and clearing his debts, who told him how Kevin could have planted a healthy sapling of investment that would have grown into a blossoming money plant, had he managed his funds properly and invested while he was still young.

‘Together with the steady monthly investments and power of compounding, your mutual funds’ portfolio would have grown to crores of rupees,’ Kevin remembered the financial mentor’s words reproachfully.

“I am still trying to get back on track with whatever frugal funds I have, through SIPs in mutual funds, thanks to this mentor’s guidance,” revealed Kevin with a hint of hope in his eyes. Kevin had also started to look for local jobs and was working on his alcohol addiction, which was hard, but he was trying.

“I will put you in touch with him soon,” added Kevin.

As the sun scaled its journey towards the horizon, Jason looked at his future life in a new light.

Even before they started for home, Jason had planned to not only begin investing for himself right from his first paycheque, but also for his hero, his brother, who is trying to get back on his feet.

Dr. Celso Fernandes, the Financial Doctor of Goa, is committed to the mission of spreading financial awareness among the people of India. A well-known speaker, Dr. Celso is also the author of four much-loved books on financial discipline and achieving  financial independence. He can be reached at +91-9422058741.

LULLED BY BLATANT CONSUMERISM?

Wake up to financial discipline.

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“Sameer! Check-out the one-hour online sale this website is offering,” Sia squealed with joy as she handed over the entertainment section of the newspaper to her husband.

“Wow! They are giving 70% discount on TVs with latest features, and look, there are smart watches for half the price!” exclaimed Sameer, almost jumping off his chair.

“And clothes, by golly! As if they are throwing away such beautiful dresses and make-up kits for peanuts!” added Sia.

Little Myra was getting ready for her school, and her parents’, almost juvenile, attitude towards mindless online shopping made her take frequent sorrowful sighs. All of twelve years, Myra was wise beyond her years. She was calm, composed and quite practical in her ways. A spirited young girl, Myra was good in sports and studies; but what distinguished her from the rest of girls in her class was her deep concern for the environment and her belief in living a minimalistic existence.

Of course, her orientation cannot be attributed to her parenting. Far from it, Myra has seen her parents splurging money and other resources like there is no tomorrow. The frequent house parties, the sumptuous dinners, and above all, mindless online shopping every other day.  While Myra’s father had a weakness for gadgets and expensive watches – he changed three TVs in less than two years and an astounding five phones within the same period – her mother wanted to have every dress that hit the market. As a result, Myra’s home was slowly turning into a zoo of impulsively bought and cruelly discarded electronic items, knick-knacks and clothes flowing out of closets.

“Don’t you think you must not spend so much on things that you don’t need?” Myra confronted her parents one day.

“Don’t worry dear,” said her mother. “We are well off,” added her father with a smug smile.

Myra couldn’t comprehend how her parents were well off when they squandered every penny they earned on useless items. This was in utter contradiction to her dear Grandpa’s style of living. Myra idolised her paternal grandfather who owned a sprawling bungalow in the suburbs. Every bit rich, Myra’s grandfather showed no tendency towards impulsive buying. On the contrary, he always encouraged Myra to conserve all resources and spend only on things that you need, and not want.

He also taught Myra to be smart with money and invest spare money in mutual funds for a long period.

“Like a tree,” Grandpa told Myra, “your investments would also bear more and more fruits with time.”

Grandpa also taught Myra that being minimalistic is the only way to save the environment, too! He told her that every piece of electronic gadgets and appliances are equipped with precious metals and stones mined from the belly of the earth, and when we keep dumping our well-serving gadget for a higher version, we end up wasting precious natural resources.

Next day, the atmosphere at Myra’s house was completely opposite to the previous. The discussion over morning tea today was not about any mega sale but a ‘mega credit card bill’ that sat heavily on the coffee table.

With a sombre countenance, Myra’s father mumbled, “how would we be able to pay Myra’s fee this quarter?”

“Hmm, all our salary will go into paying this credit card bill,” worried her mother.

“Why! Where did all our hefty salaries go? Myra’s fee is a small fraction of our monthly salary, yet we are finding it difficult to pay it. What went wrong?” her father muttered, sounding very depressed.

At this point, Myra spoke up. “But I thought we are well off! Why can’t we pay my fee on time?”

“It looks like we overspent a little, darling. But don’t you worry, I will take a small loan to pay it on time. You don’t bother yourself with this,” her father casually answered.

Myra was beyond herself after hearing such a nonchalant response from her father.

“It’s time they learn something about financial discipline,” she mused.

With a deep breath, Myra set down to talk to her parents and make them realise that their impulsive buying is not only causing them the present financial trouble, but it could also lead to massive financial distress. Myra’s parents seemed to be unaware about the repercussions of overspending, and she had to remind them each item that they purchased, sighting its utility, and which, now, lay unused in the storeroom. A quick total – Myra secretly collected the invoices of items purchased online (as her parents would throw it away along with the packaging) – revealed an incredibly high sum of money spent in the past two years on online shopping.

“If you had invested this money in mutual funds, you would have earned double-digit compounded interest over a long period, say ten years,” she told her parents, who gaped at her with baffled expressions. They had no clue that their daughter is so smart and practical.

“And there is no need to take a loan to pay my fee. I have a little portfolio, managed by grandpa; I will ask him to redeem some units to pay off the fee,” said Myra, “but on one condition. No mindless online shopping.”

As she picked up her school bag and water bottle to catch her school bus, Myra’s parents stood speechlessly, slowly waking up from the lull of blatant consumerism, and warming up to the idea of financial discipline.