Sharanya Misra

Why do working women not manage their own finances? Why are homemakers only silent spectators of the financial decision making process at home? Why do women always turn to the men for all financial handling?

It was a couple of years ago when I was in the UK that a piece of news I read left me rattled. An ‘NRI wife’ had been deserted by her husband with no money, no access to bank accounts, and no legal documents on her, not enough to even return home to India. The unbelievable bit(to me) was that this was a woman who, in the eyes of the world, was ‘financially independent’. She was employed and earning a hefty salary each month. How then, was she left stranded with no money, I wondered! The answer – Each month, her husband transfered all of her salary into his account because apparently she wasn’t capable of managing the very money she had earned. She had let him. This is, from what I hear, a common affair in quite a few horror story NRI marriages. It made me wonder.

What makes these educated capable women believe they are skilled enough to earn, but not to manage their finances?

In fact, many working women in India too, either begrudgingly or by choice, hand over their salaries to their husbands or in- laws, to spend as deemed necessary by the family. Clearly, having a job cannot be a valid measure of ones financial awareness, or freedom!

When we look further, we find that the problem exists with homemakers too. The very women, who can run their homes skillfully in the tightest of budgets, have not much idea about the world of finance outside the perimeters of their houses.

Even when a woman has a bank account or owns property, more often than not, she is nothing more than the signature on the dotted line.

The fact is that, just like physical strength, mental acumen to handle something as ‘complex’ as finances is often only attributed to the men of the household. We leave these ‘confusing’ bits for our fathers, husbands, brothers to handle. We find it too cumbersome, or too boring, a process to get our hands dirty in.

What is ironical though is that most men too are actually not experts in this area! They simply ask around, research, and figure out how to do things because, well, they don’t believe they have an alternative. I realised this for the first time when I started taking my finances seriously post marriage and asked my husband some queries. Turned out, he was as clueless as me. It struck me then, why had I intrinsically assumed he would have all answers?! Afterall, I owned the SAME resources and skills as he did to make informed financial decisions.

Women are conditioned from childhood to believe that ‘money-matters’ are not for them.

Because this is what society believes. I still remember, a teammate long ago upon knowing that I was trying to include my parents into my health insurance cover, asked me – “But why must you do it? Don’t you have a brother?”! With time though, I  began to slowly realise how childish this notion could be. Women are today at the helms of many top organisations across the globe. In fact, at the time of my ‘awakening’ Chanda Kocchar and Naina Lal Kidwai were heading ICICI and HSBC respectively, Indra Nooyi was with Pepsico and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw was leading Biocon. It seemed hilarious to me that despite having such blatant examples around me, I had succumbed to some random social notions of what I was or wasn’t capable of!

We, as a society, need to understand that Financial Awareness is important, EVEN FOR OUR GIRLS. How often have we seen families left in the lurch when a male breadwinner suddenly passes, because the wife was in the dark about the bank balance, the assets or the debts? How often have we seen women suffering in abusive marriages because they have no financial backing, nor any idea on how resources could possibly be arranged?

Financial freedom is not just about earning a salary or owning an ATM card to withdraw from a bank account when necessary. We need to be aware of other aspects too – Investments, Insurance, Loans, Taxation, Returns. We need to handle them by ourselves instead of relying on men to ‘take care’ of them. And significantly, we also need to be active participants in the financial decision making processes at home.

And honestly, it isn’t rocket science. Today there is ample help online. There are consultants everywhere ready for service on one call. Resources are always at hand. The initial hestitations are but natural. But once past the hurdles, this too becomes a necessary part of our lives that we must naturally cater to.

Being no expert in financial management, I am not here to offer any advice on what is best for anyone. But what I do intend to convey is that financial engagement is a MUST for women too. This not only secures their own lives, but also contributes to the financial planning for the family as a whole. If you are a woman yourself, grab the reins on your finances, take charge, and encourage other women to do the same! If you are a man reading this, then empower the women in your lives. Tell them.

Handling finances is definitely not just a ‘man’s job’!

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