Every Friday afternoon, the Aavishkaar team huddles in Ojas, the campus gazebo as Sarit sir, our co-founder stands in front casting an aura of wisdom and knowledge. This was my first time at the circle. There was a multitude of faces – Aavishkaar team members, Sajhe Sapne (an organisation Aavishkaar is incubating) squad and not to forget the ever energetic Sapnewaalis. It is a title given to every young woman on campus who comes with a dream – A dream to get a job, to empower herself, to fight the odds, to be free. By now, most of the spanewaalis had job offers and were towards the last lap of their skilful pitstop here.
With job comes money, with money comes responsibility, not just of safeguarding but also saving it. Since the women were going to graduate in a few days, “How to be wise with your money?” seemed like an appropriate topic of discussion. The session started off with conversations on where and how we spend money. We later moved on to bouncing off ideas about having fun economically. After a wholesome conversation on fun, frugality and lifestyle, Sarit sir steered the conversation towards savings. His motto and advice was as simple and clear as it can get – “Jo bhi karna hai, aadhe mein se karo” (Whatever you want to do, spend only half your salary).
This statement sent a wave of surprise through the circle – Why should we be saving so much? The answer was sensibly obvious, to have a comfortable life after retirement. When broken down and shown on a piece of paper, it is not difficult to comprehend what savings and the power of compounding can do to your money. “Paanch hazaar har maheena bacha lenge toh 2 saal baad aap lakhpati banjaayeinge” (If you save five thousand rupees every month, you will be a lakhpati by the end of 2 years).
“Lakhpati kyu? Lakhpatni kyu nahi?”, came a voice. We harmoniously agreed to use a made-up term “Lakhpat”
While smiling away to glory as I replayed the Lakhpat trivia in my head, came another voice – “How can we live on ₹7000? What about our debts?”. At this point, I’d like to mention that one of the things I love about Sarit sir is how he effortlessly conveys the message using the least of words. His answer to all the follow-up questions came back to the earlier suggestion of spending only half the salary with an added “Maan lo ki tum sirf aadha paisa hi kamaa rahe ho” (Start telling yourself that you’re earning only half of your actual salary).
Claims about family having control over women’s money sparked a discussion on independence and one’s rights over their income and assets. Lastly, we touched upon how our money can earn for us while we’re asleep – investments. By the end of the hour, the only mantra on everyone’s mind was “Jo bhi karna hai, aadhe mein se karo”. Sir humorously also threatened to not issue their certificates if the women had less than 1.2 Lakhs in their bank accounts by the end of 2 years. This led us to talking about fraudulent activities in the financial sector.
The entire discussion took me back to the time I struggled to manage my finances and find an investment avenue, to the time I spent more than two months watching YouTube videos, talking to people and reading up with no end in sight. Then came the phase when the overwhelm made me give up and turn a blind eye towards all things money before it reminded me to get back at it. That was how I understood the importance of saving and even more so, investments.
It was not merely about financial literacy. It was about minimalism, gender neutrality, freedom, independence, empowerment and much more – A session that left me with an ocean full of feelings and food for thought.
Carrying these feelings back “home”, I began to think about the world of personal finances. As per a report by RBI (Reserve Bank Of India), financial literacy is at a staggering 24% to 27% in the Indian subcontinent and there is a huge gap between men and women with women on the lower end. One reason for this could be how money management has never been a part of our lives, either in formal education or in informal conversations. Most of us have been oblivious to the existence of personal finances as a concept. If anything, we have been shying away from talking about money.
Another reason could be the initial and on-going overwhelm the financial processes can create. While saving money in a bank account is a lot better than spending all of it, we need to consider the crucial need to be aware of, and understand the pitfalls of just saving as opposed to investing our money. Neither do I intend nor do I have the expertise to talk to you about the technicalities of saving or loaning money, investments or compounding. As a 22 year old who has only begun to earn her own money and is stepping into the world of personal finances, I’m urging you to give it a try – talk to people, read up and consciously think about your money.