In a recent panel discussion, a fellow panellist articulated what we know intuitively. She pointed out that in casual gatherings, while a group of men will eventually move on to talk about the subject of money and even investing, women rarely ever have a casual discussion around making, investing or even saving money.
Personally, I talk and write about money all the time. However, this statement made me think about all those gatherings with my female friends and I realised that my eminent co-panellist was right; women don’t talk about money unless it is to ask about the price of the new pair of shoes or the lovely Kantha saree. Discussions around investments, insurance and budgeting decisions are rare.
What stops us from confidently and openly talking about one of the most important aspects of all our lives? Many women may not be the primary earners in their households, but they are likely to be the ones who understand many aspects of their family’s money life better than their spouses. This happens because women who run their households are very much in touch with aspects of saving, spending and budgeting. It’s not just homemakers who miss out on these conversations, but working women too feel an internal restrain when it comes to having open discussions around money matters with friends and even family.
There is a feeling of ease, in being led, in such conversations rather than being the leader.
The missing piece of the puzzle is not just conversations about money in general but more specifically, conversations around financial security of the family and future financial goals. Conversations not just in casual gatherings, but also conversations with your spouse. These bits are also critical because for all of us, at some stage, current income from active work will reduce to nil and we will have to rely on the passive income our savings are generating (through prudent investments) to fund our lifestyle.
The taboo belief
Be it men or women, Indian or European, there is an innate belief that money is a taboo subject. We don’t talk to our parents about it, neither our children nor our spouses. One of the reasons this belief exists is because money has long been a root cause for too many conflicting issues. Money is status, it is also greed and it is anxiety, it is fear and it is happiness, it is security. In reality, the purpose of money is to be able to buy things that make our life comfortable. Ideally, it does not have a bearing on our individual identities or our capabilities and talents. Nevertheless, over time, money in the context of wealth has gained disproportionate importance in our emotional lives.
Parents believe that children should not be ‘money-minded’. Children themselves ingrain a belief, directly or indirectly, that being rich or having a lot of money is fun. When such ideas start to form the basis of a society, it’s no wonder that money becomes a taboo subject.
The danger in not talking about money is that your mistakes can go unnoticed and these can have a damaging impact on your future financial security. It can even be negative for your financial goals and objectives, your children’s education expenses and your retirement lifestyle expenses.
What is the point of having money conversations?
The importance of money arises when you want to live a comfortable life rather than just survive. For achieving the former objective you have to focus on making most of your money decisions by actually talking about money. The more you talk money, the more familiar you get with the subject and confidence follows. Confidence in money conversations leads to a feeling of being in control. This also can help in understanding others’ perspectives and hence, give you better awareness in decision making.
For example, let’s say you see several advertisements for insurance-linked child savings plans that nudge you to invest in such products for your child’s higher education. You go ahead and do it based solely on glossy advertisements, only to realise 10 years later that your money has barely grown. If instead, you had the confidence to speak to your family or friends or a qualified advisor and even seek their advice you may have arrived at a much more efficient solution for investing towards your child’s higher education expenses.
However, it’s not just the practical matters that can potentially get resolved through conscious money conversations, it’s also the stress and anxiety around the aspect of ‘how much money do you have’, which ease out. With open conversations, you may understand that having more money is not necessarily the path you want to take because it doesn’t guarantee happiness or a stress-free life. Having more money itself may not be an ideal goal, it is the context in which this money can serve your life’s objectives is what money conversations can bring out.
The priority should always be to use money as a tool to achieve your life’s goals rather than a symbol of any emotional satisfaction. Be objective about money and not sensitive. However, this is easier said than done. The emotions attached to or driven by money are multi-fold and practically unavoidable for most of us.
One way to balance your money emotions and gain awareness that can benefit your money decisions is to have open conversations, meaningful conversations around this taboo subject. Ultimately, having consistent, thoughtful and progressive money conversations can be transformational in your life’s journey. Start small if you must, but try harder to overcome the shyness in discussing this overarching resource in all our lives, called money.