When Jane – the fairest and eldest of the five Bennet sisters – gets engaged to the rich Mr Bingley, her happy father teases her saying that the young couple would ‘always exceed their income’ as they were so generous.
To this remark Jane gives a measured response, “I hope not. Imprudence or thoughtlessness in money matters would be unpardonable in me.”
This minor passage from Jane Austen’s classic novel *Pride and Prejudice* is a peek into a society which believes that women are incapable of managing their finances. Interestingly, this fictional byplay seems to be playing out in real life today on a larger plane – even more than 200 years after this novel got published.
So, today I am asking a question we should have asked 200 years ago – how long till personal finance becomes gender-neutral?
What is Personal Finance?
Simply put, personal finance is all about managing money and everything that comes along with it – bank accounts, credit/debit cards, loans, insurance, schemes, investments, taxes etc. More importantly, it’s about making all the decisions related to your money. Managing your finances requires a basic understanding of money-related matters, for example, how to deposit a cheque, open a bank account or file your tax returns.
You and I both will agree that money forms an integral part of our lives, our dreams, and our hopes. No one knows our dreams and hopes, better than us. Then why put the responsibility of handling our money matter in the hands of our parent, sibling or spouse?
What stops us from managing our finances?
While we focused on looking after our household and family affairs, we didn’t even realise when finances became a man’s forte. Then we started moving out of our houses, taking up jobs, and earning an income. That’s when we felt the need to apply for loans, buy insurance, file our tax returns. However, there are still many of us who cite reasons like looking after children and fulfilling household responsibilities for not handling our finances. This is just one side of the problem.
Another side is the fact that a lot of surveys show that a woman’s attitude towards money matters is different from that of a man’s. For instance, an Australian survey shows that when it comes to saving, women are more proactive than men, even though many among them flounder. Also, a high percentage of women are confident about budgeting and saving money. However, they are less confident about their finances – by a long shot: only 63% of women surveyed say they can invest money, a figure that is much lower than men (75%).
This shakiness over investment has been confirmed by another survey – by insurance firm Prudential in England – that says while women are far less confident about meeting their financial goals, they are also less willing than men to take financial decisions. In fact, the Prudential survey says, they are twice as likely as men to describe themselves as financial “beginners”.
This behaviour gave rise to a lot of myths associated with women and finance today – women are less confident, risk-averse, lack mathematical acumen. Assuming that these myths are not true for all women, a lot of them work in their favour as they make an effort to keep themselves updated, aren’t shy of seeking advice or help, and are more calculative.
Why women should take control of their money?
There are several reasons why we should stop depending on others to manage our finances, and start taking money matters into our own hands – they all boil down to having financial independence. It’s a proven fact that women live longer than men, and if we are unable to manage our finances while our spouses are around, what happens to us when they aren’t? The ability to know where our money comes from and where it goes makes us more aware of how much we are spending and saving. This also makes it easier for us to curb unnecessary expenses if you feel like you are overspending. These insights can be beneficial in our retirement years if our spouses are not around and our children are off building their own futures somewhere else.
Knowing how to budget, invest and manage money not only makes women more financially independent, but much more confident. We learn how to manage our family’s expenses and our knowledge plays an important role in decision-making thereafter. This confidence also makes it possible for women to walk away from an abusive relationship. One in every four women in India are victims of domestic violence. And while India does have a Protection of Women against Domestic Violence Act (2005), not every woman considers using it. Many women choose to stay in abusive relationships, and one of the main reasons for this is their financial dependency on the male partners. They rely on their family to meet all their needs, including basic necessities like food and shelter, which forces them to remain in that violent environment. Being financially independent gives us the confidence and ability to walk out of an abusive home when we need to.
…and there is hope!
Data from Nielsen shows that percentage of Indian women making investments on their own increased from 37% in 2013 to 52% in 2016. Financial institutions like banks, too, are encouraging us to take stock of our finances with their women-specific investment schemes, accounts, credit/debit cards, loans etc.
Having put forth my arguments, I think that this whole issue boils down to one thing – lack of awareness. Had you and I known that finances are such an important part of lives, we would never have handed over our financial baton to anyone else.
But as they say, better late than never. What’s more? You and I are just a few smart financial steps away from making personal finance gender-neutral.
This article was first published on Tomorrow Makers.