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Work, marriage, kids, men-is there anything that we women don’t discuss with our girl gang or BFF? Turns out there is: the big M-money. Find out why women don’t talk seriously about money and how changing this is the crucial first step to financial independence.

“She never handled her money herself”

Aarti realized this when she was discussing her close friend’s impending divorce. In all the things that flowed out of the conversation, Aarti figured that her friend had never managed money independently. Even more surprising to her was that in the many years of friendship, her friend never discussed money matters with her. Aarti Shyamsunder is a Mumbai-based entrepreneur, consulting in organisational psychology.

This is not just the story of Aarti’s friend, nor an isolated case. Money is a complicated subject to discuss. How we handle money, how much we have, are things we hesitate to discuss fearing judgement. This is a common fear across genders.

Women don’t talk money

The problem of not discussing among peers gets compounded with women. We earn much lesser than men (gender pay imparity is no longer a secret) and we own money much lesser than men. In general, the idea that finances are our domain is relatively new for us and discussing investments only seems that much rarer.

According to a Fidelity Study conducted in the United States in 2015, about 80% of the respondents, four in five women, at some point, refrained from talking about their finances to those they are close with. Some of the reasons stated were;

  • I was raised to not talk about money
  • I don’t know or understand money enough to talk about it intelligently
  • It never comes up
  • It is taboo

The hesitation to talk money is beyond just friends and family. Nearly 50% of the women in the survey had investments with private investment companies but had not spoken to a representative there.

But why does it matter that women don’t discuss money?

In the larger picture, the part of the hesitation in not talking about money is the belief that financial planning is not a woman’s domain. What we cannot talk about, we cannot learn. If women want to close the financial literacy gap (which is a big reason women do not venture into investing), talking about money is where we can kick-start our journey to financial independence.

Interestingly, while women don’t discuss money to others in general, we speak even lesser about it with our girlfriends. Yes, we are open about savings, kicked about getting a good bargain and maybe manage even day-to-day budgets. But do we discuss the money management of the long term with our female peers?

Jincy Varghese is a 32-year-old Mumbai-based techie and an activist. “I discuss money and investments only to learn. While I feel sorry about it, I trust advice coming from men more than women because I find them more experienced in investing than women. But I still talk money with women because I relate to women better than men,” she says.

Jincy works towards creating awareness amongst new mothers about the goodness of breast milk. Jincy manages her own investments after taking advice from her male colleagues and relatives.

Think about it, if women don’t receive formal education on personal finance in school neither do men. Today resources are open and available to all, especially for the internet savvy urban Indian professional woman. Then why is it that our male peers, seemingly have a better grasp on financial management?

How she did it

Today more than ever, women are conscious of the need to manage their own money. Let’s look at how some women have dealt with discussing money and how it helped them.

For Ghaziabad-based Professor Seema Mishra, discussing money is not just about learning but ‘a way of life.’ Seema heads a management institute and works towards the financial inclusion of women in the banking sector by creating awareness about the same. She indulges in discussions with her sister and her cousins about their financial issues and nudges them to do the right thing by taking control of their finances.

Besides her family members, she has a small group of women with whom she often talks about the money problems they face in their lives and new schemes in the market. “I also make it a point to discuss the importance of handling our own money to my students as well,” says Mishra.

Aarti Shyamsunder has a group of close friends who mindfully open up to each other about money and investments. To help their friend through a divorce, the group discussed with her the importance of earning, spending, saving and investing. Today the friend is still ironing out her divorce, but is already into her second job and much better equipped to handle her money.

“Our discussions empowered her,” Aarti adds.

Aarti’s own money is managed by a personal finance advisor who is a woman. “I met her at a conference, she spoke about the importance of investing, I was at that time transitioning from a full-time job to my current consulting work. I had to plan my finances well to be able to sail through the drier months,” she explains.

How to start speaking up

The benefits of peer-to-peer learning as an effective form has been well established. Applying this to money management can open doors to new opportunities and learning. So, here are a few suggestions to start discussing money among your peers:

  1. Open-mindedness: Starting money discussions, can be tricky. Start with your own story. This puts the other person at ease, helps to establish trust. If you want to make any meaningful contribution to other people’s financial lives (and by mutual help your own too), it is important, to be honest, and open.
  2. The money-also friend: Our go-to gals with whom we discuss everything in our life such as emotional problems, sex, shopping and relationship issues can be very resourceful. But instead of keeping the topic of money out, explore the possibility of learning together. Broach the subject with some sensitivity to check if they are open to discussing. They may not open up fully initially, so start with a small goal. Look for a window of opportunity, and make an entry to discuss money. It will be a slow and uphill task, but it could turn out to be a mutually beneficial journey.
  3. Find your own guru: I am sure we all know of that one friend who is smart at managing investments. Find out if you can start talking to her about your own investing habits and mistakes and if you can better them. If you both have a common friend who is close, involve her in the discussion.
  4. Explore communities: There are many local community groups that discuss money management, online and offline. We, at Basis, actively run a space dedicated to women and personal finance, find out about it here. Get on such groups to see what is happening and what are the latest topics of your financial concerns.

“Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – Francis of Assisi

 

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