Why I Think Every Woman Should Be Financially Independent
I earned my first rupee when I was still in primary school. It came from having no pocket money and a whopping collection of books. I created a home library, where I carefully catalogued the books and lent them out to other kids for princely sums of 10 paise per comic book and 25 paise for a proper paperback/hardbound book, for a week. And yes, I’d factored in late-return fines as well. The model worked pretty well, and my natural parsimoniousness and burgeoning entrepreneurship made the library a hit in the one-horse suburb's public bank staff quarters, where parents thought buying their kids books was an indulgence best done without.
This was startup entrepreneurship before startups became the hot stuff they are today, and the money I earned from running the library kept me on phantom cigarettes, pepsi-colas (not the carbonated stuff you get these days, but flavoured ice-water packed in transparent plastic tubes) and gold coin chocolates. I had then tasted, if you please, at age seven, the pleasures of earning my own money and not being answerable to anyone as to how I chose to spend it.
My entrepreneurial bug was on permanent itch since. I became the de facto agent for IYF, a penpal matching outfit based in a Scandinavian country--this in the pre-internet era--where I collected the application fee plus commission from school mates to do the documentation, and the thankless job of visiting the post office, standing in queue and posting it.
A little later, by grade nine and 10, I began scouting around export-surplus streets, picking up clothes at discounts on the already cheap rate by begging and pleading, and would sell them to friends in school and the building at a decent mark-up. In college, I was giving tuitions to younger kids and earning my pocket money. I began working when I was 19. I’d always earned my keep.
And then, I had my baby. By this time, I’d been a journalist, quit to start my own content supply firm, closed that when the first dot-com bubble exploded rather nastily, and started an advertising boutique firm with the hubby where I handled the creative side of the business, and continue freelance writing and editing industry-specific magazines.
When the baby came along, work-life balance went for a toss in the initial years. I did have wonderful support at home with my mother-in-law to watch the baby, but getting back to full-time work was impossible, because it was tiring for an ageing person to take care of a hyperactive baby who insisted on scooting all over the place all the time. I did continue work, writing the occasional freelance article, but those were few and far between, and the payments delayed for months; and when they came, puny enough to be laughable. For those years, I was completely dependent financially on the spouse.
For someone who was used to earning her own money all her life, these years were a trifle tough. As the child grew, and freed up more time for me as he went into nursery and then big school, I upped my working hours: Working freelance, but there was an income, humble as it was, and it was mine. It made me a happier person to have around when I had money in the account that was mine to spend with zero guilt. But having said this, I acknowledge that I had the luxury of choice, something that most women in similar situations don’t.
Here are some reasons why women should try to be financially independent:
First, there is the big picture. Women who are financially independent also give back to society and the country, and are meaningful contributors to the growth of the nation and in nation-building.
It helps you establish an independent credit rating, which always comes in handy if ever you need it. If your partner is lousy at managing finances, it forces you to take control of your own income so you can save and spend as you feel is appropriate.
Given average life expectancy, most women will outlive their husbands. It helps to have an independent income and the knowledge of how to handle your income and finances, so you can manage if this does happen with you. Most women are compelled to scale down their lifestyles and their living circumstances when their husbands pass away, and some might slip into poverty with one major illness post that. It always makes fiscal sense to earn your own money, and save enough to keep you afloat if such circumstances do arise.
And, of course, financial independence gives you, as a woman, bargaining power in your own life. You choose to have the controls of your own life in your hands if you can be financially independent.
Here’s why I feel every woman should, in some way, try to be as financially independent as possible.
a) Life is uncertain. You never know what could happen tomorrow. While the worst may never happen, touch wood, the what-ifs can be devastating. What would help you if you ever do find yourself in an unfortunate situation is knowing that you could meet your daily expenses if you had to.
b) Meeting the rising cost of living is difficult, especially if you have more than one child. A dual-income family does have a slight edge in that it could afford a better quality of living.
c) To give yourself a sense of self-worth. Earning your own income is empowering, and allows you the dignity of choice if you are ever stuck in an abusive or unhappy marriage.
d) Earning your own money lets you spend it the way you choose, without needing to ask or explain yourself. That in itself makes it worth it.
e) And last but not the least, being a financially independent woman is being a great role-model for your daughter, if you have one. And for your son, who will understand the pressures of a working woman when he does grow up and find his own life partner.
So, are you financially independent yet? Do you want to get financially independent? What are you doing to get there?