Finance Through Generations
The Indian Express, Mumbai Edition, on 2nd September, carried an article on ‘city’s youth live on plastic money, 80% don’t track spend’. The author paints a dismal picture of today’s youth and their financial planning abilities. According to her, a staggering 80% of today’s youth do not track their spending.
They do not bother, as long as their income exceeds their expenditure. Their knowledge about investments, financial security, insurances and savings are abysmally low. The first thing that came to my mind after reading this article was – my father’s accounts diary.
For, as long as I have known, my father has maintained a diary in which he notes down the daily accounts for the household. He and my mother both being government servants, used to get these real solid and good quality diaries from their respective departments. And every month on the 1st, he would sit with his diary, the ‘money box’ and an envelope each from his and my mother’s office, carrying the month’s salaries. He would first note down the income, along with the carry forward from the previous month, then proceed to note down the items that were permanent fixtures in the monthly budget. Milk, newspaper, electricity and gas were some permanent entities.
He would write the appropriate amount beside each, and allocate funds by making neatly labeled bundles of notes for each of them. And once the basic items had been jotted down, other expenditures would gradually find their way into the queue, as and when they are made. Every penny spent would need to be accounted, and my father would not rest until the accounts tallied. So much so, that sometimes he would drive my mother insane, for the poor lady would more often than not forget her expenses in the middle of the hundred things that she had to do. My father wouldn’t leave her unless she recounted every single paisa she spent on a chai or a sari. Only as a last resort, all other unaccounted and insignificant expenses would be grouped together and get labeled as ‘miscellaneous’.
However, miscellaneous was almost a taboo word in our house. God forbid, the miscellaneous amount came to over a 1000. My father might reluctantly wrap up the accounts, but his mind would not rest. Some days, in the middle of the night he would have his eureka moment, having discovered which major expense (read anything over Rs.300) had been missed, and hurry to jot it down in his diary.
Whenever a diary became full, my father would switch to a new one, but would not discard the old one. In doing so, he has accumulated dozens of diaries over the years, and we used to occasionally sift through one of them, exclaiming how low the prizes were in those days (the income was equally less of course).
Even now, after I have left my maternal home and have moved to another city with my husband, my brother is living and working in another country, and my father has retired, he still continues to maintain his diary, noting down every day how much my mom spends on auto (oh yes! She goes by auto nowadays, the days of jostling in a bus are over). Sometimes, we get exasperated with his fanatical obsession with his diary, teasing him that he will even take his diaries to his death-bed. But now, after getting a family for myself and managing the expenses of this family, I see the worth of his actions.
My father, never restricted us by telling us not to spend, but strove to teach us accountability by monitoring what we spend on. By doing that, his goal was that we gain the wisdom to question ourselves, “Is this item really necessary to buy?” Thus, he tried to raise us, as people who were not blindly materialistic, as individuals who did not accumulate for the sake of accumulating, and planned well for the cloudy days that might follow the sunshine.
I don’t know how much of his wisdom has rubbed off on my brother and me, but I can say this – I do not maintain a diary per se, but I keep track of all my expenses in a digital format. My husband and I think over a potential expense at least ten times before we actually go ahead and buy it. And when, little S started getting attracted by the currency notes, the first thing I showed him in it was – Gandhiji.
Reading about the reckless spending habit of the current generation, I really feel we can take a leaf or two out of the book of wisdom of previous generation. For in the current scenario, the lure of brands and peer pressure is so much that it becomes highly impossible for youngsters to curtail their expenses. Add to it the convenience of credit cards, and buying was never this easy. And no, having a debt (credit cards are nothing but debts) is not a taboo anymore.
I may sound a bit old-school, but this haphazard outlook of finances does scare me sometimes, and make me wonder, what kind of a financial legacy are we leaving behind for our children. In the country that boasts of great mathematicians and accountants, today people do not even bother to find out the price of what they are buying (I too am guilty as charged).
I would like to share here a wonderful video that I chanced upon some time ago – One Idiot. It is a bit long, yes, but do take some time to watch it. It has such a hard hitting message. I hope to follow the philosophy described in this video, when time comes to teach my son about his finances. In addition, I will probably send him to his grandpa to learn about his finances. And while doing so, maybe I too will join him for a refresher course in managing expenses.
Yamini is a software professional turned work-at-home-mom. Amidst her domestic responsibilities and a very demanding 2.5 year old son, she snatches time to write academic papers, freelance content, fiction and poetry. Her stories and poetry have been published in various online literary magazines and anthologies by Penguin Books and Cyberwit Publications. Yamini voices her thoughts now and then at http://myexpressionsandme.