Women should be equal partners in money decisions and ownership
I am at the Bengaluru airport getting back from an event. An old friend calls, “Are you in the city?” “Just getting back home, why?” I ask. “No, my wife just came back from your event and is asking me what we do with our money! I’ve been trying to get her interested for decades and it has finally happened!” he said. I had just spoken to a group of over 200 women at the FICCI FLO event in the city on women and money and was really chuffed that the talk was having an effect already.
After dozens of such events, I have a few learnings about what I see are common issues across varied groups of the gender. One, since women tend to hold dual and triple jobs of working both outside and inside the home, with their husbands “helping” out at best (not sharing—notice the difference in the use of words), they are happy to hand over money and its management to the man. Again, notice, how that is the one job he is happy to take over without the usual excuse of I-don’t-do-this-as-well-therefore-you-do-it, or oh-honey-I-forgot-to-take-the-dog-to-the-vet-and-now-I’m-travelling-so-you-do-it. We can call it social conditioning of the household that the man is fully ready to accept this job as his and the woman is absolutely sure that money is not something she understands. The jokes are all about spendthrift women in parties, WhatsApp messages and on social media. But the fact is that women save really well, it is just the transition from saving to investing that they are told they are not good enough to do. But this one job that women give up is the one that is crucial for their financial independence and future.
Two, women give up control, thinking that they will not get cheated, and that they anyway own half the assets even if there is trouble ahead. To the audience of women, I always ask this question: how much of the assets does the woman get in case of a divorce? About three-fourths of women believe that they walk away with half. Wrong. India does not treat assets built during the tenure of a marriage as “common property” and the asset belongs to the person who pays for the asset. Especially for women who do not work outside the home and for those who give up careers to look after the home and kids, it is important to know that women get a “settlement” and a “maintenance” but do not legally have a share in the assets if their names are not on the asset. In many double-income homes, other than tax-saving investments, women may end up looking after household expenses and the man’s income gets freed up to create assets. Again, unless the woman is aware that she needs to have her name as a joint owner, there can be unforeseen shocks ahead.
Three, women think that if they ask about ownership, they will be seen as money-minded and non-trusting. It is true, women are portrayed as gold diggers if they ask about what they will inherit or what is their share of a business or asset. Again, it is social conditioning that makes women hesitant in openly asking for what is theirs, all the jokes are about women cleaning men out during a divorce, but the truth is otherwise. Women need to see the subtext of the story at home—you as an outsider are family when it comes to sharing the work and responsibilities, especially when it comes to elder care. But you are suddenly not family, but a money-minded untrusting outsider when you ask questions about your share of the assets. Ever wondered why women in India have such a big gold fixation? In the absence of financial independence and no hope of being included in the men’s talks on assets, women have traditionally found a way to have some asset support by buying and holding gold. Women are actually smart about their survival and they have chosen gold as their financial lifeline. However, the biggest risk is faced by women who have given up the gold fixation but are yet to on-board financial assets for themselves.
What should we do, our homes are not open to the idea of us getting included in this part of the home at all, they ask. It leads to stress. There are already so many minefields in the home, that to open this conversation is daunting, they share. My answer always is that the idea is not to break up a home. The idea is not to create more stress. The idea is to begin asking questions. And then not stop asking. In the process, getting educated and empowering yourself with some basics. And then going on indicating that this is the one non-negotiable aspect of the marriage—that you want to be equal partners in money decisions and ownership. For women who work outside the home as well, find some other job that the men will take over but do make money a regular part of your dinner table conversations. Having a financial planner is a great idea since now there is a third person involved in the money talk. Find out who your friends are working with and begin your journey with what you earn at least. Most of the times, men will see the practical sense of this route to outsourcing money management and come on board.
Women’s day 2020 will have the usual events and hype. Use this day to begin your own journey towards financial empowerment.
This article first appeared on livemint.com Published here for our readers.