Closing the gender pay gap is becoming more and more a matter of concern for women across the world. Women have been protesting against this for many years and the issue is finally in the limelight. Over the years, women have been fighting for many rights but the right to financial freedom. Unfortunately, economic independence is mistaken for financial independence. Many women believe that they have achieved “financial freedom” just because they work. Financial freedom is when you can live your life the way you want and meet all your financial goals. Earning an income is only the start of the journey to financial freedom.
There has been so much written about why women don’t manage money. Apart from all the usual reasons, I believe they don’t do so simply because it is not considered “hep” enough to do so. Women are so clued on to all the latest trends whether it is to do with fashion, gadgets or even health lifestyle. At every event or party I go to, the conversation is inevitably about super foods and intermittent fasting or Pilates.
Being healthy has become a mantra with almost all celebrities showcasing their fitness levels and many products being targeted for the health conscious. However, one does not see any celebrity speaking about financial freedom. A couple of them who did, talked about financial freedom as earning an income and having the ability to buy a house and car and other luxury items. But financial freedom is much more than that.
Financial freedom is just not considered sexy. Being rich is probably more sexy than being financially independent. Financial freedom can be made appealing by emulating the fitness industry.
First, create a financial freedom movement. Just like there is save the environment or stop plastics campaigns or the recent Fit India movement, there needs to be a single goal of financial freedom that needs to be promoted. This is because financial freedom encompasses budgeting, financial planning and eliminating bad behaviour like borrowing too much.
Second, the financial freedom movement needs to be part of Fit India movement. Physical fitness cannot be achieved if one has financial stress. One of the reasons that mental health awareness or marathons have gained so much importance is because of well-known celebrities taking up these causes. Having popular personalities supporting important issues is a great way to build a following for that cause. Due to this, both mental health and marathon have also found good support from employers and this has helped in disseminating the benefits among employees better. Financial well-being needs similar support.
Recently, the regulator had expressed concern on the way investor education programmes are being conducted. Certainly, programmes with hundreds of participants have a limited impact. Instead of focusing only on low-cost funds or direct plans, the regulator should actively push for these sessions to be used to educate individuals on financial planning with the goal of attaining financial freedom. Indians are so stuck on tax planning and this fixation of only planning finances to save taxes needs to be changed to financial independence.
Third, the resources available should be fun and use simple language. Other than reading resources, interactive material needs to be developed. Personal finance is not easy for everybody to understand and information available is generally boring and targeted towards men. Financial services product manufacturers need to create education content and advertisements from a woman’s standpoint. Advertisements intended for women portray women’s needs to be either financial security for family or lifestyle needs. Financial freedom needs to be emphasized over these individual goals.
Unless financial freedom becomes trendy, it will not be widespread among women. Women certainly need to prioritize money management and move away from the archaic beliefs they have on managing finances. Behaviour change is possible, when something comes in vogue. For this, I would urge the prime minister to launch a financial freedom movement for financial wellbeing of women. As Jawaharlal Nehru said, “To awaken the people, it is the woman who must be awakened. Once she is on the move, the family moves, the nation moves.”
Mrin Agarwal is a financial educator, founder director of Finsafe India Pvt. Ltd and co-founder of Womantra