by Preya Pandya
What do you value?
I have my wardrobe filled with sarees. Sarees that I have collected over the years. I have bought some, many have come as gifts and a majority handed over by my mother. And I treasure each of these sarees, regardless of how old they are or the number of times I have worn them. They might have very old designs and of course, might be completely out of fashion, but I still have them and still wear them. And when I do wear them, I try to find a picture of me wearing the same saree many years ago and compare it with a current picture, in the same saree! I also send these collages to my family and friends, as it triggers thoughts of an event where I had worn that saree earlier, or a person who had gifted it to me.
Recently, when I shared such a collage picture on a friends’ WhatsApp group, I was asked — “Do you not get bored of wearing the same saree so many times?”. Of course not. They have an emotional value attached. The friend then continued — “ I don’t wear a saree more than two times!”. She wears sarees only to special occasions and hence, has only the higher priced sarees in the wardrobe. She wears them very rarely and because of the self imposed rule of not wearing them more than two times, she buys new sarees every time she has to grace an occasion. Thus, she has a very large pile of sarees in the wardrobe that will probably never get worn, and she does not know what to do with them. On asking why she would not repeat the saree, the response was that she would end up being the only person not flaunting the latest designs and might get scoffed at.
We already spoke about Being ourselves in my last NeerSpires article. In that article, we explored the reasons why we try to fit in amongst our peers and others. The friend that I spoke about earlier, was also trying to fit in among the rest of the attendees of the events that she went to. However, there is a larger question to be answered here. What was she valuing more — her life or her lifestyle? Also, what was she valuing in her peers and friends — their life or their lifestyle?
I recollect this statement made by my friend, Jacintha Jayachandran at a talk that she delivered for Aspire For Her where a 21 year old told her — “I am worried about financials’’. She responded — “Financials are very important, especially for girls. But don’t make it about Lifestyle, make it about Life”.
I learnt the lesson about life and lifestyle from my mother when I started working at the age of 21. While we should not discuss one’s salary on a public medium, to make you understand how I learnt this most important lesson in my life, I will disclose my first salary! It was 1992 and I received a stipend of Rs. 1500/- per month as part of the contract assignment I had got for 3 months. I was studying at NIIT along with working on the contract assignment, and hence had enough expenses to take care of. My mother insisted that I save Rs. 500/- and allowed me only Rs. 1000/- for managing my expenses of the entire month. Well, I managed! The contract was further extended for 3 months and this time, the stipend was increased to Rs. 2500/-. While I was elated by the jump in the stipend by 66%, I was all the more thrilled with the fact that I would now have Rs. 2000/- to take care of my expenses every month(and I could also spend on some of my “wants” beyond the monthly “needs”). But, the joy was short lived. My mother asked me to save Rs. 1000/- from that month. Her logic was that even after contributing a larger portion of my stipend towards saving, I still was going to have more money to spend on myself than the previous month. So instead of complaining, I must be happy and learn to manage within that. That set the ground rules for me to understand the importance of Finances, Savings and Investments. But more importantly, this taught me the need to live a good life and not to flaunt a lifestyle.
Is there a right age for one to learn this lesson? Is it only when one starts earning for themselves?
I believe that everything must start young. When my daughter, Sneha Ganesh was in the 2nd standard, she came back from school one day and said she wanted Rs.300/-(this was in the year 2009). Apparently, they were going to conduct some exams in school (3 exams to be specific, each exam costing Rs. 100/- to be spent on the exam fees and practice papers). All the students were going to be writing these exams and she also wanted to. Well, me being the kind of person who has to know everything about everything before committing to something, I decided to google about these exams. These were the famous Olympiads, and I realised that one needs to do a lot of practice and preparation to be able to do well in this exam. So, I told her that it would be wise for her to write one of the three exams, as it was the first time she was doing it. She agreed and it was decided that she would write the Math exam. Between July and January next year when the exam happened, I made her practice every day for 30 mins. Not a single holiday was spared! She wrote the exam and got the 21st rank in the school!
When the same exams were announced the next year, she came to me asking which subjects she should be writing. That year, I suggested that she write Cyber(Computers) and Math because 50% of the Cyber paper had Math problems, which she would anyway be practicing for. And I gave her Rs.200/- to participate in the two exams. The routine for practice remained the same: 30–60 mins every day.
By the time she came to the 5th standard, she was on her own for this practice with very little intervention from me. In the 5th standard, I told her that she might want to write the Science paper also since I felt that the syllabus was anyways what was being covered at school. I even suggested to her that she need not put in a whole lot of practice effort for Science, but write the exam just to see how she fared. Her response stumped me. She said — “I would rather spend the Rs. 200/- on something more valuable and on something that is of interest to me, than just go and write the exam without any practice” (By that year, the exam fees, including the practice booklet, had gone to Rs. 200/- per subject ). How did a child who wanted me to pay up Rs. 300/- because her peers were doing so, change her thought process within 3 years to value not only the money, but also the effort that she needs to put in to write the exam. Hence deciding that she would spend both the money and the time towards something which she was genuinely interested in and would be of value to her (not because someone was giving the money or the rest of her peers were doing it).
So, it’s never too early to think of the question — “Are you after a meaningful life or just a lifestyle to match the people around you?”.
Financial planning is very important, to meet life’s goals. It helps you control your income, expenses and investments. It also gives you peace of mind. But the peace of mind can only be attained by living life to fulfil your own necessities! When you impose the need to fit into others’ perceptions of a good life, the peace of mind will be destroyed even if you are earning a fat salary.
As Thomas Leonard said —
“A lifestyle is what you pay for; a life is what pays you.”
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