In the last couple of years, we have featured a few people in our Finwise Person series on International Women’s Day, giving you a sneak-peek into their approach to money. As part of our financial planning practice and even otherwise, we have had deep conversations with quite a few people on how they manage their finances. What stands out from our experiences is two things.
One, while many have managed to put themselves in line for a financially-secure future, only a few were necessarily financially aware or savvy from the word go. Most of them learnt along the way, from parents, peers or other personal experiences, to craft a path towards a financially-secure future for themselves.
Second, while many have got on this path, by design or by default, most are still playing catch-up, and only some have managed to get ahead in the journey towards financial security. Through adequate and diligent planning, they have secured their futures, outsourced their risks, and made provisions for estate planning too.
Our featured Finwise People have generally managed to clear both the above filters – gaining awareness as well as taking necessary actions to secure their futures. It is also interesting to understand how they traversed this journey, and our previous story on Mrs M did just that.
We are today featuring a detailed sketch on another Finwise person, and it is only a coincidence that this is also a woman, it could also be a Finwise man or a family, hopefully soon. This time we feature Uma Vinay Gathani, an entrepreneur, who is 58 years old. She is financially savvy and has managed to secure her future as well as generously support her kith and kin who have not been as fortunate or well planned.
If you are thinking many people would tick these boxes, think again. While the number of people who do so are few, they are significant, and we would love to cover all of them. We understand though that not everyone is comfortable discussing their journey with unknown people, and we are very grateful to Mrs M and Uma who agreed to share their personal stories. The purpose of sharing these journeys is to encourage and motivate more people to take active interest in their finances and embark on their journey towards financial fulfilment.
We go back to the beginning to understand what Uma’s earliest experiences were. We have noticed this could have a significant influence in the way we deal with money in our lives. She is the youngest among 5 daughters and was born and brought up in a well-to-do family. Her father was money wise and took it upon himself to provide financial security for all his daughters.
When she was young, she gathered that while her father did reasonably well for himself, he had many obligations and too many people to think of and hence was not very good with investing his money and prioritizing his own future needs. As a child she remembers her house was always filled with guests, some close relatives and some acquaintances. Her father was generous and took it upon himself to help people as much as he could and her mother was a warm, kind, and hospitable person making every visitor feel totally at home. She does not remember even one instance where her parents expressed any regret for not having any male child or dissuaded either her or her sisters from doing anything due to their gender.
When she was all of 17, she was pursuing her graduation and her college timings left her with a lot of free time. When an opportunity came her way to take up a job, from 11 to 5 (she was done with college by 10 am), her parents gave her their blessing and were happy that she was occupied doing something productive. Her first job meant she had a salary and she could do exactly as she pleased with her money. She spent most of her money on eating outside and some small indulgences on top of it. Her mother encouraged her to travel comfortably and even paid for first class train tickets. The job was never about income for her or her parents.
Her earliest experience with savings was a local reputed chit fund, enrolled by her father in her name, and when she eventually completed her graduation and took up a job which paid better, she decided to start contributing towards the same. She did not have any pressing need to start saving, her only objective was to fend for herself and not become another responsibility for her father who already had plenty of people to worry about. While she started small, she was consistent with her savings right from when she started earning.
She married into a Gujarati family young and was fortunate to have supportive in-laws who encouraged her to continue to pursue her career after her marriage. When she had a daughter, she was able to continue her career without a break, thanks largely to her mother and mother-in-law who supported her by taking care of her daughter in her absence. With new responsibilities, she started an RD and invested in FDs whenever she had a surplus, while she continued with her chit fund.
Her first foray into building assets was buying a house, which came naturally to her as she had seen her father attach a lot of importance to real estate as an asset. She was clear in pointing out that she did not have any plan, and never thought of retirement or savings. She believed in enjoying her now, and in her early days would often deplete her entire financial savings to splurge on a vacation or something which took her fancy. She also said that earlier she had no concept of emergency fund or saving up for daughter etc. When quizzed if she would do things differently were she given a chance to live her life again she said and instantaneous, emphatic “No”, her retort was “we made some beautiful memories and if I were to do it all over again, I would do the same”. That said, she strongly feels that savings should begin early, and one should be consistent to be able to enjoy one’s sunset years with-out any stress.
Her only form of savings was real estate since she purchased her parental home from her mother and since she was busy paying it off, she did not have much to invest in any other asset. When she realized she had to move beyond real estate, she decided to diversify by investing in stocks. Unlike now, nothing was digital, and she had to depend on a broker, she realised that she would have to outsource this to someone else since she did not have the knowledge, the time or inclination to manage investing on her own.
Some of her initial experiences were bad and she lost a large sum, when she trusted someone to handle her stock portfolio, and leave aside appreciation, she lost even the entire capital invested. That is when she decided to stick to simpler products which she understood. She started out with mutual funds by making a small beginning around 10 years back. She kept investing consistently and was able to diversify her portfolio.
While she is not a great believer in having a plan and sticking to it, she has a nose to sniff out risks and stays out of complicated products. She is able to sleep sound at night knowing that she is doing her best to ensure her lifestyle is not compromised post retirement. When asked why she was generous in helping others, she said it is the dual effect of genetics inherited from her father and a husband who believed that money is only a means not an end.
When we look back at her journey what strikes me is even though she may not have had a written-down plan which she followed meticulously, she was mindful of the fact that there will be a tomorrow where she may not be able to generate an income, and she was diligent in stashing away something for the future.
Her choice of assets have evolved with time, and it is smart to start with something you are familiar with and then look out for other options. She quickly realised that having all eggs in one basket, in this case real estate, was not desirable and hence diversified into financial assets.
Importantly, most people would be deterred by an initial setback, but she was able to look it in the eye and continue on her financial savings and wealth-building journey, by ensuring that now she relied on someone dependable but continuing with the process of investing.
She has also been prudent to ensure her risks were outsourced and she had sufficient insurance to cover any contingency. And despite having an only child with clear succession, she has embarked upon making a will and tying all the loose ends together.
All in all, this insight into the life of someone who has managed to take active interest in her financial wellbeing, recognise her limitations, persevere even when she was let down and make best use of the resources available to her, makes for fascinating reading, as well as inspiration for others who are traversing the same path, towards financial security and well-being.
And this can also be comforting for someone who has not yet given a serious thought to getting his or her financial life sorted. Because, it is never too late, and a few years of consistent savings and focus can make a world of difference.
Finwise is a personal finance solutions firm that helps both NRI and resident individuals and families plan for their financial goals, follow their passions and achieve financial independence.
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