How we learnt to spend and save
What will you do with all this money you save every month,” he would ask me regularly. This would usually coincide with me scrutinizing a restaurant bill carefully after we had been on a date together.
“It is for my children’s school fees,” I would answer without pause.
It was an exchange that never failed to amuse my husband before we were married. We were both working hard, travelling frequently and always busy—but I was the one who earned a big fat salary for my efforts. He was still seeking, wandering, dabbling. Doing everything that came his way without a worry.
My brother put a finger on this difference between him and me before I did.
“Property,” he said by way of explanation. “People like you and me—children of middle-class, salary-dependent families—follow the higher education and stable job route to financial security. Those from the land-owning class make creative, unusual, meandering choices—because they always have a fall-back option.”
When we got married, we discovered that we did have one thing in common. We both disliked talking and worrying about money. Both of us had childhood memories of stress in our families and tension between our parents over money, or the insufficiency of it. In our own home, we were determined to not make money an extra member of the family—the one that couples are always talking about behind its back.
Yet, in practice, it seemed that we had taken lifestyle decisions that seemed to be on opposite sides of the spectrum. I saved, I stashed, I put money away and he spent, he lost and got rid of any money he had. Which was funny till we got married.
He thought my extreme saving spree was neurotic and I was sure that his extravagance was over the top. He didn’t seem to value the sense of identity and security I got from my job and I struggled to answer people when I was asked what my husband really does.
We found great solace in shared jokes. While balancing our accounts one day, in our early years, I remarked that if he wound up his business ventures entirely, our net family income would increase. We would save the money he was spending on his commute, office rent and staff salaries. Since he would be free to drive my car, we would save even more. Plus we would have more couple-time together.
I’m not sure why he loved this proposition so much, but he hasn’t stopped repeating it to a contagion of shocked family elders ever since.
“Natasha says that if I shut down my businesses and start driving her car instead, we will be better off financially.”
To be honest, I thoroughly enjoyed the fruits of his extravagant plans—the holidays abroad, the furniture shopping and the building of our home in our 30s. I learnt to spend money on myself to keep up with him. It felt good.
I also learnt to hide my money from him in envelopes stashed between clothes. It was the only money we lost when our home was burgled. It didn’t feel so good.
It was a teachable moment. Why had we begun to keep things from each other, any way? It was okay to not be convinced by the other’s rationale. I didn’t have to pretend to agree with him and then feel that I had to cover the tracks of my real decisions.
Thankfully we had children really quickly. We were distracted from each other soon enough. We finally had common goals.
Over the years, we learnt to pool our resources and find a balance that we are both comfortable with. I acquired the psychological strength to quit my job and say goodbye to my salary, in return for personal growth and autonomy. He discovered the virtues of planning finances. We took loans and we returned them. We borrowed from our parents. We invested and we spent. We re-designed holidays. We kept a diary with handwritten monthly accounts and dedicated its back pages to financial goals. We revisit those goals and reset our expectations regularly. Sometimes it is all very funny all over again.
When all three of our children were in school, the administration offered a scheme where we could pay the collective fees for all their school years in advance and then receive all of the principal amount back when they would leave school.
He was unconvinced. I was convinced.
I withdrew from the savings I had made as a single, working woman and paid the fees for all three children for all the rest of their remaining school years in one go. The time had come for my husband to be impressed with my foresight and financial prowess.
“This is what I wanted to do with the money I saved every month.” Years later, I was finally able to show what I meant to the man I was in love with.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker, media trainer and author of the book My Daughters’ Mum.
She tweets at @natashabadhwar