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What does money mean?

A person who has sound investment knowledge but is bad with money can fall by the way side. Live with good money habits, and you will do well in life

When I was a little boy, a few extra coins in my pocket made me feel rich, as I could buy an ice cream not just for me but for my friends as well. During my teenage years, important financial needs included movie tickets, birthday parties and chai-samosa at the cafe round the corner. Insurance against financial contingencies came in the form of friends who would pick up the bill without mouthing “dutch".

As I grew older, financial needs grew too. Thrill rides on motor bikes needed money beyond monthly budgets; impulsive road trips with friends needed cash that conservative parents would not fund. Here, too, insurance helped; there is always someone who would pitch in when my wallet went empty. One for all, and all for one—ironically, friendship and insurance had the same rules.

Then there was my first dream job in a big company with a fat pay cheque and many allowances; but it didn’t make me feel rich at all. Inevitably, I was mostly broke by the last week of every month. Critical financial needs did arise, but my office picked up all the bills. Vehicle loans, company-leased flats, all-expenses paid medical covers gave me true insurance without paying premium. Therefore, my fiscal discipline didn’t improved as I hopped from one job to another, each for a higher pay but without savings. As domesticity settled in and expenses grew causing wider budget deficits, I realised that the best financial security plan for me was to create assets that take the form of expenses. Home loan equated monthly instalments, life insurance premiums, provident fund contributions made things steady, as what was I was left with, is what I learnt to live with.

But I still hadn’t answered the question: what does money actually mean? It is a feeling of security. At a young age, friends add to the list as the main insurance providers, until one day you realise you have crossed your 30s and you find that your money is yours, and their money is theirs, and family no longer means a lender of first resort but a financial responsibility. You also realise that money is not just for spending—it is to save, invest, and accumulate against a future need.

I was lucky to some extent. I rode the soft curve of the benign phase of liberalisation with fewer upheavals; I survived and somewhat succeeded too. But there were people, perhaps, more capable than I, who did not find the going easy. Recession hit some of them hard.

Whatever be the circumstances, are we prepared to survive through tough times?

The ones who are troubled the most by money are those in the mid-zone of affluence. The middle order lacks the resilience of the blue-collar worker to adapt, or the cash cushion of the upper-class. The combined crush of imperfect economics and disruptive technology could create career upheavals beyond what we witnessed during in the subprime crisis. Added to the risks are the resistant lifestyles that refuse to scale down even in the face of financial adversity. Do we have insurance against such contingencies?

I cannot propose a sure-shot, safe route to avoid future shocks associated with personal money. The flow of money is never steady in anyone’s life. But the wise thing to do is that when the flow is good, divert it to safe reservoirs that can quench dry days—long-term savings plans that earn steady returns, and block easy exits.

Further, a disciplined and a conservative approach to investments yields better long-term results than chasing fancy tips on ‘glamorous’ options.

A person who has sound investment knowledge but is bad with money can fall by the way side. Live with good money habits, and you will do well in life.

P. Nandagopal, founder and mentor, OpenWorld Money, a digital financial planning platform for money solutions

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