Home / Money / Personal Finance /  Opinion | Decode the secret mantra of money to find balance in life

The way we think about the future reflects the stories that decode our past and the present. Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s in India makes our generation risk averse and overprotective about the future. In a supply and opportunity starved post-Nehruvian world, we learnt from our parents that there was no space for errors with your job or risk with your money, and unless you lived frugally and planned hard for the future, your sons would not join the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and your daughters would not have the wedding that your social standing mandated. We stepped into a different world where opportunity blossomed post 1991—of course, the right convent accent and education were quick facilitators—and the overall less slowly gave way to overall more. And then those born after the millennium change have a totally different world view. Risk appetites are higher for trying out new professions, the we-own-the-world swagger obvious as is a disdain for the future and for those who plan for it. This disdain, rooted in the current stories of plenty but a future discourse of climate change that predict a dystopian near future and the bad stories around their married peers, make them reluctant to think about future finances or marriages. In the not so long run we are all dead, they seem to say, why then think about the future or plan for it?

The two different worlds that two different generations live in concurrently would do well to meet in the middle and that meeting may just show us the secret money mantra that we seek—of the choice between today and tomorrow. One generation focused far too tightly on the future and the other is looking only at today. Both have outcomes that they may not be happy with. We all have stories of perfectly healthy people in their 30s, 40s, 50s who lived conservative lives without abusing their bodies but then died suddenly in a crash or cancer or got bitten by a mosquito. And there are stories of people who really abuse their bodies with drink, tobacco and excessive food, but happily live on past the national average age of longevity.

It is but a step from health stories to money ones and you would have heard the one about the miser who counted every rupee, hid the wealth from his family, lived a pathetic, deprived life and died with crores unspent in the bank. Or about the person who changed furniture, gadgets and looks every two years and then contemplated jumping in front of the metro when debts mounted and income dried out. He forgot to save because there was no future in his world. Who we choose to be then depends on what stories about the past and future we want to believe. The choices of “fun" today versus health tomorrow find a quick parallel in our money lives—do we focus so tightly on the future that we forget to live today or do we live month to month and believe that any way we are all dead soon?

The mystery that we need to solve is this: how do you live each day knowing that it could be your last, but preparing all the while to live till 90? It does sound morbid, but if we take away the taboos and emotions about death and see it as just another possibility in the spectrum of events that can happen in a day, choices we make become easier. Whether it is about the people in your life and how you respond to them, or about the lifestyle choices you make or the money life that you choose to have, the two possible outcomes every day—of living or not living—makes you take ownership of the decisions you take—about health, relationships and money. It is useful to find a balance between these possible outcomes and do a mix of today and tomorrow. The money mantra then is not a stock tip or five mutual funds to buy, but it is about finding your balance between living today and planning to live well into the future. The good thing about this money mantra is that its magic works in all the other parts of your life as well—health, relationships and work.

Monika Halan is consulting editor at Mint and writes on household finance, policy and regulation

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