Money grows on trees

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  1. The OG
  2. Two Peas in a Pod

The road leading up to our house has always been dusty, the kind that leaves a cloud of dirt in the air every time a car zooms by. This road, which is about half a kilometre long, used to connect our house to that of my aunt’s. Back when I was a school-going kid, it was a landmine of things that can distract a child.

There was a stationary shop that doubled down as a gift store at the corner of the road. Opposite this stationary store was a rickshaw stand, where a string of rickshaws would be waiting for a customer to hitch a ride. A few steps down the road was a grocery shop, which displayed its collection of chips and chocolates by its entrance.

My mother undertook her most tedious journey of the day on this very road. After school every day, my aunt would babysit me until my mother picked me up in the evening on her way back from work. Every day, I came up with innovative methods of throwing tantrums as my mother and I readied ourselves to go back home.

Some days, I would insist on taking a rickshaw to our home (which, mind you, was only half a kilometre away) because my tiny child legs were too bored to walk. Other days, I wanted something from the nearby stationary shop, perhaps a new pen or some crayons. And, on days I was feeling particularly bizarre, I would insist that my mother buy me something from the grocery shop, mostly a chocolate. The last tantrum in particular always amazed my mother, because I hated chocolate and even a whiff of it would make me gag.

While I coped with my unfulfilled requests, the dusty road was my trusted friend. I would routinely plop down on this dusty road in the hope that I could embarrass my mother into caving into my demands. My mother’s resolve, however, was made of steel. She would walk off, almost to say this child does not belong to me. She would stop at a distance, turn around and almost dare me to let her keep walking and abandon me. That look was enough to send chills down my spine so I would catch up to her, defeated and red in the face. In a last ditch attempt, I would cry again to my mother in the hopes that she would realise this was a matter of life and death.

She would give me her signature frustrated look and say, “Paise kay jhadavar ugtat ka ga? Chal guppa ghari! (Do you think money grows on trees? Behave until we reach home!).

The OG

I don’t remember the exact moment I started levitating towards finance. But, now when I think about it, it almost seems like I always knew I would make a career working in finance, despite the fact that I was never particularly fond of the subject. It was also most unfortunate that I had an aptitude for it, so the concept of ‘I am not built for this’ rarely ever got in the way.

It was 2010, and I was just starting out as a young reporter covering the financial markets and policy. It was probably as nerve wracking as it was thrilling being in the newsroom at the young age of 20. I had started out work while the world was yet to find its path of recovery from a global recession. From the volatile foreign exchange to a rather dull government securities market, I wrote on the whole gamut. While I was learning the ropes of the financial world globally, I was barely giving my own finances a second thought.

The financial independence was quite exhilarating. Quite unsurprisingly, only a small amount of my income went into savings and the rest was pretty much spent on feeding the whims and fancies of the month. Another unsurprising fact — Mac, my money manager, detested my spending habits because they went against every advice he ever gave me. For the last 12 years, my money manager has remained constant and so has our monthly squabble over my money habits. But, I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind the story to what shaped Mac’s psychology on all things money.

Last of 12 children, Mac was born in the quaint town of Mahad, Konkan, Maharashtra. Mac came from a family with conservative means, which meant most things never came easy. He relied on handed down books, and clothes from his siblings.

When he was a young boy, ambitions were in short supply in Mahad and most people craved simple living over the hustle and bustle of the big city. But, Mac was always a bit unusual. Mac wanted to learn English, preferred reading to playing with the neighbourhood kids and had an early interest in finance. He self-taught English and earned a major in Economics-Psychology. He moved to Mumbai to pursue Law and joined as a cashier in the country’s largest bank at a meagre salary of Rs.500. This marked the beginning of his love affair with banking, for which he would soon ditch his first love, law.

From a cashier then, to now becoming a wealth manager and a credit consultant to banks, Mac has certainly come a long way. When he started out in his career, his philosophy of money was fairly straightforward — he never wanted money to be an object in life. His psychology of money, however, is not that cut and dry. If anything, it is bit of a paradox. Having grown up in a poor family, he naturally has been a conservationist. But, he is also the most pro-risk person I have encountered in his generation. At 66 years of age, Mac actively manages an equity portfolio, dabbles in the options market, and loves studying fundamentals of companies to assess their suitability for an investment. The last time we spoke about money, he was evaluating if he has the risk appetite to invest in cryptocurrencies. He eventually decided he was anti-crypto because they aren’t guided by any fundamentals. There are too many things Mac knows about personal finance and his want to learn is boundless.

It is probably also significant to mention that Mac is also my father.

Two Peas in a Pod

My father could not have found a better partner. My mother too came from conservative means. So, there was always consensus on one thing — avoiding unnecessary expenses. Each expense often underwent keen scrutiny and unless there was a compelling reason, the money went into the family portfolio.

My parents had decoded the recipe to success — education. There were no shortcuts, and only learning more each day could make the climb easier and possible. Besides happiness and all things nice, they had only one aspiration for both their children — they earn enough to never want for anything. Nothing was compulsory in our household, but it was starkly clear that both my brother and I had to earn at least a Master’s degree, if not more. They were single-mindedly focussed on ensuring we learn and educate ourselves to the best of our capabilities.

They also adopted another layer of responsibility — creating a financial corpus large enough to support potential aspirations of a foreign education. It would be fair to say my parents have spent about 95% of their lives only saving and growing money for the sake of their children — at least that’s what it looks like from my point of view.

Meanwhile, the child version of me was upto no good. I know now that I was a sulky, unbearable child. No matter the occasion, I would find new ways to test my parents. June especially was the worst of all, for I truly hated school. It was hand’s down my least favourite place in the world (at the time). I did not have any friends, and neither was I particularly bright to at least find solace in my nerdiness if not my popularity.

My classmates always had new textbooks, two separate notebooks for classwork and homework, and the school diary that was the bane of my existence. Now that I think back I dont know why I wanted that diary so much. It literally served no specific function that any other notebook couldn’t have served. It was meant for teachers to pass on remarks and convey homework assignments to parents.

While my classmates were enjoying their multiple new notebooks, I was stuck with hand me down textbooks from my brother, a single notebook (parted in the middle to be used for both class and homework), and no diary. Until secondary school, I don’t remember being bought gumboots during monsoons or new uniforms for that matter. My brother was usually the beneficiary of all new school supplies. Ever so often (read: all the time), I would whine and crib to my mother to buy me a new textbook or the much-coveted diary. I was rarely able to break my mother’s resolve and was often subjected to her favourite line, “Money does not grow on trees!”

As a 32 year old, who hopefully is smarter than her 10 year old version, I see that my life mimics that of my parents as the younger child in the household. They were both the youngest among their siblings and rarely were given new things. Books or clothes — it was usually handed down from their older siblings. Funny enough, the exact experiences that led them to adopt a more conservationist lifestyle had an opposite effect on me. My psychology of money turned out exactly opposite — I spend money like it grows on trees!

Part II coming soon.