Women—Money wise or otherwise?

Why do women still feel financially dependent, despite having good careers and stable incomes?


What is the difference between having a steady Income and financial independence? At the most fundamental level, earning money enables and empowers women to feel more confident and more secure about themselves, irrespective of their socio-economic backgrounds. But this should not come as a surprise or a novel idea. In fact, as per the latest population survey data, 36 per cent of Indian women participate in the workforce, a towering feat. 

The question that remains is –when a woman is earning money and contributing towards household expenses, should she feel financially independent? To answer this, we must first understand what financial independence means. Wikipedia defines it as having enough of an income or sufficient wealth to pay one’s living expenses for the rest of one’s life without having to be dependent on others. This would require active management of your income through all your working years, careful planning, and budgeting to make sure that you are saving enough as well as investing well.  

But are Indian women really financially independent?   

A recent survey finding says no  

Despite being abreast with men in earning money, women still don’t make the financial decisions in their families. A survey by Tata AIA about financial awareness among women reveals that they still rely on the ‘man of the house’ to make economic decisions. Although 44 per cent of respondents prefer to make their own financial decisions when they have the option to do so. 

Some of the top highlights of the survey findings are something to ponder on.  

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The survey says that 89 per cent of married women rely on their husbands for financial advice. For 39 per cent women, financial planning is limited to creating a monthly budget. Out of the 42 per cent of women who have a better understanding of financial planning, only 12 per cent are homemakers. 59 per cent of working women do not make financial decisions independently. The ratio is higher in tier 3 markets, where 65 per cent of working women do not take independent financial decisions. When given a choice, 44 per cent of women prefer to make their own decisions. While 72 per cent of women believe that life insurance is integral to their financial planning post COVID-19. 

Aakanksha Bhargava, CEO, PM Relocations, after going through this study, says, “This study shows how Indian women are not their own bosses in terms of financial decisions, despite working. This surely has some underlying reasons that should be analysed.” There are several reasons behind the findings of this survey that women still feel financially dependent. 

Earning money is not the same as understanding it 

Buying property, making investments, buying mutual funds, opening an NPS account are all examples of what can be done with your money once you have earned it, and this can generally be referred to as financial matters. “This is where women participate the least,” says Sneha Choudhry, Co-founder, ZOLO Stays.  

She further says that women do not seek active financial guidance and more often than not, leave these decisions to their husbands. This makes them find financial topics more complicated than they really are.  

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“Robert Kiyosaki states – ‘Financial freedom is available to those who learn about it and work for it.’ Like all good things in life, there is no shortcut here either. Women need to actively spend time seeking resources and building their understanding. Just like any good investment, investment in investing knowledge will also yield great results,” she points out. 

Similarly, Bhargava feels that the idea of “financial freedom” means different things to different women. “It doesn’t always mean that they have the liberty to make finance-related decisions. This can be due to the lack of financial literacy amongst them,” she says. 

At the same time, we can’t totally ignore the fact that there are many women in the world who hold powerful positions in the financial arena around the globe. Here in India too many women have taken decisive steps towards financial literacy. However, there is still a long way to go in changing this scenario completely. We need supportive families and spouses to encourage women to take charge and make important financial decisions.  

Having witnessed many such cases first hand herself, Bhargava strongly feels that a lack of financial literacy is the biggest hurdle for women. “There have been many instances where women even after being financially independent are not making their own financial decisions due to their lack of financial literacy. Or they lack a circle which can help them to upgrade their financial knowledge. I feel that more and more women should come forward to uplift and equip women with financial independence,” she asserts. 

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Bhawna Bhatnagar, Co-founder, We Founder Circle suggest that women, like men, need to be made a part of finance related conversations from early on.  

“The problem is that women get exposed to financial intricacies very late. They ideally should be groomed to handle their finances since their high school days. The basics of financial management need to be ingrained in women and men alike, so that their responsibility towards their own financial independence, security and future is taken care of,” she comments. 

Self-assertion during financial decision making 

Many times, even when women understand financial matters well, their family dynamics or their lack of self-confidence can prevent them from taking an active role in the financial decision making.  

“Married working women still depend on their spouses for taking the financial decisions, even though they are earning themselves. The reason behind this phenomenon can be traced back to the way women have been wired by society and its expectations through the years. Generally speaking, women are often found depending on the males in their families (father, brother, husband, etc.) for financial decisions,” Bhargava points out. 

When men take charge under the pretext of “I will do what is good for the family”, the women naturally feel that speaking up would be tantamount to interference, adds in Choudhary.  

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Bhargava feels that most women earn because they want to aid their households financially or save for their kids’ futures. “They have a knack for keeping their family’s needs above theirs which doesn’t let them take financial decisions that are in their own favour. Their planning is mostly confined to monthly budgets. But ultimately, they lose out due to societal norms that expect them to stay secondary and confined,” she says. 

Choudhary, as an entrepreneur suggests that being assertive about one’s financial goals and voicing out one’s desire to be in control is very important. “These points will go a long way in making sure that women can make these decisions first-hand rather than just learn about them later. In an ideal world, it should be a given, but in this world, they need to prepare themselves to demonstrate that they have both an understanding of and an opinion about how they would like their money to be handled. Therefore, the final decision should be one that is made with consideration for all parties equally,” she points out. 

Understanding the multiplication effect  

Finally, a narrow set of women understand both money management and can be assertive but do not realize the power of setting an example. Hence, they are either lazy about taking charge or feel that since they have chosen not to do so on purpose, it is ok to not participate in the financial decision making in their families, says Choudhary. 

“What these women fail to realise is that since the larger community is still not fully empowered, the onus is on them to show the path to all the other women. Watching my mother run her own factory inspired me and gave me the confidence to become an entrepreneur myself. My elder sister was the first woman in our entire family to get a postgraduate degree – inspiring me and all my sisters and cousins who came after to do the same! We often forget the power that we have for driving change by sheer influence and inspiration,” she elaborates. 


Financial planning is an imperative 

Women’s roles in society are changing rapidly. In numerous cases, they are more likely to be the primary caregivers for their families. It’s concerning that financial inequality between the genders persists to this day and age. More so, women earn less; they give up work or do part-time jobs to look after their families and finance and investing are still considered men’s businesses.  

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It’s particularly an issue for women approaching retirement age, who grew up during a period when gender pay disparities were even more pronounced. With the gender pay gap widening, it’s critical that women take charge of their financial planning. Overall, there is one straightforward answer to why women should plan their finances—you never know what might happen and financial independence is a vital skill.  

“The need of the hour is that women should start prioritising financial literacy to achieve financial independence. This will not only give them financial freedom but will also allow them to face whatever life throws at them, enabling them to stand up for themselves,” says Bhargava. 

Bhatnagar strongly recommends that women do their own financial planning. “It’s very important for the future financial security of any individual. If people do not start planning on time, the compounding effect of most financial instruments takes longer to kick in,” she says.  

For women who have their own business objectives, financial planning is of utmost importance.  

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Bhargava speaks about the advantages of appropriate financial planning, saying, “It enables female entrepreneurs to make the right investments and allows them to plan the right strategies that are needed for the achievement of their visions. Also, if you already have some debts, loans, or other money-related problems, through financial-planning, you can make smart investments and bail yourself out. With the right knowledge, you can look at scaling up your business, investing in the right resources and hiring a great team to build a sustainable business. Financial planning if done right and kept consistent, can provide wings to your vision.” 

Tips for financial planning 

Women leaders unanimously believe that by setting financial goals, one can beget some successful results in life. “You just need to strive tirelessly towards those goals by developing, implementing, and tracking your plans from time to time,” Bhargava stresses. 

Bhatnagar on the other hand advises that dedicated funds should be kept aside, and frugality must be maintained. “Always keep 20 per cent of your stipend or salary as an emergency fund. Keep that money aside and invest in mutual funds or FDs. Never spend too much of your income on house rent and avoid unnecessary spending of any kind, if you can,” she says. 

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So, to begin planning your finances, here are a few steps that you can follow, 

  1. You must remember that financial freedom can only come by educating yourself about how to deal with money. So, go ahead and be financially literate.  
  1. Try to avoid making use of high-interest credit cards because they often become a liability which goes unattended till you realise how much of a huge burden they have become.  
  1. One can opt for the old methods of saving such as buying gold or investing in FD’s; however, it’s better to start with a ‘Systematic Investment Plan’ or an SIP. This can reduce your risk and can help you to inculcate a disciplined saving habit.   
  1. Try to have an emergency savings account apart from the account from which you spend on your monthly expenses. This money can help you on rainy days or help you when you are planning for a larger investment.  
  1. If you are investing or regularly putting away some part of your finances towards savings, plan your monthly budget accordingly. 
  1. Above all, do not be worried if things go south. Stay optimistic rather than going into panic mode. Be patient and realise that things take time. But once they are on track, decide smartly about what move you should make next.  

Women and financial planning may appear to be complicated, but they are actually quite simple. Whatever your income or financial situation, it is common sense that will enable you to stay on top of things. Finally, Beyonce has some words of wisdom for all of us women who want to strive for financial independence. She says,

“I truly believe that women should be financially independent of their men. And let’s face it, money gives men the power to run the show. It gives men the power to define value. They define what’s sexy. And men define what’s feminine. It’s ridiculous.” 

Beyonce Knowles, American singer