I sit sweating uncomfortably in our living room on a humid Goa morning, halfway through a meeting I’ve avoided for years. A solemn man on the Zoom call is droning on, at the speed of two spreadsheets a split-screen, with dire prognostications about my financial future. This grim personal finance Nostradamus, my father-in-law’s investment advisor, has spent the last half hour patiently answering my embarrassingly basic questions about savings instruments, mutual funds, compounding, and personal budget forecasting. But there’s no dawdling over the discomfort anymore, because the time to plan my retirement has already run out. This meeting would have been too late a decade ago — in 2021, when I am 37, it is borderline unacceptable.
Still, I am happy to report that I powered through the mortifying self-consciousness of someone without a plan. This is the person I have always been. Professionally, laser-focused. Fiscally… let’s just say my pecuniary past was illuminated by a zero-watt bulb.
Being born in a middle-middle-class family meant that I had the privilege to pursue a career in journalism that paid me just enough to stay a couple of steps ahead of insolvency. Being raised by a single mother meant that a reality check was never far away. So I did the barest minimum saving through life insurance policies and a few fixed deposits at a 4% interest rate. The rest of my funds paint a portrait of a single millennial life measured out in late afternoon cups of coffee at Kala Ghoda Café, on-trend Nicobar outfits, more weekend getaways than I can count, and drawers full of silver jewellery. As far as a plan to coast along on sheer dumb luck was concerned, I was on track.
In the calculus of extempore pleasures versus abiding future arrangements, the future always lost.
All that changed last year, which brought with it a bunch of life-altering events and decisions. My partner and I survived a deadly pandemic, got married, and exchanged the metropolis for life in a quiet Goan village, all within a span of three months. Somewhere down the line, I also grew up.
After years of pursuing a creative life, I brought some intention to my future. I made my peace with a corporate job, which earned me a salary that made me happy, even when the work didn’t. Treating my work as work — and not a certificate of my talent — truly liberated me. For the first time in my career of 17 years, I had surplus income, even after deducting the unholy trifecta of rent-utilities-online shopping. I had the latitude to plan, forecast, and budget for a personal creative project I could call my own. And finally, the margin to do it on a break.
After close to two years in the corporate sector, I recently quit to pursue the project full-time. It is absolutely terrifying. I have pencilled a few daily breakdowns, sitting with the utter dread of failing, and coping with the sheer horror of being accountable only to myself into my Asana planner. There’s only one thing I am not worried about, and that’s the money.
Turns out, applying the most basic lessons in financial literacy pays off. With the help of the man on the screen, I learnt the difference between mutual funds and SIPs. Setting aside my hatred for high-school math, I attempted to understand the magic of compounding. Debt and equity funds aren’t quite my friends, but I hope to take our relationship to the next level.
In the years preceding this, I’d never had the financial wherewithal to be able to set aside a nest egg to take a break, even when I desperately needed it. Living paycheque to paycheque is an exhilarating rite of passage in your 20s. In your 30s, it’s downright disconcerting. But knowing that my money is making money, fattening up into a corpus I can dip into the day I need it, leaves me feeling the most stress-free I’ve ever been. Yet, the most rousing feeling, by far, is receiving monthly emails from the funds in my diversified portfolio, opening those Excel sheets, and actually being able to make sense of how my investments are faring.
Maybe this professional leap into the unknown will crash and burn. Maybe it will be the best thing I’ve ever done. I only know that in either case, I have a safety net to fall back on. And it’s entirely mine.
Karanjeet Kaur is a journalist and former editor of Arré, and has written for several publications including Caravan, The Hindu, National Geographic Traveller India and Time Out.