During our childhood in Ranchi in the 1990s, my elder brother Pranay and I once spent two hours researching what I could do with the princely amount of five hundred rupees; our school had given me the money as a prize for topping seventh grade. The reason it took this long was that we’d never had exposure to such a large sum before and neither had any of our friends.
For one, there simply weren’t avenues for young people to spend money in Ranchi 20-odd years ago. Then there was the fact of our upbringing: our father worked as a civil engineer for the state government, and during Pranay’s teenage years, our mother taught science at a local, privately-owned school. We didn’t have any meaningful relationships with money until we moved out of Ranchi (for me, this was during college) — not least because we didn’t have much experience spending money. For my brother, the first time that happened was during a year spent in Jamshedpur when he was 18, preparing for engineering entrance examinations at a coaching centre. When we spoke about this recently, he recalled that time. Trusted with a significant amount of money without any day-to-day supervision for the first time, he remembers choosing to spend on watching films in the theatre and trying different dabba services.
Almost two decades later, Pranay has an MBA and works at an edtech firm in Bangalore. He and my sister-in-law Upasana are both white-collar professionals working in an expensive city. They bought a flat on credit not too long ago and they’re expecting their first child this year. This news has brought with it several conversations about bringing up children in today’s world — especially the financial aspects of it. It’s clear that their child will be money-savvy from a very young age, in ways that Pranay and I, growing up in ’90s Ranchi, never really had a chance to be.
For his child, Pranay intends to expedite these financial lessons — a child growing up in Bangalore today needs to be much less naïve when it comes to money, considering the plethora of avenues for wanting and spending more. There’s also the issue of ‘money that doesn’t feel like money’ — online transfers, UPI transactions and so on, which has come up in our conversations. It’s easy to lose track of how much you’re spending online, and for a child growing up in a time when cashless transactions are becoming the norm, observing this phenomenon might inform how they approach money — which makes inculcating and reinforcing good financial habits during this formative stage essential.
What, then, do you teach your child about money? The question is inevitably tied up with your current set of socio-economic circumstances, of course — where you and your partner live, how much money you make and so on. But I know that our relationships with money are also shaped by our histories. Exposure to certain behaviours and processes at an early age can have a massive impact on personal finance habits and spending patterns of the future. I’ve observed this with my partner Ulka, for instance. She is a 31-year-old lawyer and legal researcher, and financial literacy was a big part of her childhood. Her mother as well as her late father worked as bankers and would talk about finance and the economy at home. At ages 5–7, when Ulka was developing her basic writing skills via dictation, her parents would read passages from The Economic Times to her. By age 9, she had handled money and even completed a banking errand unsupervised.
I sometimes wonder whether Pranay and I would have had vastly different relationships with money had we received that kind of exposure from a young age. In my early 20s, at the beginning of my journalistic career, I was making just enough money to get by every month, so questions of banking and personal finance were distant, to put it mildly. Would I have accepted this barely-scraping-by life (in the name of ‘passion’ no less) if I were financially literate from a young age? I don’t know, to be honest. What I do know is that our children — Pranay’s and if I decide to have them someday, mine — will have a very different childhood from ours. They will receive the education and the tools required to negotiate this increasingly technology-driven world of personal finance, and thank God for that.
Aditya Mani Jha is a 34-year-old writer and journalist living in New Delhi. His first book of essays will be published in 2023 by Oxford University Press India.