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Why women must plan their finances

August 08, 2006 11:53 IST

"I should be taking more interest in the family's finances, but I don't," says Rita Kapur, 62, a retired academic. Her husband J K Kapur, also a retired academic, managed her finances through the three decades or so of her working life and the two years of retirement.

And this is the story across the country. Most working women say that finance is the last thing on their minds after a gruelling day juggling work and domestic chores. Other say that numbers only confuse them. And, of course, there are those who have been brought up to rely solely on male family members when it comes to managing money.

Which is why, in most families, men make the investment and long-term financial decisions. And this means that more often than not, the family's financial plan overlooks women-specific needs. Says Veer Sardesai, a wealth management expert, "Being proactive in managing money is a must for women, as it fosters personal empowerment. After all, women are the pivot of a family's wealth creation."

While working women substantially supplement the family income, homemakers make invaluable, but non-monetised, contributions, such as a plethora of domestic chores for which the family would have had to otherwise pay. As Vivek Kanwar, head, private banking, ICICI Bank, says: "Whether or not a woman has her own income, she needs to know how her family's money is invested."

While you may agree with Kanwar, you may wonder what "women-specific" financial needs are, and why family finances need to take them into account. Says Kartik Jhaveri, certified financial planner: "Typically, women face four primary risks - financial dependence, being given a lower share of family assets, failure of marriage, or an unequal division of inheritance." We take a look here at the major categories of situations that specifically impact women, and find out how they have a bearing on the family's finances.

Income disruptions

"Given the fact that women experience greater disruption in earnings as they take career breaks to raise children and accommodate family contingencies, they need to have a holistic financial plan from a very early age," says Jhaveri.

Marriage and after. The first disruption in earnings is generally due to relocation after marriage, when the woman leaves her city or country. This, in many cases, forces her to take a break in her career.

Often, she is forced to settle for a lower-paying job (and a lower designation) in the new location. Then, there's the disruption in earning when a child is born. Many women take a break from their careers to tend to their offspring. If they decide to re-enter the workforce after a gap of a few years, they invariably have to compromise on designation and salary.

In some cases, there is another break where women give up work or take up lower-paying part-time or flexi-time jobs to provide care to elders at home. All these disruptions mean that though a woman and a man may have started their careers at the same time, she ends up earning far less when they both retire.

The effect of disruptions. If they've taken a break because of marriage or child-birth, women may be so busy billing and cooing that the thought of re-entering the workforce at a lower level does not bother them.

In the short-term, they may not even notice that they are losing out in financial terms. However, in the long term, such disruptions hurt the family's wealth creation. Also, studies across the globe show that periodic income disruptions make women risk-averse. This means that they invest in lower-risk and fixed-income investment options such as fixed deposits and bonds for fear of losing money due to factors such as stock market fluctuations.

This, in turn, means that the growth in the value of investments doesn't beat inflation. As a result, in the long run, the purchasing power from accumulated wealth is far less than an investment mix that contains growth assets such as stocks, equity mutual funds and real estate - investments that beat inflation.

The outcome of the preference for fixed-income assets is obvious. The woman's savings will not suffice in her old age, and she'll have to depend on the retirement funds of her husband, or other sources.

The reality of divorce. This has got to be the worst of income disruptions for women, especially for homemakers who are solely dependent on their husbands for money. As per the law in India, women still can't hope for more than one-fifth of the husband's pre-tax income as alimony.

Dependant children complicate matters and can stretch finances to breaking point. Therefore, though they may be blissfully happy together, it is important that couples don't lose sight of this unpleasant fact. Ideally, all money matters should be discussed by couples, investments made jointly and their details known to both partners.

Begin early. The ill-effects of income disruptions can be cushioned if women start taking interest in managing their finances early on. That's what Mumbai-based banker Lakshmi Vijayraman, 24, single and an only child, has done. She invested half of her first salary in a six-year RBI bond, ensuring that its maturity would coincide with her father's retirement.

She keeps her monthly expenses below Rs 9,000; with a monthly salary of Rs 20,000, she ensures that she has enough to save and invest for her future. As soon as she receives her pay cheque, she shifts almost half her salary to a joint account with her mother. "This ensures disciplined spending," says Vijayraman.

After having accumulated a sizeable sum in the joint account, she invested Rs 50,000 in mutual funds three months ago. For the past three years, she has been saving Rs 1,000 per month in a recurring deposit that will mature this October. "I began saving in the RD three years ago so that I can have a tidy sum for my wedding," she says.

Vijayraman has also invested in a monthly scheme with a jeweller to get some good deals in jewellery. "Although my father has saved enough, I feel equally responsible to contribute to my wedding," she says. And, of course, as a banker, she knows the importance of tax savings. She invests regularly in equity-linked saving schemes and National Savings Certificates.

Managing the disruptions. For women, among the shorter-term benefits of starting financial planning early is that upon marriage, they can share financial decision making with their husbands. Further, having created a cushion of accumulations, it is easier for them to take decisions involving the work-home balance, whether it is post-marriage or after childbirth. For instance, you need not get back to work for money when you actually want to stay home and bring up the baby. No, it's not easy. But as Rachna Bansal, 31, shows, it can be done.

Bansal, then a Delhi-based corporate trainer, married Vivek Abrol, a Dehradun-based hospitality entrepreneur some 18 months ago, and decided to relocate to Dehradun. This meant that she had to give up her full-time job. But, says Bansal: "The gap from work gave me time to think. I realised that flexi-time work is what suited me, since we were very keen to start a family soon after the marriage."

Bansal joined a training company on a flexi-time basis, but it meant that she had to be content with a lower income. She is now expecting her first child, which will mean one more disruption in her working life. But she has been through it once, and is prepared for it. "It was scary to leave a secure job and take this route. But now it feels all right. The intangibles are worth the scale-back in career," she says.

Being organised pays. Meaningful financial planning can help women in other ways too. Mumbai-based Roopa H. Sadani, a former team leader (HR), JP Morgan Chase, shows how. Sadani, 30, gave up her job almost a year ago when she was expecting her child.

Before that, she and her husband shared the financial burden of the household; his income was used to pay their loan instalments and household expenses, while her income was saved.

Though her husband handles the finances, Sadani keeps herself informed about what's going where, and knows how much she has in tax-saving instruments and how much in liquid cash. When she was working, she had also invested in a post-office monthly income scheme, and the regular interest income from that has been invested in a systematic investment plan of an equity mutual fund.

Sadani says, "We ensured that higher risk investments and repayment of housing loan were made from my husband's income so that in the future, if I decided not to work at all, the obligations could still be met by his income." So, she has been able to effortlessly slip into the role of full-time mother, without the family compromising too much on expenses. However, Sadani hopes to rejoin the workforce once her son is a little older.

Old age blues

"Since women, on an average, live longer than men, a financial plan with a cash flow that would last longer than an average man's life should be created," says Binayak Dutta, chief, sales and distribution, Prudential ICICI Life Insurance. In urban India, women tend to outlive men by at least five years and the financial plan of the family should factor this.

Longer lifespan. Life expectancy has gone up in the past decade, and retirement planning is only now beginning to take root. Women are just beginning to understand the importance of starting retirement planning early and not procrastinating on it. "Saving for a retirement corpus should begin on your first day at work," advises Jhaveri.

An early start is essential because money needs time to grow. A healthy retirement portfolio should include growth investments like stocks, equity mutual funds and real estate. Living longer also means that the woman's retirement fund must provide a regular income and cover her health expenses. This could come from annuities from life insurance companies, particularly those that provide regular income to the surviving spouse.

Well, you may say, I've got pension, so I don't need to save for retirement. Sadly, most women cannot say the same. And even if they do get pension, it is often not enough to maintain their regular standard of living. Adds Kanwar: "Less than half the total number of working women participate in pension plans. So, investing prudently to meet long-term financial goals becomes imperative."

Comfortable retirement. What all this means is that you must plan your family finances in such a way that a comfortable retired life is assured. Take the case of the Kapurs. Rita's monthly pension is meagre. Her husband's larger pension is used to meet household expenses, supplemented by their income from investments in the post-office monthly income scheme and Senior Citizen's Savings Scheme.

Apart from this, Kapur has her own PPF account to ensure that future needs are met. What will make Kapurs' retirement fund grow are their investments in stocks, some of them blue chip.

But how will the Kapurs tackle rising healthcare expenses? Rita is entitled to treatment at Central Government Health Scheme centres and reimbursements at CGHS rates. Since this will not suffice, savings will need to supplement them. Clearly, most of this family's bases are covered.

And though Rita does not take an active interest in managing the family's finances, she is reasonably well informed about what money is invested where. That will go a long way in making her sunset years easy.

Challenges for the single woman. How should women who choose to stay single or who are divorced and without kids plan for their retirement? Ask Delhi's author and publisher, Urvashi Butalia, 54, a single woman. "Saving is extremely important for single women," she says.

"Though we might not have the same anxieties such as saving for children's future, the insecurities are far greater. We have to be self-reliant in an emergency or in the sunset years." Financial planning has become more difficult for Butalia since she moved from being an academic to an author-publisher.

Butalia also needs to take care of her mother, who is 80. For her sunset years, she has invested mostly in tax-saving options such as PPF and NSC, besides putting away some money in fixed deposits. She subscribed to some IPOs recently and has also invested in a plot of land. Butalia manages her mother's post-office saving schemes to ensure that there's a regular income from them.

Wealth transfer

Because the woman, statistically, lives longer than the man, she ends up being the supervisor of her husband's estate plan. If she has been totally left out of the financial planning exercise, she will be all at sea.

If the plan calls for the assets to be transferred to the children, the woman should know that she has been left comfortably off and will not have to depend on the kids. As supervisor to the estate plan, she should be able to make sure the transfer of assets happens smoothly.

An effective estate plan must be made by the couple and not just by one person. The Kapurs show how a couple can actively manage a joint estate plan.

"We have a diary in which all the details of our investments are listed," says Kapur. This can be a useful ready reckoner in case of any emergency. They are also in the process of making a will.

Their son Deepak, 37, and daughter Jyoti, 35, are the heirs of their assets. The senior Kapurs are making an effort to ensure that the distribution of assets is equitable. An estate plan is also necessary for single women to ensure that their assets go to their loved ones or to a cherished cause.

Sharad Mohan, marketing director, retail banking, Citibank NA, says, "Women tend to be more adept at managing short-term transactions such as balancing the inflows and outflows linked to running a household or money spent on children's needs." That may be true, but it does not mean that women should stay out of long-term planning.

We would all do well to remember the words of money-wise Sophie Tucker, the famous American singer and entertainer who donated most of her wealth to charities in her later life: "From birth to 18, a girl needs good parents. From 18 to 35, she needs good looks. From 35 to 55, a good personality. From 55 on, she needs good cash. I'm saving my money." And so say all of us!

Women's Survival Guide

Women have specific needs originating from the circumstances they face during their lifetime. Here are three major categories of situations and strategies to address them.

Income Disruption

The Issues Women face disruptions in their incomes due to relocation after marriage, childbirth, providing care to elders and divorce. This reduces the scope to create wealth.

Strategies

  • Start saving early; for small amounts of savings, invest in recurring deposits (RDs).
  • Consider systematic investment plans (SIPs) of equity funds for exposure to equities.
  • Buy insurance to protect your health and physical assets.
  • On getting married, save at least 25 per cent of family income. Invest jointly with your spouse. Be updated on the fate of your investments. Share expenses, so that both can invest.
  • Ensure expenses are covered by one income; avoid loans to be able to quit your job if needed.

Old Age Blues
The Issues

Indian women outlive men by at least five years. This means that they need more wealth than men to protect their living standards during their lifetimes.

Strategies

  • Consider enhancing PF contributions.
  • Invest 15-20 per cent of your take-home pay in a market-linked retirement plan.
  • Consider investing in life insurance pension plans.
  • During retirement, maximise investments in Senior Citizen Savings Scheme and in the Post-Office Monthly Income Schemes.
  • For larger amount of retirement funds, ensure a 15-20 per cent equity exposure to beat inflation in the first decade of retirement, paring it down to 10 per cent in the next decade.

Wealth Transfer
The Issues

Women are often the eldest family members on the scene when the transfer of assets occurs to the next generation. They can act as facilitators in the asset transfer process.

  • Strategies Participate in the financial and estate planning process.
  • Earmark beneficiaries for all assets owned individually or jointly.
  • Keep a record of the inventory of assets and their beneficiaries.
  • Be informed of any changes in the estate plan and the value of assets.

With inputs from Monika Halan, Vidyalaxmi, Kaveri Nandan, Chumki Bharadwaj  and Vishal Chhabria
Udayan Ray and Archana Rai, OutlookMoney