Published Article Details

True victory lies in building wealth through saving, hard work and not in borrowing, splurging

Posted by: Uma Shashikant on Oct 09, 2017, 03.07 PM IST

What if we find out that our circumstances are such that we must live an ordinary middle-class life? We could accept that to be our lot; or we could live in denial and splurge with borrowed rupees; or we could choose to fight the battle with a set of weapons we carefully assimilate. This week's story is about Dharmu and Jayakumar, who chose that tough and difficult path.

When she was in high school in the 1960s, Dharmu had made up her mind that she would be a working woman. She grew up with 11 siblings and she knew firsthand the travails of a household that had to sustain itself on a single income. But there wasn't enough money to send her to college. She went to the typical typing class at that time, where young girls trained to become secretarial assistants. She found that a small lot was learning shorthand which was a tougher skill, but paid better. She trained to be a steno rather than a typist, and found herself a job at a legal firm at the early age of 19.

Jayakumar was working with the government in Bangalore when they met and decided to marry. As young children, we saw in Jayakumar the ideal husband who supported his working wife. He cooked, he cleaned, he worked along with her at home. They decided that they would both go to work through thick and thin, so that the extended families on both sides could be supported.

Their struggle was with the meagre resources that they had at their disposal. There was nothing to fall back on, and unexpected events and expenses were mostly the norm. They, therefore, decided to live by these rules: First, take a hard look at each one and cut expenses as much as possible. Second, delay and acquire control over the need for instant gratification. Third, save every month, even if it is a small amount and put it away.

To cut back on expenses meant adopting a lifestyle that is frugal, and living with less. To Dharmu and Jayakumar, this meant questioning every expense that they incurred in their everyday lives. They found that they were spending a fixed amount each month on commuting to work, the autorickshaw fares if they got late, and the expenses on eating out if they kept long hours at work. They moved homes such that at least one could stay closer and walk to work. Later Jayakumar got himself a cycle, and even today as he nudges 65, he is the fit and lean man who can cycle through most of Bangalore.

They made it a point to be early risers who cooked their food and had enough time to take the infrequent bus to Dharmu's work. It is a discipline that stays with Dharmu to this day. She has long retired from work, but is out of her kitchen even before the clock strikes 7. She says most expenses occur due to delays, and from the need to rush into something, or from the anxiety about time. They decided that they will control time in a way that will allow them to enjoy their journeys and everyday activities, and have no qualms with public transport in an ever-crowded city. Dharmu laughs at those who tell her that time is money; she wants to know if those who hold this view wake up early. To cherish time is to spend it wisely, she says; not rushing into the next activity even as one is finishing the first.

Their earliest bank deposit was for Rs 50. It was not a small sum in the early 1970s. The plan they had was to put aside whatever they could and not look back at it. Thus, they build savings, one deposit receipt after another, in that era of paper-based banking. They did not want to buy a house until they could pay for it themselves. They were uncomfortable with loans. Those were the days when insurance, bank loans, and home loans were not popular financial products as they are today. People either borrowed from their PF or from their employer to buy a home. They decided to fund it themselves, however long that might take.

When they had saved enough, they decided to buy a plot, and Jayakumar being the engineer in the family, decided to get involved in the construction first hand. They built a unit large enough for their small family of three, including their little daughter, and built three smaller units in the ground floor that could be rented. Jayakumar says that the desire to live in a large house is a fallacy one should fight against. He sees it as opulent and wasteful, as the real joys in life come from relationships, conversations and food. If we do not live as a community, but in isolated large bungalows, we miss out on little joys.

Thus over a period of 40 years of work life, Dharmu and Jayakumar built personal wealth that is the now the envy of friends and relatives. They have no fears about retirement and Jayakumar has embarked on his post-retirement career, teaching engineering students. They provided their daughter with the best education, pushing her up to be a professional legal and compliance expert. They widened the scope of their investments to include all the modern financial products. They continue to maintain a simple lifestyle, but they have enough to draw from, to travel to Europe to see their daughter, and give her the comfort of a corpus she can fall back upon whenever she needs it.

Dharmu is not sure why a good life is generalised to mean opulent living. She resents the idea that owning a bungalow and a car, or wearing expensive jewellery should be goals in one's life. She thinks that every penny earned can be used to further something more worthwhile, like someone's education, someone's healthcare, or someone's food. To have enough to share with the community they live in is what matters to them. The time she now has is spent in prayers and chanting, nature walks and music, reading and relaxing. She says there was a time to nourish the body and then a time to nourish the soul.

We celebrate those who multiply their money and splash it for others to see and envy. There are many who choose victory over instant gratification, abdication of material objects and control over money to do their bidding. They are the truly wealthy.

The author is Chairperson, Centre for Investment Education and Learning.
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions written in this column are those of the author and do not reflect the views of economictimes.com. This article appeared in Economic Times dated Oct 09, 2017, 03.07 PM IST

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