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Marriage does not mean losing financial independence

Before getting married, Mumbai-based Dhwani Mody, a marketing specialist, would take help from her father to make money decisions. The 25-year-old would easily invest up to 40% of her salary every month and continues to do so three months into her marriage.

Though her saving rate remains the same, Mody acknowledges that marriage brings along a lot of changes in one’s life. “I’ve realized how difficult it is to manage both household expenditure and personal expenses. It’s taught me the importance of planning in advance,” she said.

Marriage, especially in India, is considered a huge milestone for women and brings with it a host of changes. From household chores to managing finances, responsibilities increase manifold, and you are expected to plan and prepare for two people instead of just yourself. Amid all this, it’s important to make sure you don’t lose your way by giving in to unilateral decisions made by your spouse, especially when it comes to money.

For Mody, the transition has involved making an added effort in terms of decision-making. “Being part of a joint family requires me to be a little more considerate when it comes to decision-making because I have to think about everybody,” said Mody. But the fact that the family is career-oriented has helped her maintain her financial independence.

When it comes to managing money, it is more of a team effort for Mody and her husband. “My husband and I list the expenses at the start of the month and prioritize them based on urgency. We have some goals as a couple which we want to achieve together but we also have individual goals which we are looking to achieve individually,” said Mody, who works with a global consultancy. If there’s something that’s changed for Mody after marriage, it is the fact that she has become more careful about her spending. Since the couple is building a house of their own, they’re trying to curb unwanted spends.

As far as investments go, her husband has the upper hand. “Honestly, between my husband and I, he is savvier when it comes to investing. He plans all our investments, runs them past me and makes changes if there’s any disagreement,” said Mody. The investments made as a couple are in joint names but Mody is also continuing her existing individual investments which she’d started before getting married. This helps her retain control over her money.

As a result, Mody is able to strike the right balance and is not totally dependent on her husband. Priya Sunder, director and co-founder, PeakAlpha Investment, a financial planning firm, said she often sees women, who at one point used to independently manage their money, relinquish the responsibility to their spouse after marriage. “A marriage is a partnership in all ways. It’s not only about sharing your life; it is about sharing financial responsibilities as well,” said Sunder. If the husband controls the financial decisions of the family, it can disrupt the balance of power in a marriage, increase dependency and break the woman’s confidence about being able to contribute to the family’s decisions, the financial planner added.

Some women also tend to give up on their careers after getting married but it’s important to have a steady source of income of their own. “Life is uncertain and even strong marriages can crumble. If you are dependent on your spouse for your money needs, you may find yourself in a vulnerable position if he is no more or in case of a divorce,” said Sunder. This could force you to look for a job at a later stage in life when employment opportunities for a stay-at-home woman may not be to your liking or lucrative enough.

Since Mody and her husband were dating for six years before marriage, they are aware about each other’s investments quite well. Marriage also requires two people to understand each others’ habits and when it comes to money habits, Sunder said both spouses should give each other the space to spend a certain discretionary amount and discuss jointly if and when the spending threshold is crossed. Being too controlling does no good. Transparency has helped the Modys build a healthy relationship, both emotionally and financially.

It’s also important to be prepared for a rainy day. “Women should get into the habit of logging into bank and investment accounts and determining how the money is being spent and invested. This way, in the case of an unfortunate event, they will have enough knowledge to make money decisions,” said Sunder.

If you’re someone who’s going to get married in a few months or are newly-wed, here are some things to keep in mind. One, ensure you are an active, knowledgeable and involved participant in all financial decisions of the family. Two, if you’re a working woman, make sure you’re saving and investing in your name. Three, contribute towards the household expenses and save in proportion to your income. Four, be mindful of the family’s liabilities and ensure you have adequate insurance cover. Five, ensure you have at least six months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund.

If you feel you need to work towards managing your money life better, read relevant books, attend seminars, tune into personal finance podcasts or engage with a financial planner.

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