‘Never let lifestyle expenses come in the way of saving’
For Manjusri Nair, 49, a surgeon, and her husband, Gopinath Nair, 51, a consultant, financial planning seemed like a distant aim when they started out. Even when the couple became parents, the focus stayed firmly on their careers and raising their son Nischal, now 16. Like many other young couples, they were busy working and managing life, and didn’t really think about long term goals. “We were both working professionals, so there was a good deal of division of labour when it came to the household. My husband looked after the financial aspects and I took care of the home and our son,” said Manjusri.
One thing they did have in place was plenty of insurance, both life and health. But they were also saddled with a lot of endowment policies that they did not need. “The way you end up with these policies is that somebody you know recommends it and you end up buying into it,” she said.
The couple’s wake-up call came when they realized they would have to pay for their son’s higher education a lot earlier than they had expected. “He decided that he wanted to go abroad for higher education immediately after school. We saw that this could be a challenge. We realized that we had savings but not investments,” Manjusri said.
The couple figured that this did not bode well for their long-term goals, and decided to rejig their financial lives. “When our son was a little bit older, my husband and I had a discussion about our finances and we decided we wanted to go about it in a more structured way,” said Manjusri.
The two had decided to explore mutual funds earlier, but shelved the idea because they didn’t know the product well enough. “When we started out, mutual funds were in the market but nobody wanted to buy into the risk associated with them,” said Manjusri.
But as fixed deposit interest rates started falling, and equity investment started becoming popular, the Nairs decided to take another look at equities. Their search for the right way to approach equity investments and the need to invest for their son’s education led them to Prakash Praharaj, founder, Max Secure Financial Planners, in 2017. “He came across as an extremely ethical person. Because while everybody was trying to sell regular (mutual fund) plans, he recommended that we opt for direct plans,” said Manjusri.
Praharaj talked the couple through the basics of long-term financial planning. “I got both of them actively involved in their finances. They had some trouble aligning their earnings and expenses, and were not sure about how to invest. I started by putting a personal accounting system in place, so that they could both keep a tab on where their money was going,” he said.
One of the first things Praharaj made them do was to get rid of endowment insurance policies they didn’t need. “He crunched the numbers and told us how much insurance we needed. It took a while, but we managed to extricate ourselves to a large extent, and channelled the money recovered into goal-based investments,” said Manjusri.
Praharaj also helped the couple zero in on the corpus they needed for their long-term goals. He reviewed their risk appetite, talked them through the different aspects of asset building and narrowed down on the instruments to use.
One advantage that the Nairs have is that, despite their somewhat disordered finances, their lifestyle has never got in the way of saving and investing. “We live a value-based life, rather than a prestige-based life. We have a good quality of life, but are not keen on international tours or spending too much on movies and malls,” said Manjusri.
Although they started off with limited knowledge about financial planning and investments, now the Nairs regularly discuss their finances with each other and also involve their son. They agree that financial literacy has been the key to opening up a new vista of security for them. “Like many people our age, we used to think that we needed an expert come in and look at our income and finances, because we were not capable of doing it ourselves. But with the help of Praharaj, we have been able to take control of our finances, decide how we will invest and how we can increase our revenue streams. This has brought in a sense of competence and taken away the element of insecurity when it comes to financial goals,” said Nair.
It has been a case of unlearning old habits and learning new ones for the Nairs. Now they are on track for their major financial goals and have the security and flexibility that they always wanted.