My Personal Finance Story: How My Career and Finances Unfolded

How My Career and Finances Unfolded

Once upon a time we were young and carefree. With not a whit of bother about money or material. All that mattered was to have a good time with friends, and to hide the unpleasant report cards from the parents. Then, as we grew older and got a bit wise, the idea of a solid education started to make sense. To achieve that, one had to slog in school and college, not because of the promise of the pot of gold that awaited at the end of it, but because…well, that’s what everyone said being an adult was all about. I think most of us in our late teens and early twenties were quite clueless about life and career and all that good stuff. I definitely was, because I stumbled into my first job by accident, and then stayed on in the same field to shape a career of sorts…organically. There was no mission, no design.

My first job was great! Imagine coming to meet friends every morning, fiddling around on a computer for a few hours, having pizza, cucumber-sandwiches, Maggi and pakodas all day, and then hopping and skipping home around 6 pm. It was like being in an extended-hours school, except that I was getting paid for it! Having your own money to burn at the end of each month – what could be better! You could go out to new places without a care, buy whatever you felt like, and even pay for your own petrol. Being an adult was all joy! Until, of course, it got boring. One fine day, I decided I had had enough of not just my job, but India itself. I wanted out. I needed a new place…new sights, sounds, people and accents. I looked around and found a job in Australia, so off I went to tell the Big People at my company that I was off. The Big People, instead, made me a counter-offer…was I interested in moving to New York instead, they asked. Of course, I was! Delighted, in fact, because I had just started watching Friends (it was the late-90s) – and New York was exactly the place where I wanted to be!

Getting the financials together to move to America should have been tricky. I had no possessions of my own except a car that I had bought with my own money. The bank balance was close to zero because every phooti kauri had been dutifully and happily spent each month. That was when someone older and wiser at my office asked me about my Gratuity and Provident Fund. I had just a vague idea of what those things meant, but when I went to seek more information from those Accounts-waley log in the corner room upstairs, I found out that I had, in fact, a whole lot of money! Just sitting there! All mine! Sure, there was paperwork to be done to access the moolah, but simply knowing that I could take a guilt-free loan against it from my mother was pure relief. So, off I went to America! Paid for by my own money.

To this day, I remember my first day at my new American office, filling out my new employee paperwork. The whole process took me half a day – proof of this, statement of that, contributions to the other. And me checking off and signing on things that I understood little of. Those were pre-9/11 days, things were much simpler in the US for foreign workers.

New York is a place designed for single people. You work hard all day as if no one is waiting for you back home (except maybe your cat?). Then you drink and party into the night because…well, that’s what you do. In the beginning, like all good Indians, I would also back calculate all my spent dollars into rupees…and have a heart attack each time the restaurant bill arrived at the table. And it would never cease to amaze me how every one of the millions of restaurants in New York City would be overflowing with patrons every single day of the week. I would wonder – just how much money do people make here to be spending like this? But then, and very quickly, you became one of them. You realized that the only alternative was to go sit in your shoebox apartment and stare at the walls. (Or worse, the TV). No. So, dining out 4 times a week, gymming for two night, and laundry on Thursdays became the standard New York City ritual.

Basically, you were earning not for yourself but for the landlord (crazy high rentals), the government (New York City has the highest tax rates in America) and the Credit Card company!

Flash forward to ten years later. And ennui of same-old, same-old made me crave to return to the Motherland (albeit with an American passport by then). Planning to move back to India was fairly easy. In ten years, I had built no equity – no house of my own, no material possessions except a now ten year old car which was cheaper than what it took me to park it in the city. No nothing. Except four huge suitcases with lots and lots of clothes.

Except that I had built some equity after all. Remember those endless forms I had filled out on my first day at the job in America? Well, one of them was something absurdly called the 401K (the American version of Provident Fund). It was only when I went to close that account did I find out that I was…in fact, not so broke after all. Money that was quietly accumulating, and earning interest, while I wasn’t even looking!

Just like my Provident Fund and Gratuity all those years ago, back in India.

So, no real moral to this story except that you must live your life on your own terms. Enjoy whatever you do to the fullest. Spend every dime you make if that’s what gives you joy. But, for heaven’s sakes’, make sure a good percentage of your income is automatically skimmed off into a savings account like your Provident Fund. Money that you cannot easily get your hands on. At all. Also keep investing money systematically every month of every year so that your money earns you more money.

Because that’s how financial idiots like me build equity!

Rickie Khosla is a simple, middle-rung corporate executive who would rather be doing other things (like writing, sleeping and generally whiling away his life) than be attending conference calls and making PowerPoint presentations during the day. A blogger in another life and soon-to-be-a-published writer, he shares some financial lessons in his uncanny incisive and humourous style.