An engineer by qualification, Priyanka Mashelkar has an MA in Public Administration, a diploma in Business Laws, and certifications in International Tax Law, and Private Equity and Venture Capital. She is a member of the Indian Revenue Service (IRS), is pursuing a law degree and just authored a book on 15 ways of mastering your own money and hitting the jackpot.
But then, it wasn't always like that.
"If you had asked me ten years ago what I planned on becoming, a tax officer would not even have made the long list of options. My answers would have been a lot more entertaining – a forest ranger, or an author who retired to the mountains a few months at a time to pen her latest bestseller.
"It all changed when I was studying to be a computer engineer. Unlike most of my classmates, I loved the subject. But like most of them, I knew that I couldn't do this for the rest of my life. While they chose the MBA route, I wanted something different. I had always been idealistic, but now I wanted action, I wanted impact. And I wanted it now," Mashelkar, 32, told IANS in an interview of her book "15 Sure-Shot Ways To Hit The Jackpot' (Fingerprint!Publishing).
Thanks to her father, who was a college principal and had interacted with young IAS officers in his official capacity, she was made aware of "this young breed of our citizens, who worked inside the government, and who held power, albeit limited, to better the lives of ordinary citizens. That's what got me into appearing for the civil service examination conducted by the UPSC, and then into the IRS".
During her 16 months training at the National Academy of Direct Taxes in Nagpur, Mashelkar discovered that the IRS "combined everything that was dear to me; a job that had a direct impact on the nation, that required analytical skills, and even a chance to play the detective", she added.
And that's what the book is all about. How did she come to acquire these perceptions so early in life?
"By making a lot of mistakes! And I still don't claim to know the absolutely optimal way of managing your finances. But I do know what was the simplest and easiest way to manage my own finances, and I have enough experience with numbers to know what works and what doesn't," Masheklar maintained.
When we are talking about the 25-plusers at whom the book is essentially aimed at, we are essentially talking about three categories: single men, single women, and the recently married. Does one size really fit all?
"The beauty of personal finance is that it truly is personal. In my book, I don't presume and I don't judge what people earn and what they spend on. Those granularities are left to the reader. What the book offers is a framework within which you can plug in your own priorities and it will tell you what steps you must take to better your finances. I think it is important to meet the reader where they are, and not assume that they are in an imaginary ideal situation you wish them to be in," Mashelkar explained.
Is there really a divide when it comes to our perception of how men and women spend their money?
"It is a very interesting question. If you look closely, you will notice one very peculiar fact: most women's magazines characterize their female readers as "excessive spenders", and publish articles revolving around budgeting, being frugal, and avoiding retail therapy. The men's magazines, on the other hand, encourage their male readers to "conquer" the financial world by learning how to earn more and invest in high risk-high reward investments.
"I think that lays bare our perception of how men and women are expected to deal with their money - women need to spend less, and men need to earn more," Mashelkar maintained.
What has been the impact of the pandemic on the manner men-women-couples spend their money and how does she see the road ahead in the ‘new normal' – if at all there will be one?
"Anecdotally, I see two distinct changes in the way we manage our money after the pandemic. One, for the ones amongst us who were privileged enough to have incomes that remained unchanged, we all became a lot more comfortable with spending (and investing) money online. That is a double-edged sword, because while spending online can be a slippery road, investing online can be the easiest road to wealth for most of us.
"Two, for the ones who were not quite as privileged and had to deal with income uncertainty, there is a growing realisation that the paycheck-to-paycheck living is not all that great, and even at the cost of short-term pain, having an emergency fund and insurance in place is worth it.
"Overall, personal finance has gained its rightful importance in people's lives...I just want to add one small piece of advice for the young investors - it is better to start today with the wrong investment than tomorrow with the right one," Mashelkar elaborated.
As a reality check, here's an excerpt from the book:
"Let me paint you a picture. Imagine an old man, say about 75 years old. Although healthy for his age, he has some physical issues like high blood pressure and diabetes. But that's to be expected at this stage in his life. So, let's not worry about that. His skin is wrinkled, his hair is white, and there is a balding patch at the back of his head. He can walk around and move about without any help, but he does get tired easily. He cannot pick up too much weight without his back giving out. He does not sleep very well at night; he keeps waking up to go to the bathroom. He also needs to take a nap in the afternoon to compensate for his lack of sleep. Not too bad, right?
"Well, what if I told you that this man is currently working as a driver with a ride-sharing company? He works for thirteen hours a day, ferrying people around the city, which means that he does not get his afternoon nap even though he needs it rather desperately and that he barely has time to eat his meals while on duty. He sometimes has to lift heavy luggage too; after all, passenger reigns supreme. He sometimes misses out on the more lucrative rides because he is not as quick as the other younger drivers are on the fancy mobile phone that he had to buy for the job. He often has difficulty finding a place because in spite of using voice navigation, he is new to Google Maps. And, needless to say, after working for thirteen straight hours, he is bone-tired by the time he comes back home every day.
"I know you feel bad for the old man. But that's about it, right? You can never imagine yourself being in the same position as him, can you? I mean after working so hard your whole life, you will have surely figured things out by then, no? You earn reasonably well now, even at such a young age, and you believe you will have a bright career. Which means that you will be able to save when you earn more in the years ahead and you will be wealthy without thinking too much about it. But wait. Please. Understand once and for all that you do need to think about it, and you need to think about it NOW.
"Why am I being so assertive about it? Well, in spite of being in the early stages of your professional life when you might think that you are not earning enough, this is, in fact, the only time in your life that your net income will be so high. Confused? Let me explain. As an independent, single, unencumbered individual, your financial liabilities are rather limited. But as you gain family members, you will be left with a lower net income than what you earned when you were unattached, so to say. And at that time, you will wish you had saved more when you had the chance. Unfortunately, whenever your income increases, your expenses increase in direct proportion. That is a universal law. So, if you do not start planning your finances now with an eye on your postretirement life, your future is probably going to be similar to how that old man is living, that much is a fact. You can either be pension-free or tension-free."
So, there you have it – the way to mastering your own money. Give it a shot, you won't regret it. If you'd like a free one-to-one consultation with the author, register at www.priyankamashelkar.com/consultation.