Advice to my 20-year-old self

Mar 08, 2022

Zainab Jabri is the head of Offshore Forensic Services and Director at one of the four big audit firms. She is also a mom to three dogs and seven cats.

In her own words, in an endearing style, she candidly shares with us her personal journey with money.

My Money Story

I might as well say it upfront. I internalized financial advice from the worst possible source - fashion and pop culture icon Carrie Bradshaw.

For the uninitiated, Sex and the City, was an American television series featuring four successful professional women living in Manhattan, with the star being the protagonist and narrator Carrie Bradshaw. One of her most memorable quotes is, “l like my money where I can see it: hanging in my closet” (right next to the Manolo Blahniks, Jimmy Choos and Christian Louboutins).

Hold back the judgement! I was in my 20s.

While I partially emulated her behaviour and splurged on clothes, shoes and bags, I stayed away from premium brands. My accessories were always junk jewelry. While I indulged myself, I had also imbibed some very significant values from my parents. One of them is to shirk debt. So I threw in my earnings to play the game, but never resorted to bringing in the big guns of maxing out the credit cards and rolling over the payments.

I remained blissfully unaware of financial planning, or even financial prudence. On my father’s persuasion and prodding, I begrudgingly “invested” in some insurance policies.

When I got married, I was naïve enough to believe that things would just take care of themselves. My bubble (related to the necessity of financial planning) burst when my husband and I separated.

Ironically, all through my marriage, I held a job and earned. But I had never ever contemplated being alone. And one fine day, I found myself single.

Healing oneself after a divorce is a time-consuming process with a non-linear trajectory, as one experiences extreme emotions and wants to hold on to the parts of life planned as a couple. In retrospect, I wasted a lot of time and energy in this transition from being a non-financial planning believer to understanding the field better. I guess it was a way of coping; I wanted things to remain static for as long as possible so that I could hold on to a shred of the past a little longer.

To add to it was the fear of the unknown. I was not brought up to think about financial planning. When getting married, I was not coached as to the intricacies of a couple’s finances when both are earning. Financial planning is mostly limited to typically taking forward the practices of parents and going for the seemingly safe options of buying gold, real estate, and investing in a fixed deposit.

Eventually, I began exploring and working on options that would hopefully create sustainable and self-churning wealth for me in my old age. I now have a pension scheme, I invest in the stock market and run a systematic investment plan, what is known as SIP,  for my investments in mutual funds.

My Advice To My Younger Self

  • The future is all about probabilities.

Nothing is set in stone. Have fluid plans. Situations change. Circumstances change. Perspectives change. Adapt accordingly. Don't get paralyzed into inaction. More so, don’t waste energy, time or resources in sticking to the original plan.

  • You deserve the security money brings.

Every woman should prioritize being financially independent and educate herself about financial planning. You owe it to yourself. My heart goes out to all those women trapped in emotionally abusive and controlling relationships simply because they are not financially independent. They deserve better.

  • Money gives you options to choose a better life.

In my years as a practicing lawyer, I have witnessed women at the receiving end of domestic abuse. Their parents would coax them to ‘adjust’ only to later recoil in horror when their received the news of their daughter’s suicide or murder. The tragedy in almost all cases is that the women were not financially independent and consequently, unable to walk out of a bad relationship.

  • Don’t buy into the narrative that finances belong only in a man’s world.

What has worked for me and boosted my confidence is being financially independent. I am employed and earning, and now investing. I shudder to think of what life would have been had I not eventually become financially independent.

  • You are never too young. It is never too late.

Start saving and investing at a very young age. Do it with the monetary gifts given to you if you are not earning. Read. Educate yourself about investing. Just start. However small the amount, irrespective of your age.

Oh yes, there is one more. Never take any financial advice from Carrie Bradshaw.

On March 8 was International Women’s Day, with the 2022 theme being #BreakTheBias.

At the heart of it is the idea that individuals coming together can change the way the world works. So we at Morningstar approached women to talk about their money stories.

There is power in sharing authentic stories from a diverse range of women. Some stories are brief and to the point. Others have a much more descriptive narrative. There is no little story, big story or frivolous story. Our individual actions, behaviours and mindsets have an impact on our larger society. We inspire and empower, and reveal possibilities to those who identify.

A cloak of silence benefits no one. It is time to #BreakTheBias.

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