Where is the money coach?

Money has been a scarce resource in the last six months. Talk to anyone. You will hear some horror story. I am yet to find adequate coaching programmes for money management.

Traditionally coaching has been in vogue in games and sports. I always hear of coaches in field games such as football, basketball, hockey and cricket and sports like swimming, running etc. Specialist coaches are available for every aspect of the game. Currently, I can find coaches in all the areas of life — business, the entertainment, grooming, dating, fitness, health etc.

However, the current coaching model seems to be for the elite. One sportsperson or a film actor can afford eight to nine coaches: health coach, voice coach, fitness coach, grooming coach etc. A business executive has at least three coaches for improving communication skills, presentation skills and collaborating skills.

The poor and needy do not have any coaches. The only coaching available is through TV or social media. Here again, I am not sure of the content. Mandated awareness programmes on drinking, smoking and hygiene in movies have changed lives to some extent. There are a few examples of advertisements on family planning and abortions in the 1970s which provided education to the population at large.

I learnt money by doing. My father was a teacher in a small village. He was supporting a family of five with his meagre salary. Fifty per cent of the wage went to rent, necessary provisions and electricity. I remember we had two colour boxes in the house- Red and Green. My parents used the contents of the green box for paying rent, buying provisions and payment of electricity bills. It was usually a lunchtime conversation on the distribution of the money under each line item. They would not touch the contents of the red box unless it is an emergency, and these emergencies included festivals, unexpected guests and travel. There was also a yellow box tucked away in a secret corner, which contained any savings carried forward from the previous months.

There was no concept of pocket money, and hence no personal expenses. My parents would buy me four sets of clothes once a year. I am aware that I would not get any additional pair if I damage the dress during the year. I grew with the concept of three meals a day — a simple menu with rice, fresh vegetables and fruits. I could not waste any food as we did not have any refrigerator in the house. I would get a treat on a Sunday morning when I accompanied my father to the market. Commuting to school was always on foot. I learnt to take a bath in one bucket of water as the water was a scarce resource in our town. I always used the backside of the used paper for all my Maths work. I had a small piggy bank for dropping any coins visitors to our house gave me, which was only my savings. All the celebrations like birthdays happened within the four walls of the house.

When I look back, I realise that I did not get any direct lessons on savings and money management. I did not know the concept of VDE analysis — Vital, Desirable and Essential. Though I had to follow the rules for frugality, I was very comfortable in my childhood. I never felt the shortage of money. I always got a ‘nudge’ from my parents to save money for a rainy day. I learnt early in my life that it is not only education but also behavioural changes that are necessary for the wise management of money. As Noble Lauret and behavioural Economist, Richard Thaler has pointed, “A nudge, as we will use the term, is an aspect of the choice architecture that alters people’s behaviour in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.” Even Swatch Bharath Abhiyan very successful in my country has the same core principle.

I love the little cast-bronze sculptures14th Street and 8th Avenue station on MTA( New York Metro). It is like seeing cartoons of RK Lakshman in the physical form. The entire artwork shows five distinct character types — blue-collar workers with construction hats and t-shirts, white-collar workers with business hats, radicals with no clothes and pointed hats, wealthy people with top hats and cops. The artist even included a familiar NYC urban myth (two words, sewer alligator). Though at first glance, the little sculptures may seem just like comical characters, many of them touch upon deeper social issues such as class and money. The characters portray a realistic view of what is happening to money management. The artist, Tom Otterness, took ten years to complete the Life Underground installation in 2002. I am very convinced that ‘ nudging economics’ works. While the Otterness bronzes depict a great story, I am not sure how many commuters watch this public display.



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