By Padmaja Rajagopalan
- The market for personal finance books geared towards women is quite well-developed around the world and sometimes critiqued for its tendency towards pink covers and bad, patronizing advice. This is the first Indian one that’s caught my eye. The blurb promised that I’d find out how to “Manage your budget even if you have limited resources, negotiate the tricky trenches of ‘yours, mine, ours,’ circumvent the baggage of societal expectations, figure out where you go wrong with spending/saving and how to get past it, work around people’s demands and do the best for your own financial security and much, much more. With advice, anecdotes, theories, explanations and some good, old common-sense plain-speaking, this is a handy guide to managing your money that you absolutely must read.” Having read it I feel a strong inclination to sue the blurb. Handy guide, it isn’t. It doesn’t tell you how to manage your money, work around people’s demands or help you think through a game plan for financial security.
- Far more honest is the author Shruti Kohli’s personal website which says tersely, “The Petticoat Journal is NOT a guide on investments and insurance. It looks at the behavioural aspect.” A good disclaimer since the book mentions equities about once (I think) in the whole book in the context of a female executive who earned a ton of money every month but didn’t know what equities meant because her husband did all the investing. Unfortunately, said executive would not know an equity from a fixed deposit after reading this book either.
- The book is well organized into neat chapters about money and the Indian woman in her avatars as daughter, sister, girlfriend, bride, the wife, the mother, the mother-in-law, the daughter-in-law, friend, the single woman and so on. You are likely to find something in there that matches your situation. As a single child with aging parents I did find the chapter about daughters interesting. But this structure is also the book’s weakness. Instead of looking at some basic strategies and ideas for all readers, no matter what their current Indian woman situation, the book encourages you to skip to your bits and ignore the rest.
- Once you do find the chapters that most closely resembles your current situation (which is a bit hard because you know a lot of the time you are multiple creatures, daughter + girlfriend + single woman or single woman + mother + sister or some other permutation/combinations) you are likely to be a bit outraged that there isn’t any actual money-management advice. Unlike even the simple personal finance/self-help books and blogs it doesn’t have any handy tips to begin a monthly budget or pay off your credit card debts or a simple savings plan. Rujuta Diwekar’s best-selling Women and the Weight Loss Tamasha faced with a similar ‘Which Indian woman is my reader?’ crisis smartly dealt with it by offering a basic blue print for nutrition that most readers can build on and experiement with.
- The journalist-turned-entrepreneur author has a very easy reading style, which makes the book not very hard work.
- Shruti Kohli must have a sea of acquaintances because every chapter is awash with ‘my friend’s neighbor’s widowed mother’ or ‘my friend’s daughter’s leeching boyfriend’ or other six degrees of separation. While this adds to the book’s friendly, gossipy we-are-all-pals-here atmosphere it does get a bit old fairly quickly.
- Every chapter ends with some bullet points recapping the well-intentioned but banal thoughts of the chapter — such as if you are an only child you need to have a plan to financially support your parents — and a tacked-on label such as The Filial Accountability Theory or the Spatial Definitiveness Theory (reminding me strongly of The Big Bang Theory episode titles: The Fuzzy Boots Corollary, The Dumpling Paradox, The Adhesive Duck Deficiency)
- When we were in school, my friends and I watched a Bugs Bunny movie in which Bugs meets a fairytale Prince and says something about Hansel and Gretel to him. For some reason this name becomes an idée fixe for the Prince and he exits saying, “Hansel? Hansel. Hansel? Hansel”. Over the last few days I’ve walked around saying to myself, “Petticoat Journal? Petticoat Journal. Petticoat Journal? Petticoat Journal.” I still don’t know what the title refers to. If you do, let me know.
- Kohli emphasizes financial independence throughout the book. Over and over again, she says that all women need to get an education and ensure their own source of income. Which is a nice thing.
Padmaja Rajagopalan is a former wealth manager and executive search professional. She lives in Mumbai.
Photo credit: Stockpholio