Before you think of slush funds and hush money and other forms of illicit wealth, let me clarify: I AM talking about hidden money — but it is not the kind that is either ill-gotten or ill-used.
It is that secret stash, generally small, that ordinary women such as me keep hidden in a box somewhere at the back of our cupboards or in envelopes stuffed under mattresses or in biscuit tins in sundry places around the house. Some of us might secretly open an account in a bank and try to make sure our spouses have no idea that such an account exists and the more intrepid among us may invest in shares and mutual funds to help those secret funds to grow.
To have a secret account seems logical and normal and even wise to me but now I learn from newspaper reports that a study shows one in five women in America have secret accounts and feel that having independent funds is necessary, while an equal number of women feel that hiding money from their spouses is grounds for a break-up.
Obviously, what I consider normal is not so for a large part of the rest of the world.
My desire to be of independent means probably began, like everything else, from my childhood experiences. Mother was by nature careful with everything but she had no bank account of her own. She left all banking matters to Father — who loved to splurge when he had a little extra cash in hand. Therefore, bank balances always hovered around the minimum and we lived from paycheque to paycheque.
But we children never heard our parents fight over money: Maybe because there was none of it to fight over or maybe because neither parent was interested in luxuries of any kind nor did they understand how to make money grow.
Somehow, the message I got from this absence of savings in our home was that I should have some — and thus, when I met and married a spendthrift of my own, the first thing I did was retain my “single” bank account. It was easy for me since I was working in a bank, but the husband, well aware of my regularly replenished stash, employed sweet-talk and his “taking” ways to get me to empty it in short order to invest first in a car and then in a house.
After that, it seemed that we had everything we needed for a secure future — and so, when I gave up my career as a banker to be full-time mother and part-time writer he lost interest in that account. There was no more talk of acquiring this or that (and sadly there was no more “sweet-talk”), but at least I didn’t have to dip into an account that I was building up rupee by rupee.
Everyone knows that “the art of making money is in keeping it” and for decades I held on tight to every little payment that came in for articles and stories — until eventually I could afford to spend.
Then, I quietly passed “a little something” to my son from time to time to indulge his “foodie” habit while he was subsisting on hostel meals; later, a little more openly, I helped him buy his first car when he was working, until finally both he and his father had some savings of their own — and at last I could “come out” and confess — and with a splash, foot the bill for a holiday for all of us …
Now, both of them are a little more respectful of the slow-and-steady maxim — and while I urge them to try it out for themselves, I am also relieved that I no longer have to keep anything hush-hush anymore!
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.