🌻My Top Five Lessons in Personal Finance


Lessons I Learnt the Hard Way…

Vinita Ramtri I Photo by Victor Guidini
I was educated at one of India’s finest schools at the time. Also, I was one of the brightest students in class. Clearly, like many children, who believe that school had set them up for success in the real world, I believed so too. Having learnt math, we thought we’d figured finance. Having learnt economics, we thought we’d got concepts such as demand, supply, surplus and deficit. After all, I was bright and this was logic. Yes, I’d got this!


Life, however, convinced me otherwise. Having held corporate roles since 1998, I practically restarted my financial journey upon separation in 2012, and learnt several lessons the very hard way. Here are my top five.

Read also: 8 subtle habits of the super successful no one talks about

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1. Know Where Your Money’s Going

I grew up in a traditional set up where it was norm for men to bring home the money and manage finances. ‘Sure,’ I thought — and though I haven’t stopped working since I was 21, I didn’t manage my finances until my divorce.

At 35, my divorce was a rude awakening because not only did I not know how to manage money, I had very little to show for the 14 years of work. But I didn’t know why. I didn’t know how. I still don’t.

So lesson #1 is to have a fundamental understanding of where the funds are. Because only through awareness can you make choices.

‘… only through awareness can you make choices.’

2. Build a Reserve Fund

The next lesson is no matter how well looked after you may be, by your firms, your parents, your spouses or even your governments, set something aside for a rainy day. It may not appear critical when things are going well, but there come moments when you wish you had something set aside and more importantly, the absence of reserves, can be deeply limiting at crucial times.

‘The absence of reserves, can be deeply limiting at crucial times.’

Continuing the above line of thought, I was able to make my choices agnostic of my unsteady financial position because one, I believed in my earning potential and two, I knew if nothing else worked, my parents could help me for a while. I shudder to think of what might be otherwise.

And today, I meet many men and women in less privileged positions who are unable to make choices, such as choices to take career breaks, switch careers, start businesses, and more — simply because they’re living paycheck to paycheck and there’s nothing in reserve.

So lesson #2, set something aside for the rainy days.

3. Make a budget, or find someone to do it

Let me tell you a story here. In this photo you see my very good friend, Neetha. She lives in Mumbai and was visiting London during the early days of my divorce. As mentioned above, I had no concept of managing money. I was cautious, maybe too cautious, yet I didn’t budget. I simply didn’t spend and thought that if I spent as little as I could, then I didn’t need a budget.

Neetha and me at the O2 Arena, London
I still remember a day when Neetha and I were walking in Jubilee Place Mall in Canary Wharf and I picked up a lipstick at Boots. I promptly put it back in the rack.

‘Why don’t you buy it?’ she said.

‘It’s too expensive.’ I said.

‘What’s your budget?’ she asked.

‘I don’t have a budget, I just don’t spend until I have to.’ I said.

I went to the most cost effective gym in town, had the bare minimum needed to be well dressed at work and for that matter, I hadn’t even had a hair cut in a long time. Overall, I was going through mom guilt and while I spent on my children, every penny spent on myself felt excessive. According to me, there was no need for a budget because I couldn’t possibly spend any less. According to Neetha, having a budget would give me peace of mind to spend on myself without killing myself with guilt.

And so, the next day, Neetha came home, sat me down, created an Excel file on my computer and made me budget. Turns out, I could actually afford to spend on myself, even if just £100 a month. If I didn’t, I could carry it forward to the following month! Who knew?

A draft of what Neetha made for me…figures aren’t right I know : )
So my lesson #3, always budget.

4. Always Return What Isn’t Yours to Keep

This is perhaps more of a life lesson than a financial one. Over the years, I’ve observed that given the significance of financial wellbeing, many times, people thing the end justifies the means. It doesn’t.

‘…many times, people thing the end justifies the means. It doesn’t.’

During my difficult years, people have helped me with tens of thousands of pounds. And perhaps that’s why I was unable to even buy a lipstick without feeling guilty — I always felt I owed people money. But even then, I’d much rather live without lipstick, than to be in debt.

Slowly but steadily, I paid back all my debt. It may mean less personal wealth but then, the ideas is to only keep, or spend, what’s right rightfully yours and not accumulate whatever it is you can. The reward here isn’t financial but a must greater one — its trust. Also the ability to look yourself in the eye.

So lesson #4, avoid debt and even if no one’s asking, return what’s not yours to keep.

5. Invest in your Future

As I paid back my debts, I realized that while I worked for my money, my money didn’t work for me. I started with a cash ISA of £5,000 and disillusioned with negligible returns, I taught myself how to invest. I attended several webinars in the city and also did the Million Dollar Traders course by Lex Van Dam. Watching those module on repeat, often at 4 am before work, I wasn’t just learning to invest my money, but also investing in myself.

Watching those module on repeat, often at 4 am before work, I wasn’t just learning to invest my money, but also investing in myself.

Over the years, I’ve written several pieces about stocks to pick at different times, but more important than any of that, is the habit of investing. Many people find single stocks high risk and prefer funds or even property so this isn’t about what you’re investing in, but staying invested.

So lesson #5, stay invested, in your financial being, and in your portfolio.

Read also: The 5 habits of financially responsible people


It’s been 10 years since Neetha made that budget for me, and I’ve come a long way since. At the very least, I know my budgets and net worth. I haven’t spoken about net worth above and will cover that in a follow up article.

For now though, I’ll leave you with this thought. Many times we think finances are about large bank accounts and only the wealthy need to manage their money. Also, we frown at those who care too much about monetary aspects of life — sometimes shaming them as ‘money minded,’ as though it was a bad thing.

But personal finance is a lot more meaningful than bulky bank balances — it’s not about hoarding or putting money above emotions — it’s the peace of mind to buy yourself a lipstick and add a dash of color to your life.

‘Personal Finance to me is the peace of mind to buy myself a lipstick and add a dash of color to my life.’

For more articles, please visit my website or connect with me on LinkedIn.

Vinita is a versatile and impactful leader in financial services with a credible reputation. With 24 years of corporate experience across four industries and three countries, Vinita has held substantial leadership roles in operations, strategic thinking, learning and risk. Having worked with C-Suite leaders in complex organization and matrix models, Vinita can lead large teams or operate as an independent contributor in an influential role. As APAC COO, and interim CEO, for a financial services consultancy, she’s accountable for the business in Singapore, Hong Kong and India, and leads a team of 150 people. Her previous roles include Head of Conduct at Barclays Wealth and Head of Risk at HSBC Commercial Bank and Global Head of API governance, also at HSBC. Vinita is a British national who lives in Singapore.

Vinita has a deeply intuitive and curious mind and an abstract aptitude of 99 percentile. Besides being a certified coach, prolific writer, public speaker, keen investor and single parent, she’s an autodidactic, obsessive thinker and emerging erudite. She’s authored two books.

Contributed by Vinita Ramtri

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