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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Spending too much on salon? Here is how your savings can come in handy!

Sayema Warsi (name changed) sighs as a hair stylist hands her a bill. Warsi, a 24-year-old PR professional based in Mumbai has had a long day at the neighbourhood salon to get her monthly grooming essentials done. “It is a known fact that those working in the PR industry have to adhere to a strict set of rules regarding their appearances. I remember getting a long email the day I started working at a PR firm that had an expansive list of dos and donts about looking presentable at work,” reminisces Warsi.

While the firm where Warsi works is yet to start calling employees to the office, the pandemic-induced work-from-home apparatus has brought about little relief in terms of keeping up with the demands of looking professional. “The work-from-home model has at least eliminated the need for an updated wardrobe, but it has not spared us from having to appear perfectly groomed for video calls and meetings. Routine trips to the salon are mandatory for me and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the amount I have to spend each month on salon services eats away a sizable chunk of my salary,” she says.

Although conversations about gender pay gap and sexism at the workplace have been catapulted into mainstream social narratives in recent years, the disparity between the amount of time, money and effort men and women have to put in to look well-groomed is seldom acknowledged. “Men just have to trim their beards, get a good haircut and that is enough for them to fulfill their grooming prerequisites but for women it translates into an extremely time-consuming and costly exercise. In industries like hospitality, PR, fashion where appearances can make or break careers, employers should grant allowances for grooming necessities,” Warsi says.

Since time immemorial, cultural tropes have afforded more importance to the appearances of women than their achievements. This has been internalized by generations of women and unspoken rules of ‘looking the part’ exist even when if the job does not require looking a certain way. As unfair as it sounds, appearances can have a significant impact on the careers of women. In fact, a 2016 Harvard study revealed that women who wore make-up were considered more competent than those who did not. The undue expectations regarding appearances that women have to bear was also discussed by sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner in their study titled “Gender and the Returns to Attractiveness” which stated that attractive workers had higher remuneration than what they called “average-lookers”.

Aditya Birla Sun Life Mutual Fund has started a special initiative called For Her that focusses on financial inclusion of women and intends to provide them avenues for financial security.

If Warsi’s job requires her to spend thousands each month on grooming services, make-up and perfectly curated outfits that look attractive and professional, the scenario isn’t very different for women from other professions or for homemakers or self-employed women. Be it patriarchal perceptions that ties women’s worth with their appearances or the increasing unspoken pressures of complying with prevailing beauty standards defined by social media, or simply a fascination with everything beauty and fashion, the costs of maintaining appearances is a major expense that most women have to incur.

Ranjana Banerjee (name changed), a 45-year-old homemaker who lives in Mumbai feels the advent of social media has intensified the compulsion among women to ensure they look put-together at all times. “A decade ago, a trip to the beauty parlor entailed availing a few cursory services but now it has become ritualistic, more so among younger women. I have never been a stickler for trends but when I see women in my family and social circles looking as if they just stepped out of a magazine shoot, it is hard to not feel that peer pressure, especially when you pose for pictures and they get plastered on social media,” explains Banerjee.

Formerly a schoolteacher, Banerjee shares that her initial reluctance to embrace ‘in-things’ has now morphed into a habit to which she has become indifferent. She admits though that it took her a while to figure out a way to keep at it without burning a hole in her pocket. “Earlier my grooming expenses were so less that it would hardly make a difference even if I skipped visiting the parlour. But over the years, that amount has gone up for obvious reasons and I started investing small sums every month in short-term debt mutual funds for this to ensure that my monthly budget wasn’t getting derailed,” she narrates.

Warsi also resorted to the mutual fund way to fund her grooming obligations. She explains, “Expenses incurred by women on looking presentable are not minor ones and yet they are never discussed. You will never see a personal finance guru or a wealth advisor factoring in these steep costs while doling out advice on savings and investments. This is a unique financial issue – you obviously cannot channel funds in fixed deposits or random long-term investment assets for this purpose. Mutual funds are ideal in this regard because you can easily withdraw those investments and choose from a plethora of funds depending on your risk profile.”

Anant Ladha, CEO of Invest Aaj for Kal says, “SIP investments in mutual funds at the start of every month is a great way to allocate funds for such expenses. Usually, we do not pay much attention to planning for these overheads and if at all it is done, we tend to relegate it for later. However, it is hard to save money at the end of the month and hence a better approach is reverse the calculation and first invest and then spend the balance amount.”

Key takeaways

  • Draw an estimate of the amount you spend each month on your grooming essentials and cosmetics and the likes. This will give you a clear picture of the amount you would need to set aside yearly for these expenses and you can invest accordingly.
  • Salon memberships, discount vouchers on beauty and fashion items and DIY tricks can go a long way in bringing down your grooming costs.
  • Mutual funds are ideal in this regard because you can easily withdraw those investments and choose from a plethora of funds depending on your risk profile.
  • SIP investments in mutual funds at the start of every month is a great way to allocate funds for such expenses.

This article is part of the HT Friday Finance series published in association with Aditya Birla Sun Life Mutual Fund.

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