Chopra started earning when she was just 17 years old, but the lesson of save first, spend later, was learnt even before that. “I used to save during my pocket money days. But I am not a miser. For instance, I saved even in school when I used to get lunch money. If I was busy during lunch hours due to rehearsals, plays or extra-curricular activities, my lunch money used to get accumulated. When I had collected enough, I used to go buy a great outfit because in high school that was also important,” says the 33-year-old Chopra.
Money lessons learnt
Unlike salaried individuals who have a steady income coming in every month, in the entertainment business, earnings are sporadic. But be it regular or sporadic, if you list your cash outflows and inflows, you will be able to budget better. This was yet another lesson that Chopra, who has acted in about 50 Hindi films, learnt in the initial years of her career.
“Initially, mom (Madhu Chopra) and I used to have a little diary in which we would write what is coming in and what is going out just to keep track, because there were months where you got so much money and then there were months where you got nothing.” She ensured that she evened out the money for the entire year, especially in the beginning of her career. “I think it was very important for me to look at starting to build a safety net so that I didn’t feel the insecurity of the ups and downs of finances because I might do no film a year or I might do six commercials or I might do none.”
So, when Chopra ventured into the risky entertainment business, the first financial takeaway for her was to build a safety net. “Risks are important. But a big risk without a safety net is something I wouldn’t do. You have to have a safety net so that even if you fall, you don’t get killed. Say, you are a contestant on Kaun Banega Crorepati (a popular TV quiz show) and you have bagged Rs.5,000. You should take at least Rs.5,000 home. You can’t come down to zero. Similarly, even if you take a big risk, you need to know that you will be okay even if you fail. You can’t take a risk where you can lose everything.”
Knowing yourself is among the important initial steps to building wealth. Chopra knows this, and has also benefitted from it. “By nature, I am a rebel without a cause. I like to be rebellious because I can. I am little ‘anti’; a little off the beaten path. But within all of that, if I am walking off the beaten path and I don’t know what is coming in front of me, I make sure I wear comfortable shoes. I protect myself but at the same time make sure that I fly. I know very well that if there is a ditch, I am not going to walk into it. I am a sensibly rebellious investor.”
The other stepping stone of her career and finances has been consistency. “If you are consistent in every exam and every test you take, you will keep getting As. If you study for all the small tests and keep getting A+ for each of them, eventually you will come first in class. You have to not slack. No matter what you do, you can’t lower your standards. Eventually, you will win. The plan is not the big win; the plan is winning today, right now.”
The Padma Shri recipient says that there are multiple ways to get to one’s goals. “This is something I tell my brother (27-year-old Siddharth Chopra) and all the young people who want to achieve something in life. For instance, if the answer you want is 4, then 2 plus 2 is 4, and 8 divided by 2 is also 4. There are so many ways to get to 4. If one way doesn’t work out, you think of another way. We are in a world today where you can do that.”
While Chopra knows what she wants and how to get it, she also understands the value of support. She ensures that a part of her income goes into savings, and her mother takes care of her investments. “My mom is my CFO (chief finance officer) and also for my company. She handles all my finances and legal work, and also handles her own business (including her clinic).”
Madhu Chopra is the brain behind the family’s investment strategy. “Since the beginning, my mom has been the finance king in the house. She used to literally put Rs.1,000 in my dad’s (late Ashok Chopra) wallet because he didn’t have his credit card and didn’t know where his money was. Same with me, I don’t know what is where. I remember, in the first year of my career, I would depend tremendously on my mother.”