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May Habib says saving early allowed her to take risks when starting her business. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
May Habib says saving early allowed her to take risks when starting her business. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Thriving on a smaller budget

Money and me: May Habib is the chief executive of Qordoba, a content creation and digital publishing company. The Lebanese-Canadian, 28, has lived in the UAE since 2009 and set up Qordoba Translation in 2011 and Qordoba Books a year later.

q How would you describe your financial journey so far?

a I started off in investment banking which paid well, then I moved to a principal investment job that also paid well. That led to starting my own company, funded partly with my savings - but that journey has not been about the money. Which means I'm not making that much money, which is fine. It means you're expanding; you're doing more important things than paying yourself. So the financial journey has taken a back seat and I have learnt to live on a much smaller budget. But if I didn't save money in the beginning I wouldn't have been able to take the risk of starting something new.

Are you spender or a saver?

I'm definitely a spender, but a conservative spender. I save a specific amount for security that is in a completely separate bank account that I will never touch. Everything else goes pretty quickly. I will pay my rent in advance for a year; I own my car; I have no debt, so I'll take care of big things first, then what comes in later I'll spend.

Is money important to you?

No, but security is very important. Feeling fulfilled and doing something impactful are things that are much more important to me than money, but if I didn't have a base of financial security, which I had to earn, then it would be harder to do something I enjoy and love and take the risks that we are taking.

Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?

Oh my, I am embarrassed to tell you. When Mawaqif started in Abu Dhabi, I apparently never got the memo that it was for real so that resulted in a lot of pain. The street cameras also killed me. I paid upwards of Dh50,000 over a couple of years to Abu Dhabi Police. Not paying attention to little bills that can add up was a huge mistake. I didn't change the lock when changing apartments, for example, so ended up losing Dh25,000.

Do you plan for the future?

Yes, definitely. A big reason why I started the company was to have the flexibility to have a family and to travel to see my own family who are all over the world. You can't be on your own schedule when you work for a large investment company. I couldn't see myself spending the next 20 years needing to be based in one place with just two weeks of vacation a year.

What has been your biggest financial lesson?

Don't be careless. There's that amazing line from The Great Gatsby about Tom and Daisy - "they were careless people". I am not rich, so my biggest realisation has been more philosophical; I need a lot less money than I thought to live a good life. If you are doing something you love, you seriously don't notice that you are flying economy or that your shoes are now Nine West instead of Prada.

What do you spend your money on?

Experiences, mostly. I travel a lot and I have family in Lebanon and Canada and friends in the US who I like to visit [These] are places that are not cheap to get to from the UAE. After that, my biggest expenses are probably clothes, books, salons and spas.


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