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Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
Illustration by Gary Clement for The National

To save your wealth is to share your wealth

On the money: it’s not about counting on what’s coming in the future, it’s about using what you have now wisely.

on the money

This was part of a conversation I was privy to between a young boy, around 7 years old, and his father recently:

Boy: How much money do you have?

Father: You mean left over from the weekend?

Boy: Yes.

Father: Around 200 dirhams. (They’d been out spending quite a bit that weekend, and the father had mentioned something about having enough money.)

Boy: Does that mean we’re poor?

Father: What do you mean?

Boy: You spent nearly all your money. That means we’re poor.

Father: No. I’ll keep making money.

Boy: But if our money runs out, we’ll be poor.

Father: Our money will never run out. Don’t you worry about that. I’ll make sure. I’ll keep making money.

Is that you? Of course we all want to have fun and treat family and loved ones. But do you really believe you will always be able to make money? Because it simply isn’t true. There will be a time when each of us will not be able to.

It could be out of choice, such as a break from the relentless rat-race to have an adventure, or to nurture a young life, or look after an older one.

Or it could be an imposed situation: you lose your job, your company goes bust, or you become ill or otherwise unable to work.

Point is: it’s not about counting on what’s coming in the future, it’s about using what you have now wisely. That includes setting money aside for adventure and great times, as well as for the future and the unforeseen. It’s all about living within our means.

Getting this message out is an uphill struggle.

Even among those who should know better.

A few days ago I had a meeting with the head of marketing at a leading local bank, discussing my website’s upcoming UAE Saves Week – a community outreach initiative that we’re launching next Sunday: seven days of financial education, empowerment and fun. I was amazed to hear that she doesn’t believe in saving money, that she looks down upon people in her life who budget, calculate what they consume, and choose not to show off – at one point she said that a person that she knows drives a Toyota Camry, even though, to quote her, this person has a “position of responsibility”.

The person I was meeting with on the other hand takes her place in the upper echelons of management very seriously and her driver ferries her back and forth in an appropriately opulent car – in keeping with her VIP status.

I was gobsmacked.

The conversation included how she was better dressed than people who saved. And what’s the point anyway? She might die tomorrow – she can’t take her savings to the grave, and anyway, God will provide.

All I could think is that the most precious thing I have is time – my time. And it was being squandered listening to someone who represents an organisation that should be extolling the virtues of saving, even if the institution doesn’t really care about individuals and people.

Talking about UAE Saves Week has brought with it some other remarkable reactions too. Such as: many of us are transient here, and no one really cares about the financial messes that people get into.

That, should we become a nation of savers, which incidentally would move us up the ranks of so-called happiness indices, then that would be bad for the economy. That businesses, and the economy would suffer – this is something I hear quite often, and find disturbing. As though this is a mutually exclusive relationship – the choice between the well-being of the individual versus that of the nation.

This saddens me greatly. I believe that we should care. We should care about our own lives and well-being, and those of the people around us. Our well-being is connected. And the well-being of people and the economy are intricately enmeshed.

But there is good news to share too. The same day I went to see said anti-saver, I had been to another company that has grown from a single person’s drive and ambition to create value and work for herself and others. The company has enthusiastically embraced the ethos of UAE Saves Week and is championing internal activities and events that will encourage their staff of 43 to save money. They realise that having financially empowered colleagues makes them, and the company as a whole, better, happier, more productive. And that that feeds directly into everyone’s well-being.

The company is the biz-group. They are a dynamic, energetic group of people who are “passionate about performance”, as they put it. Shy, retiring types need not apply here – I tell you that much having been privy to one of their morning huddles.

So, on balance, it saddens me that the organisations that you’d think would champion getting people to change their mindset about spending money, and get into the habit of saving, are the very ones that have been most challenging to communicate with. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that we appear to be in the realm of rewarding, and therefore encouraging debt when you look at the incentives that credit cards are providing for being in a cycle of excruciatingly expensive debt.

But I have renewed faith in the individual, and that we can help effect and bring about positive change.

Responsible employers like the biz-group have proven just that. And their collaborative core of sharing and living the theory of abundance – where people benefit from others’ gain instead of being proprietary and keeping things to ourselves – is something I cannot recommend enough.

Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website www.cashy.me. You can contact her at nima@cashy.me

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