My new life in Dubai has opened many doors for my wife and me. Having moved here from Melbourne, Australia, in March 2008, we have successfully managed to set up home in this country, and our personal finances seem to be going from strength to strength. My upbringing in a middle-class family just outside of Melbourne has taught me a lot about the value of money. My parents always believed that if you work hard, the money you earn is there to be spent. My brother and I were encouraged to work for our money, so when I was 13 I got a job at a butcher's working weekends and after school. I earned about Dh240 (A$102) a week which was a decent wage for someone my age. And since then, having my own money has always been important to me.
My wife and I had initially planned to visit Dubai for a holiday, but as it turned out, a job opportunity cropped up before we had a chance to visit. Enticed to the UAE by the desire for adventure, it was the idea of working for a world-class construction company that finally sealed the deal. I now work as a site superintendent at Higgs and Hill and I am extremely satisfied with my career move, professionally as well as financially. My wife works as a marketing manager for a leading retailer in Dubai.
Since our move to Dubai our main focus has been to bulk up our savings. After the initial expense of having to set up home, we now have a monthly direct debit from each of our current accounts in Dubai: one to a superfund in the UK and the other to a savings account in Australia. These savings work out at about 10 per cent of our combined monthly salary. We pay the utility bills, loans and rent for our two-bedroom flat in Jumeirah Beach Residence at the start of the month and we then use the remainder for spending. I also have a financial adviser to help monitor the pension fund that I set up on arrival in Dubai in 2008.
Splurging on special occasions is a vital part of enjoying life. Our recent wedding in Las Vegas last November was very much such an occasion and we didn't mind the extra spending to make it memorable. Five-star accommodation was our main expense at Dh18,000 for one week in Las Vegas and another in New York. The wedding chapel cost Dh1,000 and we spent an additional Dh500 on an Elvis impersonator and Dh3,600 on a professional photographer. We also splurged on a celebratory dinner for all of the wedding party which came to Dh12,000.
Finding yourself in debt is never a pleasant experience. At one point I had three mortgages on three different properties in Australia with loans of over Dh2 million. Making the repayments became increasingly difficult and I was eventually forced to put all three properties up for sale in order to halt the cycle of debt. I was never very wise when it came to re-investing the profit I had made on the sale. I would sell one house and when the money came in, instead of paying off the mortgage for the other houses, I would pocket the money or blow it on holidays. I made a profit of Dh150,000 on my last property in 2007, which quickly dwindled to Dh30,000 in the space of six months.
I blame my actions on being young and naive, and now, at 33, I try and take wisdom from hindsight and will try never to repeat these mistakes in the future. Having sold all my property, I now have few responsibilities back in Australia. I do, however, still own a small holiday home near Thomson Dam, east of Melbourne in the state of Victoria, for which I pay a monthly maintenance fee, and I also have a small amount of debt on my Australian credit card. The recent bush fires were very worrying as two years ago we experienced similar fires that came very close to destroying our holiday home. This year, when I heard about the most recent fires, I immediately went to try and insure my property but found that the insurance companies wouldn't insure it during the fire season.
I believe money is necessary for a happy and fulfilling life. If I got lucky and won the postcard millionaire, for example, I would set myself up for early retirement so that I could spend more time with my family and friends. Not to mention a comfortable house, a fast car and maybe even the Harley Davidson bike of my dreams. My advice to anyone looking to get their finances in order would be to concentrate on saving - not just for that rainy day but in order to reward yourself for all your hard work. A great savings tip is to take out a larger amount of money from the ATM at the beginning of the month and put it into a box that you keep in a safe place at home. Every morning only take with you what you think you will need for the entire day. This way you are always in control of what you spend.
Make sure you take your ATM card out of your wallet before you leave the house. Most people warn against credit cards but I believe they are necessary for survival in the modern world. Control your cards by keeping your credit limit low. The bank will try and increase your limit, often without your knowledge but you should always refuse whatever you don't need. Having made mistakes with my money in the past, I have come to the realisation that accumulating savings can in fact be much more satisfying than spending it. The more you manage to save, the bigger the rush you get when you check your balance and see that money building up.
Despite the uncertainty of the current economic climate, my wife and I intend to stay in Dubai for as long as possible in order to continue saving for our future. * As told to Inga Stevens