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DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - April 28,2011: Lesley Cully working as a part time sales assistant for Magrudy“s on beach road in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Personal Finance.
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - April 28,2011: Lesley Cully working as a part time sales assistant for Magrudy“s on beach road in Dubai. (Pawan Singh / The National) For Personal Finance.

Money & Me: Saving lives and saving money

Dubai's "Buckle Up Lady" is a saver when it comes to both lives and money.

What is your philosophy on money?
I'm not someone who spends for the sake of it. I enjoy shopping, but I use the money I have and I make sure the credit card is paid off every month. My parents didn't have loads of money. If we wanted something, we had to work for it or wait for our birthday. We soon learnt that if you really wanted something, you waited and saved. I recall vividly wanting a pair of roller skates when I was about 13. I couldn't wait for my birthday, so I saved my pocket money. It took a couple of months to get the £13 (Dh78 at today's rate) I needed, but even now I remember the sense of pride and accomplishment I had when I finally bought them.

Are you a spender or a saver?
I have always had savings. I put aside money each month for Christmas and bills; it's something my parents always encouraged. Even now, I give my mother a cheque each month for a Christmas Club account, which she looks after for me. I save small amounts as I go, so I don't notice. If, for example, we eat at home instead of going out, I'll take the money we would have spent and put it aside. In the UK, I worked for British Gas, which had a share/save scheme. You could buy shares at a discount price and sell them off or keep them. I sold some off once for laser eye surgery - I was terribly short-sighted - I've kept the rest and regularly get dividends.

Have your family finances changed since moving to the Emirates?
Very much so. In the UK, I looked after the family budget. We've been in Dubai for five years and a lot of control seems to have transferred to my husband. It's such a male-dominated society here. He pays the bills and he controls the bank account. It's a weird feeling and I'm not sure I like it, but that's the way things have worked out. Everything seemed to need his signature or his documents.

Have you made any financial mistakes?
It sounds conceited, but I don't think so. Except when my husband went looking for a car and paid a Dh1,000 deposit to a man to buy his second-hand model. It took us longer than expected to sell our car and when we went back to the man he had sold the car and refused to give us back the deposit. We trusted this person and didn't get a receipt or anything in writing, which was silly.

What led you to set up the Buckle Up in the Back Campaign?
I was frustrated every day seeing children not strapped in. When my young daughter was invited on a play date with a western family who didn't have booster seats, I realised something I thought was a local issue was now affecting me and my family. I started a Facebook page in May last year and told a few friends and it snowballed from there. The friends told friends. Someone suggested on the page that I get stickers made. I responded by asking if they would pay for it. Then I got a message from Move One Relocation, a transport firm that was new in Dubai offering to fund them. The company said they had a social responsibility budget and were looking for something local to support. I find it incredibly exciting how much can happen so quickly over here. In the UK, I wouldn't have known where to start to get something like this up and running. We now have four main sponsors: Baby Shop, Graco, GM Chevrolet and the Emirates Driving Institute, which lend us their seat-belt convincer - a machine that simulates how a seat belt works during a crash - for our presentations. Parents tell me their kids all yell "buckle up in the back" as soon as they get into the car and now recognise me as the "Buckle-Up Lady". It's brilliant and shows I've got into their subconscious.

Do you think people compromise on safety when it comes to money?
I really do and I can't understand it. You can buy cheap car seats, that's OK, but when you see people driving around in expensive SUVs without any car seats, I just don't get it. There's no money on earth you can pay to bring your children back after an accident.

What is your idea of financial freedom?
My mother said to me once, "Always have an escape fund", and I do, money that's set aside in my name. But as long as I have enough money to feed and clothe my children and put a roof over our heads, that's financial freedom enough for me. Anything else is a bonus.

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