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On the Money: Living day-to-day is now way to plan for the rainy ones

Savings are down in the Emirates and there is a serious lack of financial planning.

October 31. Mark it down in your diaries. Not to remember to buy a cheaply made, overpriced Halloween costume for a night of trick or treating and gorging yourself on sweets, but to change your life.

Not that you'd know it (or perhaps a few of you do), but World Savings Day is also celebrated on Monday. Long overshadowed by that now commercially driven night of frights, World Savings Day has been around for a while. Not as long as All Hallows' Eve, mind you, but still, the day was declared in 1924 by delegates at the first International Thrift Congress in Milan, Italy.

Back then, it was known as World Thrift Day and the aim of the World Savings Banks Institute, the organiser of the first congress, was simple: make people aware of the importance of savings.

Fast-forward to 2011 and it seems that many people are still struggling to realise the importance of securing their financial futures. The UAE is a good case in point. Savings are down in the Emirates and there is a serious lack of financial planning.

The National Bonds Corporation is one of the few institutions in the Emirates - Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) is another - that has embraced an education programme to teach the foundations of financial literacy and the importance of smart money management.

In its 2011 National Bonds GCC savings index, released last month, the Dubai-based Sharia-compliant investment scheme found that poor savings habits were endemic in the region. Of the six GCC countries, the survey found that Saudi Arabia showed the biggest increase in savings sentiment, followed by Kuwait and Oman. However, Bahrain and the UAE showed a decrease.

"Lack of awareness about the importance of savings and a lack of financial planning is endemic in this region and this research shows how deep the problem is," Mohammed Qasim Al Ali, the chief executive of National Bonds, told Personal Finance at the launch of the index.

The global financial crisis hasn't helped our cause and perhaps explains why we are failing to manage our finances with a long-term view, let alone implementing that all-important savings and investment plan.

Living for the moment might be all many people can manage right now, but there are ways you can get a long-term savings plan on track. The following points might be no-brainers for some, but there's many out there who are clueless when it comes to their personal finances.

Learn the basics: it's never too late to educate yourself on smart money management. ADIB earlier this year launched a financial literacy campaign that includes a handy booklet called SmartMoney. Available at all ADIB branches, it provides readers with a step-by-step guide on how to achieve a balanced financial life and includes vital budgeting advice and tips on how to live within your means. National Bonds is marking World Savings Day with a number of activities next week, including a roadshow that will visit Zayed University, Knowledge Village and Academic City in Dubai. Kiosks will be set up and manned by customer service staff, who will be advising students on financial planning, budgeting and savings. "We are targeting a key segment of society," says Kinan Ismael, the executive director of marketing at National Bonds. "At this level, it is important to raise awareness."

Budget: learning how to budget and live within your means is key to a successful savings plan. There are a range of free budget sheets that can be downloaded online, including one on the National Bonds' website (www.nationalbonds.ae) to help you figure one out. Be honest, don't "guesstimate" and track your spending for at least a month before you make a decision on how much you are able to save every month. And remember, don't leave yourself short and unable to see out the month financially. You'll only end up back at square one.

Savings: never wait until the end of the month to put your money away. Instead, organise to have your monthly savings taken out of your salary as soon as it comes in. The temptation to spend it will be too strong if it's sitting in your every day account.

Credit: do you really need that loan? Are you paying off your credit cards every month to avoid those high interest charges? Stop and think before you rack up the credit and ask yourself if you can afford to pay it back. The golden rule? Never overleverage yourself.

Cash is king: better still, try living on a cash-only basis for a while. It will change the way you view money and credit - not to mention giving you more incentive to save.

Estate planning: as the saying goes, making a will won't kill you. What it will do is give you peace of mind and protect your family from any financial problems that may be caused by a court making the decision about how your estate is to be distributed if you die intestate.

A nightmare on financial street is easily avoidable, despite the rumblings of a double-dip recession around the world. The time is ripe to protect yourself financially, not to mention start paying more attention to World Savings Day rather than Halloween.

fglover@thenational.ae

What are your best savings tips? E-mail them to pf@thenational.ae

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