x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Baker with the right ingredients for success

Money & me Bekky Britton is a baker working part time in Dubai. She and her husband have settled down and bought their first home in the UAE.

Bekky Briton, 29, has earned thousands of dirhams selling her baked goods at markets and events in the Emirates.
Bekky Briton, 29, has earned thousands of dirhams selling her baked goods at markets and events in the Emirates.

After Lily was born, my husband and I started taking more care about where our money goes. But we try not to let it rule our lives. I have never been a long-term planner, but now we're trying to act like sensible adults when it comes to money. I work part-time in the office at a swimming club in Dubai, and I run a small business, LilyBakes, selling home-baked products. Last October, my husband and I took the step of talking to a financial adviser.

When we met with the adviser, she outlined a lot of things we knew we needed to do but had never got around to, such as taking out life insurance, making wills, setting up a savings plan and putting money into offshore accounts. We are still in the process of setting things up, so any spare money we have is put into a nest egg instead of being spent in the next month's budget. Not that there is a lot left. We have a good lifestyle in Dubai, and we enjoy ourselves. We have a two-thirds share in a sailing boat, which costs between Dh1,000 and Dh2,000 to berth and maintain. We bought the boat with a friend in April 2008 for Dh125,000.

It's quite a bit of money, but it's something we love. Growing up I had to earn my pocket money doing chores. The more I did, the more I was paid. It taught me that the harder you work, the more you can earn. I was 10 when I moved to Dubai from the UK in 1990 with my parents and three sisters. My father was an Emirates Airline pilot. At 16 I went to the Somerset College of Arts and Technology in the UK to do sports studies. As I was still a citizen of the UK, and its considered vocational training, the tuition was free.

During my second year at college I worked in a bar and earned about £70 (Dh390) a week. My parents bought me a second-hand car, so I was responsible for its upkeep. After college I went to university at the College of St Mark and St John in Plymouth where I did a bachelor of Sport and Recreation degree, combined with Leisure and Tourism. Tuition at the time was quite cheap, about £1,000 a year. I finished the degree in 2001 and got a job at Skern Lodge, an outdoor education centre in North Devon. There we taught things such as surfing and rock climbing to schools and companies to encourage bonding and team building.

I earned £100 a week and paid a minimal amount for accommodation and food. It was there that I met my husband, Matt. All the money I earned was spent going on holidays and buying my own outdoor equipment, such as surfboards, wetsuits and a kayak. In 2003, Matt and I went to Switzerland for six months and worked in a ski resort, then we went to the Isle of Wight where we worked at the UK Sailing Academy for two years. We were on holiday in Dubai in 2004 when we were offered a job running the sailing school at the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club in Jumeira.

We lived at the club and earned about Dh21,000 a month between us, so we had a pretty high disposal income. I was pregnant and still working at the club when my parents encouraged us to get a long-term savings plan. We bought an investment property with them, a small one-bedroom flat at the proposed Lahoya Bay development in Umm Al Quwain. The development is on hold, and we have the potential to lose a fair bit of money if it doesn't go ahead.

The property cost about Dh1.1 million, but we only have a very small percentage share ? less than 10 per cent. We paid Dh20,000 from our savings and then Dh6,000 a month to my father. We continued running the sailing school for about seven months after Lily was born. Then we decided I needed to give up work, as we didn't want to put Lily into full-time care. She is now three years old. Matt was offered a job as a harbour master looking after a fleet of power boats at Mustafa, so we moved to Abu Dhabi.

But apart from Matt's work our life was in Dubai. In June 2009 we bought our first home, a 3-bedroom villa in Dubai's The Springs. It has a backyard and a maid's room, and cost a total of Dh1.9 million. We came in at the very bottom of the market, so we've actually benefited from the real estate price crash. I don't think we could have afforded to buy otherwise. Again, my parents helped financially. They bought the property and we bought a large share of it, about 60 per cent.

It was an agreement my father came up with. He did a similar thing for my sister. Instead of paying for a massive wedding, he helped us get into the property market. Now we have to set out a budget and make sure the bills are paid. It costs us about Dh10,000 a month on mortgage and bills. I started LilyBakes in November 2008. I've always enjoyed cooking. The year before I made jars of lemon curd as Christmas presents for my friends. My sister, a jewellery designer, talked me into going with her to an art market in Dubai where she had a stall, so I took along some lemon curd and little Christmas cakes and puddings to sell. I went to three or four markets in Dubai and Abu Dhabi during November and December 2008 and took orders through the sailing club.

Between November 2008 and April 2009 I made a profit of about Dh3,000, but it was time consuming and I probably earned about one fil per hour. I put the business on the back burner for a few months and seriously started up again in September 2009 for the Christmas season. I source my ingredients very carefully now in different supermarkets around Dubai, and every gram is carefully priced. I sold my products at 19 markets in the two months leading up to Christmas 2009, and took another 50 orders. I made a profit of about Dh8,000. I'm still taking orders, but I'm not sure where I'm taking the business from here.

I now work part-time at the office of the Speedo Swim Squad, where I earn about Dh45 an hour taking appointments and handling the books. After speaking to the financial adviser, my husband and I feel a lot more secure. We have set things up to take care of Lily and each other if something should happen to one of us. We're not saving for anything. Our money is spent ensuring security for Lily and maintaining the lifestyle we're already living.

* As told to Jane Williams