From making toys out of rocks as a child in Trinidad to splashing out on gadgets and gizmos in Abu Dhabi, this oil and gas manager has resolved to change his consumerist ways.
Curbing the spend attitude
Money is not something I aspire to spend all the hours of the day looking for. That said, I'm out there working six days a week to get it. Something that has struck me since moving to Abu Dhabi in April 2008 is the serious consumer culture. It's very consumer driven - much more so than in the UK. Sometimes, it seems there's little else to do but shop. About this time last year I realised I wasn't saving any money. What's the point of being here if I'm not getting to where I want to be?
After the credit crunch, my wife, Rachel, and I decided we needed to have another look at where we were spending our money in an effort to cut back. We had spent a fair amount - about Dh30,000 - furnishing the house, and on my toys and electronics. We have a big-screen TV, computer gear, games, videos, music and other gadgets. We also spent a lot going out - maybe three or four times a week. I can't remember exactly how much we used to spend, but we identified it as a major source of possible savings. It's very easy to think it's cheap to go out and eat, so you tend to do it more.
Now, we are being a bit more careful about what we're spending. Rachel is buying clothes during shopping sales while on holiday in the UK this summer, for example, because it's much more expensive to buy clothes here than in the UK. Something we've particularly noticed is the exchange rate. The massive drop in the exchange rate made a big difference to us. It's now at Dh6 to the pound. When we came over it was Dh7.2, then dropped to Dh5. That was unpleasant, as it felt like everything was much more expensive.
Generally, we're back on track, barring school fees, which have gone through the roof. I have two children, Megan, 5, and Fane, 3, and this year they've swapped schools, so fees have quadrupled from Dh3,750 per term for each child. I have an education allowance from my job, but that pays only about 50 per cent of Megan's fees because she is at least five years old. It doesn't cover my youngest. Right now I am a project manager at Penspen International. I hold technical discussions with vendors and subcontractors.
I was born in the UK and grew up in Houston, Texas, and Trinidad. My father was in the oil and gas industry. When I lived in Houston I was too young to look at buying things, and in Trinidad there was literately nothing to buy. We lived on the beach, and my brother, sister and I used to make toys out of rocks. I didn't really start thinking about money until we returned to the UK when I was about 11 or 12. My parents gave my brother and me quite a large allowance - about £30 (Dh180) per month.
This was in the late eighties, early nineties. It was based on our age, and upon us having to buy our own school uniforms, clothes and things like that. It was a deliberate move to make sure we knew what money was all about. Their attitude to pocket money made me aware relatively early, and I managed to save a reasonable quantity of around £10 to £15 per month. I think it was an interesting way of instilling responsibility, and I might use that with my own kids.
At college my lifestyle was relatively restricted. I started a degree in mechanical engineering at the Imperial College, and later moved to study mechatronics at the Kings College University in London. My wife and I didn't have very much money at all. We lived on £700 a month, which was Rachel's salary as a nurse. Then we had another £1,000 every three months or so that my parents would give me, and every year I took out a student loan of about £2,500, which was spent on books and commuting to and from London. We used any spare money we had to renovate a flat that Rachel had bought in High Wycombe, London. Out of school, I looked at a number of large companies that were in particularly lucritive industries such as BP, Shell, British Aerospace and Smith Aerospace.
I was conscious of what I wanted. Financial reward is a real driver. But it's not everything, and certainly the older I get the more I appreciate that. My first job was a project engineer with British Pipeline Agency (BPA) in 2002. I was there four-and-a-half years before moving to Penspen International, where I am now. At BPA I started earning about £1,200 each month. Our lifestyle definitely changed at that stage. We were earning more, but we started spending a bit, too.
After four years of struggling we had a few nice holidays and finished the renovation on the house. I bought a car and Megan was born.We bought a three-bedroom place for £217,000 in High Wycombe in 2004 using money from the sale of my wife's flat and a mortgage from a bank. It's now worth more than that. Not as much as it was last year, but we've still done very well. My required mortgage payments are £650 per month. I pay double that at the moment, and I would like to pay more, but that is all the bank allows me to pay under the terms of the contract - a way of making sure we don't pay back too quickly and they don't lose out on extra interest payments.
I plan to pay off the mortgage by 2012. Maybe I'm being optimistic. I've just read the book "Not Buying It" by Judith Levine, who decided not to buy things for a whole year. It's intriguing. It makes you think much more about what you buy, and why you buy it. It teaches you a bit about marketing as well, and how they use techniques to get you to buy things. I would like my kids to grow up away from the more consumerist society, but I'm not sure there is such a place anymore.
I try not to encourage them to spend, and they're pretty reasonable, but they're still young and being out here with lots of money makes it pretty difficult not to spoil them with new clothes, shoes and toys that they don't really need. That's something I find difficult. It's easy not to spend money on myself; it's very easy to spend money on the children. * As told to Jane Williams