Despite a weakness for stylish brands, this Dubai-based design and art blogger from Singapore has learnt valuable lessons about saving and investing.
Fashion and frugality in the balance
My husband and I decided to move from Singapore to Dubai in 2005. We wanted to travel and be expatriates for a while; we didn't move for financial reasons. I'm 29 years old. My husband, George D'Costa, works with Packard Bell, part of Acer Group, as a country sales manager for the UAE, GCC, CIS and Iraq regions. I came over as a features writer with Motivate Publishing, a producer of magazines and books.
We had savings and investments back home, but the opportunities here seemed better. While I can't remember the full amount, my husband's relocation package took care of the expenses normally associated with moving, such as housing and new furnishings. I grew up in Singapore. My family is in the restaurant business and has done fairly well. Even though my mum is a bit of a shopaholic, my parents always stressed the need to save money and spend within your means.
I had a pretty generous allowance as a child - around Dh500 a week. But I would still end up saving a big chunk of it each month. My first salary in Dubai - at Motivate - was enough to splurge on designer goodies and travel. I would spend about Dh5,000 to Dh6,000 each month on these luxuries. I love bags from Gucci, Tod's, Prada and Balenciaga, as well as Christian Louboutin shoes and clothes by designers such as Alberta Ferretti, Dries Van Noten and Vivienne Westwood. However, I also love high street brands such as Warehouse and Zara, and bargain shopping wherever possible. I like to mix and match.
I worked at Motivate Publishing until March 2008, when I resigned. Setting up my design and art blog (www.de51gn.com), which covers the latest design and fashion trends, was a natural progression from my job. It gives me creative freedom and the thrill of reaching out to a wider audience with the latest fashion news. Being a writer is something I have always been passionate about. My first job in 1991, as a contributor to a children's magazine, paid me about Dh76 a story. I used to write summer holiday stories, for example. I was 13; the funny thing is I was so proud of those cheques I never banked them. But my first "serious" job taught me about being more responsible with money. That was in the family business. I was 17 and worked evenings and weekends at the restaurant.
I would earn about Dh25 an hour, but my parents still gave me an allowance on top of the salary. Even though I am not very good with numbers, I have always been taught to be responsible with money. I used some of my savings to pay for my tuition fees in hotel management, which I finished in 2001. But then I realised that all I wanted to do was write. Although journalists don't make much money, I could never take up a job I didn't enjoy. One of my editors told me once: "You've got to do it for the passion." Its now become my philosophy.
Working from home, I set up my blog in October 2008. I don't get paid anywhere near as much as I would like, but it is enough to let me enjoy life's little luxuries. With digital media, the expenses are low. The main expenses are for the host server and a web designer. It cost me approximately Dh10,000 for the design, which was a one-off payment, and Dh500 every month for the server. I do most of the writing myself, and sometimes there are other contributors. They are mostly volunteers, as we can't afford to pay them yet. But as the site grows and more revenues pour in, they'll be paid.
At the moment, the site's revenues cover part of the expenses, through advertising and other commercial activities related to the website, such as organising design seminars and art events for corporate sponsors. I would rather not disclose the amount of revenue from my website. For me, the best part of editing a blog is the creative control. It's challenging to source information every day, especially considering there are more than 700,000 design and art blogs on the internet.
But digital media is here to stay and, as with other businesses, it'll be the survival of the fittest and the fastest. I would say I'm fairly balanced when it comes to money. Living in Dubai has not changed my attitude, but the level of consumption scares me. I have friends who spend most of their earnings on cars and designer bags and have no bank balance to speak of. While it's important to enjoy the fruits of your labour, at the same time you must have a contingency plan to fall back on. My husband and I bought a three-bedroom apartment in Singapore in April 2009, and a holiday home in Goa in 2006, and those are the things I am most proud of having saved up for.
I would rather not say how much we paid for these properties. We've also carefully invested money in bonds and endowment schemes. I think the saving principle is instilled in Asian minds at a very young age; I constantly re-evaluate our earnings and spending, and try to keep aside 30 per cent of our earnings for investment. This is after taking into account the amount we spend on expenses, such as entertainment, holidays and shopping.
I check our balances whenever I use the ATM to withdraw money. I'm quite wary of investing in the stock market and don't like to take big risks. We have invested in mutual funds, gold, insurance and endowment schemes. I don't have the exact figure on the investments. I love to eat out at good restaurants and like to shop for designer labels, but not to the extent of chalking up huge credit card bills. My husband and I always pay cash and never spend on anything that we feel is too expensive ? Christian Louboutins for me and designer suits for my husband are exceptions.
One thing we never scrimp on is books and good-quality food items, which we buy without paying attention to the price tag. When it comes to food, we don't really work with a budget. We buy whatever we feel like. At the same time, I abhor wastage. So we buy frequently and in small quantities. Depending on where we eat, the bill is usually between Dh250 and Dh500, and we eat out at least once a week.
Holidays and staying at good hotels are a necessity, so we set aside a generous budget for at least two holidays every year. I enjoy museums, funky shops and just walking around cities. I usually like to visit European cities, such as London and Paris. I sometimes like beach destinations, like Mauritius and Bali. The recession has affected me psychologically rather than in any other way, especially when you hear about friends losing jobs and struggling to meet their financial commitments.
One thing it has taught me is that there is no such thing as overnight gains. And most importantly, it's never too late or too little to start saving. I will only spend if it's worth the price and I have cash to spare. If it's going to put a strain on my wallet, I won't go for it. * As told to Jola Chudy