x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Five years of lessons in the UAE and a new life to boot

As I move on to the next chapter in my life, I am hoping the lessons I've learnt here in Abu Dhabi will provide a softer landing in my new country.

Illustration by Gary Clement for The National
Illustration by Gary Clement for The National

My life has taken a retro turn. Car-less, homeless as of today and very soon to be visa-less; just like it was when we arrived in Abu Dhabi nearly five years ago.

Funny how life can change so quickly. And surprising how quickly the past five years have passed.

Of course, not everything is quite the same, despite the déjà vu moments I've been experiencing of late.

There have been a lot of changes in the capital since we arrived and I've learnt so much about living here. Where to shop for the best prices, which financial advisers to trust, never to write a cheque, finding the chutzpah to ask if that's the best price, learning that the wisest advice is always word of mouth and that consumers do have rights.

Those cheap gold-and-white taxis that I used when we arrived have all but disappeared. Now that I'm without a car, I'm hailing silver cabs in the final days of our time here. They leave your pocket a little lighter even though you are still travelling the same distance. But what price the cost of a roadworthy car, not to mention being able to use a seat belt that actually works?

There are Etisalat and du service booths in almost every mall, making the paying of bills easier (as opposed to hanging out at the Etisalat office on Airport Road or behind Spinneys in Khalidiyah for half a day waiting for your number to be called).

Or banging your head against a wall for months as you try to get your phone and internet connected, but keep getting told by customer service that your request has been cancelled. ("What? By who?")

Being told that your apartment is ready after a three-month wait because the builders have finally finished (and had to move out of the master bedroom because you were moving in). And then discovering that the grocery store on the corner delivers at all hours and for no cost.

But then driving around the neighbourhood last Sunday because you were out of milk and looking for a grocery store that hadn't been closed down because of the new refurbishment rule.

And at last: a good choice of villas and apartments that cater to a range of budgets, rather than choosing between the one with "pre-fab" walls that are really wardrobes separating you from your neighbour or the hastily built hovel on the roof of an apartment building - both of which cost an exorbitant amount in yearly rent because demand exceeded supply.

Ah, yes. Those were the days.

The days when financial literacy meant nothing to many people in the UAE, or around the world for that matter. When maxing out high-interest credit cards to the point of no return was a daily habit and the repayments were minimum at best.

When living on credit in oversized, overpriced villas and driving expensive cars thanks to those excessive car loans was the norm and nobody thought about tomorrow, let alone the security of their financial futures.

Lehman Brothers put a stop to all that, of course. And our reality came crashing down shortly after the "bank that was too big to fail" failed rather spectacularly in the autumn of 2008.

Millions lost their jobs and their ability to pay for their expensive, overleveraged lifestyles as the global financial crisis took hold.

Many lost it all. Some were in the UAE and either ended up in jail for defaulting on their loan and credit-card repayments or left the country in a hurry, leaving their expensive cars at the airport with the keys still in the ignition. But that is all in the past - and we've learnt our lessons from the financial crisis. Or at least I'd like to think we have.

We know that it's no longer acceptable to be ignorant about financial literacy. And that the only way forward - and to secure our financial futures - is to equip ourselves (and our children) with smart-money skills. We know that is our responsibility. Or at least that's what I'd like to think.

We know that saving for a rainy day is just as important as having a will. And that making regular savings for our retirement is crucial to maintain a decent standard of living in our golden years.

And we know that paying down bad debt as quickly as possible is vital. That making a budget - and sticking to it - is the only way we can ensure that we are on the right path to being financially secure.

This is what I've learnt. And I'd like to think that I practise what I preach. Sure, I still make mistakes, but that's because I'm human.

But I always try to learn from them. And I hope you do, too.

As my daughter and I move on to the next chapter in our lives, I am hoping the lessons I've learnt here will provide us with a softer landing in our new country.

And just because I won't be here to keep you in check by nagging you via On The Money, it doesn't mean that I won't be watching from afar.

So remember: get smart and take back control of your finances.

That would really make my day - not to mention make my time here all the more worthwhile.

fglover@thenational.ae