x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

How Marx influenced my spending

Until Estonia separated from the USSR in 1991, this housewife never had a bank account or credit card.

When Kirke Williamson first bought an apartment she  got a credit card with a ?1,000 limit, but I found it took her 12 months just to pay off the interest.
When Kirke Williamson first bought an apartment she got a credit card with a ?1,000 limit, but I found it took her 12 months just to pay off the interest.

Until Estonia separated from the USSR in 1991, this housewife never had a bank account or credit card. There were few products to buy and most citizens lived frugally. Now, in Abu Dhabi, she and her family live simply and avoid debt, and plan to teach their son the value of a dirham In Estonia, where I come from, society isn't eager to save. Everything costs a lot and people want to live a lifestyle that they really cannot afford - better clothes, bigger televisions and a better car.

I fell into that lifestyle a little bit, but things are different now. In Estonia I was earning my own money as a transport and logistics engineer. When I moved to Abu Dhabi in June this year with my husband, Graham, a freelance engineering consultant, and my son Thomas,3, I stopped working. I'm now 31 years old. I'm still not used to not having my own money. It feels weird to just spend your husband's money. I feel more accountable. I think twice about buying clothes or anything big. And being a mother, I think more about the future. Thomas needs a good education and we have to put money away for that.

Estonia got its independence from the USSR in August 1991, but changes started a year earlier. Under communism it was a cash society. There was a central bank but no ATMs. Estonians were paid in cash and what little savings they had were kept at home. There was not much to buy and the average person didn't have the money to buy a lot anyway. People all wore the same clothes because there was no choice.

I think money was less important at that time. People didn't have high demands or dreams for material things. They just accepted what was there. There wasn't the competition about looking better or getting a better car. When things first came into the shops it all happened very quickly. One day there were no bananas, then next day there were bananas and other fruit. But you could buy them only with foreign currency. The old currency, the rouble, was practically worthless.

People preferred to use the Finnish mark, the Swedish crown or the US dollar. I remember when my friend's father did some piano teaching in Finland and sent some money home. We went out and bought a Sprite soft drink. It was my first taste of the West. I was 12 or 13 when the change began and I started to notice material things. Before this time I was given a very small amount of pocket money every week. I can't remember how much - enough to buy an ice cream or some sweets.

I started to work when I was 15 or 16 during summers when I was still at school. I was always encouraged if I wanted my own money to go and earn it instead of asking for it. It's something I will do with my son when he's 14 or 15. I worked in stores. I can't remember what I earned. It wasn't much, and at that time I spent money mostly on clothes and going out. I opened my first bank account when I was 17. My parents gave me some money to put in the bank and it was only then I realised that I could save money from one month to the next and buy something big. In 1997 I finished secondary school and went to Tallinn Technical University, located in Estonia's capital, and studied transport technology. I was there five years, working part-time at a call centre and as a merchandiser in stores. It was good money at the time, about US$200 (Dh735) a month.

The state provided free university education if you passed entrance exams and the school provided most of the books. I lived at home and the money I earned was spent partly on textbooks, but mostly on clothes and going out. There was no savings. In 2002 I started my master's degree in transport technology at the university. At the same time I held jobs as a marketing manager assistant in a travel agency and as a merchandiser with a tobacco company. I was earning more, about $800 a month, but spending more, too, living the life, eating out, going out with friends, buying things.

I was still living at home. In 2004 things changed a bit, when I bought an apartment. A friend lent me the 10 per cent deposit I needed, and because I had a university education and was under 33 I could apply for special financing as part of a government initiative. The apartment in Tallinn cost $37,000. At that time the interest was 6.8 per cent. It is now much lower. At first it was hard paying it off, as 40 per cent of my salary was spent paying the mortgage.

We still have the apartment and a small mortgage balance on it. I don't rent it out while we are here because you never know who your tenants will be, and right now in Estonia there is a huge number of apartments available, so rents are so low. In 2004 I finished my master's and went to work at a bus company, and then the ministry of transport. From there I went to a consulting company, Swech Project. I worked in the infrastructure division where I met my husband, a freelance consultant.

I was living in my apartment when I met Graham. My apartment was very old and needed renovating. Graham was living in a penthouse in a posh area of Tallinn, paid for by his company. So I moved in with him. I rented the apartment to a student for a minimal amount because I still didn't have the money to renovate it properly. I moved in with Graham in February 2005 and our was born in July 2006. Graham was working in Albania by this stage. After Thomas was born we moved to Albania for nine months, and while we were there we renovated my apartment.

When we returned to Estonia I went back to work at Swech Project as an engineer and started lecturing at the Tallinn university. I was earning about Dh1,300 a month at the time, but there was nothing left after paying the mortgage, private nursery fees and other bills. I think the free spending I indulged in when I was younger was influenced by the pressure of society to have certain things, like nice clothes and meals in restaurants. Maybe this was because for so long under Communism in Estonia there was nothing, or maybe it's just the way the world is now. I'm not sure.

In my 20s I would spend between $15 and $20 going out for an evening. Now I go out rarely, but when I do go out back in Estonia, I spend about $60 an evening. In Abu Dhabi, going out as a family is more expensive. For instance, brunch costs us around Dh600. Groceries are more expensive here, too. I spend between Dh500 and Dh600 a week on basic food, while in Estonia I usually spent between Dh300 and Dh400.

I think I count money more now. I have to report to the centre of finance - my husband - about where the money went. The only debt I have is a small mortgage on the apartment back home. I don't like credit cards. When I first bought the apartment I got a credit card with a ?1,000(Dh5,367) limit, But I found I could not pay it back. I spent 12 months just paying off the interest. One thing I will teach Thomas is to spend only what you have.

* As told to Jane Williams