x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

I keep my eggs close to the nest

Despite a steady job, this Abu Dhabi engineer still lives with his parents to save money. He's trying to put enough away to provide for a family the way his parents have provided for him.

Ahmad Kaddoura says his lifestyle sometimes allows him to save 80 per cent of his salary, while other months he hardly saves anything.
Ahmad Kaddoura says his lifestyle sometimes allows him to save 80 per cent of his salary, while other months he hardly saves anything.

My parents have always had a hand in helping me financially. Ever since I was young, and even today, I can always ask my parents for money. Originally from Palestine, my family moved to the UAE from Lebanon in the 1970s. I was born in Sharjah, but soon after we moved to Abu Dhabi, where my dad was an engineer in the construction industry. Growing up, I didn't have an allowance but I didn't have an open budget either. I didn't ask for much and I always knew my limits. The days when I spent too much, my father would sit down with me and ask me why I spent a lot - so I needed to explain.

My father taught me the importance of saving money. He said I needed to start a nest egg while I was still young, since it was the easiest time and I had no other commitments. Even when I went to university, he told me it was in my best interest to graduate earlier because it meant I could start making money sooner and sock it away. I moved to the US for university in 2002. I attended the University of Oklahoma, the same place that my father and older brother went to. Although I always thought studying finance would pay more money, I decided to study industrial engineering. I didn't choose a career that pays more. I believe it really comes down to how good you are at your job, regardless of what the job is.

Throughout university I was lucky because my parents were able to pay for my education and expenses. Some people thought I was rich, but I told them I wasn't. It's just the way things are in this part of the world. It is different for Americans. Many have to work at a young age to save for university. But I did meet Americans whose parents supported them throughout university, and even bought them cars when they were 16. It was necessary to have a car there; there weren't many buses or trains. I didn't get my car until I moved out of dorms in my second year.

I couldn't get a job throughout my university years for a few reasons. It isn't easy to get a work permit if you're not an American, and anyway, I didn't have enough time. During the week I was busy with classes and at the weekend I went out with my friends. Although I enjoyed living in the US, I always wanted to come back to the UAE and work here. When I graduated in 2006 and came back to Abu Dhabi, I got a few good job offers with salaries of about Dh9,000 to Dh13,000 a month. But the jobs were not in my field, so I decided to wait until I got a job offer that I was happy with.

I finally found a suitable office job with a construction company in Mussafah. It was my first job ever. A year later, I got a better job as a production engineer at an envelope factory, also in Mussafah. The pay was about 30 per cent more. I still live with my parents, and that saves me accommodation expenses. My biggest purchase since I moved back was my car. I wanted to buy a used car, but my parents decided to pitch in for me to buy a new car instead. A new car is always better in terms of performance and maintenance, and it will probably stay with me for years to come. So I paid half and my parents paid the other half for a 2007 Jeep Wrangler, which cost Dh90,000.

I didn't want to go for a more expensive car because it meant my parents had to pay more. Some months I can save up to 80 per cent of my salary, but other months I might end up spending 90 per cent of it. I don't have a target of how much I want to save. I just take each month as it comes. Everyone wishes they can save everything, but that's impossible. I don't forbid myself from buying anything I want, especially when I took my first job. Anything that came to mind, I bought. I even switched my phone from prepaid to a bill so I don't worry about not having enough credit.

Then I realised I needed to start saving. I always knew that saving was an important factor for a future full of surprises. I try to save as much as I can, but there are always "surprise expenses", such as speeding tickets. The last time I had to renew my car registration, I found I had Dh10,000 worth of fines. I was able to get it reduced to Dh5,000, which I had to pay to get my car renewed. I usually spend my money on gifts for my parents, clothes and dinners - and my phone bill, which comes to around Dh1,000 a month. My friends like to travel and spend a lot of money on their trips, but I don't. Abu Dhabi is getting expensive, and the cost of living is definitely much higher than when I was in high school here. I spend about Dh100 a day during the week, and usually at least Dh1,000 every weekend.

I have never thought about investing in stocks, because I don't have enough extra cash to make it worthwhile. Maybe in the future, if I have that kind of money, I would put it in stocks. It's not the kind of risk I want to take right now. It's important to me that I live in a good house with high standards, whether I rent or buy. I haven't really thought about buying property yet, but when I feel I have enough money, I'd either buy a house here to live in or invest in property abroad.

Since I'm not married, I should also be prepared and save for my future wife and a family, too. I want to support my family enough so that my wife wouldn't be forced to work if she didn't want to. I feel that I've had it easy with money, since my parents have always been there for me. I'm lucky for their support. But now it's my turn to give back and do my best to satisfy them and pay them back. I hope I'm able to meet their expectations. I know I will always be there for them - not just financially, but emotionally, too.

For now, I try to contribute as much as I can to home expenses. I sometimes go grocery shopping with them and pay the bill. But in my family, it doesn't matter if I pay or they pay. In the end, it's all the same. We can never owe each other - my money is their money and their money is mine. It's all the same pocket. But my parents still constantly talk about saving, because they say that the money they saved provided for me and my brother.

Eventually, when my parents retire, I will support them. I can start by paying the rent myself. Money is a necessity. Living in Abu Dhabi, people spend more here than anywhere else because of the high income and high prices. I could have saved more but I don't regret my spending habits. It's important to save, and it's also important to enjoy some of your money, too. Money is an important factor in life. It's worth nothing, but with it, you can buy anything.

* As told to Zahraa al Khalisi