Arundhoti Banerjee, a senior executive at Xpress Money, says her 'lavish' travel fund has paid for trips to 25 countries
Money & Me: 'I save 10 per cent of my income just for travel'
Arundhoti Banerjee is the associate vice president of strategy and digital at the money transfer company Xpress Money. Ms Banerjee, 37, who moved to the UAE from her home country, India, five years ago to join the company, says she was a spendthrift in her 20s, spending more than than she earned, carrying credit card balances over and failing to save for her future. The fairly short-lived financially irresponsible stint ended with her throwing the cards in the bin and pledging to get her finances in order. She did, and has since gone on to build a portfolio encompassing property, mutual funds and fixed deposits.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I come from a very middle class family from a very small town in India. My father was the sole earner. The good thing was that in India the financial demands were very minimal, so it helps you have a good living with whatever you have. We always had enough but, like every middle class family, we were very conscious that financial resources are at times limited and we were quite prudent. One thing I saw throughout my whole childhood in the way my parents brought us up was that there was never a compromise with two things: education and food. My dad made sure I had every book I wanted to read. And most of the good memories were created around the dining table.
How much did you get paid for your first job, and what did you do?
It wasn’t a lot, actually. In terms of rupees, in INR terms, it was close to around 20,000 rupees a month - around Dh1,200 to Dh1,300 a month. I was working as a software programmer and was just out of engineering college. The good thing was that I wasn’t so bothered by money at that point. That was the first time I moved out of this small town and moved to a large city to work. It was my first experience with financial freedom and making it on my own, so I was so consumed with that.
Are you a spender or a saver?
At the moment, it is a balance of both. At the start of every month I save a fixed percentage of my income to start with and the rest is left for my disposal. I spend on books, food and travel.
Do you have any financial regrets?
I wouldn’t call it a regret. Life must take its own course and there is always something to learn in each phase. In my early 20s when I just started working I used to be a huge spender. There was a point where I was using my credit card so much that I was spending everything I was earning. There were a couple of months where I was revolving the balance. That lasted for almost a year and it ended with me throwing my cards in the dustbin and putting my life back in order. Ironically there was a point in time that I went on to manage credit cards for a very large bank in India. It was like life coming full circle.
How did you become more financially mature?
I was initially sharing accommodation with two other women in a working women’s hostel when I moved to a large city to work. That didn’t demand a lot of money. But as the years went by my requirements from life changed. I wanted my own personal space. I think when you understand what your requirements and demands from life are, that’s when you become financially responsible. So when I knew this was the future I really wanted, in terms of comforts, I started to put money together to make sure that I was able to afford it.
What’s your biggest financial milestone?
It sounds a little materialistic but that was when I purchased my first property in India in Mumbai in my early 30s. I consider it a good milestone to remember.
What’s your most cherished purchase?
Actually there are so many. If I had to pick one, it is a very small thing - my Kindle. I commute a lot for work and travel and I am able to carry thousands of books wherever I go. It helps me escape into my world of favourite books and characters. It makes me a happy person.
Where do you save your money?
In terms of geography, it is only India at the moment. It’s a mixed approach: I do a lot of saving in fixed deposits, which is primarily to protect the capital. I do a lot of investments in mutual funds and then of course there is the property market. But it is all back in India.
What is your strategy for remitting money?
I am one of the fortunate ones that does not need to send money back home on a regular basis. I put my money together in my UAE account, and I keep watching out for the currency fluctuations. Whenever the INR weakens against the dollar is the time I send money back in bulk to my India account.
What tips would you offer others sending money to their home countries?
It’s important to find the best method to send money home. There are so many options in the market. There are the exchange houses, banks and so on. Find an operator that gives you a very transparent idea about what the exchange rate is.
Have you ever had a month where you feared that you couldn’t pay the bills?
I have been very fortunate that way. I don’t think that has ever happened to me.
Do you use a financial adviser?
No I don’t, but I do have a few friends who I consult. They are experts in their own areas.
Do you plan for the future financially?
Of course. I believe a lot in investments. So I will continue to invest in mutual finds and properties that look lucrative. And another small secret of mine is that I continually build a small travel fund. I love to travel and I try to always make sure I have a rather lavish travel fund at my disposal at all times.
How much do you save each month for travel?
I put around 10 per cent of my income in the fund each month. I take vacations every year, making a point to go and see places that I haven’t seen before. So it gives me a lot of freedom to do what I love to do. I haven’t counted but I have probably been to more than 25 countries. Last year I visited Cape Town. It was just wonderful.
And what percentage of your salary goes to savings?
I put close to 25 per cent of my income into my savings. The rest I leave for my living expenses, my books and my socialising. Sometimes I borrow from that for travel too.
How much do you have in your purse just now?
Around Dh250. I am more of a credit card person, actually. I believe a lot in earning reward points and miles. The best thing is when you can spend on your card and have that earning you an upgrade on your flight. But I am no longer a balance revolver. I am completely a transactor.
What would you raid your savings for?
I would say it would be for my round the world trip. That’s something that’s very big on my bucket list. It is something I will definitely do at some time in my life. I believe that if I raid my savings for it I would come out a lot richer for seeing a lot of beautiful places around the world and meeting all of the people I would meet.