Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 5 April 2020

Money & Me: 'I've done enough saving, so from now on I'm going to spend'

Mall manager Nancy Ozbek says she wants to enjoy life after years of building up savings and investments

Nancy Ozbek, general manager of Times Square Centre, says she used to be wise with her money but not anymore. Reem Mohammed/The National
Nancy Ozbek, general manager of Times Square Centre, says she used to be wise with her money but not anymore. Reem Mohammed/The National

Nancy Ozbek is general manager of Times Square Centre, a Dubai mall she is revitalising through experiential outlets less vulnerable to e-commerce, including a music school, yoga and photography classes, Japanese model-making and board-game and wood-working stores. Born in Turkey, Ms Ozbek, who lives in Dubai Marina, is married to a sustainable fit-out contractor and is mum to two sons aged 14 and 16, and step-mum to two “bonus kids”.

A keen triathlete, the 44-year-old previously worked at Dubai’s Al Ghurair Centre and Ibn Battuta Mall, and Abu Dhabi's Deerfields Mall.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I come from a low-middle income family and have three sisters and one brother, all older. My father had a street kiosk selling newspapers and nuts near an Istanbul city-bus stop. I liked to help [packaging nuts] from six-years-old. My mother was a housewife, but worked with my father from home. I was involved from 16 to 21, including while studying business administration at university. I upgraded the kiosk and production. My parents spent all their money on our education. That’s why I’m sitting here today. I had Dh5 pocket money per day, for transportation and food at school. I was careful with what I was spending. My parents were always having financial difficulties. Now I’m very comfortable, but there was a time it was really difficult.

After turning 40 I promised myself I would travel around the world. I saved for my kids, I have that emergency fund, I have savings plans should something happen to me, so they are secure.

Nancy Ozbek

What were you paid in your first job?

I started university and gave maths classes to younger kids, charging Dh5 an hour. I had five/six students and was earning about Dh35 a week. Then and still in life, my policy is to save 60 per cent and 40 per cent I was spending on luxuries, such as cinema, eating, coffee with friends. In my third year, I started working for one of Turkey’s biggest beverage companies as a merchandiser. I graduated at 21, went full-time there as a sales executive, earning 4,000 Turkish lira (Dh2,463) a month. I came here when I was 22.

Why did you move to Dubai?

I couldn’t see enough opportunity in Turkey. Everyone was coming to Dubai, so I was researching the salaries. I had an offer in 1997 with a food and beverage company; the job didn’t happen, but I still received three months' salary. Fortunately I also came with money to survive. My goal was to collect $1,000 (Dh3,673) a month for three years and go back. Then I met a Turkish lady in 1998 and we opened the first organic supermarket in Dubai. After that, I became a leasing executive at Al Hanaa Centre in Satwa.

Are you still a saver?

I’ve earned good money and lost good money, but I also save. I have an Excel sheet with my mortgage and any other loans and my retirement plan. I have a one-bedroom apartment near Global Village I bought for investment in 2006. My career was improving and I was getting a good salary and wanted to save [that way]. In two years that mortgage is finished.

Have you had any challenging investments?

I bought an apartment in Discovery Gardens in 2007 when the price was really high and I was a single mum. It lost about 20 per cent of its value, but I was living there, so it was OK. It was a roof over our head and I wasn’t paying rent. Now I have tenants there, my loan finished two years ago and I’m receiving rent. This year I will break even. But it is a regret … if I didn’t have to pay that loan I could have put that money to one side.

Are you wise with money?

It looks like it, but I really enjoy that 40 per cent of my income that I don't save. Four days a week, I’m very careful. Two days, Thursday and Friday, no one can keep me at home. I go out, eat and drink and enjoy. When I spend I’m going to spend on a really good time with my friends, husband, kids. It’s my reward.

After turning 40 I promised myself I would travel around the world. I saved for my kids, I have that emergency fund, I have savings plans should something happen to me, so they are secure. If God gives me health and time, I’m going to spend from now on. I’ve done enough. I was wise, but not anymore.

Ms Ozbek says she is not a good bank client because she stops her lender from increasing the credit limit on her credit card. Reem Mohammed/The National
Ms Ozbek says she is not a good bank client because she stops her lender from increasing the credit limit on her credit card. Reem Mohammed/The National

What is your most cherished purchase?

My bike - it cost more than Dh20,000. My passion is taking part in triathlons and I love spending on my helmet and gear. It should be matching – I’m very much a pink lady. On Fridays, 4am we are at Al Qudra. Sometimes I run, sometimes bike.

What has been your best investment?

My retirement house in Turkey I bought two years ago. Property prices were down, now it is worth almost double.

The home we live in now was also a good opportunity for us, because we see ourselves in this country another nine years. Then I don’t want to work anymore. When I started a new [married] life in Dubai Marina we merged our houses, five years ago. In this country, if you can make a plan for yourself of a minimum five years you should think about buying, if you are going to live in it. We merged our budget, bought a four-bedroom apartment and we’re spending Dh30,000 less per year [than when renting].

Ms Ozbek is revitalising Dubai's Times Square Centre by introducing experiential outlets. ​Reem Mohammed/The National
Ms Ozbek is revitalising Dubai's Times Square Centre by introducing experiential outlets. ​Reem Mohammed/The National

Do you prefer cash or credit card?

I have one credit card. It’s for convenience and I pay it off automatically. I’m not a good client for the bank because when they wanted to increase the credit limit I stopped them.

Would you have financial advice for your younger self?

I would save less; not 40/60. I pushed myself to the limit until I was 40. I don’t regret it, but I didn’t go to certain places because I had to save. I would recommend until a certain age to spend 60 per cent, save 40 and later change that direction. Life is enjoyable until you’re 35 because your responsibility is less. I recommend to my kids, ‘spend, live your life, always save a little, but not aggressively’.

Do you plan for the future?

I always have to have an amount in the bank – an emergency fund. I never touch it. For the last 22 years [living here] I’ve also paid taxes in my country so I have a retirement plan in Turkey. I’ve finished all payments to my government and when I reach 50 I will get my pension from them. Financially I’m really strong.

If we had this interview seven years ago I would tell you I’ll work until I die, if my health allows me, because I love what I am doing. But seven years ago I was a single mum, married to my job. Then I met my husband. He is 10 years older than me and doesn’t want to work when he’s over 65.

Updated: January 9, 2020 10:11 AM

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