Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 September 2019

Money & Me: ‘People see me as a yoga studio owner and think I’m so well-off'

Victoria Cunningham says despite appearances she lives a minimalist life to ensure her business breaks even

Victoria Cunningham, owner of Voyoga studio in Dubai, says she has no plans to retire anytime soon. Reem Mohammed / The National
Victoria Cunningham, owner of Voyoga studio in Dubai, says she has no plans to retire anytime soon. Reem Mohammed / The National

Victoria Cunningham, 59, is the owner of Voyoga studio in Dubai’s Barsha Heights and a private yoga teacher. Hailing from Leicester, UK, she moved to Dubai nearly nine years ago without a job before securing a position as an in-house lawyer at Meydan racecourse. She practiced yoga at a studio in her spare time before starting to teach the activity herself at another venue. After a few years, she decided to leave law to open her own studio. Voyoga celebrated its fourth anniversary in April and Ms Cunningham now has her sights on a second location in the upscale Al Barari community. She has three grown-up children, who are all married and settled in the UK, and three granddaughters.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

Both my parents worked. My mum was a part-time librarian in the local library and my father ran one of the agricultural council plants. We had that regular upbringing where we had a holiday once a year. Everything was saved for, planned for.

My mother was very frugal with money, very organised with her finances. She encouraged us to save — we’d have a savings book. We got little pocket money, but we had to show that we were saving some of that pocket money. So I think I took that with me all through life.

I’ve got to be the oldest yoga teacher in Dubai. No, I don’t plan on retiring.

Victoria Cunningham, Voyoga owner

What was your first job?

My first job was a Saturday job, while I was still at school, in the local Wimpy bar — the fast food place before McDonald's. My first wage package was £1.05 (Dh4.89). If we ever got tips, it would make it more exciting, like £1.20, which was a lot of money to me then. I was a waitress the first few months, then I became the griller, doing the burgers. I was about 13.

What brought you to Dubai?

I chose to come to Dubai. I came on my own. I didn’t have a job to come to. I knew a few people here from university and I also love the Middle Eastern culture. I used to live in Damascus a long time ago. I travelled there in 1980 with my children as an English teacher and spent three years there.

Where else have you lived?

Canada, Cyprus, England. And now Dubai is my home. I think this is the longest time I’ve stayed in one place since my children left home. When my last child left home, I lived in Calgary [in Canada] with family. Being a single mum I didn’t know what to do with my life, so I travelled. And then when I left Canada to come back to the UK, I went to university for my law degree.

Are you a spender or a saver?

A saver. Why do I save? Because I want to be able to maintain my lifestyle, improve my lifestyle, make sure my children always got what they need — extras, Christmas, holidays, any emergencies. I think it’s always wise to have a nest egg. Not to be a scrooge, not to count every penny, but once you have what you need, put something away.

What is your most cherished purchase?

When I was living in Damascus, gold was really cheap and so were stones. And my mum always loved sapphires, so I had a bracelet made with single sapphires linked and earrings made to match. I paid for it — I can’t remember how much it cost — and mum still has it. Maybe it was because it was for my mum, maybe because it was the sort of thing she wouldn’t buy for herself, that’s probably my most cherished item that I’ve bought.

Do you have any financial regrets?

Yes I do — selling my first house. I got it very cheap, very upmarket for a young mum having a three-bedroom house in that particular suburban area. And then when my husband and I separated, I sold it. My mum said to me, ‘You’re going to regret that one day,’ and she’s so right, I regret it. It would be worth over half a million pounds today for something I bought for £15,000.

Ms Cunningham says she is "content" with her life in Dubai and does not want to give it up. Reem Mohammed / The National 
Ms Cunningham says she is "content" with her life in Dubai and does not want to give it up. Reem Mohammed / The National 

Are you planning on staying long term in the UAE?

I hope so — you never know what’s around the corner. Even my children are quite surprised that I’m still here. I am a bit of a traveller because I’m single and I can afford to travel because I don’t have those commitments. But now I’ve got a business and I want this to grow. My plan is to get my oldest granddaughter, who is now 19, here. She’s the only one in the family who follows the yoga that I do, and I see the vision of this being hers one day.

"I’ve not gone on to that glitzy, witzy JBR-style or Marina-style life," says Ms Cunningham. Reem Mohammed / The National 
"I’ve not gone on to that glitzy, witzy JBR-style or Marina-style life," says Ms Cunningham. Reem Mohammed / The National 

What is your biggest financial milestone?

To secure Al Barari to expand Voyoga in Dubai, make it a strong brand — without any pressure financially, comfortably. Not to go out and buy the Mercedes at the end of the year, because that’s not going to happen in this business. To keep me comfortable, to keep my vision going, to keep my lifestyle and to be in a position to be able to fly to the UK whenever I want, support my children and grandchildren whenever they need. That is my financial milestone now — and I’m not there yet. It’s very deceptive in Dubai. People see me as a studio owner, a yoga teacher, happy go-lucky, and they all think I’m so well-off. People would be surprised that I live minimalistic to stay in business.

How difficult is it to be financially comfortable as a yoga studio owner?

It is difficult. The reason it’s even more difficult for me is I am a single parent and I don’t have a partner here supporting me — I’ve done this on my own. I get the rent every month and the salaries every month and I’ve always managed to pull it off. Everything that is paid out comes from the revenue coming in. We’re breaking even, plus some. There’s no dividends coming in for me. I do get a salary — I wasn’t the first year.

Was it scary to live without a salary for a year?

Yes, and it started to get taken for granted in the end, so I had to put a stop to that. But I do have a lot of private students in Dubai, so that was what was financially keeping me.

What luxuries are important to you?

Just a comfortable lifestyle, that’s all I’m asking for right now. There have been many times in my life I’ve struggled. Yeah, I would like to have a better home than what I have right now in Dubai and a better car, but they will come eventually. I live in one of the old villas in Jebel Ali Village, but I share it with another female business owner, and I drive a Ford Eco Sport.

What about retirement?

I’ve got to be the oldest yoga teacher in Dubai. No, I don’t plan on retiring. I can teach yoga forever.

I told my kids, “right, I’m going to Dubai to work for a year” — we still laugh at that one. I have my circle of friends, I have my yoga, I have my job — I’m content. I’ve stayed rooted, I’ve stayed solid, I’ve stayed grounded. I’ve not gone on to that glitzy, witzy JBR-style or Marina-style life. No disrespect to expats — I’m not an expat wife, so I’m not a ‘Jumeirah Jane’. I worked hard in Dubai to get where I am. I don’t want to give my lifestyle up, I don’t want to give Dubai up and I don’t want to give Voyoga up either.

And my children are happy that I’m here — they’re proud of me. My daughter tells me, “Look what you’ve done mum, you’re nearly 60. Most people at 60 are sitting down now in their house knitting with the cat. Look at you — you’re bouncing around, fitter than all of us”.

Updated: July 6, 2019 09:19 AM

SHARE

SHARE