Money & Me: 'You don't have to live the extravagant Dubai lifestyle'
Tim Cordon of Radisson Hotel Group says the good and bad thing about being an expatriate is the variety of investment and spending options
Tim Cordon is area senior vice president of Radisson Hotel Group for Middle East and Africa, where the company has 90 hotels and 80 in the pipeline. The Briton was promoted to the Dubai-based job in 2017 having joined the company in 2003 and worked as general manager of its Manchester Airport hotel and later Radisson Blue Dubai Deira Creek. Mr Cordon, 43, lives at Jumeirah Islands with his wife, a full-time mum previously in the hotel industry, and children aged eight, three and one.
A lot of people are fortunate to have enough cash available to have what seems like a very extravagant lifestyle. But there’s another lifestyle you can choose [that's] more representative of what you have in your home country.
Tim Cordon, area senior VP of Radisson Hotel Group for MEA
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
It was a pretty grounded upbringing. We didn’t have a lot of money but I had a fantastic childhood. Both parents were teachers, so we had long, extended breaks but no glamorous holidays. Some of my friends would get on a plane, [while] we did caravan holidays to France, camping most of the time, so a pretty humble upbringing in that respect. If you were spending money it was on something really worthwhile, like investing in our home. It wasn’t frittered away. Money was something to be respected.
My grandfather had worked for the Prudential insurance company, selling retirement packages, so it was instilled in our family ‘save money’.
As soon as I got my first proper job, at 18, I opened a savings account with the ‘Pru’ [Prudential financial services company], encouraged by my mum, and started putting £60 (Dh267) to £70 a month into that. That seemed like a big sacrifice worth making for the future, hopefully building up some kind of nest egg.
Do you still save?
That stayed with me; I've always had either a formal savings plan or an amount every month I put away. It’s changed over the years, different countries, different circumstances.
What I say to people fresh to Dubai is ‘you can choose your lifestyle’. A lot of people are fortunate to have enough cash available to have what seems like a very extravagant lifestyle. But there’s another lifestyle you can choose [that's] more representative of what you have in your home country, which is also going to allow you to save. One of my goals is to have savings, accelerate retirement, have options.
Where do you save?
I have some in a fixed-term deposit account — 'rainy day' money. The rest is in a managed portfolio, a mix of asset classes. I’m not risk-averse. You’ve got many more options [than the UK] when you’re offshore, but you've got to be careful which you choose because it’s not as closely regulated. You just need to read the small print.
What were you paid in your first job?
I knew from a very early age I wanted to be independent, earn my own money. When I was 15 I walked across to the village pub and asked the chef if he had any work for me. Most weekends I’d go and wash pots for £1.50 an hour. I then worked in another restaurant as a waiter and when I turned 18 decided it was more fun interacting with customers behind a bar — that Tom Cruise movie Cocktail was relatively new — I thought ‘that looks fantastic’. So, my first job was in hospitality. It was more than a job, it was a lifestyle. Money was a side benefit to that. I’ve worked in every layer since.
Are you wise with money?
I’ve never owned a new car because they depreciate so much when you drive away from the garage.
I spend on things that matter or are predominantly for the family. Holidays are probably the biggest personal expense we have but it would be unusual to have an extravagantly luxurious holiday. If you're able to create fabulous memories for the kids and yourself, that's much more important than what watch you're wearing.
It’s a cliché but look after the pennies and the pounds look after themselves. And try not to fritter away money on silly things — invest in something you really care about. If you do the sums, add up a couple of Starbucks and lunch every day … do that for a year, what would you do with that money?
What are your luxuries?
The family holidays and I have a bit of a financial Achilles heel: cars. Since six years old I’ve always worked on cars, fixing MGBs [two-door sports cars manufactured by the British Motor Corporation], taking engines out of VW Beetles with my dad. We still have a couple of classic cars back home. Some of them have turned into investments.
I have an ‘old banger’ here, an Aston Martin Vantage, 13 years old. I paid well under Dh100,000 for it; less than a modern family car. It had been in an accident, was a total mess. Because I did the [renovation] work myself, it didn’t cost an absolute fortune … just a normal fortune.
What has been your best investment?
I went to Edinburgh, my first ever [adult] job, the first thing I did was buy a house, aged 22/23 — the best financial decision I made. I didn't see the logic of paying rent. I needed £3,000 [as a deposit] so called my dad. He said ‘I’ll lend it to you but you need to pay me back within six months and the only way I can see you doing that is if you sell your car’. So I sold my 1972 MGB to repay my dad. My parents did a great job teaching me the value of money by forcing me to make sacrifices.
I bought that first house, did a bit of work to it and doubled it's value in two years. I went on to do three or four property renovations all over the UK, which culminated in a big house. It’s rented out.
Do you prefer paying by cash or credit card?
Credit card — for points, insurance, security, it’s more the convenience. I never pay a penny of interest.
Do you budget personally?
We try to spend everything on credit card and there's an amount the bill should not go over. Inside of that framework we try to work within a budget because we know how much we want to save and [what] is committed to investments. We live within our means.
Do you plan for the future?
One of the good and bad things about being an expat is you have more investment options open to fund your retirement lifestyle. I’ve got no desire to retire — having the choice to be able to retire and wanting to are different things. That tipping point of when you can choose to do so, that’s our primary goal.
What would you raid your savings for?
For a family emergency; if there was a disaster somewhere in the family, that would be a legitimate reason to empty the piggy bank.
Updated: August 22, 2019 10:33 AM