x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Work and play in fine balance

It helps to have a goal when saving. And for this yoga instructor, who juggles family, charity work and running her own studio in Abu Dhabi, travel continues to be the biggest motivation for putting cash aside.

Elina Nykanen Rozycki and her husband spend about Dh70,000 a year on travel.
Elina Nykanen Rozycki and her husband spend about Dh70,000 a year on travel.

I have always tried to go with my instinct when making financial decisions, particularly with my business. It may mean less money in the short term, but it often means long-term opportunities, such as more stability and happiness. I co-own the Yoga Tree and Soma Pilates Studio with two friends. I'm very artistic, but my feet are firmly on the ground. I moved to Abu Dhabi almost 10 years ago from New York City with my husband, Derek Rozycki, and my five-year-old daughter, Alexa. Two year later I had my son, named Ethan. I'm now 37 years old.

My husband is an investment banker in the oil and gas business. Right now, it's a juggle finding that balance between business and family. I could work much more and make more money, but really, is that what I want? I was born in Switzerland in 1972 to Finnish parents. I was 12 when we moved back to Finland. When I was growing up in the financially-conservative Swiss society I had a 50 cent allowance per week - and I had to work for it, usually by doing chores around the home. Part of the allowance, about 70 per cent, I saved and the rest was spent on sweets.

From about the age of seven I wanted to go to the US as an exchange student. My parents said they would pay the airfares, but I would need to pay for all the costs once I was there. Having this goal early in life gave me the incentive to save. My parents are doctors. My father is a physiatrist, and when I was 14 I started working in my mother's private ophthalmology practice doing reception work, accounts and cleaning.

I earned about Dh32 an hour. By the time I was 18 I had saved between US$3,000 and $4,000, or about Dh14,000. I took a 12-month student exchange trip and went to a high-school in the Sierra foothills in California. Once I got there I spent all the money I'd been saving for most of my life. After the exchange trip I spent three years at hotel school at the International Centre of Glion in Switzerland and studied hotel management.

My parents paid for everything, which cost 240,000 Swiss francs, but told me I'd need to repay 50 per cent of it. We had to do training every summer as part of the degree. My first training was in Spain, and my second, in 1994, was at the El Troje inn at Riobamba, in Ecuador. The latter was a family-run business. I fell in love with the owners' son. The following year, after I finished school, we got married in Finland and returned to Ecuador to help run the El Troje. Later that year I had my daughter, Alexa.

In 1994 there was a bright economic atmosphere in Ecuador, but when I returned the next year things were starting to go bad. Within three years the country had fallen into recession. Tourism was hit and it was very tough to make the hotel financially viable. I lived and ate in the hotel complex, but because things were so bad I never started earning money. That's when my parents realised I didn't have the capacity to repay my loan. As well as helping to run the hotel I danced semi-professionally with a hula group doing Pacific Island dances to make extra money. My husband and I separated in 1999, and I went to work in Ecuador's capital, Quito, with a team opening a new luxury hotel, the Dann Carlton. For the first time I started earning my own money. It wasn't much, about $1,500 a month, and I spent half of it in rent.

That's when I met my current husband, an American, who was working in the area and staying at the hotel as a guest. Six months later I moved with him to New York. I had a very tough time finding a job in New York in 1999. After six months, and 30 interviews with hotels, I found a job earning $40,000 as a personal assistant for a political consultant. A year later I married Derek and moved to Abu Dhabi, where my husband was offered a job working on the big Dolphin energy project. I wasn't really looking to open a yoga studio, but three years ago this space fell into my hands.

A friend in real estate had a villa to rent and suggested I lease it and turn it into a café. I did some research and realised the space wasn't right for a restaurant. And at the time, I was taking yoga lessons. I thought, why not turn it into a yoga studio? My friend Sharifa Sehweil, and her daughter, Nadia Sehweil, were thinking of setting up a Pilates studio. So we thought it would be a good mix: Pilates, yoga, which I had been practicing for five years, and dance, which I had been doing for most of my life.

For my side, it cost about Dh100,000 to set up, which I paid for with family savings. After 12 months, I was deep in the red by more than Dh100,000, including the initial costs as well as a year's worth of salaries and expenses. I was not a yoga teacher when I opened, because I was still in training. But I have been an official instructor now for two years. Three years on, the debts are paid off and the business is making a small profit. We have about 14 instructors and more than 300 clients, who pay about Dh60 a class.

It's been an amazing opportunity, and now I feel I have an chance to give back. The studio does work with women and children with cancer. Even though I'd love to do more, my time needs to be in balance. A business has to make financial sense My children have allowances that they need to work for, but they also have to do work without getting paid. They need to learn that there are things you do because you are part of a family. My son can earn up to Dh1 a day, and my daughter earns between Dh15 and Dh20 an hour.

My husband and I like good food and we love travelling. We mix it up by sometimes camping and then staying at really nice hotels. I spend money on quality ingredients. Our food comes from an organic food cafe in Dubai. We probably spend about Dh1,000 a week on food and about Dh70,000 per year on travelling. I have travelled through the Americas, Europe and Asia. I find saving easy if the goal is for travelling. I'm open to travelling anywhere - the more obscure the better.

* As told to Jane Williams