x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Plan your seasonal shopping - or plan to take a heavy hit

Shoppers' bad planning is good business for most retailers and banks, and possibly retailers are making their best money at this time, with Eid and back-to-school only a week apart.

I do not remember the last time I shopped during Ramadan. I barely visit retailers during these peak seasons, simply because I normally purchase everything I want, months ahead, usually during my summer holidays. This year, however, I broke my routine when a friend dragged me along on an Eid shopping quest.

She, like most people in the UAE, left Eid and back-to-school shopping till the very last minute, when she could have avoided the unnecessary drama by shopping earlier.

We started our trip by heading to the Khalidiya area at 11pm in hopes of convincing an abaya house to make an Eid abaya for her.

Given the number of people on the streets, you would have thought it was 7pm on any other day.

The store was only a few buildings ahead, but the area was jammed with traffic, and we felt the urge to honk our horn with everyone else.

We left the car for the driver to figure out where to park and walked the few metres ahead.

We pushed a humid and foggy glass door and entered a shop that was packed with more than 50 women talking, screaming and urging the salespeople to grant them discounts.

"I have been a customer for years. How come you cannot finish the abaya before Eid?" a mother complained on behalf of her teenage daughter.

"Three thousand five hundred for an abaya? You always double your prices before Eid!" screamed another.

We finally got hold of one of the 10 salespeople and asked him if he could design an abaya similar to the one displayed by the door.

"After Eid. I cannot now. There's no way," said the distracted salesman, whose shoulders were draped with many abayas to be altered.

"I'll pay you double," pleaded my friend. He hesitated a bit and said, "It will be ready after 11pm the night before Eid."

"Great!" exclaimed my friend. "Now we can shop for shoes."

With many customers shopping for necessities just a few days ahead of Eid and back-to-school, they leave themselves little time to compare prices and end up buying overpriced items, with the help of bank loans and credit cards in many cases. Is that fair? Probably not. But shoppers' bad planning is good business for most retailers and banks, and possibly retailers are making their best money at this time, with Eid and back-to-school only a week apart.

A friend of mine who is a bank manager tells me that the demand for bank loans also increases during the summer period.

Many residents and nationals request loans for their children's private-school fees, while others need cash for their Eid spending because they have used up most of their savings during the summer holidays.

"Taking loans is not necessary, especially for purchasing clothing and Eid gift items, if finances were well-planned ahead of time," he said.

He noted some points to consider if a person has no choice but to take out a loan. Paying school fees and purchasing Eid items and gifts are inevitable, so avoid inflated prices by shopping in non-peak seasons such as spring or the end of the school year.

As for school fees, create a fund and dedicate a sum to it every month. That way you may be able to avoid taking out a loan.

The next point may be obvious, but many people overlook it. Plan how you will use your loan before you obtain it, to avoid spending it on unnecessary items.

Also, make sure that your job is secure before seeking a loan. You want to ensure that you can repay it. If you hear that your organisation is laying off employees, borrowing money may not be the wisest move.

Keep in mind that repaying a loan sometimes requires years, so think twice before borrowing money to buy non-essential items that you cannot afford, when instead you could put that same amount towards a business project that would generate profit.

The loan contract is probably lengthy and looks boring. However, you have to read it to guarantee that you understand the terms and penalties. That way you can determine whether they suit your financial capabilities.

Ask a lawyer at your organisation's legal department, or a friend who is a lawyer, to look at the contract to make sure that there are no vague commitments or clauses that you are not aware of.

If you are convinced that a loan is the right choice, do not forget one important issue. Request the loan and have your credit cards issued from the same bank where your salary is deposited.

Not only will you pay a lower interest rate, but you can have easier and extended repayment terms because the bank has the security of your guaranteed monthly wage from which to make deductions.

Borrowing from another bank will usually cost you more in interest, and you may have to issue guarantee cheques. And there are the unfriendly phone calls from bank agents that make you feel like someone who is about to flee the country.

Coming home after midnight the other day with my friend, I felt as if I was leaving a war zone. Call me old-fashioned, but I am blessed with my routine, and I do not intend to change it.

Manar Al Hinai, an Emirati, is a fashion designer and writer based in Abu Dhabi. She recently was named an Arab Woman of the Year.