x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The plan is to die with nothing

Money and me: James Nicholson is the general manager of Rentokil UAE, a British-founded pest control company that launched in the Emirates in April. He talks about his financial journey.

James Nicholson, the UAE general manager for the pest control company Rentokil. Sarah Dea / The National
James Nicholson, the UAE general manager for the pest control company Rentokil. Sarah Dea / The National

James Nicholson is the general manager of Rentokil UAE, a British-founded pest control company that launched in the Emirates in April. Mr Nicholson, who has been in the pest control business for over 10 years, has lived in Dubai with his wife since 2004. The Briton previously worked for a start-up enterprise that Rentokil bought when it first entered the market here.

How would you describe your financial journey so far?

On reflection it's progressive, not at the point of retirement quite yet but certainly moving in the right direction. I was fortunate to be given sound advice by my father who worked in the money market back in the 1970s and '80s when various new markets were emerging in the US, Hong Kong and Bahrain. Many people in his industry were paid well to work abroad but when they returned they had not saved and many marriages broke apart with reduced living standards. One of the first things I did when I arrived 10 years ago was to set up savings plans and make sure that I'd have something to show for my time here, however long it might be. As time has passed that foundation has allowed us to be confident in our retirement and allowed us to make other investments into properties in the UK, UAE and Philippines, as well as a number of other vehicles, which offer better rates than keeping money in the bank.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I'm very much a saver who occasionally treats my wife and myself to nice gifts and holidays, but week to week we're savers. It's easy to get wrapped up in the glitz and glamour of the UAE and keeping up with the Joneses, and often people lose sight of the original reason they moved here. We're fortunate that the conditions found in emerging markets are very favourable and the UAE provides the obvious economical advantages as well as a safe place to reside.

Is money important to you?

I'm certainly not a person who goes home and checks my net worth every night - maybe that's a sign of favourable conditions here in the Emirates. Money is important because it gives you choice; typically it is the knowledge that you have a choice that makes you happy. It's the options money brings you that's important, not money itself.

Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?

Pre-crash, I bought some stocks on the financial market here and that investment went somewhat sour and the recovery has been sluggish. I'm not someone that watches the market enough to invest direct again and as such would stick with reduced risk financial savings options.

What has been your biggest financial lesson?

When I originally moved out of my parents' house and my eyes were opened to the world of credit cards, I quickly realised how easy it was to spend money that I hadn't earned yet and how keen banks were to tie you up in never-ending cycles of repayments. That lesson learnt in my early years and the knowledge of how long it can take to pay it back has meant that, other than mortgages, I've been earning interest on money instead of paying it.

What is your philosophy on money?

Money is like a drug: if you don't have any of it, you don't miss it; once you've had a taste you can't get enough of it. My advice is to have an exit strategy, know your goals and stick to a plan that will allow you to achieve them. If you decide to deviate along the way that's fine, but realign the strategy. If you're not careful you'll forever be reaching and never satisfied day to day. Always save for a rainy day, invest into both your children's and your future, both in terms of education and experiences. But ultimately the plan is to die with nothing.

What do you spend your money on?

I'm certainly not a label guru and struggle to get my head around why so many people pay so much money to have something identical to someone else. Fashion to me was always about being individualistic and standing apart from the crowd, offering something that others wanted or couldn't get rather than following it. That said, a tailored suit or subtle timepiece would be my personal weaknesses. I'm a big fan of travelling and experiencing new cultures and environments, so a lot of our spare money goes on that. We enjoy socialising with our friends whether it be dinner, concerts, events or simply a drink down the local.

* Alice Haine