x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

On the Money: Overlooking overdraft protection proves costly

Not being bothered to set up an overdraft facility has cost me dear in the three-and-a-half years I have lived in Abu Dhabi.

It was her eyes that gave it away, and the way she tried - unsuccessfully I hasten to add - to hide that knowing, dare I say it, pitiful grin.

"You think I'm a hopeless case don't you," I said.

"Nobody is a hopeless case," smiled the clerk at my Abu Dhabi bank. "But if they were, you would be quite close. However, there is quite a lot you could do to make life more comfortable for yourself financially, if only you would actually listen to what you are actually advised."

Money and I have never been the closest of buddies. My view has always been if it's there then spend it, if it's not, well spend it anyway. When I took redundancy from my last job in London I walked away with a small fortune - and squandered the lot in less than a year. I remember the clerk at my bank in Essex, England, giving me the same pitiful look as the lady at my Abu Dhabi bank.

So, carrying out my threat to take my overdraft elsewhere, I moved to a new country with a new outlook on the value of money, promising to listen to the advice of the bank experts. Each month, like thousands of expatriates in the UAE, I send the bulk of my wages home to pay bills and make sure my family is looked after - mortgage, council tax, utility bills, food etc - so I have to ensure that on the seventh of each month I have enough money in my account so that my set amount is transferred to my bank in Essex. If I am a single dirham under that amount, then it's not sent. In the words of Mr Micawber in Charles Dickens's David Copperfield: "Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery."

Not being bothered to set up an overdraft facility has cost me dear in the three-and-a-half years I have lived in Abu Dhabi. I have bills here, of course. Rent, petrol, OSN, credit card repayments, food, drink and laundry all eat into what is paid into my Abu Dhabi account by my employers. As did a Dh100 a month bank charge I had been paying until a colleague told me I should have stopped paying it a year ago. I just hadn't bothered to open the letter from the bank asking me to ring them to cancel it. If, by the time those expenses have been taken care of, my account is below the amount due to be transferred it means an expensive, time consuming, and, quite frankly, ridiculous merry-go-round of comings and goings. Firstly I have to take money OUT of my England account - using my overdraft facility there, which costs money - then put it in my Abu Dhabi account so that I have enough money to transfer back into the account from which it once came. Confused? How do you think I feel?

I still haven't set up internet banking here - the nice and ever so helpful lady in the Abu Dhabi bank has explained how it's done but it just went over my head - so I have to use my England debit card to get cash from an ATM machine, which costs money. Then I drive to the centre of Abu Dhabi to pay it into another ATM machine so that it tops up my Abu Dhabi account. From there it is transferred back to my England account.

That is, of course, if I remember to jump on that actual merry-go-round. Very often I forget all about it so the transfer does not happen, leading to more expense and a bad credit rating back home. If the money does not get transferred then, of course, my bills in England do not get paid, and that doesn't go down well with mortgage lenders and utility companies.

When that happens I have to take another drive into the centre of Abu Dhabi and get the bank clerk to transfer whatever I have left in my UAE account to the UK - at a high cost.

Of course, now I haven't anything left in my Abu Dhabi account which, in turn, means I have to use my England debit card to withdraw money, costing more money.

So, how can this ever increasing - and ever expensive - circle of financial incompetence be rectified? Well, a pay rise would be a good start but, failing that, I could open an overdraft facility at my UAE bank, meaning: annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result a sort of happiness as my money will still be transferred.

One day I will look directly into the once pitiful eyes of that nice Abu Dhabi bank clerk knowing I have listened to - and understood - all the advice she has given.

cwhebell@thenational.ae