x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

On the Money: Valuable lessons I have learnt over the past year

If that hasn't happened to you, then you are lucky. But you certainly know somebody who has experienced the pain and horror of a world economy teetering on the edge of financial disaster.

Gary Clement for The National
Gary Clement for The National

I was planning to write about Christmas budgets this week and the fact that one in three people in the UK will get themselves into debt buying gifts for their loved ones.

It's no surprise that they will be joining an ever-growing, global club of people in debt. It's certainly not an exclusive club, despite the high personal cost it takes to join it.

Thanks to the global financial crisis, one of the biggest fears in the world today is unemployment. And millions have lost their jobs since the financial crisis began in 2008, creating a frightening uncertainty not known since the Great Depression.

There is nobody in this world today who has not been affected by it. Banks have pulled in loans and tightened credit. Debts have gone unpaid, people have lost their homes, business owners have lost their livelihoods, and the ones who overleveraged have lost pretty much everything.

If that hasn't happened to you, then you are lucky. But you certainly know somebody who has experienced the pain and horror of a world economy teetering on the edge of financial disaster.

So with the world economy as it is, it is no wonder people are getting themselves more in debt by buying gifts for their loved ones on credit. Why? Everybody needs a little cheering up. Some retail therapy, if you will, to make themselves feel better; to give something special to the people they care about this festive season.

And I don't blame them. Although there is a certain pressure to buy up big at this time of the year, the one saving grace is that almost every retailer the world over is having a sale. Just like they've been doing for the past couple of years.

But it's hard to write about money and budgets at this time of the year. After all, the festive season is about sharing; about spending time with loved ones, about the spirit of giving.

And I imagine that there's nothing more depressing than me lecturing you about your spending. I've been doing that all year and, honestly, I need a break. And anyway, I know that you know when you've not got it right. When you've blown the budget because you bought something you really didn't need just to feel a little better, when you've messed up with your school fees, car payments or personal loans.

Everybody's done it. Even me. So, do you really need me to reinforce that at this time? I don't think so.

Instead, I'm going to talk about what I've learnt over the past year - and maybe some of you will take one of my lessons to heart and use it for your own financial well-being.

Think of it as my gift to you this festive season.

My year has been filled with some serious lessons. Some good, some bad. One of them heartbreaking.

Today marks one year and two days since my mother passed away. And she has taught me the most valuable lesson of all over the past 12 months: make a will.

I had already started planning that before she passed away. And it was the hardest thing I had to do. I kept putting it off, but even in death, my mother was determined that I knew just how important it was. Not just for my daughter and me, but also to ensure that what she wanted was reflected in my will.

It's just my daughter and me in the UAE. It's not something that I talk about often, so let's just blame it on the spirit of the season.

We are a single-parent family and have been for a very long time. Since my daughter was born, in fact, and that was nearly nine years ago.

So we have some personal finance issues that not everybody in the UAE experiences. I'm a single mother who, until just a few years ago, was working two jobs because I believed that was what it took to raise a child in this world; that you needed two incomes to do it right, even if I was only one person.

It was exhausting, but there's no better reality check than realising that there is nobody to fall back on in times of financial trouble.

You have to work harder because you can't afford to lose your job. And your child has to have more responsibilities than most other children their age because of the circumstances they were born into.

And you are too terrified to blow that budget because you are the only breadwinner and can't afford to overspend.

If I don't have a will in the UAE, I hate to think what would happen to my child. But it doesn't matter what your circumstances are - if you die intestate, it can have serious implications on the well-being and financial security of your family.

Under Sharia law, if you are the husband and you die, you face having your bank accounts and other assets you own in the UAE frozen until a court here decides what will happen.

That means no money for your wife and children to keep them going, to buy food, to pay school fees, the rent or to keep the car running.

Believe me when I say that this is important. Nobody wants to die - and it is an awful subject to raise at this time of the year - but nobody wants their family to starve or be penniless simply because they didn't make a will in the UAE.

Make this your number one priority in 2012 and you will be able to breathe easier. I know I do, despite the difficulties I've had coming to terms with my mother's passing and my own mortality.

So my lesson this year is that our families are our most important assets. Yes, we need money to survive and to make our lives comfortable, more so to ensure that our loved ones are taken care of.

There's nothing more in the world that I want right now than to be with my mother this Christmas. To thank her for the lessons she has taught me over the course of my life.

She's also helped me to set some goals for the next year: to work hard, stay out of debt and do my best to give my daughter a good, financially stable life. Just like she and my father worked hard to give me.

But I believe that this is what everybody wants for their families.

Happy holidays. And remember to make 2012 a year to remember; a year that will see you defy the financial crisis and turn your personal finances around, all the while ensuring that you and your family are always very well protected.