1. Make Your Lifestyle Suit Your Income
Regularly relying on your credit cards for those Louboutins, dinner at La Petite Maison, or that holiday with your jetsetter friends means that the Future You could be eating crackers in your sweats at home for a while.
Try to live within your means, so that you’re not spending more money than you’re making each month.
“It’s not about matching your income to the lifestyle you want to have, that’s the wrong way to think about it – it’s about living within your means and current income,” says Nima Abu-Wardeh, founder of www.cashy.me, a personal finance site that has great tips on saving money. “It will make you think about the basics of money coming in and going out, and encourage you to live a life you can afford.”
You can make a simple excel sheet to budget each month and monitor your expenses, from big, regular ones, like rent, to little ones, like the Costa coffee you pick up on your way to work every morning. You should definitely still indulge in a little shopping or a fancy meal every now and then, but making a habit of racking up debt now will only overwhelm you later. With a few extra steps, this stress is avoidable.
2. Don’t Be Afraid of Numbers
There are tons of sites, like www.souqalmal.com, that can help you learn how a credit card works, tell you what you need to watch out for when taking a personal loan, and prove to you that excel is not as evil as it seems. “The key to being financially literate is to start by reading up on how products work and not being afraid to ask your banker what seems like a stupid question,” says Ambareen Musa, founder of www.souqalmal.com, the leading comparison website in the region that gives a platform to compare financial products like mortgages and car loans. “Often when it comes to banking products, it’s what’s in the fine print or detail that counts.”
3. No Better Time to Start than Now
Saving, that is. It’s easy to convince yourself that you don’t make enough to start saving yet. You promised yourself to start saving right after you get your next promotion, or after the next holiday, or after your next birthday, right? Later is not necessarily better; setting aside as little as 5% of your salary each month in an untouchable savings account can give you a buffer during rainy days or leave you with a nice little cushion in five or 10 years time.
“You’re alive now, you’re earning money now, why not save now?” says Nima. “You never know what could happen in the future – getting fired or an accident.”
4. Plan Meals Ahead
This will not only organize your schedule, but encourage you to shop for the week at Carrefour, rather than picking up items daily at Spinneys or your corner shop, where prices for everyday goods tend to be higher. It will also encourage you to eat at home and cook more often, which is healthier for your heart and for your wallet. You can cook enough one evening to last two days. Planning is key.
“You can invite friends over for dinner parties or have potlucks and picnics with colleagues – planning meals doesn’t have to be an antisocial activity,” says Nima. “It requires slightly more effort, but is just as fun.”
5. Read the Fine Print
Make sure to check for hidden fees in your bank accounts, phone bills, mortgage agreement, car loan, DEWA bill – every little bit counts and details are often obscure in fine print. According to DEWA, turning that temperature dial up by even one degree will help you save on your cooling costs by 9 percent. And those tiny blinking standby lights on your equipment actually consume up to 50 percent as much energy as when the device is actually in use.
“We read the small print in detail for you, so for example, we provide our users offers from Du and Etisalat where users can see when is the best time to call home and look up current offers that they can make use of,” says Ambareen. “Once you have that information, it empowers you to make informed decisions.”
6. Stay Organized
It’s easy if you do a little bit every day. Keep your bills in a folder as they come in. And maintain a simple excel sheet with all your incoming funds and outgoing expenses. Put in monthly expenses like household bills and rent when you pay them at the beginning of each month, and keep a daily account of approximately how much you spend on food, pilates classes and that ice cream snack you have every afternoon. It will help you highlight areas where you spend much more than you thought you did and encourage you to rethink impulse buys when you’re about to make them. Or you might be pleasantly surprised at your financial skills and decide to go for that girls trip to Thailand because you’ve got the money and you deserve it!
7. Indulge Every Now and Then
It’s a little like eating healthy daily, but having that chocolate bar or creamy pasta when you’re really craving it. This way, you ensure that you don’t binge and you don’t starve yourself. With money, it’s the same. Be sensible and don’t spend more than you have on a regular basis, but every once in a while, if a massage or a weekend away in Fujeirah will help you stay balanced during your routine life, you’ll have something to look forward to and will be less likely to make impulse purchases with regularity.
“Is that handbag or holiday worth a week of your wages?” says Nima. “Figuring this out will help you make an informed decision and help you save and spend on what you really want.”
8. Hit the ATM... Once
Take out cash at the beginning of each week in the amount that you plan to spend. Figure out how much you’ll need for food/groceries, drinks with the girls, the gym, your bestie’s birthday present – and take out just that amount and don’t touch your card all week. That will help you monitor your expenses throughout the week and not spend over your defined limit. It’s too easy to whip out that credit card every time you want something, but this will make you check yourself and encourage you to stay within healthy financial boundaries.
9. Be a Bargain Hunter
Whether it’s for a holiday or for trendy pumps, make a habit of shopping around for bargains. Websites like www.flightcentre.ae and travel agencies usually have great deals on vacations and keep an eye out for sales at your favourite stores. Hold off serious shopping to take advantage of big shopping festivals, like the upcoming Dubai Shopping Festival in January. A site like www.souqalmal.com helps you compare rates on home loans, car loans, and personal loans so you can make an informed decision.
10. Get Friends In On It
It can be awkward to talk to friends about money, but everyone has money issues that they are juggling. Talk openly with your friends and learn from one another.
“People equate saving with being boring, stingy, or morbidly thinking about getting old, but saving money is a liberating, positive experience that helps you achieve goals and organize your life,” says Nima. “Surround yourself with likeminded people and encourage good money habits, rather than buying each other rounds of drinks at a bar and running up high tabs.” If you’ve got banker friends, ask them for advice because it’s their business to know whether to invest in real estate or stocks or which world economies or sectors are doing well. You’ll keep up with finance trends and have someone to ask about major financial decisions, like when it’s a good time to buy a home. Make some banker friends and treat yourself to an indulgent evening with them at a posh restaurant once in a while, guilt-free – consider it a learning expense.
You’ve Saved Money – Now What?
After working hard and making an effort to save money, what do you do with it?
“It depends on your risk appetite and the access you want to money, so that’s something you need to think over and talk to a financial expert,” says Ambareen. So think about whether you’re saving up to buy a home or support a child, or just enough to splurge on a holiday or a pair of Jimmy Choos. Then you can figure out the best place to park your money.
Keeping your cash in a fixed deposit in your bank account, if you can get a good interest rate, is always a good idea if you are risk averse and want easy access to your money. If you are willing to take a risk, which can lead to much higher returns, you can consider stocks and bonds. Over time, money in financial securities such as these perform better than in a savings account. Another option for a more long-term view is investing in gold or property; even if prices fluctuate, these assets will always carry value.