Financial Advice

Recently, a Clinical Psychologist who practices in Dubai told me she had a good number of clients who were suffering from anxiety. Specifically, the anxiety was around coming to the end of their employment contract, but having saved little money.

When we ask people what motivates them to consider working in the Middle East, we generally receive one of four answers:

  • To save money to pay off student loans or credit cards;
  • Save money to buy a house or a car;
  • Have money to travel;
  • Need a change, new friends, etc.

Because working in the Arabian Peninsula means no income taxes and provided housing, bank accounts fill up quickly, leaving many individuals with an inflated sense of their disposable income.

Fashionable women buy Gucci sweaters without even looking at the price tags. People regularly spend weekends in Dubai or Beirut, attending a salsa dancing festival or a concert by Selena Gomez.

And then what do you do with your six or seven weeks of vacation?

Well, Rome, and all those Italian fashions are just a five-hour flight away. Your colleagues say it’s absolutely fabulous. And since you have the time, you might as well, on the way, visit the Greek Islands.

Also, you have always wanted to make a safari in Kenya, and Jane, your workmate from the UK, also wants to do the safari. But she wants to stay in that Treetops Hotel in Aberdare National Park, just like (the now) Queen Elizabeth did when she was a young bride on her around-the world trip with Prince Philip. It’s spectacularly expensive. But you only live once. And this is the chance of a lifetime.

You get the picture.

So, if you want to avoid feeling anxious about not having paid off that student loan, here are some tips:

  • First, spend some time being seriously introspective about your objectives in working in the Arabian Peninsula. I find that writing down your goals helps you to focus.
  • If saving money is your goal, make a detailed budget.
  • Before you relocate, commit to making specific monthly payments towards your debts.
  • Some people have told us that the only money they spend on travel, clothes, etc., is the money they earn from working overtime hours.
  • If travel is your objective, don’t get carried away and use all your money on staying at the likes of the Four Seasons Hotels. Regularly going to fancy hotels is may later be a cause for regret.

But a warning: Even if your goal is to save, you will be sorely tempted to spend. All around you, people are telling stories about the fantastic trekking vacation to the base of Mount Everest, or about throwing their money away in the casinos of Monaco, and so on.

Some suggestions on how you deal with these temptations?

  • Fantasize about how free you will feel when your debts are paid off.
  • Live vicariously through the travels of your profligate friends.
  • Judiciously allow yourself some expensive whims. (Otherwise, like the failed dieter, you will binge and spend all your money.)
  • There are cheaper, yet once-in-a-lifetime adventures, like hiking the El Camino de Santiago in Spain.

Those of you who fail to achieve your financial goals while overseas are not alone. As always, it is a sense of balance. And finding a happy balance between spending and saving is hard for most of us. Working in a tax-free environment when housing is covered exacerbates the problem. The bigger problem is, of course, excessive spending. There are ways to take charge of this problem:

  • Commit to specific monthly payments of your debts.
  • Pay more than the minimum required on your credit cards.
  • Use cash rather than debit cards.
  • Talk to a financial advisor about automatic withdrawals from your account for longer-term purchases like that house.

The conclusion? You can have it both ways.

Good luck!

Helen Ziegler

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