Sithara Sethumadhavan works as a copywriter with a UAE real estate company.
The Indian, 37, has called the UAE home since birth and was raised in Abu Dhabi. She moved to Dubai after her marriage.
Ms Sethumadhavan bought a villa in Jumeirah Village Circle, Dubai, this year and lives there with her parents, husband Rajesh Pillai, who works in information technology, and their three children aged 11, 8 and 3.
After completing her master's degree in communication with a major in journalism, Ms Sethumadhavan's first job was with a media company in Budapest, Hungary, in 2009, where she earned €900 ($955 or Dh3,503).
What is your current salary?
I earn below Dh10,000 ($2,723) a month now.
After a small hiatus in Budapest, I returned to Abu Dhabi to be with my parents and joined Baynounah TV, where I was earning Dh18,500 a month in 2010.
However, the department I was working in was dissolved and around then, I met my husband and got married.
I was doing some freelance projects up until I had kids. After 12 years of freelancing and being a stay-at-home mum, I felt I needed to have some money of my own. My husband provides for us well, but I realised how much I missed the financial independence.
After 12 years, getting a full-time job was a struggle. But I decided to start from the lowest and, at the age of 36, I joined a start-up as an intern and made about Dh3,000 a month.
I needed that after the long gap I had taken. I needed to be polished and moulded as per the current industry needs.
Soon after that, I joined a real estate company as a copywriter (an outsourced employee) and earn about Dh7,500 a month.
What are your savings and do you have any investments?
My savings in the bank aren't that much, barely about Dh1,000 because I pay the school fees for my elder two kids and nursery for my younger one.
But, if we are to look at something joint with me and my husband, we own a lovely four-bedroom villa and he has some investments and savings for the rainy days.
My husband has invested in property in our home country as well as stocks. He is also looking to buy land.
I have some gold that was bought for my marriage, but haven’t specifically invested in bullion. I don’t purchase gold as an investment.
Do you have any debts?
I have a car loan and the instalment of Dh2,300 is deducted from my salary every month. It’s a family car, a Ford Expedition.
We have a credit card and our expenses on it come to approximately Dh8,000 to Dh9,000 per month. My husband manages it and makes sure to pay it off in full every month.
I use it for all the household expenses, so I can keep track of it. Expenses typically include groceries, entertainment, birthday parties and taking the kids out.
Have you ever inherited a sum of money?
My dad is a wise man and has always been investing a part of his salary in the stock market and property back home in India. He has been in the UAE for 50 years and used to work in insurance in the oil industry. He also had his own business for a while and is now retired. My mother works with Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.
He gifted me some money, which I used for the down payment for our home in JVC.
Growing up, were you taught how to handle your finances?
Nothing formally, but I was taught to make smart choices while spending money. There was nothing theoretical taught to me or a course that I did in money management.
My parents instilled values such as not to spend too much, look around for better prices, shop for more options and shop for quality versus quantity.
I still abide by those values, especially when shopping for groceries or buying gifts for birthday parties.
I am trying to impart the same lessons to my children. Also, I think schools should focus on practical lessons in money management and taxation, rather than just focus on the traditional subjects. If you instil these lessons from a young age, it’s much better for children.
What are your monthly expenses?
The monthly groceries come to about Dh6,000 to Dh7,000 for a family of four adults and three kids.
The children’s tuition fees and extracurriculars cost about Dh7,000 (for three kids), we pay Dh12,000 per month for our mortgage, Dh2,000 for Dubai Electricity and Water Authority charges, Dh2,300 for our car loan and Dh4,000 for entertainment and eating out.
How do you budget your salary with the rising cost of living?
Budgeting my salary isn’t possible as it isn’t much. We work on the family income.
I try to limit eating out, do grocery shopping in bulk once a month and always look for deals while maintaining the quality.
I have noticed rising costs for education, travel (taxi fares) and groceries.
Have you started saving for retirement?
Not yet. I don’t mind retiring tomorrow, but I don’t have a backup plan yet. Ideally, I want to have a steady stream of passive income in about five years.
I have plans to invest in a studio or one-bedroom apartment and rent it out. I want to stop working full-time and be with the kids.
Do you have an emergency fund?
No, I am working on this.
What do you spend your disposable income on?
I hardly manage to set aside Dh500 to Dh1,000 as disposable income. If my children have to attend two to three birthday parties a month, it’s tough to set aside even that amount.
I prefer taking the kids out to a game arcade and end it with a meal from McDonalds. We do this once a month and it’s my bonding time with them.
I also do a girls’ outing with my friends once a month.
Do you worry about money?
All the time. I wish I could add more to my savings. I wish I could have another source of income.
What are your best money saving hacks to offset inflation?
Keep the kids at home while you go grocery shopping.
Make lists and plan your weekly menu. Make a note of birthdays and occasions when you need to buy gifts – I try to buy the items while sales are on.
Always, always make a note of the prices. Shop around and look for the better deal.
What are your financial goals?
I want to save enough to buy a studio with my money. I want to begin investing in real estate.
What is your idea of financial freedom?
Being able to set aside Dh5,000 every month as savings in my account.
Do you have plans to earn passive income?
My kids are small, especially the youngest one, so I always cope with mum guilt.
In between, I was looking at other income-generating options, but most of the ones I came across looked shady. These were mostly surrounding affiliate marketing and pyramid-style marketing. I didn’t feel these were convincing.
I am still exploring my options and looking at something more sustainable. But I need to start working on it really fast.
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