Divyashree Shukla is a marketing and communications specialist who moved to Abu Dhabi 12 months ago, shortly after getting married.
Ms Shukla, who is from India and lives with her husband on Reem Island, graduated with a master’s degree in journalism and mass communications seven years ago.
She currently works as a senior account executive and copywriter at a digital marketing agency in the capital.
“I had a successful career in India as a communications specialist for one of the leading consumer brands there and I was earning enough to sustain a decent standard of living,” Ms Shukla, 28, says.
However, after moving to the UAE, Ms Shukla says she faced numerous challenges in finding a job as she lacked local experience.
How many jobs did you apply for when you arrived in Abu Dhabi?
I wish I could show you my emails – I sent almost 200 to 250 emails to a lot of companies, to be honest, and perhaps heard back from about 10. But I got a job that I was aiming for.
What is your current salary?
Right now, I'm earning between Dh84,000 and Dh100,000 ($22,872 to $27,229) a year as a senior account executive and copywriter.
However, in India, I was roughly making Dh7,300 a month, or 2 million Indian rupees ($24,000) a year, which is almost the same as what I get here. However, there is a much higher cost of living and expenses here.
Have you negotiated for a salary rise before?
Despite my desire to negotiate a higher salary, the gender pay gap and my lack of local experience made it difficult. For example, in the US, women earn about 80 cents for every dollar earned by men. For now, I am focused on doing my best work and building my experience, so that I can negotiate more effectively in the future.
I know that whatever I'm earning right now is also pegged much lower and I know I deserve more, but then obviously, because you're new to a country, you don't have much local experience.
So, you have to prove yourself, and then maybe you can negotiate better in future. How can you prove that? I can only prove it by my work, by doing my best work in the organisation.
Do you have investments and savings?
I have diversified my risk by splitting my savings between my home country and the UAE. In my home country, I have split my portfolio between a savings account and securities. In the UAE, most of my money is currently in savings, but I plan to start investing in the market soon.
I am also a big believer in investing in gold, as it has a global market that transcends national borders, politics, religions, and race.
If you buy jewellery with a making charge of less than 15 per cent, you can start earning from it in the second year onwards. So, that is my speculation, what I play with.
Have you started saving for retirement?
I started saving for my retirement in 2016. I invest 10 per cent to 15 per cent of my savings each year in government-backed debt in my home country.
India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and it’s on track to become the third-largest economy in the world by 2030. This investment gives me healthy returns and, by the time I retire, I will have a decent amount of money.
If I continue to contribute Dh10,000 per year for 30 years, I will have over Dh700,000 in my retirement savings.
Do you have any debt?
No. I don't believe in using money I haven't earned to buy things. I am not easily swayed by the opinions or actions of others, so I do not feel the need to impress people. That is why I believe in not spending my money before I have earned it and stay away from debt.
It gives you peace of mind and you don’t have the baggage of repaying a debt that you have taken out to fulfil your wishes.
Do you have an emergency fund?
Aside from my savings fund, I keep a one-month emergency fund in cash at my place in case an emergency occurs and I can utilise that money.
Have you ever inherited a sum of money?
I've not inherited much. I come from a middle-class background.
I just want to work hard to earn enough money to help and support my parents when they are old and build a family that I am grateful for.
Were you taught how to handle money as a child?
Yes, of course. My mum always taught us to save some amount of money before spending it on anything. In our tradition, elders give some amount to children on any occasion, such as birthdays or festivals, as a gesture of their blessing.
My parents have always instilled in us the mentality of “saving first and spending later”.
Since I started earning in 2016, I have always aimed to save some money for an emergency fund and then spend it on either travel, food, or shopping.
Although I did not receive any formal education in personal finance, I believe it's incredibly important, especially for women, to be financially independent wherever they are.
What are your biggest monthly expenses?
Rent, utilities, and groceries are the major expenses for me, but I used to spend a lot on taxis as well. Taxis are expensive in the UAE, so getting my driver's license has saved me a lot of money.
I would go from point A to point B in a taxi and spend almost Dh100 or Dh120 for a trip. But when you are driving a car, the petrol is quite cheap … and you can roam around Abu Dhabi for a week.
How do you budget your salary with the rising cost of living?
Inflation is a global problem, not just one in the UAE. I use three ways to tackle it.
First, as a working professional, I try to work hard to achieve a salary increase of more than 5 per cent to keep my income above inflation.
Second, I ensure that my savings are invested in a way that gives me a return of around 6 per cent to 7 per cent. Third, I control my spending by buying household consumables in bulk and mostly buying things when there is a great discount available. This helps me to keep my money in check.
Do you worry about money?
I honestly don’t worry about money. I am not a person who gets bothered by what is happening around me. I am a person who generally focuses on what I wish to do, what I want to do and I will do my best and focus on my work.
I believe that money follows excellence. I have grown up with that mentality, that you don’t have to run after money … and I got it from my parents.
What is your idea of financial freedom?
Financial freedom is working because you want to, not because you have to. It’s more like loving what you do and working because you wish to do it.
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