She attended Gems Our Own English High School, Sharjah, and the Birla Institute of Technology Mesra in Ras Al Khaimah. Seema has a bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering.
Since her father passed away in 2021, Seema is the main breadwinner in her family and lives with her mother, two sisters and a brother-in-law.
What’s your current salary?
It’s in the range of Dh10,000 to Dh15,000 ($2,722 to $4,084) per month.
What was your first job and salary?
I started working in my last year of university when I was 21 or 22. This was in 2020.
I started working remotely as a web developer with a UAE start-up, but it was an unpaid internship. Although I don't want to glamorise unpaid internships, it was an amazing starting point since I was able to get the experience that I wouldn’t get elsewhere.
I worked there for seven to eight months. Then I found another internship as a web development intern with a 3D projection company and they were paying me Dh2,500 ($680).
Although they promised me higher pay, they couldn’t afford to pay me more. Since my father was alive, I was able to quit that internship and look for something more suitable.
I landed another full-time job with a software company for Dh1,500, but I could work from home, so I would save on commute time and cost. I worked there for one and a half years and my salary increased to Dh3,000 by the time I left the job.
Then I joined a government department in Ajman as a front-end developer on a salary of Dh9,000 and worked there for eight months.
Have you faced any financial hardships?
At the end of 2020, my father was down with Covid and also lost his job. He was the sole breadwinner of the family and used to work as a senior structural engineer in Dubai.
He spent two months in hospital and the bills were high, up to Dh600,000. Thankfully, the UAE government paid more than Dh500,000 of the bill and we had to pay only Dh80,000 for the medicines.
He was unemployed for a few months before he passed away. Just when he secured a job and started a business, he fell sick and passed away in 2021.
At that time, my eldest sister, who’s a doctor, was working as a frontline worker at a Covid camp and was getting paid around Dh15,000.
After managing our bills after the tragedy, we were somehow able to manage with her salary. We were unable to pay our rent for some time and our landlord waived it.
How did you manage to negotiate a salary hike?
You have to ask your employer what you think you deserve.
People say the software industry is highly paid, but I think it deserves the pay that it gets because of the mental load, critical thinking and logical thinking that goes into programming.
I was very lucky because my sister lost her job as a frontline worker when I started my government job. So, I was able to pick up from where she left. This was in October 2021.
How do you manage finances?
Since October 2021, I’ve been the sole earner in the family. Recently, my brother-in-law secured a job and he has started contributing towards rent.
Since I am a software employee, I always work from home. I don’t believe in switching jobs every four or five months.
But a Dh10,000 salary was not sufficient to manage a family of five. We had no savings, things were just getting by.
We had depleted our cash reserves when my dad passed away. So, things were really difficult and I decided to look for another job, not just for monetary gains but also for career growth.
How do you budget your monthly expenses?
My savings are still not significant. I’m trying to build an emergency fund because of what happened with my father in the hospital.
We were able to spend on my father’s medicines and get back on our feet after he passed away because he had some cash reserves.
Life in general and the job market are so unpredictable. I have a sister who’s just 15 years old and am determined to create an emergency fund as soon as possible.
Since my brother-in-law has started paying rent, I am able to save more.
I allocate 75 per cent of my salary towards the family’s expenses and the remainder goes towards the emergency fund.
My monthly expenses for the family amount to around Dh10,000. I pay Dh3,250 a month for my rent, Dh420 for the telecom bill, Dh2,000 for my sister's school fees and bus fees, and Dh600 for a part-time maid.
Another major expense is the electricity bill, which goes up to Dh1,500 in summer. I also set aside an entertainment budget from my salary.
Since I don't commute, my fuel costs are next to nothing. If I go out, I usually walk or take the bike.
Grocery costs go up to Dh3,000 since we're a big family. I am extremely careful about how or from where I make my purchases.
I always keep an eye on Facebook groups that alert you to promotions, online deals and offers. I buy in bulk when there are offers.
A couple of months into my job this year, I had the confidence to apply for a cashback credit card. It gives 20 per cent off on Etisalat bills, 20 per cent off on Noon and Talabat purchases and discounts on other items for the first six months.
I used all those deals and also received about Dh200 to Dh300 cash back using this credit card.
What spending adjustments have you made with a higher salary?
I haven't increased my spending just because I have a higher salary.
I try to build an emergency fund even if it feels like a struggle at home sometimes. Sometimes, we don’t shop for six months or seven months. We only buy new clothes if it's necessary and try to cut back on unnecessary spending.
Where do you park your emergency fund savings?
I keep the money in my bank account. Since I'm a Muslim, interest-bearing accounts are not allowed.
I've managed to save some money in my emergency fund that will sustain me for a few months.
What’s your emergency fund target?
I aspire to have at least Dh100,000 in my emergency fund. This will help sustain me for a year in case of a job loss.
If that happens, I will use my emergency fund to send my family to India. I wouldn’t want to spend Dh10,000 each month to keep them here. Living costs in India are significantly lower.
Have you started investing?
I’m waiting to complete my emergency fund. You can only invest the money that you're prepared to lose. I am not prepared to lose any money right now.
Currently, I only have the investments my parents have made on my behalf. My father had invested in a building in India, from which we derive some rental income. He also invested in gold.
There is a group on Facebook called SimplyFI. They have a handbook on investing. I've decided to start reading it and educate myself on finance.
Once my emergency fund is complete, I'll start using my extra money for investments.
Do you have any debt?
My father paid off my college fees. I have told my family that we're not falling into debt, no matter how difficult things get. Instead, we will scale down our expenses and simplify our living.
My father has also left us his car.
Did you inherit a sum of money?
No, we depleted my father’s cash reserves when he fell ill. He only had Dh10,000 left and that was divided among all of us at home, as per Sharia.
Have you thought of retirement?
I think a lot about starting an investment that will generate a passive income, so that I can retire early.
But I have no financial literacy at the moment to pursue it.
Do you ever worry about money?
I worry a lot about money.
The safety and well-being of my mother and younger sister is my top priority. My ambition is to give my sister the same lifestyle that my father offered us.
My main worry is to ensure that I can always afford to keep my younger sister in the UAE.
What are your financial goals?
At any point in my life, I always want more than three sources of passive income.
What is your idea of financial freedom?
It would be having freedom over my time and to be able to buy what I want.
I don’t want luxuries, just the bare minimum, but I shouldn't have to think twice about buying it.
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