My Dubai Salary: 'I earned Dh3,000 a month as a student'

Madeeha Hussain left her job in November but balanced the responsibilities of full-time work while studying for a bachelor's degree

Madeeha Hussain says she wants to learn how to invest in Dubai’s initial public offering market. Victor Besa / The National
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Madeeha Hussain, a 22-year-old Indian, worked as a communication manager for a Dubai-based marketing and public relations company in her last job, while studying for a bachelor’s degree in marketing, communications and advertising at the University of Wollongong.

Currently in her third year at university, Ms Hussain was born and raised in the UAE and lives with her parents and two siblings in a rented property at Al Jaddaf in Dubai. Her mother works in the logistics sector, while her father is in finance.

She believes you need at least four to five years of work experience before pursuing a master's degree.

Why did you decide to work in communications?

Initially, I was attending an Indian curriculum school, then shifted to the IGSCE curriculum. After completing that, I did my foundation year at the University of Wollongong.

While I was doing my foundation, I took up an unpaid internship as a content writer at a media company in Dubai. That was my first job at the age of 17.

After completing my foundation, I had to pick my major for my bachelor's degree. I was planning to choose accounting and finance because I was good at economics and business, but weak in maths. My professor suggested that if I cannot do maths, I should not take up accounting.

Since I enjoyed my media internship and because my friends and family work in media, I thought I’d try it out.

How many internships have you done so far?

I have completed six to seven internships. I was balancing it with studies.

I was an intern at Virgin Megastore and they wanted to keep me full time. Unfortunately, they couldn't because I’m still a student.

I joined as a summer intern with a marketing and PR company last July and then took the full-time role of a community manager. I was covering social media, PR, attending client meetings and managing Facebook ads.

I quit the role in November.

What was your salary in this role?

As an intern, I started on Dh2,000. This increased to Dh3,000 when I was made permanent.

I earned between Dh2,000 and Dh3,000 for my other internships as well.

In what industries have you done your internships?

They were all related to marketing and communications. However, it was in different fields such as publication, e-commerce retail and travel marketing.

All the companies offered me full-time roles, but I didn't want to take them up.

What did you learn in your last job?

To negotiate well for my skills.

I also learnt about client communications, Facebook marketing, marketplace, ads, PR, compiling a list of influencers and reaching out to them for barter collaborations.

What kind of role are you looking for now?

Something in marketing, PR or related to content. I have a job offer for a junior PR executive for a salary of about Dh4,000.

I also worked as a content creator for an adoption shelter in Dubai. However, I realised that content creation is not for me.

How did you balance college and a full-time job?

We had two work-from-home days at the office, so I would go to university on those days and attend back-to-back lectures and tutorials.

I’d start preparing for my assignments two weeks earlier because what if there was a client meeting that week or maybe I fell sick?

Time management and multitasking are key if you want to manage work and university simultaneously.

Does this affect your work-life balance?

It was a little bit of a struggle because I had work on weekends and also did my assignments, but I was happy. When I'm busy, I'm happy.

I was OK with watching TV for one hour maybe. But I was happy because I felt I was making good progress comparatively.

My scores were mainly distinctions and high distinctions while working full time. My peers weren't even working full time and their scores were lower than mine. That kept me motivated.

Why did you take on a full-time job while at university?

For the work ethic and gaining the experience. I think you can do 100 assignments, but it still won’t be the same as being in a job.

I used to think doing the 9am to 5pm routine meant completing work, but work never really ends.

We have an assignment mentality. Once we finish an assignment, the holiday mentality sets in, but the corporate world doesn’t function like that.

We need to have a balance, which I realised after I started my full-time job. You need to have a really good work ethic, which you cannot gain with just degrees and good scores.

I wanted to be independent and working gives me a sense of pride. I feel this will help accelerate my career faster.

Was financial freedom also a factor?

Once you earn a salary, you feel very independent. You have the money and resources to spend however you want.

I can always ask my parents to give me money and they will, but when you have the option to save and spend that disposable income, it’s worth it.

How are you managing now without an income?

I don't have a steady source of income now, but I still make money from side jobs.

When I received my salary, I saved it in the bank. My parents cover most of my expenses.

What types of side jobs?

I work at events as an usher who packs goody bags, for instance. I take up the work depending on the pay, maybe Dh100 or Dh250 per day for eight to 10 hours of work.

When I did a temporary job for Gitex DevSlam last year, I had to call schools and universities and send them invites. We took students on a tour, explained what the event was about, distributed brochures and everything leading up to customer service.

I also do freelance work by designing logos and graphics for small businesses or individuals.

I have an online shop for Formula One jackets. I place orders and then deliver them to customers in Dubai.

My friends and I also occasionally share the costs to organise villa parties and once we make a profit, we divide it among ourselves.

Side jobs give you extra skills that will help your career, boost your savings and enable you to lead a better lifestyle.

How do you find them?

Most of them are through my friends and my network. If you want to get paid higher, you need to join an agency.

We get paid up to Dh500 per day sometimes or Amazon vouchers, while agencies could pay between Dh800 and Dh1,000 per day.

These are part-time jobs which you just do for fun and to meet new people. I don't want to be a full-time hostess because it's not part of my career.

What are your biggest expenses every month?

It's mainly on university, which is covered by my parents. I try to keep my expenses as low as possible.

Since I'm out a lot, I spend on petrol, Salik, outings, food, clothing, hair and body care.

On average, it would amount to between Dh1,500 and Dh2,000 per month.

Do you spend your savings?

I don't use my savings. I plan to save it and use it for my future. Maybe for travel, to take out a personal car loan or help my mother start her logistics business someday.

However, I occasionally use it to pay for petrol or parking fines. I also use my savings sometimes to buy something a little more expensive, like a jewellery piece or a handbag, or to spend on my parents.

Do you have a debit card or credit card?

Yes. My mother gave me a supplementary credit card when I was 16 or 17, so she could track my expenses. I still use it.

As soon as I turned 18, I applied for Emirates NBD’s Liv account. My salary was transferred there.

You need to have a really good work ethic, which you cannot gain with just degrees and good scores
Madeeha Hussain, student and marketing professional

I use my credit card but pay off my dues before the due date. I use it only to be eligible for discounts while shopping for electronics, or with Carrefour and

Were you taught how to handle your finances as a child?

My school didn’t teach me about finances, but my father did when I was five or six years old.

He told me to avoid debt, spend within my means and know the difference between needs and wants.

He also taught me to use a credit card prudently and explained the importance of passive income.

Do you have an emergency fund?

No. But I will start soon.

Do you invest in any assets?

I want to learn how to invest in Dubai’s initial public offering market such as the ones offered by Salik and Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.

I also started trading currencies on Binance last year with $100 and lost that money. I learnt trading online and my friends earn a lot trading in Bitcoin and other cryptos. For now, I'll just focus on Bitcoin.

I also want to monetise my YouTube and TikTok accounts where I focus on my interest in cars.

Do you ever worry about money?

I worry if something may go wrong. There was a health scare in my family during Covid and that opened my eyes. I know we have savings to support ourselves, but what if we didn't?

There might be a recession or a job loss, so it's important to keep money in mind because you need money to live.

Do you have any financial goals?

My short-term goal is to make my own money and earn passive income.

My long-term goal is to monetise my YouTube channel. I also want to support my mother with her logistics business, or my father if he wants to expand, or invest in my home country.

What is your idea of financial freedom?

It’s having enough income to live comfortably, save for the future and pursue my passion, without constant financial stress.

It means balancing my needs and wants and creating multiple income streams for the long-term security of me and my family.

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Updated: January 23, 2024, 8:49 AM