My Dubai Salary: ‘I earn Dh38,000 a month as a financial controller’

Venugopal Somani also earns up to Dh14,000 a month from stock investing and property returns

Venugopal Somani has consistently saved a portion of his salary to build assets and maintain financial freedom in emergencies. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Venugopal Somani currently works as a financial controller with a high-net-worth family office in Dubai but is preparing to establish his own consulting firm, providing accounting, auditing and taxation services.

The 36-year-old Indian, who has been in the UAE for more than 10 years, wants to open his own company to avoid being financially dependent on anyone in the future.

Mr Somani, who is married, has one school-age child and his parents also live with him in Bur Dubai.

He is a chartered accountant and is in the process of completing his executive MBA from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta.

Mr Somani is from the town of Sailu, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

He moved to Pune in 2005, where he studied commerce and chartered accountancy at university. He worked in the city until 2014.

What was your first job?

My first job in India was with a midsized chartered accountancy firm in 2011, earning 22,500 Indian rupees ($271.50) per month. Within six months of joining, I got a break with one of the leading manufacturing companies for almost 700,000 rupees a year.

I worked there for almost three years. It was a learning curve and I set myself up in the industry while understanding corporate life.

In 2014, I resigned after being denied an annual bonus despite completing all assignments on time.

I was bold and have been strongly supported by family and my wife to trust myself and chase whatever I want.

I caught a flight to Dubai to give myself a better chance.

I always had a wonderful group of friends, who supported me for the initial set-up and interviews in Dubai, and was lucky to receive three job offers within 25 days, from which I picked one offering a salary of Dh10,500 ($2,859) per month.

I was lucky to get a second break at Dh16,000, then Dh24,000 and finally to land my existing role for about Dh33,000.

What is your current salary?

I have been working with my employer for more than five years as a financial controller.

I report directly to stakeholders, manage their personal finances, banking and investment portfolio needs, while heading the organisation’s needs for finance, audit and taxation.

I earn about Dh38,000 per month now, which includes housing and utility benefits provided by the employer.

How did you boost your career?

I have always been an effective LinkedIn user with a wide network and have used the paid premium feature since 2014. I consider it the cost of maintaining my brand in the job market.

I have also worked to upgrade my skills, while moving across industries and roles.

Do you have any side hustles?

Being a finance professional, I have a self-managed, diversified portfolio.

I am an investor in equity and mutual funds in India, commodities (gold) and real estate in Dubai, which has helped me to earn from side hustles.

I earn between Dh12,000 and Dh14,000 on average per month from these side hustles.

Do you manage to save?

Being from a conservative Marwari family, topped up with my domain knowledge in finance, savings always come first and the balance is allocated towards expenses.

I have consistently saved a portion of my salary to build assets and maintain financial freedom in contingencies.

However, as I get into entrepreneurship, I don’t expect to save much during the initial years.

But I have ensured that we can maintain our existing lifestyle for a couple of years.

2024 UAE banking, finance and advisory salaries

What asset classes do you invest in?

I have invested in Indian stock markets through online portals. I chose this due to the ease of doing it online and I don’t need to depend on anyone.

I have also invested in Dubai real estate. I bought a two-bedroom apartment in Jebel Ali for almost Dh900,000 in 2022. It has turned out to be one of my best decisions.

With the rental market soaring, I have the option to either stay there or continue using it as an Airbnb to support my personal finances.

Using it as an Airbnb gives me more return than traditional long-term renting.

This has given me a [financial] cushion and confidence to try something on my own.

Do you have any debt?

I am almost debt-free, with only a housing loan in India and car loan in Dubai.

I pay off my credit card in full every month. I’m pretty good at managing my cash flow.

What are your major monthly expenses?

These amount to between Dh12,000 and Dh15,000, excluding house rent, as this is provided by my employer. This covers my groceries and lifestyle expenses.

Going forward, I expect to incur an additional Dh8,000 to Dh10,000 per month for housing and utility charges.

How do you budget your salary?

I generally pay for only one credit card. I transfer my balance from that card to three other cards which I use for my expenses, at zero interest and zero processing fees.

This allows me to stabilise my cash outflow, irrespective of actual spend on monthly expenses.

Apart from this one credit card transfer, car loan instalment and school fees, you can hardly find any entries on my bank statement.

How do you spend your disposable income?

Substantial spending [goes] towards groceries, transportation, schooling and lifestyle expenses like weekends and outings.

Since we have dependent parents, a considerable sum is allocated towards their visas, insurance and travel.

Have you ever inherited a sum of money?

I inherited a few obligations to pay off for my family business.

I am expected to inherit the family house, which I redeveloped in 2019, in my hometown.

But since no one stays there, it has turned out to be a sunk investment in financial terms. I derive emotional satisfaction from it more than return on investment.

Growing up, were you taught how to handle your finances?

I grew up in a family of seven (including my grandmother, parents and three siblings), where my father was the sole breadwinner and others depended on him.

Being in a small town, expenses as well as resources were limited, which gave me lessons to grow with.

I was always more experienced than my biological age to handle finances.

What are your best money-saving hacks?

Always set aside your savings first and then align your expenses.

I used to save even on my first salary of 22,5000 rupees and [will] until my last salary in the best possible way or percentage I can.

Do you have an emergency fund?

Yes, I do and it can sustain me for six months. However, being a finance person, I am always tempted to invest it in the short term.

Have you started saving for retirement?

I am still involved in building assets, so I have hardly planned anything for retirement.

But I don't intend to retire because I like to keep doing something. I would like to work until I die as I don't want to be dependent on anyone.

Do you worry about money?

I am at a stage where I don’t worry about money.

I understand it will come and go with whatever lifestyle you are in. What I am concerned about is that I don’t have to compromise or reverse on my lifestyle expenses.

What are your financial goals?

I am starting my own venture and my first target is to come back at break-even of my take home salary.

Getting Dh40,000 as a salary from one place and getting Dh40,000 from different clients and services makes a big difference to my personal freedom, and I intend to choose the latter.

What is your idea of financial freedom?

You should be able to choose what you want in life, not depend on a single source of income, and not be at the mercy of someone or an employer.

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Updated: March 19, 2024, 5:13 AM