My Dubai Salary: ‘I earn Dh50,000 a month working as a part-time dentist’

Dr Garima Khandelwal also earns up to Dh160,000 a year from her side hustles

Dr Garima Khandelwal's emergency fund savings can sustain her for two years. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Dr Garima Khandelwal learnt about bad debt very early in life after her father took out high interest loans to invest in the stock market. His investments did not take off and he had to default on his loans, putting the family through a tough time.

The Indian, who now works as a specialist paediatric dentist in Dubai, is self-taught when it comes to financial literacy. She recalls not knowing to open a bank account until she was 24, because her parents had avoided teaching her how to manage money.

Dr Khandelwal, 38, was raised in a conservative family in Mumbai where girls were not encouraged to study a lot, but her father, an ear, nose and throat surgeon, convinced her to study dentistry.

She did her bachelor’s degree in dental surgery and master's degree in paediatric dentistry, both from Nair Hospital Dental College in Mumbai. After her post-graduation, she opened a dental clinic in Mumbai in 2013.

“When I opened my clinic, I understood that I needed to increase my skills in other areas too, so I started learning about digital marketing, how to make a website and blog, and advertising,” she says.

“My business was very successful for two years.”

Dr Khandelwal was determined to be financially independent after seeing how women in her family were not respected as they were not earning money. She decided to move to Dubai and landed a job as a dentist in a clinic.

She lives in Dubai Marina with her husband, a chartered accountant, and their two-year-old son.

What was your first job and salary?

My first job was in Dubai. I am a gold medallist, so based on my CV, I got a job here in a clinic and they offered me a monthly salary of Dh25,000 ($6,800) in 2015.

The job was for nine hours a day, six days a week. I was 28 years old then.

How much do you earn from your side hustles?

When I came to Dubai, since I already had my business in Mumbai, I knew how things worked. I knew that I wanted to eventually have a family and spend time with my children. For that, I needed passive income, because it elevates your lifestyle.

Since I was against the concept of loans after seeing my dad suffer, I wanted to have low-risk investments with high returns.

I did a search on how to generate passive income and came across ways to be an Amazon affiliate, create a blog and make content. So, I started making blogs and became an Amazon affiliate. I started earning between $100 and $200 a month.

I also learnt dropshipping. I enlisted on Souq.com, got a Dubai Economic Department licence and studied the popular products and sourced them to earn a margin. I eventually started earning up to Dh6,000 a month from Amazon. Even today, I continue doing this as a side hustle.

Since I have a strong academic background, I started teaching dental students who want to migrate to other countries and write exams to start practising. I started this three years ago and also write books on the dental industry.

Books, teaching and mentoring students and my YouTube channel earn me around Dh150,000 to Dh160,000 a year.

How much do you earn as a dentist?

I worked in a full-time salaried job as a dentist in a Dubai clinic for three-and-a-half years.

I realised that if I wanted to increase my passive income from side hustles, I needed to devote more time to it and did not want to be stuck to a desk for eight hours a day.

By then, I was married and we were planning to have a child. I left my salaried job.

Once the UAE introduced the golden visa in 2021, I decided to take it. The Dubai Health Authority allows a specialist to practise in three different clinics.

I applied in three clinics and was accepted. I started working in each clinic a day for four hours daily.

When you work as a freelancer, you work on a commission basis. When I was working full time for nine hours daily, I was making Dh25,000. But when I started working part-time for three clinics, I started making Dh50,000 a month. I also have freedom of time and am my own boss. Now I have more time to focus on my side hustles.

Do you manage to save?

Having seen how my family suffered after my father defaulted on loans, I was very particular that I would have sufficient savings so we don't have to borrow money.

When I came to Dubai, for the first two to three years, out of my Dh25,000 salary, I would save Dh20,000 and put it in a fixed deposit. I would manage my expenses with the remaining Dh5,000.

I was very particular about my wants and needs. Even now, when I go to buy something, I think whether I need it or want it. No matter how much I like something, if I don’t need it, I will not buy it.

I have savings in my emergency fund and it can sustain me for two years.

What asset classes do you invest in?

My first criterion was to have a home in Dubai. After Covid, real estate prices and rents were rising.

I had saved up for the down payment. We bought a three-bedroom apartment in Dubai Marina for Dh2.3 million in 2021 after paying a deposit of Dh1 million.

Our monthly loan instalment amounts to Dh4,500 and my husband pays it off. This was not a burden since we would have paid the same amount in rent.

Saving up for a big down payment was a good decision. I see a lot of people take out huge loans and pay between Dh8,000 and Dh9,000 as monthly loan instalments.

Since I got married in 2016, my husband was taking care of the house expenses and I was saving all my earnings. That helped us save for the home down payment, plus income from my side hustles also helped.

I've recently started investing in Dubai initial public offerings, like that of Spinneys, Parkin and Dubai Taxi Company.

Have you purchased any other property?

When my son was born in 2022, I realised that I needed a passive income in Dubai which would take care of all my expenses. They currently add up to approximately Dh22,000 a month.

I saved more, took an overdraft against my fixed deposit in India, and recently purchased a retail unit in Dubai’s Jumeirah Village Circle. It yields a rent of Dh25,000 a month.

I purchased it off-plan. Since I wasn’t keen on taking a loan to fund this purchase, I agreed to pay upfront and negotiated for a Dh200,000 price reduction.

My major investments are in real estate because that’s where I have seen the best returns without my active involvement.

Do you have any debt?

I believe that whatever you need should be of good quality, but it doesn’t need to be new.

For example, when I received my driving licence, I chose to buy a pre-owned car rather than buy a new one with a loan. I bought a Mini Cooper for Dh40,000 in 2017. It’s in good condition and I still use it.

I did not understand how credit cards worked. When I got a credit card, my husband explained that if you use it smartly, it earns rewards and cash back. I use it for lounge access, among other things. But I pay the bill on the first of every month, regardless of the billing cycle.

While my husband takes care of the home loan, I pay Dh2,000 per month for the overdraft taken for the retail unit.

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

Never. One day, I asked my father to show me how to fill out a cheque. But he dissuaded me. When I was 24 years old, I got a stipend from my college and it had to be deposited. That’s when I decided to open a bank account.

My entire financial education is self-taught. When I came to Dubai, I learnt about finance through meet-up groups. I learnt a lot about assets, liabilities, good and bad loans, how to read the markets, stocks and equities.

What are your major monthly expenses?

My home loan instalment is Dh4,000. I have two house helps because I am a working mum, so their salaries amount to Dh4,500. My grocery bill does not cross Dh2,000 a month and my son’s nursery fee is Dh3,000.

We have taken a life insurance for my husband, which comes up to Dh2,500 a month. Our petrol and car expenses are approximately Dh2,000.

If I break down my annual travel expenses, it comes up to about Dh1,500 to Dh2,000 a month. I cap my personal expenses at Dh2,000 a month.

My fixed deposits are my savings and I have invested around Dh100,000 in stocks. I believe in low-risk investments, so I prefer FDs in India
Dr Garima Khandelwal

How do you budget your salary?

We limit our expenses to Dh25,000 per month. We read our budget charts and never splurge or resort to impulsive shopping. I save whatever I earn. I make sure that our expenses are one-fourth of our income each month.

Have you started saving for retirement?

I don't wish to retire since I love practising dentistry.

My fixed deposits are my savings and I have invested about Dh100,000 in stocks. I believe in low-risk investments, so I prefer FDs in India. I plan to achieve a good amount in savings.

What do you spend your disposable income on?

Mostly household expenses. But I invest in learning and upgrading my skills as a dentist.

I also have hobbies. I study astrology, flute and enrolled for badminton coaching.

Do you worry about money?

The whole reason I was working so hard was because I had seen the helplessness that my family and I went through. The fear of not having money was huge at the start.

So, I was very particular that I need to save enough money so that even if I am not earning, I wouldn’t have to borrow from my husband. That’s why I want enough passive income to take care of my expenses.

Now that fear has ebbed since my passive income helps to sustain me a good lifestyle.

I'm more spiritual now and don't keep thinking about how to earn more.

2024 UAE healthcare and life science salaries

What are your best money saving hacks to offset inflation?

When I started saving in FDs in India, I realised there was ongoing currency depreciation and inflation. So, I kept only a small amount there.

I think it's good to keep your savings in the UAE because the dirham is pegged to the US dollar.

I plan to keep most of my savings here because when you receive good returns, you can beat inflation.

What are your financial goals?

My short-term goal is to save more and buy more shops because commercial property offers better returns than residential units. I got a rental yield above 10 per cent on my retail unit.

I plan to buy in Downtown, Dubai Marina or in an upcoming area near Al Maktoum International Airport since these areas will always thrive.

My long-term goal is to have enough passive income to open my own clinic and not be bothered about expenses.

I want to spend time with my children, take them to classes, teach them to be grounded, not run behind materialistic stuff and enjoy life with them.

Any financial tips for other women?

Be aware of your wants and needs. Learn about finances and how to manage them, make a budget yourself. Understand the difference between an asset and a liability. Take active interest in finance, even if you don't understand it.

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Updated: June 04, 2024, 7:38 AM