My grandad always said it was really important for us to have our own money. He used to be a headmaster at a high school in the UK, so I think he always liked to educate us about finances. My two sisters and I started getting around 50p (Dh2.8) from him when we were old enough to know what it was - sweet money. I'm 26 now, and my sisters are 23 and nearly 20. By the time we hit 18 - when we stopped getting weekly cash ? our pocket money had peaked at around £5 (Dh28) per week.
I grew up in Berkshire, England, and lived there until I was 13. Then my parents split up, and I moved to Devon with my mum. I think we were lucky, as my parents worked for airlines. My dad was a director for Lufthansa, and my mum first worked as cabin crew and later joined the airline's ground staff. They taught us that one of the most important things in life is to see the world, and we had really nice holidays in Italy, Portugal, Japan and Hong Kong.
My granddad would set money challenges for us to earn our holiday spending money. If we knew how to count from one to 10 in the language of the country we were visiting, he'd give us £3. Or we'd get £5 if we learnt three foreign phrases. My first paid job was a hideous paper round. I got £9 a week, and lasted 18 months. My jobs after that included working in the local tea shops and ice cream shops in Devon. I also worked in retail to get the clothing discounts I wanted. These jobs tended to pay around £4 to £7 per hour.
I went to university in 2002. I took a diploma in fashion before I went, and studied English literature for my degree at the University of Reading. To earn money, I worked two days a week and on holidays in the local accessorise store in Reading. I used to work in bars as well. It's fair to say I pretty much put myself through university. To do this, I took out a student loan. Mine was around £3,000 each year for three years. I'm still paying that back. I spent a lot of money on clothes and going out, but I managed to stay out of debt aside from my original loan.
My family helped me as well. My granddad contributed £500 each year towards books. Around the same time, my granddad gave me money for driving school, but he said that for every lesson that he paid, my mum, dad and I would have to match the amount. So everyone helped. We've always split things a bit like that in my family; you'd get help as long as you made an effort yourself. I graduated in 2005 and worked for three years in the UK interning at magazines and freelancing. Because my internships were unpaid, I went to Japan to teach English as a foreign language. I saved up a few thousand pounds to fund the interning so I could get some experience with fashion magazines.
One of the reasons I came to Dubai in June 2008 was that I got fed up with freelancing in London; the stress of not knowing if I would have a job the following month was too much. My first job here was as a fashion stylist for a magazine called Ahlan. Coming out here was about saving money and getting good experience, and hopefully going back to London with some savings. I never had a credit card until I came to Dubai, and I have only one now because my bank, HSBC, doesn't do debit cards - only ATM or credit cards. I pay the total off in full every month.
It was a shock to pay six months' rent in advance when I came here, and it was the only time I have ever taken out a loan since I was a student. My rent when I arrived in Dubai was Dh3,500 per month. I haven't bought a car; renting one at Dh1,600 isn't the cheapest way of getting around, but it eliminates the stress of buying a banger with all the problems that go with a cheap car, or getting a loan for a newer car and then having to sell it when I leave Dubai.
I was made redundant from my job in February of last year. I was out of work for two months in total, and eventually found a job with Boutique 1 as a style and content editor for its online shopping site. Luckily, I'd saved a bit. Not much, but it was enough to see me through when I wasn't working. The company that made me redundant gave me one month's extra salary, and I was very careful while I was looking for work. I spent those savings on taxis to get to interviews and learning to cook and eat at home.
I even managed to take the cheap holiday to India I'd booked before losing my job - it ended up costing less to live out there for two weeks than here, but it was annoying to have to clear out my savings during that time. I've started saving again, though. I have made myself realise that I've had a year of good fun out here. I've done the brunches, and I've gone out. Now, being more careful doesn't mean I'm missing out. I am just more selective about what I spend my money on. In my student days I would happily buy several items of clothing, only to throw them away a season later. Now I would prefer to go without for a month or two and invest in something nicer.
I would love to be able to leave Dubai with the money for a deposit on a house, or even just enough to buy a new car. In the UK, jobs in fashion aren't well paid, so I worry that this may be my only chance to save for those goals. I don't put aside a fixed amount, but I try to save what I can each month. I have a lot of friends who live beyond their means and are in debt. It's easy to get caught in a trap of keeping up with others, but you have to learn to say no.
I wouldn't say I struggle, despite the fact that I'm not on a huge salary. Lots of my friends in the UK live on their overdrafts at the end of every month. But I have made the decision not to do that. And I don't want to leave Dubai unless I have a better job to go to, because I've worked hard to get to where I am in my career. * As told to Jola Chudy