Money & Me: 'I saved Dh500 by cutting out coffee and takeaway lunches for a month'

Studio manager Laila Clarke regularly reviews her spending and says saving money is in her DNA

Laila Clarke says her rule of thumb is ‘if you don’t have it, don’t spend it’. Pawan Singh / The National
Laila Clarke says her rule of thumb is ‘if you don’t have it, don’t spend it’. Pawan Singh / The National

Laila Clarke is general manager of The Studio, a Dubai business providing photographic and videography services to event, family and corporate clients. The Briton previously worked in UK film industry costume departments and the events sector before moving to Dubai four years ago. Ms Clarke, 37, lives on the Palm Jumeirah.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My father had a chartered surveyor business, but being a small business was a struggle, so we were cautious with money. He eventually got a job in the corporate world which made life easier. My mother has had every job under the sun, but when she had my older sister and I, she became a stay-at-home mum/secretary for dad’s business. I saw how hard dad worked and ultimately how well he’s done in his career; he was an inspiration to me, in my attitude towards money and my work ethic. My upbringing taught me the value of money because you'd have to watch what you spent.

Somebody taught me to set up different bank accounts, earmarked for different things. So, I have an emergency fund I pay into should anything happen, as well as short-term savings and a travel fund.

Laila Clarke

Did this nurture a savings attitude?

I save because I know I should. My first pocket money was £0.20 (Dh0.96) a week. My sister and I would buy penny sweets. She would spend her full 20 pence, but I would spend half, save half. Aged seven or eight, I don’t think I was saving for anything in particular, but thought ‘what if I want something that's more than 20p? Maybe next week I could buy something worth 30p’.

What was your first job?

Cleaning up in a dog boarding kennel at the weekend paid £6 for half a day. I was 13 and only lasted six months. The job was awful, but I remember always thinking I have to work. My first grown up job was in the film industry, for four years from about 19. I studied costume at university and worked on films such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a wardrobe assistant. Great fun but hard work. The freelance lifestyle was erratic, but around £200 a day for a young person at university was very welcome. When working it was brilliant; when I wasn’t it was really tough as I like security and routine.

What brought you to Dubai?

Friends were getting married, having babies and moving out of London. I used to visit a friend here and it seemed like an awesome place. I sold my London flat, came out in March 2015 with enough money to see me through for two months and thought, 'see if I can find a job, if I can’t at least I tried’. It goes totally against my whole safety thing. I worked for a Dubai developer on events, then in November 2015 moved to The Studio, to look after event photography.

What’s been your best investment?

The London flat I bought in 2011 through a shared ownership scheme and sold in 2014. I’d ideally have kept it, but I’d have had to buy the other half, which I didn’t have the money to do. I was lucky it increased in value more than expected, enough to come here. I probably wouldn’t be here without it.

Are you still a saver?

Saving was ingrained in me from an early age. I try to save 20 per cent [of my salary] into a long-term savings plan every month and also short-term plans. Somebody taught me to set up lots of different bank accounts, earmarked for different things. So, I have an emergency fund I pay into should anything happen, as well as short-term savings and a travel fund.

Do you review your saving and spending progress?

I love spreadsheets. Every six months to a year I reassess how things are, go back though credit card statements. I did it recently to see how much I spend on coffee and was shocked, so for one month there was no buying coffee. I saved about Dh500 by cutting out coffee and takeaway lunches. I was able to put that money into my travel fund.

Do you have a philosophy about money?

My rule of thumb tends to be, ‘if you don’t have it, don’t spend it’. I got a credit card in my mid-twenties, but only because it would help my credit rating if I wanted to apply for a mortgage. Now I put everything on my credit card to earn points and then clear it at the end of each month.

Ms Clarke says she always wanted to live on Palm Jumeirah, so she negotiated a deal on a one-bed apartment to make her dream come true. Pawan Singh / The National
Ms Clarke says she always wanted to live on Palm Jumeirah, so she negotiated a deal on a one-bed apartment to make her dream come true. Pawan Singh / The National

Are you wise with money?

Maybe sometimes too wise, although I don’t have too much knowledge in terms of investing.

Is living on the Palm a wise financial decision?

I always wanted to live on The Palm, even if it’s just for a year. Rents dropped and I negotiated further on a one-bed apartment, so it actually costs the same as my previous apartment in Business Bay. It’s a box ticked and I’m making the most of every day there. I couldn’t justify paying what it used to be — if rents go up I’ll go back to being ‘sensible Laila’.

What do you enjoy spending on?

Travelling and experiences rather than material things. I’ve never been one for designer handbags or clothes, but going on an amazing — not necessarily ‘break the bank’ — holiday is far more important. There are ways to live in Dubai, do a lot of things, on a budget. It’s probably just a bit more effort to shop around. I try to make the best of it here in a cost effective way. I’m all about The Entertainer. I have saving in my DNA and that helped when moving to Dubai where there’s temptation everywhere, especially when your friends want to go out all the time.

There are certain experiences money can’t buy. I was brought in to manage the documentation of photography and videography [with The Studio] of the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. It was possibly the hardest job I’ve done, but the most rewarding.

Can clients be money conscious?

We have to keep an eye on costs. If clients are tightening budgets then we have to. Having a family shoot is seen as a luxury and is the first thing people will cut back on to save money. On the corporate side, it could be there are more pressing things they require their budget for. Half the battle is finding clients who understand the value [of our service], because there’s always somebody can do it cheaper, no matter your industry or job.

Do you plan for the future?

Yes, in terms of I’m saving for it. What I’m saving for, I’m not entirely sure; when I work out what that is, there’s money for me to be able to do it. I’d like property again in the UK, purely as an investment. Ultimately I envisage being back in the UK, but I want to make hay while the sun shines, while in a position to save. I’m saving for a rainy day, but not really sure what that rainy day is going to look like.

Updated: December 19, 2019 04:42 PM

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