Money & Me: ‘I've learned priceless lessons from every penny I’ve spent’

Emilia Ohrtmann, a website designer, author and podcast host, regrets not having invested more during the pandemic-induced stock market decline in March

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: David Dunn. Business. Money & Me. Emilia Ohrtmann, an author, entrepreneur and consultant. Tuesday, November 10th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Emilia Ohrtmann is a Dubai-based website designer and author who co-hosts the podcast Mums In Biz, which helps other mothers and female entrepreneurs launch their companies.

The mother of four from Germany launched her debut book, It's Your Life, in November, aimed at empowering women to follow their passions in life and business via her own experiences, including living in four different countries.

Ms Ohrtmann, 42, lives with her husband, an oil transport industry executive, and their two sons and two daughters, in their home in The Lakes, Dubai.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I was born in Hamburg. My dad was a self-employed doctor, which shaped my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. Mum was a freelance sports journalist. At that time, she was one of the few women who had three kids and a career. That shaped me as well in wanting to have my own career and be independent.

I know we were pretty well off, but my parents had to be careful where they were spending. My dad had his own practice so was paying off those debts, they bought a house and were paying off that, too. Like me, dad was putting money into his entrepreneurship dream. They were savers and because they were careful, we all were. I kind of had to learn to spend money.

When did you first start earning?

We had pocket money and all worked pretty early on. My first job when I was 13 was delivering newspapers, then as a waitress, then delivering laundry, pizza. In every job, I felt great. Suddenly, I had my own money.

When I had my first corporate job after university, at 22, as a junior buyer at German sportswear brand Tchibo, I felt like the richest girl on the planet. I had my own apartment, a car and was totally independent of my parents.

What brought you to the UAE?

My husband’s job. We moved from London to America because he got a really good offer, then another offer here, nine years ago. I had to reinvent myself multiple times, first in America. It took a while to get my work permit. Not having my own income was the biggest shock to the system.

My parents were savers and because they were careful, we all were

What was your first business venture?

I met a German friend who is a fashion designer. I’d done fashion design evening studies. We started our business selling children’s clothes. I set up in Germany and employed my mum sending out orders. My friend continued it in the US. Then I came here and carried on handling orders for Germany until I sold my part of the fashion business to my partner and started another business. I had done websites, trained myself and there were lots of mums coming here who all had business ideas and they needed websites. That was five years ago.

Did you value self-employment more than a corporate salary?

Yes, having the freedom of being my own boss and making my own decisions, definitely.

It’s so easy to get lost in everybody else’s life, especially when you’re a mum. I learned to listen to myself and what I want. Taking ownership of your own life … that’s what I’m sharing with my book.

What prompted you to write the book?

I started blogging to support my website design business. People resonated so I started sharing more. I wrote the book during the lockdown. It’s motivational, I guess it falls under the “self-help” category. I want to inspire people, women in particular.

I’m starting another business selling fashion, for women this time. My businesses, podcasts, everything is about supporting women, whether in business or motherhood, to become confident and choose their own life.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: David Dunn. Business. Money & Me. Emilia Ohrtmann, an author, entrepreneur and consultant. Tuesday, November 10th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Ms Ohrtmann says she and her husband started saving more consciously after realising there is no pension system in the UAE. They now put away money for their future at the beginning of each month. Photo: Chris Whiteoak / The National

Are you a disciplined saver?

Because you don’t have any pension here, my husband and I started saving more consciously, putting away money at the beginning of each month; for our future but also our dreams, like travelling. That doesn’t have to be expensive, luxury travel. Then even affording flights for six people … we save for trips we want to make.

I’m also into stocks, something I learned from my parents; individual shares and exchange-traded funds.

What are your best-performing equities?

Apple and Facebook are my big wins. I did Apple about 11 years ago, Facebook shortly after their initial public offering. Another win was Louis Vuitton, LVMH; I invested very little when I was in Germany 20 years ago, then more over the years. I also have blue-chip companies that pay good dividends and have monthly income through that. I’ve lost as well, but overall the stock market has been good for me. The only regret I have is I didn’t invest more during that (pandemic) stock market fall. At the time, I was too busy writing, working, home schooling. Then I didn’t dare.

Do you have a cherished purchase?

What also shaped me financially was living in different countries. When we moved to Germany, we rented as people don’t buy there. But with renting, the money is gone. We bought the house we are living in here. It was a good decision. The money stays within the family. You have family memories. If you think you are staying long term, buy.

What is your philosophy towards money?

Money is not the most important part of life. If you have money, life is a lot easier, of course; the safety net, the possibility of realising your dreams. Having four kids, it’s important we can give them a good start in life. Plus, the more I earn, the more I can give back. There are many things in this world I would like to support. I have two “god children” in Zimbabwe I support and other charities I believe in.

Do you have a spending regret?

I bought a lot of clothes I’ve never worn. But I don’t regret anything, because out of every penny I’ve spent and misspent, I learned something. From a shoe business that I started and lost money on, I learned a lot. You have to make mistakes sometimes in order to learn. It’s part of life to make mistakes, to fail again and stand up again. The same is true of money.

Has the pandemic impacted your outgoings?

During the lockdown, at the beginning, it was good to see where we were spending our money. We realised how much we were spending on “other things”. And what is not necessary. Apart from school fees and food, we didn’t spend on after-school activities. Obviously, it didn’t last as everything is open again.

How do you pass on money awareness to your children?

If they want to earn money, they have to do little jobs in the house. And in order to explain to them the concept of shares, we bought them a McDonald’s share each because they like to eat at the fast-food restaurant. Now they can look how it’s developing and whenever they go, we explain to them in a way they are investing in their own company.

What would you raid your savings for?

To travel the world. And to buy a house in the south of France.