Money & Me: 'Losing my job changed my spending mentality'

Garry Murray, chief executive of Place Community Managers, says he has stopped the freewheeling financial habits of his twenties

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 09 SEPTEMBER 2019. Garry Murray, CEO of Place Community Managers, property owners association management company.  Money & Me.  (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: David Dunn.  Section: National.
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Garry Murray is chief executive of Place Community Managers, a property owners association management company looking after real estate projects and assets in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. After working in HM Revenue & Customs in the UK, Scottish-born Mr Murray moved to Bahrain in 2008 and worked in facilities management for a mixed-use golf project. He moved in Dubai in 2011 to work as a community manager for Place. Mr Murray, 33, lives in Jumeirah Park with his wife Kerrie and daughters, aged five and 18 months.

I used to spend everything that came in; everybody does when they're younger. You're fearless.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I was brought up in East Kilbride [south of Glasgow] with my older sister. Both parents worked for Motorola; the whole town thrived off their semiconductor business. Dad was a technician, mum an HR training admin person until the factory shut down. They were always grafting. We never really wanted for anything but if you wanted something extra there would be a deal like, ‘if you can contribute this, then we’ll contribute that’ — you needed to earn the money. That’s an awesome lesson to learn. We got pocket money — about £10 (Dh47) a month — and I started a paper round, helped around the house, painted the garden fence. I left school at 16 to play football with lower division Scottish teams.

Was that your first job?

I had the option to go full-time to a club. I used to play at Scottish Premiership level when I was ‘youth’, but when I went full-time I dropped down divisions and they took me on a Youth Training Scheme, scholarship-type thing. Out of £62 a week I had to pay for transport and rent to my parents. There wasn’t much left, but enough to enjoy myself. I learnt early on to budget.

How did you go from football to taxation?

The playing football part was a minor aspect of what I thought I’d be doing, so I did that for a year and a half and went to work at the [UK government] tax office. People submitted their claims for tax credits and we would calculate whether it was right. Ten minutes from my house, flexible working hours, decent salary, it gave me discipline by getting up early for work and regular income that led to my first car, going out with friends, first holidays. I was there three years until I moved to Bahrain, when I was 21. I couldn’t work in that tax office any longer - I could see the next 50 years of my life disappearing in front of my eyes.

What brought you to Dubai?

I moved into facilities management and asset management real estate in Bahrain and loved it. By then it was the tail end of the economic crisis, but I got made redundant from a villa development project. I was maybe three days from going home. Bahrain didn’t have much work, I’d been trying for a year to find something that could sustain us. It was 2011, we’d sold our car, furniture, I was selling DVDs in the car park, anything just to make sure we could do what we had to — and then I got a phone call from Place.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 09 SEPTEMBER 2019. Garry Murray, CEO of Place Community Managers, property owners association management company.  Money & Me.  (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: David Dunn.  Section: National.
After losing his job in Bahrain, Mr Murray was planning to go back to the UK when he got a phone call from Place. Antonie Robertson / The National

Is your current business affected by lower rents and property prices?

Owners associations across the world are relatively recession-proof. When there’s a constant legal requirement for what you do, there should always be business. It doesn’t mean we’re not affected. You may need to adjust; maybe you can’t pay the salaries you used to, charge the fees you used to. It’s not directly connected, but if there’s less money in the economy, people shop around. Also, when we started there were 10 companies — now there’s something like 90. They come to market, make it leaner, charge lower fees. You adapt or die.

What is your philosophy about money?

I started to think as I entered my thirties and kids came along that money isn’t everything, but it helps; not the amount, but what it can maybe do. We might do something with the kids that costs only Dh50 and they have the best four hours of their life. Whereas maybe before we’d go to brunch, you’re Dh1,000 down, but what are you getting back from it? It’s about the value of what you’re doing with money.

Do you feel you have become wiser with money?

I have. When I was younger I was 'easy come, easy go'. When we moved here we were saving to be married. I’d just lost my job when we got engaged. It changed our mentality. When you move here at a certain age you can be keeping up with the Jones’s lifestyle. We did in Bahrain, but got ourselves back on track. Kids are a bit of a leveller too, and as you get older it gets easier saying ‘no’ to things.

Do you consider yourself a saver?

Now I’m a saver. I used to spend everything that came in; everybody does when they’re younger. You’re fearless. I’ve got other people to be responsible for now. The minute you hold your newborn everything changes. That mindset change also came when I took over the business, taking charge of 50 people at 30 years old.

How do you save?

Three years ago we bought property in Scotland — a one-bedroom flat for less than Dh200,000. There’s revenue coming in, about 9 per cent [yield]. We had an option to buy something here to live in or use the deposit to buy that flat outright. It’s a very adult thing to do and I’m aware not everybody my age can do that.

I’ve also started a savings plan, so when you have a bad month you’re able to cover it.

What has been your best investment?

Just before the kids I started investing in myself; reading more, taking courses, going to seminars — things that could improve my life, not just in business. Industry-specific certifications. It moved me up the career ladder quicker.

Is there anything you regret spending on?

Things that didn’t really matter, in my twenties — games, electronics, clothes. It took me forever to pay back the credit card. Now I’ve understood what interest is I realise that stuff probably cost double what it should have done. I don’t regret much in life, but I regret paying that interest.

Do you now prefer cash or credit card?

Credit card. I learnt my lesson and pay it off every month. I’m notorious for having zero cash on me. We like the card for reward points and discounts.

How do you plan for the future?

[I'm aiming for] financial freedom. Not millions in the bank, but a number coming in every month that lets me do whatever we want, not things we don’t. I started to learn about how to get other sources of income out of the salary. Multiple sources of income, spreading the risk. The next thing is to buy shares.

Property is a first love, though; the idea is to buy a couple more flats. And I want to be able to do some things with my wife and kids before I’m too old to enjoy them.