Money & Me: 'My Abu Dhabi wedding was over the top - it cost Dh150,000'

Retailer Camilla Hassan says she regrets some spending decisions she made in her younger years


Camilla Hassan, Founder and Managing Director of Five Little Ducks, a kids boutique in Town Center.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Section:  BZ
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Camilla Hassan is the managing director of baby boutique chain Five Little Ducks, which opened two stores in Town Centre Jumeirah and Arabian Center Mirdif this year and is due to open its third in Abu Dhabi’s Al Wahda Mall. The Briton, 36, has lived in Dubai for 10 years and has two daughters, aged 5 and 4.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I had a very comfortable upbringing: both parents had senior positions at the BBC, so I went to private school and we were never short of money. But I was quite ill-prepared for the big wide world. I went to university at King’s College London and ploughed through my student loans in three weeks. Financial management wasn’t my strong point at that age - I was more interested in having fun.

Did you aspire to be a working mother yourself?

My mother was one of the pioneering working mums of the 1980sand shaped my views. So my goal was always the same comfortable environment for my children, and for them to know that women can be in charge as well. I was a working mummy - I went back to work at 12 weeks with number one and nine weeks with number two.

How much did you get paid for your first job? 

The week after I turned 16 and was legally allowed to work, I got a job at McDonald’s earning £3.50 (Dh17 an hour). I quit after three weeks and went to work at Marks & Spencer and loved it. I got pocket money growing up - by my teens it was £30 a month, which I topped up with my earnings and I used it to go on holiday to Cyprus at 16.

When did you get your money in order?

My first job out of university was in recruitment in London. It was a really low basic salary - £18,000 a year (Dh86,357) - but I got huge commissions, some months £7,000 to £8,000. Other months, though, I’d scrape by on my basic wage and eat baked beans. I hit my targets and won some amazing prizes - I won trips to Ibiza twice - but after a couple of years I moved to Dubai to work in advertising sales. Then I got my own apartment, my own car and it all clicked into place; I started to squirrel savings away.


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Are you a spender or saver?

A spender. My husband implemented a pocket money system of Dh500 a week; it’s a good system and I still give myself an allowance. I’m much more disciplined now - there are school fees, car batteries and tyres and bills - but, given the choice, I’m always a spender.

What is your most cherished purchase?

With my first salary, I bought a pair of £400 Gucci shoes. I thought, ‘Well done, you’ve lasted a month!’ I trashed them, but I loved them so much.

What do you most regret spending money on?

My wedding in Saadiyat Island was completely over-the-top. It was beautiful, but it was just one day. I got carried away - it cost Dh150,000. I had an ice sculpture, cupcakes for everyone and spent Dh12,000 on a flower arch.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

I regret my lifestyle in my twenties. When you’re young and single, and rent is pretty cheap, you don’t think about what you’re spending. I bought daft things - an Infiniti FX car when I was 25, a jet ski. I was saving 30 to 40 per cent of my salary but I could have been a bit more shrewd. My advice would be to be really disciplined about saving - particularly when getting commissions - as a precursor to children and weathering more difficult times.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?

Several. I had a bad experience in the last year with an employer who didn’t pay. It’s very humbling. It was an important turning point and made me realise how important it is to be careful and not waste money.

Where do you save? 

We put money into a UK offshore savings account and I also have savings accounts for my children, here but in pounds. I put away Dh1,000 a month each, for their further education or a car or a house: their nest egg. I won’t tell them about it - it will be a big gift at 18. I want them to be sensible. Children need to learn how much it costs to run a household, and to get into the habit of saving each month.


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What are the best purchases when it comes to children?

I didn’t plan for the cost of children. My first daughter had all the gear but, by the time the second came along, my husband had lost his job. The costs really do spiral from one to two - you notice the bills going up. They don’t need 50 outfits but you should never scrimp on a car seat, or buy it secondhand – you don’t know how old it is or whether it’s been in an accident, and they do have an expiry date. Investing in a good stroller is also worth it - you’ll be using it every day for around three years.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash? 

Cash: credit cards feel like Mickey Mouse money. I use them for flights, but I tend to carry cash.


Camilla Hassan, Founder and Managing Director of Five Little Ducks, a kids boutique in Town Center.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Section:  BZ

What has been your best financial investment?

I bought an off-plan apartment in Jumeirah Village Circle in 2007; I made a down-payment of Dh120,000 on a Dh600,000 apartment, sold it six months later and doubled my money.x

Do you have a financial plan for the future?

We rent at the minute but are looking to buy a property outright in the next few years, probably in Yorkshire, near my husband’s home town. We’ve had a good time in Dubai but we’re not here to go brunching every weekend - we’ve done all of that. We’re being really frugal; the cars are fully paid off, so everything is about saving as much as possible and our end goal.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it? 

I'd buy a house. Well, Dh1 million wouldn't go that far, so I'd spend half on a down payment and then go on holiday, maybe to Disney World. We've not been on holiday for a while - we went to Mauritius as a family a couple of years back.
What would you raid your savings account for? 

A health emergency. I’ve had friends who’ve had health issues not covered by insurance and even births are only partly covered. I had Caesarean sections and had to pay the shortfall, Dh15,000 for the first, Dh10,000 for the second.