Money & Me: 'You only realise the importance of an emergency fund when times are tough'

Fatema Abdallah, of Bespoke Getaway Safaris, says having a financial cushion is important

Fatema Abdulla, founder of Bespoke Getaway Safaris.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Section: BZ

Fatema Abdallah is the founder of Bespoke Getaway Safaris, a travel venture that takes tourists to parts of Africa only the locals know. Ms Abdallah, 31, grew up in Tanzania, and was always a nature lover, seeing the value of conservation from a young age. After graduating from The University of Waterloo in Canada in 2010, she worked as a university student experience officer for two years in Canada and Australia, before moving back to Tanzania in 2013 to work in the safari industry. With her parents being the founders of hotels and lodges in Tanzania, it dawned on her the industry was in her blood, pushing her to launch her own company with her husband, Kumail Somji, after moving to Dubai in 2017.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

Growing up in Tanzania, we were often reminded of the day-to-day struggles that face many. Being the middle child of five, I clearly remember my parents always guiding and influencing us siblings to be smarter when it came to saving, enjoying and spending the money we were rewarded. My parents came from humble beginnings and after a few lucky strikes, their circumstances improved tremendously [with the growth of tourism in Tanzania]. They were comfortably providing for us above and beyond our needs through the family business.

Over time, learning from your mistakes is the most valuable lesson.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

My parents are avid believers in getting the family involved in business in any way possible so my dad would have all the kids line up for work during the summer break. No vacation came without work and this was a necessary sacrifice my siblings and I understood. One of my first memories of work was varnishing the outside deck of a lodge my father was building when I was only five years old. I don’t remember my pay stub ever coming through but I do cherish the lessons I learned while having fun. My first official job was as a student experience officer at the University of Waterloo and then I transferred over to Australia in the same position at the University of Melbourne. I was paid roughly AUS$2000 (Dh5,128)) a month and most of it is still sitting in a savings account in Australia.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I believe saving and investing is the best way to grow you as a person. The more you save, the more your wealth grows; inevitably the decisions on where to diversify investments are key. Over time, learning from your mistakes is the most valuable lesson. And it never hurts to have a very well-stuffed cushion to fall back on when times are tough. And you will only realise the importance of this cushion the hard way, so it's best to be prepared.

What is your most cherished purchase?

I would like to think I have more than one. My husband and I have bought a piece of land somewhere remote in Tanzania, hoping for it to be a windfall one day. Besides that we have bought into many savings and investment plans that should yield good results in the future, we hope.

Where do you save?

Our savings range between stock, bonds and real estate. We save in different countries and make it a point to prioritise diversifying our portfolio.

What is your biggest financial milestone?

Definitely making the company see green in the first year. We began with very little overheads and expenses, but the fear of making a loss was unnerving. In hindsight I realise spending more in the early stages on the business would have allowed me more time to focus on growing the core business. I know this now and this has been a key change in our business strategy moving forward.

What has been your best investment?

A few years ago when I was in university I opened up a student savings account and made a deposit into the account. At the time the account manager said there was no point just leaving the money there so I invested in a financial company's stock. Today the stock is up 150 per cent and my money has nearly tripled. I haven't cashed out yet as the company in question is extremely financially strong and is still a recommended buy by most analysts.

Do you use a financial adviser?

Yes, occasionally. It helps to get advice from experts in their fields. It is important to not rely on one source and trust your gut. When it comes to your money, ask as many questions as you need to.

Do you have any financial regrets?

Yes, not risking more money in order to achieve what I believed in. I knew Bespoke Getaway Safaris was set up for success, but I found myself constantly second guessing myself and that stopped me many times from spending a little more to achieve a lot more in return.

Fatema Abdulla, founder of Bespoke Getaway Safaris.

(Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National)

Section: BZ

Do you plan for the future?

Yes. It is important to have a goal to help direct the focus of your personal and professional life. The actual goals do change and I stay flexible to allow for circumstances and opportunities that are unexpected. As a student of yoga, I constantly remind myself of the importance of the present moment; learn from my past to make decisions in my present that will help guide my future.

What luxuries are important to you?

Travel, an active lifestyle, a comfortable home and healthy food. This may not be a luxury to some, but I think it is what is most important to keep your mind going in the right direction.

How much do you have in your wallet right now?

A couple of hundred dirhams max. I rarely carry any more cash with me as I am so used to just using my card or my phone for wireless payments. It has become so easy now, there are times I do not even bring out the wallet anymore.

What car do you drive?

I drive a Tesla Model S. I like to be environmentally friendly, and my husband is a geek for tech, so it works best for both of us.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Spend more on experiences. The world is really so small now and we have the privilege of being able to travel anywhere from Dubai. Save up for a trip and go somewhere new to learn about people and a different way of life. I have encountered most of my mentors, friends, and life lessons whilst travelling. I truly believe we can change the world we live in through experiences we have when we travel.

What would you raid your savings account for?

The only reason would be to save someone near and dear to me, or myself, from an unexpected ailment or calamity.