'Regrettably, I am a spender rather than a saver'

After more than 20 years in Dubai, English teacher Mark Donovan's spending revolves around his family.

January 28, 2009 /  Abu Dhabi /  Mark Donovan head of English at Dubai College has been teaching at the college for the past 20 years January 28, 2009.  (Sammy Dallal / The National)

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I taught in my native England for a couple of years before I moved to Dubai. Like everybody else, I came here because I wanted new experiences, to see different cultures and to travel. That was more than 20 years ago. I definitely didn't expect to stay this long, but here I met my wife, Sian, who is from Wales. Her father was the chief surveyor for Dubai and had been here since the early 1970s. We have two children, Jamie, who is 15, and Emily, who is 13.

I am head of English at Dubai College and Sian is a teacher at Jumeirah English Speaking School. I have an English degree from the University of Exeter, and since I've been here I've done an MBA in education management at the University of Leicester in England by distance learning. My wife and I have enjoyed being abroad and the students here are very open-minded in lots of ways and are enthusiastic about learning. In the school you plunge from one year to the next and time goes so quickly. I am now aged 47.

Regrettably, I am a spender rather than a saver and I do not save a substantial amount each month. I guess our food bill must be about Dh1,000 a week. We get certain things from different places, including Choithram and Carrefour. We compare prices to try to get the best value, but because we both work we don't have a lot of time to do this. We have two cars, a five-year-old Ford Explorer and a 10-year-old Toyota Prado. We bought both of them new, and perhaps both will need changing soon. We have certainly had our money's worth from the Toyota, which has been very economical in terms of maintenance.

We used to go off-roading, but less so now. With teenage children, their social activities determine most of the family's spending and what we do with our weekends. They do vary, but the kids' activities have been expensive in the past, particularly sport activities. My daughter has done horse riding and my son has done football training. This can cost Dh2,000 each month combined, but any parent has to incur these expenses.

We eat out occasionally, sometimes as a family and sometimes my wife and I with friends. If the four of us eat out, it tends to cost about Dh400. If my wife and I go out, you're looking at Dh400 or Dh500 for the two of us. We might go to cafes in shopping centres or stand-alone places like More. It's harder nowadays to find places that are cheap, but sometimes we'll go to the shawarma stand near where we live in Al Barsha and eat from there. The four of us can eat for under Dh100 and we enjoy the food, too, so it's not just about saving money. We always go back to the UK in the summer, but apart from that it's unlikely that we can go away during the year because of school commitments and other things we're doing, although we did go back last Christmas.

This situation of not being able to take more family holidays is one of the things I regret about the cost of living in the UAE having gone up. That's the sort of thing I would like to spend money on. Holidays have become expensive for four. We're here because we want new experiences and seek to learn about other cultures, and it's a shame we can't do more of that. The rent on the villa we live in is very significant, and it has risen steeply in the past two or three years.

We have invested in property in the UK in the past and sold houses, but that was in the early 1980s, and since then we have offloaded them. I sold the houses we had and found it difficult to get back into the market. It is sometimes hard to judge the market from a distance. About eight years ago, we bought a four-bedroom property in Plymouth, a city on south coast of England, which is where I am from. Paying the mortgage for this is our main financial commitment for the future, as I don't save a significant amount each month and don't have a pension. In terms of a UK pension, there were not really people here to advise you how to keep up your National Insurance contributions, which are payments to the British government required to get full UK state pension. If I was starting again, I would have been more careful about making these payments. The rest of our income goes on maintaining our lifestyle.

Like everybody else, the cost of living has made us consider the possibility of leaving, but we stay because of the quality of education and the opportunities the kids have here to get a lot out of life and meet lots of other people. For us as a family, Dubai still has a lot to offer, despite the costs. * As told to Daniel Bardsley