I have been in Dubai since March 2008. I moved to the UAE to set up my own health and fitness business. I'd been following Peter Schiff, a famous economist who predicted the global recession, and it seemed to make sense to move somewhere that was growing at the time. The health and fitness industry is still underdeveloped, so it seemed like the most sensible move. I had managed to save enough money by working as a personal trainer in the UK to finally create my own company, Spring Dubai, which I finally did a year ago. At the moment it's just me, although after the summer I will have three new staff members joining me.
When I first got here, I thought I was going to be this big fitness-business guru. I quickly got a wake-up call about that. It costs a lot of money, time and effort to get incorporated, which is not an easy task to take on single-handedly while conducting personal training sessions. The process taught me a lot about tight budgeting, and looking back I think the business has become my biggest success with money. It cost me about Dh50,000 in total to set up. I used mostly my own money and a little bit came from my brother. Previously, I was always working for someone else to just get by. But now I am investing in my future.
The money I make isn't just survival cash to get me by from month to month, but something for me to build on. Living here and starting my own business has completely changed my attitude towards money. I now see money as an investment and not just a salary that I use to pay my bills and spend on petty purchases or entertainment - an attitude that's a world away from my first job washing cars at £5 (Dh30) per go
I lived in Oxford, England, for most of my younger life, and as a family we didn't have a lot of money. We were always taught to appreciate money and not live excessively. My parents always told us to keep things simple, as it was family that mattered, not money. I was given an allowance of £5 per month, which was quite good in those days - things were a lot cheaper than they are now. With my car washing, I suppose what I earned then wasn't too different to the salary I started with here in Dubai, a whopping Dh3,000 a month.
Aside from my car-washing gig, I also spent time as a landscape gardener in New Hampshire, in the US. I thought I had quite the green thumb until I almost lost it on a tablesaw. That same day, I had planned to view an apartment, which would have made my stay there more permanent, but after I put my thumb in the blade, and lost a large chunk of it, my view of things changed. I guess I took it as a sign that it was time for a change. That job definitely taught me that money doesn't grow on trees, but in the labour of planting them.
During my time in New Hampshire I saved most of my money. I worked quite hard and had little time for outside activities. Plus, the place wasn't very entertaining - so it was easy to save my pennies. I do feel that, overall, money is for spending. But it should be spent on the right things. Everything I earn I invest back into my business so that I can build the company and be confident I am offering a good service to my clients. A lot of what I am currently investing goes toward my personal development.
I travel to attend seminars and courses, and this gives me insight into the latest equipment and new training techniques, which I put back into the company. I put around 40 per cent of my profits back into the business. I don't like to waste money on new clothes, as I would rather focus on improving my knowledge about exercise. I first became interested in fitness after I took up martial arts at age 15. I was fascinated by muscle movement and exercise and began coaching my friends and family while in England and in the US. I started to expand into nutrition, anatomy and physiology. I gained enough experience and knowledge that I began to charge some of my friends for training programmes, about £10 per session. I would provide diet advice and tailored training programmes that were easy to follow. This type of work was simply a hobby for me, until I qualified as a personal trainer and sports therapist.
I then moved to London and assisted in managing a private personal training studio, where I also specialised and qualified as a kettlebell instructor, which cost just £600 for the course. A kettlebell is a cast-iron weight used in fitness regimes. This expense was a one-off payment for the lessons, but then I spent more money on travelling and further training to consolidate my skills. I was making between £35,000 and £40,000 a year.
I had found my niche and decided to further my education by signing up for a Master's in applied functional science. This set me back about £4,000. With the economy struggling in the UK, I decided to be adventurous and attempt a business start-up in Dubai. As Dubai does not have a specialised kettlebell programme, I saw a gap in the market. That's when I decided to start Spring Dubai. We are looking to open a permanent studio in September. At the moment we use one at the Emirates Golf Club.
The business is still young and growing, but I always try to hold on to money by putting it back into the business and personal development. I try to save about 10 per cent of my income each month, and I try to check my account about three times a week to make sure everything is correct and that I am on track for the month. Although I am careful with spending, it is easy to overestimate what is really there if I've been quite busy.
My father always taught me not to discuss or show off your money, but I will say that I am definitely doing better than my initial Dh3,000 a month, though I do not consider myself to be living like a king. The business is still a baby and needs a lot of attention. I am focusing on developing the life coaching and nutrition side, as well as evolving the concept of what the programme stands for: exercise, nutrition and emotion.
My guilty pleasure is good food; I will spend on quality food - that's my big expense. I don't shy away from good clothes, either; a balanced approach to health is about mind and body. After rent, which is about Dh7,000 a month, I will spend around Dh3,000 on groceries - quite a large amount, but not when you consider that I eat a lot of fresh, good- quality vegetables and fish. I also take a lot of protein supplements. I don't believe in wasting food, and that money is spent on healthy, quality produce. I don't really eat out much, although I do like sushi; Zuma and Manga are two of my favourites in Dubai.
It's good that the rents are coming down a bit. My rent used to be quite average for the city, so it is nice to see things becoming more reasonable. Besides the big Dubai move and business start-up, I am also saving up for a good 4x4 to tote all my training equipment around. I prefer to save up money than get into debt - it's more liberating this way. My money motto is that money is a tool, and you can use it in any way you want. I think a great tip for managing your finances is to learn to enjoy numbers. If you crunch the numbers correctly, you can live comfortably. I think making wise investments as opposed to petty spending is a good rule to follow as well.