What I saw is more important than what I saved

A recent article in The National made me stop to think for a moment and wonder whether I have been too careful with money during the five-and-a-half years I've spent in this country.

Sarah Lazarovic for The National
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A recent article in The National made me stop to think for a moment and wonder whether I have been too careful with money during the five-and-a-half years I've spent in this country. The piece that caused me to pause was not about personal finance, but the loss of Oman's old villages. According to people quoted in the article, many of the country's oldest settlements are being abandoned as the government encourages citizens to move into modern towns.

Firstly, the piece made me draw a parallel between the irreversible loss of a country and the passage of years in one's own life. My time in the UAE - I am leaving at the end of next month - is gone forever and I will never be able to relive it. But secondly, reading about those ancient villages reminded me how interesting and varied this part of the world can be - if only you are prepared to spend the money to get out and see it.

And all too often, I thought to myself, I have spent weekends holed up in my flat because I was not keen to splash the cash. Often the heat and the sun were pretty big disincentives to getting up off the sofa to do anything outdoors, but the thought of the money I would spend was at the very least always lurking at the back of my mind. For three years in Dubai I lived without a car and, while you can travel by public bus from there to the likes of Al Ain, Hatta and Fujairah, you lack the flexibility offered by having your own set of wheels.

Since moving to Abu Dhabi two years ago, I have had a car of my own most of the time, and it has opened up a world I barely knew existed. I have travelled to the hanging gardens, a wonderful cliffside spot just over the border in Oman. Other times I have gone out on the road from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain and, halfway along it, taken a side road and decided to see where it took me. Just an hour outside the capital, I once saw a scene that could have come straight out of Wilfred Thesiger's Arabian Sands: a string of camels making their way slowly across the sand dunes. It was a world away from spending Saturday at Starbucks reading a book.

But to really get to know the area properly, I would have needed a 4x4, and the tiny car I bought was hardly that. If I had known when I moved here that I would be spending this much time in the UAE - like many new arrivals, I was initially thinking of a year or two - and also known that my salary would increase like it has, I might have been more inclined to spend some cash on a vehicle that could deal with the rough stuff.

Likewise, looking back on the many times when I decided to stay in for the evening, I now believe that it would have been better to have opened my wallet a bit wider. But the problem with money is that it is difficult to predict how much of it you will earn and how much of it you will need to spend. How many of us, apart from people in professions with a steady career path, or those expecting to retire soon, know where our careers will be five years from now?

I certainly don't, and I have always looked at any job I have had as something that cannot last for much longer. It's as though every day at work is spent on a knife edge and in a few moments it could be taken away from you. And calculating how much you will need to get by for the rest of your life is even more difficult than predicting how much money you will earn in the future. None of us knows how long we will live, and for how many years our retirement nest egg will have to last. So I will be tempted to keep on saving for an uncertain future.

But while the money you spend can be earned over again, the same cannot be said of time. Those weekends wasted in my miserable flat, just like the abandoned Omani villages, are gone forever. That reality will give me food for thought when I land in my new home city next month. dbardsley@thenational.ae