I was born and raised in the Middle East, and I’ve spent most of my life here.
According to the popular perceptions of the Middle East, most people follow an extravagant upper-class lifestyle. Saturday afternoon brunches at The Hilton, yacht rides at Dubai Marina and weekend shopping at Bloomingdale’s was absolutely normal.
And no, this isn’t an episode of Sex and the City.
When I was 10, I remember throwing a tantrum over an expensive pink frilly dress I wanted badly from the local store.
My father sat me down, and said, “We can buy that dress for you, but how happy will it really make you?” Although I was too young to understand the importance of what he said, I figure how crucial it is to realize that now.
Although we’d spent almost half our lives in the Middle East, my parents made sure that we followed a certain decorum when it came to spending. We didn’t spend unless absolutely necessary. We were pretty well off financially, but my sister and I were taught the importance of resources early on.
During my undergraduate education, my family and I moved to Dubai, the land of disposable incomes. My dad gave me a monthly allowance of merely $27/AED 100. I blinked at my dad with a confused expression and asked him how I was possibly going to survive.
My peer group was up-to-date with the latest clothes from H&M and Forever 21, so how was I possibly going to keep up with them on this allowance?
He said, “This is the only way you’ll know how important hard-earned money is”. The 27 dollars barely covered my phone bill and transport, and this prompted me to take up part-time gigs so I could save up some money. I slowly started to realize how hard it was to earn a single penny.
This is a breakdown of how I spent my allowance of $27 every month:
$6 – Phone bill
$13 – Transport (I had a student metro card, with which I got a 50% discount! So that helped a lot)
$7 – Food (The occasional sandwich from the university cafeteria)
The rest – The little money I got from part-time gigs would go into a tiny savings account. (This helped me so much on a rainy day!)
At first, I struggled with what I had, and constantly complained, because the grass always seemed greener on the other side. Then, I slowly started to find ways to get things done without spending a fortune. For example, When I needed a ride, I’d ask a friend who owned a car, instead of spending on taxi fare. I also discovered plenty of student discounts that retail stores and restaurants offered.
I realized that I would have never learned how to manage money better if it weren’t for my father.
My parents always stressed how they lived on less than $2/week when they were little kids in India; and how every financial decision would be made meticulously. This always resonates with me when I think about how we need to value our resources and make better money decisions.
I’m 22 now, a recent graduate, and live in an apartment that I share with a few friends. Every financial choice I make is after an intense debate with myself to see if there are alternatives to buying. Now, I see fellow millennials struggle with money decisions, that I have somehow conquered, because of my upbringing.
If my parents hadn’t been strict with me and made me realize how important hard-earned money is, I would have struggled too.
I’ve learned how to shop smartly and take advantage of discounts and offers. I don’t indulge unnecessarily in designer coffees or expensive dinners unless it was a special occasion. My wardrobe mostly consists of clothes that last long, instead of the ones from fast fashion stores like Forever 21. I use public transport and save on the never-ending charges that come with a car and its maintenance.
If it weren’t for the Indian way I was raised by my parents, in spite of being in a foreign country, I would be broke at the end of every month, with no idea as to how it happened.