It is heart-rending to read about an 82-year-old Polish woman having to return to her country, although it was the last thing she wanted to do. What is sad is that she has no one back home whom she can count on for support. She has been away for 45 years and regrets not being more financially prudent. As she puts it, if she had only saved a mere Dh100 a month, she would have had nothing to worry about now.
She appeals to other expatriates not to make the same mistake which she made and urges them to save for a rainy day. The advice is sound, but how many of us learn from the experience of others? More often than not, we read such stories and feel sorry for the victim of circumstances and then continue living our lives as if the sunshine is eternal, heedless of the storm clouds gathering above.
Before coming to the UAE, many years ago, I remember a conversation with friends, all of whom seemed to have several cousins and other relatives in this part of the world. Since I didn’t know a soul here, they promised to help me get in touch with their kin who had been in the Middle East for years and had made their fortunes here.
However, seeing the gleam in my eyes as I painted mental pictures of myself returning home some years later with a bank balance to die for, a close friend brought me back to earth pretty fast with the words that, knowing me as she did, I would probably be the only Indian to return from the Middle East with exactly the same amount in bank as when I had left home. Her prophecy was based on my habit of living for the day, which she had witnessed first-hand over the years. So, she was convinced that I would be one of the few to return a sadder but wiser human being!
I have tried my best to prove her wrong, but it isn’t easy when time flies past and, before you know it, you have been here for a decade or more with nothing much to show for it. But despite the not-so-admirable bank balance, I have made sure that I won’t be returning home empty-handed either.
There are some I know who have lived frugally and saved wisely and gone home happy, confident that they have done enough to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. I take off my hat to them and acknowledge that their restraint in not going overboard while living in the land of plenty is worth emulating. But it’s easier said than done.
There are stories galore of people making hay while the sun shines and falling into the debt trap, deluding themselves into believing that things will somehow sort themselves out. We read appeals in newspapers and magazines from both men and women who are desperate to claw their way back to a normal, debt-free existence but have no idea how to go about redeeming themselves. They have accumulated credit cards by the dozen and made use of each to the hilt and now regret their profligacy. Their philosophy of ‘tomorrow is another day’ has come back to haunt them as tomorrow has come sooner than they had dreamt. There are horrific stories of loan collectors turning up in offices and harassing people for payment, making sure that the debtor is shamed in front of colleagues and even employers.
And then there are those tragic tales of some resorting to suicide, unable to find a way out of the pit they’ve dug themselves into.
Perhaps it’s not too late to learn a lesson from all this and start by saving the fils at least, if not the dirhams.