When our maid said there was a robbery next door and a couple’s laptop was stolen, I decided to buy a safe that was on sale.

“It’s too small,” said my wife when I showed her the picture in a brochure. “The crooks can easily carry it away. You shouldn’t try to save on a safe,” she said, laughing at her own joke.

My son said it was ridiculous to buy a safe for our laptops because they take hours to boot, and they run on Windows XP. “Why do we need a safe? We never have any money in the house.”

The other day when the cooking gas ran out right in the middle of making meat balls, the maid called the dealer and a truck came to our doorstep immediately. A man brought in a cylinder, hit it with a spanner with a loud clang and set it outside where the pigeons can poop on it, and said, “Dh110”.

When I opened my wallet to pay, it was bare, except for a NOL card. I then remembered my wife had taken all my money to give to the grocery delivery man.

“Do you have any money?” I asked my son, and he reminded me that I had taken back the Dh100 I had given him, for petrol. When I had heard that petrol prices had dropped, I ran and quickly filled up the tank.

Saddened by our poverty, the maid hastily said she had some money, took out a bundle of cash from her large handbag and paid for the cooking gas.

Instead of being grateful, I asked her why she had not remitted the money home. She said it was money to buy a pair of shoes that she had always wanted. She then said she stashes her jewellery in the handbag and sleeps with it under her pillow, apparently dreaming of jewel thieves. (It is impossible for an hourly wage earner to get a safe deposit locker).

When I realised we do not have an emergency fund to fall back on, I decided to finally get a bit financially savvy. My financial literacy was limited to saving the free, tiny ketchup packets that come with burgers, or switching off lights like Queen Elizabeth does at Buckingham Palace, or buy items with the tag, ‘buy one get one free’. (Our store room is full of boxes of facial tissues and toilet cleaners).

I was reading a report recently that both Emiratis and expats fail to save money because of Friday brunches, new SUVs and school fees.

When a friend invited me to a labour accommodation to hear a talk on finances, I decided to tag along hoping to learn something. The talk was part of an outreach programme called ‘Apna Sapna’, or Our Dreams, initiated by a money remittance company.

Many workers did not know they could open a post office savings account with a small sum back home and obviously nobody had life insurance. Most of them said they earned Dh1,500, kept Dh400 for their expenses and sent the rest home to their families.

Experts say that everyone, including children, should be financially literate. Spending on just wants and getting into debt is a major issue even in wealthy countries, they say.

The best way to save is to pay yourself first and put away 10 per cent of your wages where you can’t easily access it. Break down your expenses into three: Fixed costs, for your rent and Wifi; your goals, or dreams, such as a home of your own, a blissful retired life; and flexible spending, for that weekend binging at the mall food court.

You don’t need a safe to stash your cash. Buy bonds or mutual funds instead and don’t play the markets now.

Mahmood Saberi is a freelance journalist based in Dubai. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ mahmood_saberi.