Dubai: Sandi Saksena is an Indian expat with a presence. She is well-groomed and wears a crown of silver on her head, the hairline marked by an unusual tattoo. But that is not the reason why she stands out.
As someone who has been in the Gulf for 43 years, including 23 in Dubai, she has never thought of returning to her home country, not even when her chips were completely down. On the contrary, the former housewife and victim of a job loss in the family knows what it is to survive and bounce back in the face of personal adversity. The result: Saksena has now become a role model for a growing tribe of families who are fighting layoffs, loans and lethargy.
Narrating her inspiring story, Saksena said she was a social butterfly with an extravagant lifestyle when her husband suddenly lost his high-paying consultancy job in Dubai a few years ago. “The harsh reality took a while to sink in. It’s not easy to come to terms with your situation. Even the kids were used to a certain lifestyle and suddenly to tell them they couldn’t have some things or eat out at some fancy place was tough,” said the mother of two.
The family’s savings had fast depleted and they were now slipping into debt. But unlike many others who live in denial and refuse to “drop the pretence”, Sandi was determined to survive, even if it meant looking for her first job at the age of 44.
Expectedly, the hunt initially led her nowhere.
“While my husband looked for another job, I too approached a recruiter. All I had was a history degree in hand, with no work experience, no skills, not even typing, to my credit. Needless to say, I was rejected wherever I went.”
But not one to give up, Saksena kept up the search. “I realised it was a waste of time feeling sorry for myself. I decided not to complain either. I prayed hard and finally, a few months down the line, an ad I had applied to in the classifieds section of a newspaper called me for an interview. It was for the job of a trainee sales consultant at an insurance company and they wanted a people’s person, someone with good communication skills. I actually got shortlisted from 65 applicants and I was overjoyed.”
Saksena, who continues with the establishment, which has seen many changes since then, said there were many valuable lessons her own experience taught her over the years. A financial adviser and empowerment officer today, she regularly holds talks and seminars to share the nuggets of wisdom.
“The first step is to drop the pretence. Never lose hope, keep trying to find a solution. Stay focused and believe in the power of prayer. Sit down as a family and reset your goals. Ask yourself how you can spend more responsibly? Weigh the pros and cons. If you have any loans, see how best you can repay them. Downsize to upsize. Repeat your clothes if you have to. Stop eating out as frequently as you did.”
But that’s post-crisis.
When the going is good, there is no substitute to savings, she said.
“Create an emergency fund by stashing away a sum that would keep you going in the UAE for a minimum of six months. That’s outside your investments in real estate or any other assets. The cash should be readily accessible. Never put all your eggs in one basket. Equally important is to have a good life and critical illness insurance policy. Have a Plan B — and C if you can help it.”
Lessons to deal with a layoff
• The faster you get over it, the better off you will be.
• It’s not the end of the road, it’s just a temporary setback.
• Get creative, explore avenues you never thought existed
• Open up to your family
• Network, talk to as many people as you can
• Downsize to upsize
• Repeat clothes if need be, stop eating out frequently
• Reset your family goals
• Draw up a plan to repay your loans