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Money & Me: ‘There’s no point being locked to your desk 18 hours a day’

Born and raised in the UK to Iraqi parents, he moved to the UAE in 2015 to work for an Abu Dhabi start-up medical facility. He relocated to Dubai two years ago to co-launch DNA Health, which will soon add branches at DIFC and in Abu Dhabi. Dr Nasr, 39, lives in The Sustainable City with his 15-months-old twins, Enzo and Elara, and wife, Laura, a chartered tax adviser.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

Both my parents were doctors, so we were always comfortable. Originally it was their intention to finish training and go back to Iraq, but because of political circumstances and wars they settled in the UK.

While my parents were very much orientated towards saving, it never felt like we were deprived of anything. A lot was geared towards being not too frivolous. One of the biggest things they saved towards was getting a big house. I have an older and a younger brother and lot of the money was going into funding a mortgage and private education.

Did that saving attitude catch on?

Having completed my training, aged 27, I wasn’t married so I could pretty much work all hours and was able to generate a good income relatively early on that allowed me to both save and spend.

I was able to accumulate property in the UK during my late twenties/early thirties. It’s still mortgaged, but I’ve got tenants in; it’s being paid off and will generate a nice income in the future. It’s nice to have that cushion.

How much did your first job pay?

I started earning my own money at 16 waiting part-time in a restaurant for around £5 (Dh24) an hour. It probably wasn’t out of need as we got pocket money, more to gain financial independence. There was also the social component, experiencing that world, being employed. That shaped my future desire in terms of career, to be more client-facing rather than in an office.

I was a junior doctor at 25. I felt like I had the most money then because you got accommodation so I didn’t have bills or rent, at a time when junior doctors worked longer hours, before European time directives kicked in. I was making around £37,000 my first year.

What brought you to the UAE?

Soon into being a general practitioner in the UK I realised patients weren’t getting any better; it was more a sick care system rather than healthcare. I changed my style of practice to be more lifestyle-focused. I came here where I was and am able to practice like that, although no one was really focused on the wellness approach. I was in Abu Dhabi first, then an opportunity came up in Dubai.

Is wellness considered a luxury?

Wellness is becoming an integral part of people’s lives; they are focusing more on their health and longevity, wanting to stay well. A lot of people don’t feel sick in the traditional sense but don’t feel well, anything from mood and lack of energy to not sleeping; they don’t fit into the traditional category of being sick. Not just people in the high-income bracket find us — it’s across the board.

While 80 per cent of clients are living here, we get a lot of health tourism. When they’re on holiday, it’s the only time they get to attend to their health so they come for detox, rejuvenation or weight loss, health screening. It’s a true holistic integrated medical practice.

Are you still a saver?

I lean more towards saving, purely because I’ve got a family. I don’t derive enjoyment spending on myself. I’ve done nice cars in my twenties, fashion isn’t a priority. Even though I’m currently renting, I take pride in my home; we won’t scrimp on things like furniture. The intention is at some point to buy here.

How do you save?

I still have property in the UK, the flat I used to live in. I also bought in central London, a one-bedroom apartment, just before I came out here, rented out. And I still have remnants of an ISA [Individual Savings Account] in the UK, tracker funds essentially. I will dabble in small amounts, mainly in UK indices. The rest is in a low-interest, accessible savings account.

Do you have a philosophy about money?

There’s no point being locked to your desk 18 hours a day, but making a fortune. I’ve seen enough people who have developed health issues, and often it’s too late to enjoy the fruits of what they’ve earned.

What has been your best investment?

A six-bedroom student property co-bought with my older brother. It was a lot of hassle initially with additional legislation [and it] needed a lot of investment. For a few years I thought this was the worst investment I’d made, but it’s in Manchester where the student population has boomed, so it’s had significant capital appreciation but also rental yields have gone up.

What about your worst investment?

We were at an auction dinner in Abu Dhabi. We got caught up in the hype and in the space of two minutes five of us agreed it would be a good idea to buy this piece of art for $100,000 between us. I’m stuck with a piece that’s worthless, to the extent there’s no market for it. It’s bubble-wrapped, never been opened. That was a lesson, ‘don’t invest in things you don’t know anything about’. And if you are going to, buy a piece you actually like because if you’re left with it at least you can appreciate it. It could have been a year’s education for two kids.

What are you happiest spending on?

Because our kids are young we don’t travel as much, but our most recent holiday was to the Maldives. Where I probably would have gone for a standard room before, I’m more inclined to upgrade and treat myself and my family when we’re away. I value those things more. It makes the hard work worthwhile.

Are you wise with money?

Wiser; I was never reckless because of my upbringing, but I’m less frivolous. I keep an eye on my bank balance, but I’ll never have set budgets for things. I was in a situation in my late twenties/early thirties where if I spent a lot I could make up for it by working more, whereas now I put more value on time with my family.

Do you plan for the future?

I don’t have a particular age I want to retire. If I look at how this business is growing and my initial intention — going from a doctor employee to business owner — I’m trying to create some financial independence, not necessarily move retirement forward but give the ability to have more free time. What I’ve done to a degree is retire from traditional employment.

Article written by Dr Nasr Al Jafari for thenational.ae

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