Money & Me: Dubai’s JW Marriott Marquis manager says save early and save often

Bill Keffer is the general manager of Dubai’s JW Marriott Marquis. Mr Keffer, 52, from Tennessee, has worked for Marriott internationally for more than 25 years, living in the UAE for the past six.

Describe your financial journey so far.

I grew up in the southern state of Tennessee and both my parents were schoolteachers. Teachers are undoubtedly underpaid in the United States, so I would describe my upbringing as not rich, but not poor either. I learnt from a young age that money is important, so I got my first job at just 12 years old. I really wanted a new camera and worked as a dishwasher in local restaurants to save for it. I remember the model still – it was a Canon AE-1 and I worked all summer to achieve my goal. I continued to work throughout high school as a waiter and bartender to pay my college tuition. I definitely learnt to budget for my expenses at a very young age, and my guiding principle has always been to buy quality only when really required, instead of frequently purchasing cheaper but more disposable options. Then, when I began my career with Marriott International in 1990, I was lucky enough to gain two mentors, whom I credit with teaching me good savings habits and encouraging proper financial management. Now I try to pass on the wisdom by mentoring and coaching my own children, along with my managers, to deal with money in a smart way.

Are you a spender or saver?

I’m definitely a saver. Hailing from the US, where most companies do not offer pensions, I realised that my retirement and quality of life in old age would depend entirely on my own ability to save for the future. Having children has compounded that feeling of needing to save, supporting their education first and foremost, and being prepared for any eventuality.

What is your philosophy towards money?

It has always been to pay yourself first. That means I save before anything else, and I consider that paying myself. After that I pay my bills, and whatever is left over is my disposable income. I try to maximise my savings for retirement through a 401k, which Marriott International provides as a savings programme for US citizens. I also have an individual retirement account. Time and compound interest are the best things that I discovered as a young man, and the idea that over time money will grow – if you save and invest properly.

Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?

Yes indeed. When I was younger, like many people I thought I had the ability to time the stock market. But after a year of losses I figured out that wasn’t the best strategy – for me at least. I’m a firm believer in dollar-cost averaging and I contribute monthly sums of money on a regular basis regardless of what the markets are doing, because over time it will balance out in my favour. The key message is always the more you save, the more you have in the future.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?

I would put most of it into either my children’s 529 account (a US educational savings plan) or some sort of stock investment. Then I would buy my wife her dream car, an Aston Martin.

What has been your best investment?

I probably made my best investment in 2008 when I took a conservative approach and parked a lot of my assets out of stock and equities and into conservative savings funds. The global economy crashed that same year, and in early 2009 when the market stabilised I was able to buy back into the market with mutual funds at very low prices. I doubled my money within a year as the market recovered. A once-in-a-lifetime stroke of luck and great timing.

What do enjoy spending money on?

My retirement fund and my family are my main priority. But if I had to tell you my one indulgence, it would be my affinity for American muscle cars. I’ve been the proud owner of 11 Mustangs in my lifetime.

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