According to a recent government survey 83% of Emiratis aged 18 to 24 who had taken out a loan stated that their primary reason was to finance a car. The rather high number came somewhat as a shock at first, I know we are a country that likes its cars, but to the extent that it would lead a significant amount of our youth to start their lives in debt is something I am still trying to wrap my head around.

When I was young I had a lot of aspirations for what I wanted to do with my life, namely travelling the world, meeting the woman of my dreams, starting a family, and doing work I loved. Buying a flashy car was something distant, in high part due to how my family prioritized their life and what they taught me to value as important, mainly experiences over things. But that took a turn for the worse, which you will read later on in the article.

After reflecting on our love for purchasing cars above and beyond what a lot of us can afford it reminded me of a time during my weekly visit to Galleria’s south café terrace. While munching away on my burrito I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation by a bunch of young Emirati men (early twenties I assume) at the very next table. The topic of discussion, conveniently enough, cars and car financing. Now I don’t know much about cars, but I do know a little bit about financing.

What was pleasant to hear during the conversation was the level of sophistication and depth these young men had with regards to the different interest rates in the market, the variety of payment plans available, the right level of debt to take, and what the minimum level of salary would be required to buy the most expensive car within that budget.

It was then I thought, are they putting their energy in the right place? These young men were obviously pretty smart, but at the same time there weren’t talking about financing Toyota Corolla’s. The cars they had in mind were in the hundreds of thousands, excessive would be the right term, certainly far beyond what their salaries could afford them that early in their careers.

Now what if their energy was put into financing a business? Building a product? Or investing in themselves? I can only imagine what this group of young men could accomplish. It reminded me of a story from my school days, where a young boy was caught cheating on a test. He had somehow been able to perfectly chip out all the wood from the inside of a pencil, stuff it with cheat sheets, and close it back up so it looked like a normal pencil again.

The teachers’ response, “If he had put that effort into studying and preparing for the test he would have done just fine.” The student was obviously creative and wanted to succeed, but his heart and focus was in the wrong place.

This is the point I am trying to make with regards to the young men discussing car financing; I simply feel their energy is in the wrong place. Now don’t get me wrong there is nothing bad about discussing buying a new car, and how to buy it. However at their age, it seems a bit insane to see a 23 year old financing a Ferrari right out of university, getting into a high level of debt when they could be investing in their futures.

But is it their fault for focusing primarily on a material product that loses a significant amount of value right out of the showroom? Absolutely not, it’s our fault, unfortunately for many people in the UAE the belief is that your car defines you, the level of respect you are given is highly correlated with the car you drive, and it’s sad.

I am no exception; now that I look back I regret getting into debt to finance a car that was expensive. I could manage the debt pretty easily, but it was unnecessary, and in the end added pretty much no value or meaning to my life. In fact it was the opposite, instead of enjoying the car I was always afraid of how much mileage I was putting on it, maintaining it’s value, and ensuring it was always in pristine condition.

However being younger and just starting my career it was easy to succumb to the pressure when I got my first promotion at work, and decided that my highest priority was a nice looking car so I could look the part, or should I say play the part.

Now from what I hear banks are becoming more diligent in whom they give out loans to, and ensure that an individual’s salary is above a certain threshold before offering financing. But that is just preventing the inevitable, the young man or woman is going to buy the expensive car as soon as they are one dirham over that threshold which really hasn’t solved the problem.

This is a cultural issue that we need to deal with in society by putting more value on things like education, family, and community involvement. Parents need to be educating their kids on what is valued in society, schools need to be teaching financial planning and how to invest in value generating products, we as a society need to stop paying so much attention to the cars people drive, and more attention to the people driving them.

It is only when we value the right things in our society that value is created in our society. The reality is that if we are not building, selling, or designing cars, but simply buying them with money we don’t have we are just wasting more value than we create.