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Personal FINANCE made easy – The Islamic Way
With Munadia Karaan

HADJ AND FINANCE

Hajj is the most sacred journey any Muslim undertakes. It is one that most people save all their lives for and spend a lifetime preparing for, but beyond saving for hajj, most hujjaaj give hardly a thought to budgeting for the day to day expenses of this trip and learn this painfully by trial and error. This article hopes to give greater insight into your hajj finances with perhaps a useful tip or two worth remembering. Hajj Classes. While hajj is spiritual journey, it relies on something very material to get us there – money! Therefore, a fair bit of common sense and logic is called for right from the outset, added to the spiritual preparation. Regrettably far too few of our hajj classes consider this. They need to be encouraged to call in the experts to provide prospective hujjaaj – many of whom have never travelled before in their lives – with basic travel advice that will prepare them for the journey, as well as sound financial tips that will help sustain them physically while on the journey. After all, as spiritual as this journey is, we are still humans who have to do the mundane human stuff, like eat and drink, while on hajj! Setting a target.  If you plan to go on hajj, start by setting yourself a realistic target and having realistic expectations. First you need to determine when you may be ready to go for hajj, depending on your savings. Then get a reality check by speaking to travel agents, relatives and other hujjaaj about what they have spent and where best to stay. Consider that you will have to cover travelling expenses, accommodation, food shopping, as well as emergency money. Then add another 10% to that total figure just to keep pace with inflation. That should give you a target that is more or less realistic. But keep in mind that it is very hard to predict the future, particularly if one keeps in mind how the fluctuating exchange rate played havoc with the value of the rand of late. Therefore, build in a little fat in your estimation to be on the safe side.

 

Shop around
Once you get close to your target it is time to become a lot more constructive and the first order of business is to shop around. Our hajj industry may be an old one, but it is still struggling to reach standards of professionalism that is the norm with all other kinds of travel. So it is up to you as the hujjaaj to get yourself the best deal in town and you find it by asking a lot of questions. Speak to previous hujjaaj about the price and type of service they received from both hajj agents and the places they stayed at. Compare the services of various travel agents and get all of it committed and signed on paper once you have made your decision.

Budgeting
Experts say most of our people under-budget when they go for hajj, not only because it is their first time abroad, but because they end up spending far too much on wrong things. In this section we look at budgeting, but excluding the funds you will have to leave behind to make sure you still have a roof over your head when you return.

Travelling – As said previously, your primary expense is for your travelling money and accommodation, which may depend on the mercurial exchange rate. But most hajj agents know well in advance what their packages are, so that quote is not hard to get. Accommodation – When considering the price of accommodation, which more often than not is included in the package, keep in mind the standard of living you would be comfortable with. The classier the joint, the higher the coin, as we all know, so ask around to find out what would suit you and what it would cost. Tanazul etc – These miscellaneous expenses are normally calculated as part of your package. But make sure of it by questioning your travel agent before hand and get it confirmed on paper. Food – Budget for at least SR15 a day, whether you go as an individual or part of a group. If you were to pool this and share with others who have similar food tastes, you will save a lot more. Also take tinned, sealed foodstuff with you and cook yourself where possible – it is much cheaper than buying food. Emergency – This is the one aspect most hujjaaj forget and yet it is the one thing far too many of them encounter, for example when they find themselves having to pay duty on goods purchased or overweight luggage – a very common phenomenon! So put some money aside that you will absolutely not touch except in an emergency.

Shopping – This is where most of our people get into trouble. We are generous people who love bringing gifts home, but it should not become the dominant feature of our hajj. Some ulema recommend that you leave the shopping until after hajj when you have survived comfortably on the pilgrimage, fulfilled the “weksloon” you had come there for, and then only go spend what is left in your pockets in the souks. This, as opposed to going nuts in the souks from day one and having family hastily send more money to you by day ten. On the other hand, if you have budgeted a certain amount for hajj, stick to that amount irrespective of when you shop.

Foreign Exchange
You can do your foreign exchange at least up to two months in advance and the sooner you do it, the better for you. However, it is often done too close to the deadline because you need your passport and ticket to do your foreign exchange. Again the advice is, even if you agent offers you foreign exchange, shop around for the best deal!You can take up to R130,000 per year out of the country, while kids can take up to R40,000 in foreign exchange out of the country, though experts say you are hardly likely to need more than R10,000 to R15,000 for food, spending money and emergency funds for a six week period if you are on a shoestring budget. Buying dollar – if you don’t know what these foreign notes look like, be on the lookout for people who want to sell you US dollars for cash. There are a lot of sharks out there just looking to scam you, even on hajj. Only foreign exchange dealers are permitted to do it.

Cash on travel
Travellers cheques – It is just much safer to make use of travellers cheques, whether in Saudi Riyal or US dollar, because if you lose it, it will be re-issued to you within hours and the chances of fraud are reduced. But it is also wise to take a bit of destination currency, riyal, with you in cash along with some cash in dollars. Handsome notes – It is a weird thing, but many hujjaaj will tell you that handsome crisp dollar notes fetch a higher exchange rate than old crumpled ones. So keep that in mind. Visibility – Make sure that you store your money in a belt or in a hidden pocket where it will not attract attention. Too many horror stories have been told of people whose entire pockets were cut out just to get to the cash. Fast cash – Most foreign exchange dealers have interesting products available should you run into trouble and need a quick inflow of cash. Find out more from them about the Global Card for cash, telegraphic transfers, money grams etc. Going for hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam, but it has a rider – it is incumbent on every Muslim, provided that he or she is able to afford it. Too often people have only enough to cover the basics and make the fatal mistake of relying on the “slavats” to pull them through or anguished family members at home. In my book that means you simply do not have the money to go for hajj. The second cardinal sin hujjaaj make is to get their financial priorities wrong by spending too much on the wrong things. As a hujjaaj, you are blessed to be invited on magnificent journey that sees you climbing the spiritual heights to the seventh samaa. But make sure that you don’t come tumbling to the ground because you failed to ensure that your plane had enough fuel for the trip.

Sources:
Personal Finance February 2001
MoneyTalk 45 with Abdul Aleem Hamza, VOC

About the author:
Munadia Karaan presents MoneyTalk, a financial advice programme on the Voice of the Cape on Fridays from 8 – 9pm and is Product Consultant for Oasis Asset Management. Contact her on 082 445 7628 for sound investment advice.

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