Dubai and saving money/being mindful about your money often do not end up in the same paragraph though isn’t that why many people come here? I recoginise that one should also enjoy life but you should also introduce some mindfulness. We are in Dubai after all.
I have put together a couple of money saving tips for Dubai (and the UAE as a whole) which apply to housing, food, transportation and entertainment. Please read this with an open mind and recoginise that not everything will be related to you. This article is here to get you thinking about what you are doing and give you options and insight into leaving Dubai with more than just crippling debt and a tan.
Remember, Dubai has a lot of glitz and glam so do not compare yourself to anyone else. Practice mindfulness and be mindful of what you have and not what others have. Mindfulness is a brilliant addition to your life. By practicing mindfulness you will also bring more awareness to your life and it can even help you save money in the long run.
If you are new to Dubai or moving here the first thing you will probably look at, with respect to housing, is the housing allowance in your contract. Do you know why that is there? Let me tell you. Your salary will generally be broken down into transportation allowance, housing allowance and base salary. When you receive your end of service pay/have extra vacation days paid out they are paid based on your base salary not your overall salary.
When setting a budget for your housing I would recommend not paying more than a 1/3 or 1/4 of your salary. You will also need to be aware that most often you will be asked to provide the years rental in either 1, 2, 4 or 6 cheques. Often you can also negotiate a better price if you do less cheques. Check out dubizzle.com when starting your housing search as you can filter options through their search. Another upfront cost you will need to consider is the DEWA (in the case of Dubai) connection. DEWA is the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority. You will need to put down a refundable deposit of AED2000 for a flat or AED4000 for a villa to get connected.
When you have found your flat or villa you will need to furnish it if if is not already furnished or you are bringing things from home. To save a couple of dirhams and get some awesome pieces check out dubizzle.com similarily with the housing option you can filter what you are looking for. Through dubizzle you can also negotiate for a better deal. Of course you can always go to IKEA and stock up there or visit places like Crate & Barrel, West Elm etc for what will make your house a home.
Ps always check used furnishings for critters. You never know.
It comes as no surprise that I will discuss food seeing as Hold the Moo is a food blog so here it goes. An obvious place to start is to cut down on eating out and delivery. Not only will your bank account thank you but also your health (hello, Dubai Stone).
Instead of eating out so often cook your own meals at home. Shop for groceries at places like Union Coop or Carrefour which have decent prices and loyalty programs. If you want a bit more adventure check out the Fruit and Vegetable Market in Al Aweer. They have a great selection of fresh produce and when you visit “your guys” they will often give you a better price for being a loyal customer. Bonus fact: there is a Union Coop right across the street.
If you are looking for organic produce and free from items you will find these in both Union Coop and Carrefour but the Organic Foods & Cafe has 15% on the first Sunday of the month and 20% on the third weekend of the month. I use this as an opportunity to stock up on larder items like chia seeds, pastas and quinoa. When you go shopping remember your reusable items.
Seeing as Dubai, and life in general, is to be enjoyed you can also check out apps like The Entertainer, Cobone and Groupon which offer discounts on activities, dining etc. The Entertainer is well known in the UAE and rightfully so. They have an amazing selection on 2 for 1 deals including Friday Brunches in some of Dubai swankiest addresses. Dubai also has an insane selection of ladies nights for literally every night of the week. Some are standard three drinks for ladies but some are package deals including canapes and drinks. What’s On just did all the leg work for you so check out their selection of 52 ladies nights.
Entertainment/Getting out of the house
Spending money on food can run rather seamlessly into money spent on entertainment and general activities which are done out of the home. Entertainment is a big thing here in Dubai and one of the first things you can and should do when you move here is to check out your local Meet Up groups. I actually met a couple of good friends by joining a meet up group.
If you are a movie buff then check out what your telecom provider and bank are offering as movie deals. For example Du has Du Tuesday which gives you a buy one get one on movie tickets every Tuesday at Vox cinamas across the UAE.
Your bank cards will also provide special offers when you use them. Just check online for what offers they have. I learned that my Emirates NBD will get me 10% off when I spend over AED100 at Boarders book stores. Another way of saving on books is to visit House of Prose in the Dubai Garden Centre for second hand books at a great price. Plus when you buy 9 you get a complimentary coffee at the cafe. How perfect is that? A new to you book and a cup of coffee in a lovely location.
Dubai also holds some brilliant flea and craft markets where you can browse, grab something to eat, listen to live music and just enjoy the day outdoors. You never know. Maybe you will even find a treasure.
What about exercise you may ask? Well Dubai is a goldmine for free exercise classes and activities. Check out Meet Up for classes like yoga and the like. Your local Lululemon store also holds complimentary sweat sessions. I am a big fan of their morning yoga sessions. Follow Lululemon to keep up to date with their classes.
If you are into running here is a Meet Up group you can join. One of the most popular Dubai running clubs is the Dubai Creek Striders. They also organise the amazing Dubai Creek Half Marathon. I love this half marathon because the course is completely unique and takes you along the creek (and over) as well as through the souks.
Cycling in Dubai may not be the safest activity, and I am saying this from personal experience, but it can still be enjoyed. A brilliant place to start, especially if you do not have your own bicycle, is at the Al Qudra Cycle Course. Not only is there plenty of parking but you will also find showers, a small kiosk, restaurant and ambulance service in addition to a cycle shop/rental. I enjoy the Al Qudra Cycle Course because it is separate from the road and takes you through the beautiful desert dunes on a track. Make sure to take along water and do not cycle when it is too hot. Heat stroke is a very real possibility. You should also make sure to have a fully charged phone with you and a mini emergency kit.
Depending on where you live and work you will find it easy or difficult to get around Dubai without a car. In an ideal world we could live on the same metro line that work is on or even better we could walk to work but that is not always possible. I do have a car because if I did not I would be spending loads on taxi costs for when I have events and my volunteering on Saturday mornings. You may notice that it is really easy to get a personal loan in Dubai. I would recommend against going down that route.
If you know that you will be in Dubai for a couple of years then I would recommend looking into a used car as cars depreciate by 20% each year (I am basing this on what the insurance company will insure your car for); in the case of used cars you can check out dubizzle or, for more peace of mind, get a certified pre-owned car from a dealership.
If you are only stay a year then an inexpensive rental car would be the better option. You should also be aware that, though petrol is still inexpensive compared to the West, the price of petrol is increasing. Petrol is a set price for the whole of a month so “shopping around” does not really help.
Final thoughts + mindfulness
At the end of the day Dubai is as expensive or affordable as you make it. If you take the time to research alternatives then it will pay off in the long term. Of course you should enjoy your time in Dubai. Go out for drink or two, treat yourself to that dinner at Zuma even buy that gorgeous bag at Celine if you really, really want it but remember that magic word: mindfulness. We all deserve a treat once in a while but if we “treat” ourselves every day it is not at treat anymore.
What has helped you with saving money in Dubai? How do you manage your expenses? Are you mindful of what and how you use things? Do you find that being more minimalist and sustainable helps you to save money? For me it does. Having to buy less stuff keeps me and my bank balance calm.
Use mindfulness to keep yourself focussed on your goals and plans for the future.