I like to spend and save at the same time. Being in the UAE where people are psychologized to spend more, I have long realized that it is not very strategic to think that to save money is simply to minimize spending. The channels/approaches to saving may need to be tailored based on your environment and overall situation. If you accidentally land on this blog while searching for money saving tips, you will not find the likes of avoiding eating out and visiting attractions which are for free. However, you might be able to pick up one or two which are doable and relatable whether you are an expat in the UAE or not.
- Avoid being ‘robbed’. Succumbing to traffic, parking and other fines is like getting robbed with consent. Fines in the UAE are hefty, quite capable of making you cry. I have been fined twice long ago and felt so selfish and careless. I could have used that money to help other people and/or buy more shish taouk and shawarma.
- Do tasks on a Friday, instead of Saturday to save on parking fees. I try to do errands that are achievable on Fridays since parking is free. (Weekend in UAE falls on a Friday and Saturday.)
- Do an inventory of your possessions regularly to be reminded that you (probably) have more than enough. I check my clothes, shoes, kitchenware, etc. on a monthly basis or every 2 months to: a) clean/organize things; b) remind myself of the things that I have, do not have and must have; c) reiterate that I probably have more than enough; d) always remember that I am an expatriate and would move out of the country sooner or later and I should not be acquiring things which might be challenging to transport and let go of; and e) learn and laugh about my failed purchases — I hate to admit it, but once upon a time and until now, there were few items I acquired out of impulse and/or poor judgment.
- Assess if cost of owning a car might be cheaper than taking public transportation. Evaluate your needs, lifestyle and other factors and decide if it might be wiser to invest on owning a car than commuting, particularly that fuel is relatively much cheaper here. In my case, there are very few instances when it is more reasonable to commute than drive on my own (e.g. when parking would be challenging).
- Have a calendar of deals and take advantage only of those offered reasonably. In the UAE, there are varying (crazy) deals every month. I suggest to keep a list of necessities and wants, prioritize them, and schedule the purchases. I hardly remember any major purchase that I did not acquire during promotions/at mark down. On the other hand, be mindful of deals that require being an early bird. Recently, I won a round trip ticket courtesy of a hypermarket for buying school supplies worth AED200 (USD54).
- Do not be fooled by price mark downs. Always mumble to yourself “Caveat emptor” (Latin for “Let the buyer beware”). If you compare the deals offered by different merchants, you will find out that there is no discount from one merchant or there are no discounts at all. Recently, I noted a product which was misrepresented by a reputable electronic company as ‘discounted by AED200 (or at least USD54)’. When I went to another store, the same product had an exact mark down. In fact, that was the same price in other stores. Hence, there is no great deal at all. I ended buying it from the only store that offered a freebie worth AED 400 (or USD109). It entailed a long process though. I had to speak to the salespersons like “Given the same price, I will buy from you if you can give me something that the others do not offer.” I am always diplomatic, however, I can be charmingly a pain-in-the-ass kind of consumer.
- Utilize credit cards to your ultimate advantage. My main usage of these cards are towards accumulating points to avail of offers of cash back, earn more miles, and discounted movie tickets. I am saving a lot from these schemes.
- Be mindful of your disposable income. Always. You will be surprised at how lax some of the financial institutions in the UAE are in terms of granting credit cards and credit limits (i.e. way more than the disposable income). I consistently give unsolicited advice to some people who are new in the UAE that those credit limits are evil. There are increased cases of residents being arrested at the UAE airports, i.e. for those who had/have delinquent accounts and/or those who managed to leave the UAE, however, were transiting in any of the UAE airports because of unsettled debts.
- Always evaluate and re-evaluate the total cost over benefit of taking loans. There are reasonable loans, in general. It is prudent though to try to minimize it or best is to avoid it. If timing is not of the essence, I guess there is more value and fulfilment in waiting to finally acquire something after saving for it periodically instead. Try to remember as well that there is an intangible cost to taking loans, e.g. stress, lack of peace of mind which may affect one’s health.
- Avoid easy money or anything that is too good to be true. I favor the smart work more than the hard work, but I do not believe in short cuts and easy money. Remember the words ‘scam’ and ‘greed’.
- Earn more miles to use for travel and membership upgrade. This is quite beneficial in terms of having access to premium lounges, extra luggage allowance, etc. Of course, needless to say, planning ahead of time when traveling leads to huge savings.
- Use Duty free shopping responsibly. There are things that I occasionally buy (e.g. perfume) in airports to take advantage of the duty free shopping. Consider the almost 25% savings from the regular price.
- Take advantage of purchasing power of the money you hold/currency conversion benefits. Wherever I am traveling, I keep a mental list (and sometimes physical list) of things that I intend to or must really buy. I get those from the country which would give me material savings while keeping in mind the other implicit (e.g. added weight to my luggage) and explicit costs.
- Buy gifts in advance, if necessary. I take note of occasions where I would buy gifts for my godchildren and other dear ones. Sometimes, I buy gifts in advance a) to avoid last minute shopping which may affect the spending rationale; and b) to take advantage of seasonality of the product and mark downs, if applicable.
- Borrow books for free.
- Pay in lump sum instead of in installment if it would result into bigger savings. However, consider the present value of money. If the benefit of not availing the discount will exceed the discount itself, then do not avail it.
- Buy local. We are fortunate to have plenty of products which are being sourced from different countries. However, having attached to certain brands or produce have corresponding import-related costs which make it more expensive than those locally produced. I am still guilty of not buying local most of the time. I am a work in progress in this area.
- Taking care of your health and overall being will save a lot. Always true, health is wealth.
I will be revisiting this list periodically as reminder to myself (remember I am both a spender and saver) and to update it when necessary.