Last year inflation surged across the world, pinching our pockets with rising living costs that has made learning how to save money in Dubai an even more important skill to have. In 2023, whether you are a citizen, an expat, or a temporary resident, today it pays to wisely arm yourself with some saving hacks to offset this historic period of wild inflation.
In the first quarter of 2022, inflation grew in developed and developing countries alike, with 37 of 44 advanced economies experiencing double the inflation rate from the year before, according to the World Economic Forum.
In May, the US’s inflation rate hit 8.6%. A month later, it grew to 9.06%, a new 40-year high, according to data from Trading Economics. The inflation rate also reached 10% in the UK, the highest since February 1982, according to Trading Economics.
Even Dubai is not immune from this global inflation problem, as the Khaleej Times has reported. Dubai’s consumer inflation rose to 4.6% in April, 2022, the highest since May 2015, according to data from the Dubai Statistics Center. Rise in transport cost, food prices, recreation and culture costs, and restaurant and hotel prices were the top 4 causes of rising inflation, according to data from Emirates NBD.
But inflation hasn’t cooled off. Data from Dubai Statistics Center shows that inflation rose to 7.10% in July, 2022, a figure already getting close to the situation we see in Europe and the United States. As Bloomberg comments, “The pick-up in Dubai, where inflation was negative as recently as in October, shows the oil-rich Gulf region is no longer immune to cost pressures plaguing much of the world economy.“
As the prices of goods and services increase (especially in the four categories highlighted above), the purchasing power of your income reduces; without rising income, this will mean a reduction in standard of living.
A good way to navigate the current global economic situation is to learn how to save money from your salary through cost-effective budgeting so your expenses do not go overboard, resulting in lower standard of living.
In this article, we will help you manage the inflationary pressure on goods and services in Dubai by highlighting various hacks you can use to save money on your expenses.
However, as with most things related to cash flow, what you do with your money is a highly personal matter and should be determined based on your specific financial goals. In other words, what might be a potent money-saving hack for one person may not be suitable for another.
Understanding this, we set out to survey the full range of savings possibilities out there by asking the Sarwa team to tell us about their favourite savings hacks. The resulting list aims to inform our readers how to start saving money in Dubai like a local.
Our team is particularly suitable sample size for such a survey. Sarwa includes a diverse cross-section of Dubai residents, some of which have been here for many years, as well as others that recently arrived.
Throughout conversations with our team members, one argument that continued to reappear was the need to identify the difference between saving and investing hacks. Both of them can and should work together in a successful personal financial strategy.
In essence, the Sarwa team highlighted that:
- Saving hacks are best applied as methods that help reduce expenditures, the easiest and fastest ways to grow your investable income.
- Investment hacks can help build wealth by utilising a long-term savings plan that is supported by a variety of these smart savings hacks.
Making the above distinctions as part of a unified personal finance strategy is important because cutting a few costs here and there will not automatically accrue large benefits over the long term. This is why if “saving hacks” are applied without considering long-term investing they will only result in superficial or temporary financial bonuses.
For example, let’s say you have managed to save an extra AED200 each month. If you place your money in a savings account it will be safe, but it won’t grow very much. As a matter of fact, its value might decrease due to inflation.
However, when you apply smart investment hacks to your savings strategy, you will take on some risk, but you could also make greater gains over time thanks to returns generated from the market and compound interest returns over the years.
Besides an emphasis on what to do with savings, the Sarwa team also determined that if someone is serious about learning how to save money in Dubai, they need to start lowering monthly expenses — and right away.
The other solution to boost investable savings is to start increasing your income.
But since increasing your income is not as accessible as reducing your expenses, we recommend that readers start by looking at some of the simple hacks we’ve listed below to quickly cut frivolous costs.
Most of them you may never have realised were big savings possibilities!
[Want to put your savings to work in Dubai? Sarwa offers professional financial advisory that makes investing easy and affordable using smart technology. Schedule a free call with a wealth advisor that can help put your investment goals on track.]
Learning how to save money in Dubai: From shopping tricks to investment wisdom
Below we have listed 12 tips collected from the Sarwa team.
These savings hacks are used by Emiratis and long-time residents alike and are highlighted here by Sarwa for their ability to reduce expenses and increase money available for savings or investments while living in Dubai.
1. Make sure you start a savings plan
Living in Dubai is amazing, but like all major cities, can also be expensive if you are not careful. So you should anticipate that a big purchase may cost more than you expected, especially with global inflation in the backdrop.
If you have a big-ticket item to buy coming up, such as, for example, a new car or electronic appliance, you’ll want to be able to easily access your money via a savings account.
Currently, savings account interest rates in Dubai range from only about 0.5 to 3%.
However, always look at your net returns, check if there are any account opening fees, closing fees, or lock-in periods.
Money-saving experts also typically recommend having three to six months of living expenses saved in an emergency fund (which we’ll discuss more below).
This covers unforeseen circumstances and provides financial security in case you lose your job or become ill. It also ensures that you won’t fall behind on your bills.
2. Create a monthly budget — and stick to it
There’s a lot to consider before deciding to save, invest, or both. However, learning how to save money from your salary must begin with budgeting.
Start by calculating how much you spend every month on basic living expenses like housing, transportation, utilities, food, and health insurance. According to the popular 50/30/20 rule, this should come out to about 50 percent.
Here, it may be helpful to segregate an account dedicated to essential expenses from the rest of your cash.
“What has helped me stick to my budget the most is having a separate bank for monthly expenses,” says Resty Estoye, a software engineer at Sarwa. “Then, whatever is left is my allowable monthly disposable income.”
These funds can be classified as your wants, such as dinners out, hobbies, or shopping. The “ideal” number to spend on this part of the budget is about 30 percent.
Whether you spend more or less on wants is highly individualised, but the most important thing is to be realistic. How much do you actually have leftover every month? If it’s 20 percent or more, it’s probably worth it to invest it.
To plan it all out, we recommend getting comfortable with one of the many different free budget templates out there.
“Make excel your best friend,” says Shashank Narayanan, Associate of Strategy and Operations at Sarwa. “Use this tool to always track and monitor so you know that you are only spending after you allocate savings.”
By creating a budget, you will likely find some hidden opportunities to save money in Dubai by slashing away at frivolous expenses. This is why budgeting is the first step towards responsible financial planning.
Or as Hanin Siam, Senior Customer Excellence at Sarwa puts it, “Create a monthly budget and follow it to the T!”
To ensure you stick to your budget, Amen Ghebre, Head of Wealth Advisory at Sarwa, suggests you “Pay yourself first the 20% (or more if you have the capacity) and live off the remaining 80%.” This will ensure that “you are in complete control of your expenditure and lifestyle creep/inflation is tamed.” That is, if you spend before you save/invest, you might be tempted to spend your savings/investments as well. But by investing first, you will be compelled to wisely spend what remains.
At Sarwa Invest, we make Ghebre’s recommendation easier to follow by allowing you to automate your investment. You can set up your account to automatically deduct the portion dedicated to investment from your checking account on payday.
3. Buy your groceries in bulk
Residents of Dubai spend the largest part of their income on accommodation and food.
Deciding to cook your food is cheaper than eating out, in most cases. And with food prices and restaurant and hotel prices among the top 4 causes of rising inflation in Dubai, it might be more cost-effective to cook your food more often.
Line Bitar, Performance Marketing Manager, agrees: “It is wise to cook instead of ordering out all the time.” And so does Elizabeth Donaghy, Head of Internal Ops: “Learn how to cook, be your own gourmet chef, have dinner parties at home.”
According to research by Gulf News, you will need AED 50 to cook an average non-vegetarian meal. It will cost AED 110 to order the same from an average restaurant and AED 80 from a cloud kitchen.
However, even if you cook your food, you will still need to spend money on basic supplies, including vegetables and fruits.
Another easy way to save money on food is to buy your groceries in bulk from supermarkets like Carrefour, Lulu, Geant, or Grand Hyper rather than the expensive small minimarts that, while convenient, often have high markups. There are also plenty of options to buy in bulk online nowadays.
Most people who buy from minimarts do so because of stress and transport cost.
However, by buying what you need in bulk — supplies that will last for weeks or months at best — you can cut down on stress, transport costs, and save big on groceries.
By buying from supermarkets, you could save around AED 50 per week, depending on the size of your family.
“I like doing my grocery shopping twice a month to buy in bulk,” says Resty Estoye, Software Engineer at Sarwa. “This saves us a lot in comparison to buying a few supplies at smaller local supermarkets, which usually charge considerably more.”
In addition to buying in bulk, you should also consider shopping around – that is, comparing prices of different supermarkets, according to Nadine Mezher, Co-Founder and CMO at Sarwa. A small difference in price from supermarket A and B can add up over a large number of items.
However, Elizabeth issues a general warning: “Discounts and sales are great, but did you really need it in the first place?” That is, while it is good to take advantage of discounts and sales, don’t buy what you don’t need just because it is cheaper. Wasting AED 5,000 might be better than wasting AED 7,000 – but waste is still waste.
4. Filter for offers on food delivery apps, or simply reduce restaurant budgets
Eating out can add up to a large part of our monthly budget, reducing the potential for us to build savings.
This especially includes ordering in from food delivery apps, which can be even more expensive than eating out! This is why Rana Hardan, Senior Brand Designer at Sarwa, believes that a key part of reducing your expenses is to “save out on food delivery” in addition to cooking at home.
Many food delivery apps now make it possible to do this by including an option to filter for daily discounts offered by the restaurants in their marketplace.
Hanin Siam, Senior Customer Excellence at Sarwa, agrees that ordering from the “discounts section” of food delivery apps is a good way to save money. Consequently, you need to make this filter your friend and use it as much as possible when using these apps.
In addition, you should try to reduce your monthly restaurant budget by several percentage points.
The Sarwa team has a few suggestions to achieve this.
“I make my own coffee at home before going to work, this way I can save on that daily morning coffee,” says Leujean Fakhani, Growth Marketing Manager at Sarwa.
Similarly, Hana Shashaa, Head of Operations at Sarwa, says “prepare more meals at home.”
Indeed, if you are eating out on lunch breaks often, a large part of your potential monthly savings is going out the door.
5. Increase your room temperature by 1 degree
All Dubai residents quickly grow accustomed to basically keeping their air conditioning units on 24/7.
Dubai is hot for most of the year and even hits boiling temperatures during the summer months, so this isn’t surprising.
However, many people rarely pay attention to how much of their electric bill goes into cooling their apartments or homes.
By simply reducing how much energy is needed to keep your apartment or home cool, even by just 1 degree, you will be able to create considerable savings over the span of a year.
“My favourite saving hack is making your home 1 degree warmer — within comfort limits, of course,” says Nadine Mezher, Co-founder and CMO at Sarwa. “Buy a fan and turn off the AC completely for nice UAE winter days when you can crack open a window,” she says.
Elizabeth Donaghy, Head of Internal Ops, agrees with Nadine that turning off the AC can lead to significant savings on electricity usage.
However, Nadine says that this might not be the best solution for everyone, and can depend on which part of Dubai you live in.
“Sometimes the dust does not give you the luxury of opening up windows!”
For Elizabeth, switching off the AC is not the only way to save on electricity usage. You can also switch off your lights when they are not in use.
In addition, Elizabeth suggests that “keeping household machines regularly serviced” and “keeping machines cool so they don’t overheat” are two additional ways to reduce maintenance and energy costs.
6. Discover a DIY workout program
Gym passes can be quite expensive in Dubai.
While going to the gym has lots of physical and mental benefits, there may be other workout options out there for you that can be kinder to your wallet.
In Dubai, this will usually mean finding a workout regime that best suits your work schedule, social preferences, and family life.
“I started a workout program called p90x30, which I highly recommend,” says Mark Chahwan, Co-founder and CEO of Sarwa. “It saves me a lot on bootcamp and gym classes.”
A workout routine made for busy people, p90x30 is a variety of 16 different types of thirty-minute workouts, which are scheduled every day of the week for 90 days. The exercises vary from cardio to yoga to strength training to stretching.
Discover a workout program like this that works best for you.
7. Attend GITEX and the Dubai Shopping Festival
While we don’t buy electronics such as phones, computers, TVs, and washing machines as frequently as we buy food, a single purchase can be worth many months of your food budget.
Since the cost of these products is significant, learning how to save money on their purchase can be incredibly valuable advice.
GITEX (Gulf Information and Technology Exhibition) is an annual consumer and computer electronics trade show and exhibition that runs twice a year at the Dubai World Trade Centre.
It offers great opportunities to shop for the latest electronics while benefiting from loads of promotions, raffles and prizes.
By timing your purchases around this event, you can normally buy expensive items at discounted prices.
Additionally, like GITEX, the Dubai Shopping Festival is another opportunity to find bargain prices, and you can browse more than just electronics at this event.
During this month-long festival, shopping malls offer lots of discounts.
If you want to follow some truly sage local advice for how to save money in Dubai, you should plan some of your expensive, non-electronics purchases during this period.
The festival usually runs at the beginning or end of the year (December, January or February).
This is great timing. As you are drawing up your budget for the year, you can identify items that you can buy at the festival.
Finally, you always have the options of the outlets, whether they are brick and mortar or online. You will find many discount stores and second-hand stores where you can sometimes find incredible buys, especially from people who move in and out of the city.
8. Start an emergency fund
Emergencies like job loss, unplanned medical expenses, unexpected repairs, and health care crises can shake up your finances. In cities with high costs of living like Dubai, the potential negative impact of these sudden expenditures can be even more dramatic.
Learning how to start an emergency fund can help provide a buffer from the full-out experience of a personal financial crisis.
Most people without an emergency fund resort to borrowing money at high-interest rates to cater to these emergencies. However, with an emergency fund, you have essentially built up a protective wall against emergencies.
It is good financial practice to save up to six months’ worth of your living expenses in your emergency fund. You can hold it in a savings account, money market account, or any account that is liquid and easily accessible.
But before you start hiding away all of your savings, ensure you learn what kind of emergency fund you should create so you can adequately balance your cash into investments and emergency fund accounts.
9. If you have debt, consider consolidating it
Debt should be actively paid off on a consistent basis to ensure that you are not caught in a continued trap of paying high-interest rates.
This is especially true if you are looking for tricks for how to save money in Dubai.
“Credit card interest rates can reach as high as 36% per annum in this region,” says Amen Ghebre, Head of Wealth Advisory at Sarwa. “Balances that are being carried on your credit cards month after month eat into your net-worth and can cause you to enter into a debt trap,” he adds.
Moreover, reducing debt should take relative priority from other wealth-building activities, such as the emergency fund mentioned above. This doesn’t mean that you should delay building an emergency fund, but rather put a proportionate focus on reducing the debt profile.
Depending on the size of your debt, you could consider various tactics. For example, if you have a large debt profile, clearing those debts through the debt snowballing system should be a priority.
Source: Dave Ramsey
If you have smaller debts to handle, Amen recommends researching ways to consolidate it.
“Consider consolidating your outstanding debt through a personal loan which comes at a lower rate of interest. This way you can make inroads towards your debt,” Amen said.
10. Live in an apartment? Renegotiate your rent
Let’s face it — a large portion of our monthly income is for living expenses.
For many, this is a monthly rental payment. And those looking to save money in Dubai should take a serious look at how much they are paying every month. As Nadine advises, “Once you have control over the larger spendings the smaller ones will follow.” Since rent is one of the largest spendings for many, lowering cost here can lead to significant savings.
Generally, you should not spend more than 30% of your income on rent. If you are spending more than that, then it is highly recommendable that you consider renegotiating.
“If a major payment goes every month to rent, renegotiate it — you will be surprised what you can get if you ask for it,” says Nadine Mezher, Co-founder and CMO of Sarwa.
Should no deal be reached, then put some effort into finding a better deal.
Research and write out a personal short list of the cheapest places to live in Dubai and consider moving to one of those areas to reduce rent. However, ensure you choose a place that is convenient and still close to your workplace to not add to transport costs.
This logic can be applied to many other big-ticket items. Start by reviewing your largest monthly payments and go down, one by one, asking to renegotiate.
“If you have a car you are paying for, consider letting it go and looking into cheaper options: rentals, taxis, etc.” she says. “Calculate and decide.”
When it comes to transportation, Hanin Siam says you should consider “using public transport or Hala taxi rather than Uber or Careem.” So if you want to let go of your personal car, using Uber or Careem everytime might not be a cost-efficient option.
11. Have a mortgage? Ask your bank to lower the interest rate
Not only do mortgages take up a sizable amount of your monthly income, they also accrue large payments in interest to banks. For those that are searching for low-hanging fruit for how to save money in Dubai, a mortgage is a highly advisable place to start.
If you have a mortgage with a high-interest rate, now is one of the best times to renegotiate it. Successfully renegotiating or consolidating your mortgage to a lowered interest rate could save you a ton of money over the long run. And, plus, this isn’t a hard thing to do!
“Mortgage rates are at an all-time low at the moment, so you should consider capitalising by discussing your current mortgage rates with your bank,” says Amen Ghebre, Head of Wealth Advisory at Sarwa. While the prices of transport, food, recreation and culture, restaurant and hotel increased in May 2022, that of housing reduced, according to the research by Emirates NBD though it picked up a bit in June and July.
“You may be able to negotiate a lower rate, which would save you on interest costs and lower your monthly expenses.
Speak to your bank about your mortgage rate, they may be able to reduce it for you without penalties,” he advises.
12. When investing, make sure your assets are diversified
Investment platforms often require a high minimum and may come with a slew of charges that could impact your bottom line, such as maintenance fees, annual fees, and even account-closing fees. It’s important to do your research before opening an account with an investment firm.
A platform like Sarwa allows you to start with just $5 and has an annual fee of only 0.85% for your account — and none of the other surprise charges. This makes investing a lot more accessible.
And if you want to know how to save money in Dubai, the answer will invariably include learning how to invest your money, which will always lead to learning about the importance of portfolio diversification.
This means learning to invest in a solid mixture of stocks and bonds, so that if one of your investments suffers from market volatility, then you’ll have others to serve as a buffer against losing all of your money. Exchange-Traded Funds, more commonly known as ETFs, are a great place to start. An ETF is a basket of assets such as stocks, commodities, or bonds, and are considered to be lower risk compared to individual stocks.
[For more on how to invest money in the UAE, read “How to Invest Money In The UAE: All You Need To Know”]
Now that you know some important hacks about saving and investing in Dubai, it’s time to plan and take action. T
ake some time to consider your time frame, risk tolerance, and financial goals for building wealth going forward.
- The world is witnessing an historic rise in inflation rate that is causing an increase in the cost of living.
- Dubai has not been immune from this increase in cost of living as prices of goods and services rise.
- To survive this situation, you need to be more dutiful at budgeting and spending your income wisely.
- You can also save money on your expenses by exploring different ways to cut costs, including reducing your rent, cooking at home instead of eating out too frequently, buying groceries in bulk, etc.