Dubai is an expensive city to call home and boasts many attractions that can drain your wallet at an alarming rate. However, if like most expats, you are on a modest wage, there are ways to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and still achieve what most foreigners come to Dubai for: travelling or saving money. One of the key things to living frugally in Dubai is to sift out the ‘must-haves’ from the ‘wants’; if you learn to put aside what you don’t really need and buy only what you absolutely require, you can then not only put aside some money, but can also spend some of your income on the many fun activities that this emirate is so well known for.
Below are some tips on how to live frugally in Dubai without having to give up on things that make life in this desert city so vibrant and exciting.
1) Look out for used stuff
Dubai’s population is very transient and you will find many expats leaving after having lived here for just a year. You can find excellent deals on furniture, cars, electronics and just about any other white goods’ on websites such as Dubizzle and Souq.com, in near-perfect condition and at a fraction of the cost you would need to pay if you bought the same items new at a store. Expatwoman also has a great classifieds section as do some of the UAE’s popular newspapers such as Gulf News.
2) Use public transport where possible
If you live and work close to a metro station, it might be possible for you to do without a car for most of the week. The metro is efficient and runs regularly, is air-conditioned and much quicker than sitting in some of Dubai’s notorious traffic jams. On the weekends, when you do want to visit places that may not be well connected through the metro or other forms of public transport, you could take a cab, which for most expats from Western countries, is much cheaper than back home. Although buying a car, especially a used one, is not very expensive and gas in the desert can sometimes be cheaper than water, maintaining your car can be expensive as the extreme heat and driving conditions here can take a toll on your vehicle. Besides this, Dubai is also notorious for its many speeding cameras, which are not calibrated to any common standard and quickly squeeze the hard earned cash out of your wallet. Many of Dubai’s roads also charge a toll of AED 4 every time you use these roads; this toll is known as salik, and if you travel any of the common roads such as Sheikh Zayed Road or Ittihad Road, daily salik can quickly add up!
3) Eat out less
Like most cosmopolitan cities in the world, Dubai residents are spoilt for choice when it comes to throwing away their hard- earned money on expensive restaurants, even though some boast of mouth-watering cuisines in classy settings. Especially in Dubai, where there is a strong culture of dining out when socializing, cooking your own food can really save a fortune. While there is certainly no dearth of high-end eateries in Dubai, there are many places where you can sample different delectable cuisines at a fraction of the cost. Although it would be impossible to completely forego eating out, if you want to save money, opt for lower cost dining choices such as Ravi’s, where a sumptuous meal for four can cost you less than AED 150 (USD 40). Dubai’s supermarkets are also stocked with fresh fruit and vegetables at reasonable prices, although international food brands are likely to be more expensive here than back in your home country.
4) Look for free entertainment
During the cooler months from November to April, leave behind the malls, where you might be tempted to spend money, and opt for the beach or go to the park. Dubai has numerous shopping festivals during which you will find several free shows and entertainment events such as music festivals and performances by local and international artists. Some beaches also host free sporting events on weekends and if you can drag yourself out of bed on a Friday morning, there is a ton of free stuff going on by the beach including free paddle boarding and surfing lessons and free yoga classes. Another great way to meet people and do fun stuff for free is through the website www.meetup.com. Whether you love photography, hiking or reading, this website has hundreds of groups of like-minded people who share common interests and they are always organizing events and meet-ups that are often free or entail very nominal costs. For families, the Entertainer is a coupon and voucher booklet that offers almost 2000 discount coupons and buy-one-get-one-free vouchers to several cafes, restaurants, entertainment theme parks, water parks and other local attractions. Groupon and Cobone are also great resources that offer discounts on everything from dining to activities across the emirate.
5) Check your bank accounts
Banks are very quick to offer new residents free accounts and credit card services, but often times these are anything but free. Most banks require a minimum balance to be maintained in their accounts; if your balance falls short of this minimum at any time during the month, banks will charge you a fee, usually AED 25 or 30 per month. Many banks also have hidden charges that they claim are to protect you against fraud etc. etc. Make sure to ask specifically about such charges and order your bank to cancel them before you apply for a bank account or credit card.
The wonderful thing about Dubai is that it can support a lifestyle that can be as expensive or as economical as you choose it to be. Often times you just have to be on the lookout for deals and discounts which can enable you to buy the things you want or need without paying full price for them.