Managing with limited resources

Expat on low income stretches the dirham to meet obligations in her home country

Managing with limited resources
Image Credit: Illustration: Nino Jose Heredia/©Gulf News

For Theresa, leaving her family behind to work overseas is only half the battle.

In addition to fighting homesickness, the Filipino expat also faces the challenge of surviving on a meagre income.

A rank-and-file employee at a company in Dubai, Theresa barely pockets Dh6,000 a month. For a lone breadwinner with three mouths to feed and no other source of income, that means affording a life of luxury in a foreign country is impossible.

The rising cost of living abroad and a stagnant paycheque are not doing any help, and her best recourse at the moment is to make her income stretch further.

Related stories

Theresa's main goal has always been that her family, who are at the centre of her world, can afford middle class comforts and that her two children can finish college.

"I've got to do what's necessary. My husband doesn't have a job," she says.

Unlike most avid savers out there who are aiming to leave 40 to 50 per cent of their salaries untouched, Theresa's monthly target is to set aside 90 per cent of her income for her financial obligations, leaving only 10 per cent to cover her personal needs.

One of her major expenses is the repayment for her personal loan, setting her back Dh2,800 every month, or nearly 50 per cent of her salary. She had taken out a Dh50,000 loan from a bank in Dubai last year to purchase a second-hand car for her family's use, and to also furnish and improve their house.


The second biggest expense is the Dh1,200 allowance she sends home for the children's tuition and her family's daily essentials. Another Dh600 goes to her landlord's pockets in Dubai, to pay for a small bed space and utility bills. About Dh500 is also sent home for the amortisation of a house and lot.

At the end of the month, she usually has Dh100 cash left in her pocket, plus Dh500 for emergencies. "It's always been like that for me. Sometimes, I barely have anything left. I literally live paycheque to paycheque."

So what does a mother do to get by and make every dirham last until the next payday? "Self sacrifice, that's what it takes to survive," she says.

Careful not to create anymore major expense, Theresa limits overseas phone calls. She stays in touch with the family mostly through internet chats during her off days. "Long-distance calls are very expensive," she says.

When it comes to shopping, she has mastered the trick to stretching the dirham even further.


"I hardly buy clothes and other things for me and when I do, I'd go for hand-me-downs in Karama, where a blouse or shirt costs only Dh5 to Dh10. The only branded item I have is a pair of Levis jeans that I bought from a second-hand clothing store. I don't even buy from a bargain sale at the mall. The items are still expensive, despite the discount," she says.

At the grocery, she buys only the cheapest products. "I know where and how to find them since I compare prices all the time. If you look hard enough, you can take home a 200-gramme toothpaste for only Dh5." She said she could even find dishwashing soap for a steal price of Dh8.

Theresa's cost-saving ways may be a bit harsh for other expats, especially for those who make more money, yet at a time when incomes are stagnating and the cost of essentials is rising, other people are also looking at ways to keep their spending down.

In the US, where many consumers struggle with debt, workers have tightened their day-to-day spending to help get by.

A survey by CareerBuilder showed that 77 per cent of the workers live from paycheque to paycheque.

In order to make ends meet, consumers have cut back on leisure activities, used coupons or shopped at discount stores, driven less to save on petrol, cancelled cable and other subscriptions and used public transportation.

Salaries never enough

It is not certain how many UAE workers are living paycheque to paycheque, but studies have shown that not many are satisfied with their income. According to a recent survey by, only three per cent of UAE residents are highly satisfied with their salary, while nearly half (47 per cent) are not at all pleased.

A look at the level of income among residents in the Middle East and North Africa region, however, revealed that the UAE still maintains a “high number of professionals with the biggest salaries”.

About seven per cent of the workers bring home $8,001 (Dh29,387) or more each month. But there seems to be more high-paid workers in Bahrain, where 9 per cent of professionals get more than $8,000 monthly. In Oman, the number is lower (6 per cent), and in Kuwait (5 per cent) and Saudi Arabia (3 per cent).

The lowest paid residents in the region are in the North African countries of Algeria, Egypt and Morocco. This year, 56 per cent of residents in Algeria earn under $500 a month. In Egypt, 53 per cent of professionals receive up to $500 per month and about 45 per cent earn the same in Morocco.


  • Li

    Jun 18, 2011 12:26

    Rami The Wanderer thank you so much for your comment. It is great, that even in the net you can meet a person , who thinks so. May God bless you with a long life! Be happy.

  • mei

    Jun 18, 2011 12:00

    She's still lucky that her income is Dh6000 a month. Why dont you feature those who are less fortunate? When i started in Dubai, my salary was only 1500aed monthly. That left me with nothing on hand after all my expenses.

  • JN

    Jun 18, 2011 11:26

    People should think about upgrading their skills for better opportunities by taking courses and such. If you just say put in the same situation without thinking about advancement by investing in yourself first, then there is an action but only false hopes.

  • Ronald

    Jun 18, 2011 11:24

    Theresa, something has got to give. You should not do this alone. Sooner or later your husband should find a job so your family would have better chances. I see that you leave 10% or less to yourself and the rest goes to loans, household bills and kids' school fees. Being the most valuable income generating asset you leave few to yourself? I do not mean that you should buy expensive clothes and more lady pampering rather you can invest in yourself; like advance professional learning so you can get up up on the corporate ladder or look for money investments. Since the contract you signed in Dubai is limited - having a start and an end. If you'll get AED 100,000 for your whole contract term - are you still going to spend in liabilities - things that do not generate income for you and your family group?

  • gemille

    Jun 18, 2011 11:18

    6000 Dhs salary is not bad, the thing is one has to learn to live with their means. Aside from that we have to tell our families back home of the difficulties living here, i am sure they will understand, as my family does. One has to try to limit using their credit cards and avoid bank loans, it would only make you happy for a day and then miserable for each passing day...piece of advice.

  • Hanif

    Jun 18, 2011 10:40

    This is a true fact, I recently got married & I believe in living together after marriage, now My family is going to come next month, I seriously no idea about the deficit which is going to occur after my wife coming here, My salary is 3750 from that i have to pay my Landlord 1000 my loan at company which i took during my marriage Dhs. 1000, ave electricity & food expenses are Dhs. 1000, the remaining Dhs. 750 will be used for petrol & personal expenses. Seriously no idea about how to send money to ma parents who are depend only on me. Thanks for gulf news to give me chance to share my problems as usually we don't like to share these problems with people around us.

  • Mohammad

    Jun 18, 2011 10:24

    For me also, the situation is almost the same. I work with a telecom company of UAE, they reduced our salary in 2010 by 500 Dirham, there was no much explanation given about the reason. Now I receive 4000, out of which 1000 goes to loan payment here, my parents in India are old and totally dependant on me, I send them 1000 dirham for their expenses, then my younger brother is living and studying in another city, I send for him 500 Dirham. In the remaining 1500, I pay 800 for the rent. I am 35 and still single, because I cant afford it, I dont have savings, and I cant take my wife here to live with me.

  • Emy

    Jun 18, 2011 10:15

    Budgeting is the most difficult decision you have to be made specially this days that all the price of basic necessities are extremely high. I just got married 1 year ago and the first thing we agreed with my husband is how we can manage to budget and pay his loan & credit cards and to support our both parents in the Philippines. I see my husband how he sacrifice to pay all our obligations we buy shoes with only a cheapest one less than 50 dirhams no new shirt & pants, no new gadgets & other luxurious things until we pay our credit and now only 1 credit card is remaining, loan is finish & other credit card is close with zero balance. I proud to have my husband because even he has much loan and credit card before he dont use that for his personal thing he use that to buy a house for his parents. And now I can manage to buy my husband new stuff.

  • Mohd Sherif

    Jun 18, 2011 10:00

    It is a fact that we are living in a most modern civilized society. Due to globalisation, purely commercialization the consumption trend and pattern of the society has changed a lot. But still the society has lackness in their financial management and knowledge. An awareness about this very much helpful for all. Simply say "spend less than what you earn". Instead of commercilizing your life please budget or simplify according to your earnings. Never go for any interest bearing credit or liabilities for unproductive reasons. I have a word to the authorities to regularise and reduce the price of essential commodities by simply adopting some changes. It is noticed so many large hypermarkets offering promotions of high branded cars and other facilities. Please bring control over this kind promotions and instead of wasting this much funds please reutilize the same for the benefit common society like reducing the prices of essential commodities and ensure the social responsibility.

  • Nihar

    Jun 18, 2011 9:56

    There are many people who earn much less than this.. She is leading at least comfortable life..there are people who are the only bread winners of family with very low salary. Car for family use is not an essential thing..there are people who manage without it.

  • Load more