Another year, another resolution to save, so have you ever wondered how you get through your money so quickly? Considering the UAE is one of the most pricey countries in the GCC*, it’s not surprising cash can slip through your fingers.
We’re also a nation with rather expensive tastes, renowned for designer label malls and luxury hotels serving food at five-star prices. Add to that rising school fees and utility bills and it’s fair to say that life here can cost a pretty penny – if you’re not careful that is. But if you’re savvy with your money it can be as simple to save in the UAE as it is to spend. Here’s how...
1. Eat off piste
Rather than always opting to dine in the five-star hotels, check out some more authentic eateries. You can’t beat the cultural experience of sitting at a pavement table outside the now legendary Ravi’s on Satwa’s Al Dhiyafa Road (04 3315353). The Pakistani dishes are delicious along with freshly made bread.
Don’t expect five-star surroundings but do expect to enjoy the people watching and culinary experience. Other options to try are Bombay Chowpatty in Karama, Govinda’s vegetarian restaurant, also in Karama, and the famous Eat and Drink, which has outlets all over Dubai and is also one of the most affordable places for tasty home deliveries. Bottom line: While just a main course at a big hotel restaurant could easily cost you upwards of Dh100, each dish at Ravi’s is priced between Dh11 and Dh22, so a typical meal for two will cost you about Dh55.
2. Be a frugal foodie
If you’re savvy with your supermarket shopping you can snap up some great deals without compromising on quality. While Lulu, Carrefour and Géant tend to have the lowest prices on a daily basis, prices are slashed on Market Day every Monday at Spinneys and every third Saturday of the month at Organic Foods and Café.
Or save money every day through shrewd selection – the plumpest and shiniest tomatoes might be imported from Holland, but those grown in the UAE or Oman will be a fraction of the price and their short journey to the shops means less time to lose flavour. Bottom line: A recent Spinneys Market Day saw American strawberries selling for Dh25.50 per kilo rather than the usual Dh49.95.
3. Get daily deals
If you can handle the onslaught of emails each day, be sure to sign up to one of the daily deal sites that dominate this market – the main players are Groupon (groupon.ae) and Cobone (cobone.com). Every day (sometimes even twice a day) they’ll email you unbeatable deals offering up to 90 per cent off a variety of purchases, from spa treatments to hotel stays and golf lessons.
But be warned, while all the discounts are very tempting, don’t get carried away – only buy what you really want or would buy anyway, rather than splashing out on extra things because they’re such a good deal. Bottom line: This month a hair cut, hot oil treatment and blow dry was on offer on Cobone for just Dh59, a whopping 83 per cent off its original price of Dh340, while Groupon was offering a cruise day and four-hour seafishing trip for just Dh175, reduced from Dh350. That’s Dh281 and Dh175 saved, or a grand total of Dh456 for a family day out and a bit of pampering for Mum afterwards.
4. Make do and mend
Hem come down on your favourite dress? Lost weight and now need a new wardrobe? Before you rush out to drop another Dh200 or so on a new frock, channel your frugal fashionista and take your clothes to a local tailor to get them mended or altered. Satwa is heaving with tailors all eager to take your orders and expertly whizz up almost any creation of your choice in a matter of days – as well as altering your current clothes, taking them in, up and out.
Two tailors that stand out are the legendary Deepa’s (04 3499733, deepastailoring. com) and Dream Girls (04 3495445). Bottom line: Taking up a hem or adding a lining will cost as little as Dh20. Save the extra Dh180 you might have spent on new togs once a month and you’re looking at an annual saving of Dh2,160.
5. Go out of town for products for the home
If you’re in the market for some furniture but don’t want to break the bank, head to the dusty warehouses of Lucky’s (06 5341937; luckyfurnitureuae. com) in Sharjah or Pinky’s (06 5341714; pinkyfurnitureuae.com) in Sharjah and Dubai. For rugs and earthenware pots you’ll be spoilt for choice at the Masafi Friday Market located on the Dubai-Fujairah Road as you approach Masafi.
Despite the name Souq al Juma, as it is locally known, is open seven days a week from 8am to 10pm. For plants head out to Dragon Mart or to the string of nearby garden centres in the Warsan area. Bottom line: You’ll pay a fraction of the price compared to buying in the city. The saving will more than justify the journey.
6. Get souq savvy
Avoid the malls and enjoy the authentic feel – and the considerably lower prices – of the souks. Enjoy haggling in the Gold, Spice, Fish or Textile souqs. Even if you don’t buy, the hustle and bustle, smells (not always pleasant!) and sounds make it worth the trip. Bottom line: Part with Dh75 in exchange for 25 grams of delicious Iranian saffron in the Spice Souq (Dh135 for 5 grams in Carrefour) and expect to pay as little as Dh25 for a kilo of hammour (Dh76 in Carrefour).
Otherwise known as Buy One Get One Free, vouchers are far from frowned upon here, even in the five-star joints – they’re practically expected. The Gulf News Good Living scheme offers the newspaper’s subscribers 2-for-1 deals plus countless discounts on everything from consumables to spa treatments to retail – expect anything from 25 per cent off both food and drink at restaurants to 20 per cent off at stores such as Kingsley Heath, Reebok and Hallmark.
Encompassing high-end and casual dining outlets in the Taste And Savour sections and stores and spas in Shop and Unwind, there are hundreds of participating partners ranging from ice-cream stalls to waterparks and everything in between. Meanwhile the stalwart Entertainer Family or Fine Dining voucher books can be bought from numerous outlets across the UAE and you’ll save the price of the book – around Dh350 – and tenfold in no time through 2-for-1 entertainment entry and main meals in restaurants across the country.
Bottom line: Buy one round of golf and get another round free at Al Ghazal Golf Club with a Good Living Unwind deal, while a family of two adults and two children visiting Atlantis’ Aquaventure using one Entertainer voucher for an adult admission, one for a child admission and one voucher for a towel and locker will pay Dh415 instead of Dh830.
8. Find treasure in someone else’s junk
Second-hand sales can throw up all manner of surprise gems – check your community notice boards for local garage sales or head for the Dubai Flea Market held once a month at both Al Safa Park and Uptown Mirdiff (dubai-fleamarket.com). In cooler climes, these events have a family-day-out feel. Also remember, you’ll get the best picks at the start of the day but the best deals at the end. Bottom line: Pick up DVDs or books, for example, for as little as Dh5.
9. Save the pennies with a party
It might sound strange, but hosting a thriftily minded party can save you shedloads of cash while being a lot of fun in the process. Do you ever get your nails done in the salon? Save the Dh150-odd you might burn on a mani/pedi and have a budget-beauty day where you and your friends take turns to play manicurist. All you need is a basic beauty kit and some polish and you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to do a good job. Or if you fancy a wardrobe makeover but don’t want to bust the bank, a clothing swap party means you’ll get rid of all your unwanted or unworn clothes and receive a load of new togs in the process.
If you don’t fancy playing host then Dubai-based company My Ex Wardrobe runs monthly pop-up style events that take place at various locations throughout Dubai and are social evenings supported by complimentary pampering (myexwardrobe.com). Bottom line: Give up your monthly salon trips and save a staggering Dh1,800 a year.
Use your store cards
Carrefour has introduced a loyalty card, MyClub. Scan your card at the checkout
after each shop and you’ll earn one point for every Dh10 spent. And watch out for products that have been earmarked each week as “Points Boosters”. It’s amazing how quickly you’ll gain the 500 points required to receive a Dh50 Carrefour voucher. And for shopaholics out there with a penchant for fashion, ease your conscience (and your bank balance) by joining the Shukran programme – every time you splash out at retailers such as New Look, Koton, Kurt Geiger or Centrepoint, you’ll accrue points that will see you rewarded with a money-off voucher.
Collect your airline miles
With the likes of Emirates’ Skywards programme or Eithad’s Guest scheme you’ll gain miles not only for flying with your favourite airline but also when you stay at certain hotels or spend with at car rental or retail partners. Don’t waste any opportunity to earn points. Even when your mum visits, you can bag her points too via Skywards’ Family Bonus programme.
Become a hotel member
Gain points with hotel loyalty cards and you’re sure to sleep tight. But it’s not just a bed for the night that you can swap your points for – many schemes, such as the one run by InterContinental Hotels, allow you to redeem your points for meals in restaurants, car rental or even air miles. Jumeirah’s Sirius programme offers benefits and discounts to its members within its hotels.
Gold cardholders are entitled to complimentary airport transfers, room upgrades, breakfast, late checkouts, plus 20 per cent discount in the spas. As a Sirius member, you earn one Sirius Point for every US$3 you spend whenever you stay, dine, relax or shop at any of the Jumeirah Hotels and Resorts worldwide.
If you like to eat out, the Méridien Francs Gourmet card offers up to 50 per cent off the table bill at Le Méridien restaurants including Yalumba and Warehouse. Members can effectively eat for free if dining with another guest. Meanwhile, Hyatt Hotels offers its diners Dh1 credit for every Dh10 spent in Hyatt’s restaurants, bars and spas. The card is transferrable, so your mates can earn points for you when you’re at home.
Check out which bank gives you the most money-saving incentives. Collect Star points with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi every time you use your credit card at hospitality, entertainment and retail partners such as Wild Wadi, Pan Emirates Home Furnishing or Liali Jewellery. You can convert your points into, for example, Skywards Miles, flydubai vouchers or gift vouchers. Emirates NBD has a similar scheme allowing you to collect Plus Points, while Mashreq Platinum Elite Credit Card holders can sign their name with a complimentary Mont Blanc pen.
*Source: 2012 Worldwide Cost of Living Survey produced by global HR Consultancy Mercer