John came to Dubai in 2015 in search of a job, at the age of 26. He was hired as an accountant in a shipping and logistics firm based in Dubai, at a starting salary of Dh3,000 per month.
As a bachelor in Dubai
“I used to share a room in Karama with three others for Dh1,150 a month, including electricity and internet connectivity,” the 30-year old recalled. It was close to his office and John saved on transportation costs by walking to work every day.
At the time, John said, he would save and send Dh1,000 to India every other month to his NRI (Non-Resident Indian) bank account, a portion of which covered monthly payments towards his car loan in Kerala. The rest of his salary he spent on food and other expenses.
“I didn’t cook at the time except maybe small snacks in our shared kitchen.” John said. He signed up for a monthly meal plan in a restaurant for Dh350 a month. He would spend extra for sides or eat something else occasionally if he got bored of the food.
Each time he returned to India for annual leave, John used the savings in his NRI account for expenses.
Post-marriage, living as a couple in Dubai
After three years, in 2018, his salary was raised to Dh5,000. That same year, John got married, using the remaining savings towards wedding expenses. He also took a loan from his office to help with the costs of the wedding and to settle down with his wife in Dubai.
John’s wife, a 28-year-old expat, is a licensed pharmacist and gets a monthly salary of Dh5,000, bringing the combined income of the household to Dh10,000. The young couple is expecting a baby boy soon.
Here’s what their monthly expenditure looks like now
The couple live in a studio apartment in Al Qusais and pay Dh30,000 a year for the space – not including utilities. The monthly rent is Dh2,500. As one-time cost, they had to buy an air conditioner unit along with required furniture, which John purchased using the loan and his credit card.
Monthly rent for their apartment in Dubai
The monthly bill for internet, TV, water and electricity comes up to Dh900. The gas connection is not centralised, so they buy gas cylinders as and when required and each one costs around Dh140 lasting for around three to four months.
Food and groceries
The couple cook at home every day and occasionally order in or go out to eat, up to twice or thrice a month. “We spend around Dh900 for our groceries each month,” John added.
The couple claim they try to be as economical as possible without being frugal. John keeps aside around Dh300 for miscellaneous expenses.
Loan, credit card
The Equal Monthly Installment (EMI) for the loan John got from his office for the wedding is Dh500 and the advantage here is that it is completely interest-free. He also sets up EMI payment for major purchases such as gold or appliances. The total amount the couple pays, on average, towards this loan and other credit card purchases is Dh1,150 each month.
Since his office is no longer within walking distance, John uses the Metro to get to work. He pays Dh550 for a three-month card that allows unlimited trips within selected zones – this amounts to Dh183 a month. Without this card, John would have to pay Dh5 each way, so around Dh250 a month plus any additional trips – the card saves at least Dh67 each month.
Cost of a 3-month Metro card in Dubai
“My wife gets transportation as part of her work contract. In total, we usually spend around Dh200 to get around,” John said. This Dh200 includes metro fare for his wife when they go out together.
“I always try and get offers wherever possible, like on movie tickets,” John explained. For instance, he said, the couple always gets movie tickets using his credit card which has a buy one, get one free offer. This saves him around Dh40 every time.
The couple spends around Dh100-Dh150 on dining out. John also pays Dh100 for his gym membership each month.
“I save around Dh2,500 a month,” John said. He also sends his mom around Dh1,300 to cover any expenses in India where she lives with his younger brother. John’s mother is a retired school principal and gets pension while his brother is studying.
“I put the Dh2,500 in a savings account in my UAE bank, separate from my salary account which is a current account,” he said.
John’s financial goal, with the monthly saving of Dh2,500, is to have around Dh20,000 saved up in time for the baby’s arrival, which is six months and Dh15,000 away. This amount would cover any post-delivery expenses not covered by insurance, baby costs and costs to arrange the child’s baptism ceremony in India.
Estimated savings before a baby is born
“We will travel to India after the baby is born, and I expect there will be a lot of expenses during the time, so that is specifically what I am saving for,” John added. The couple’s annual tickets are covered by their respective firms.
“I want to get a [driver’s] licence, but that has been a goal since the time I got here,” John laughed. The licence costs come up to Dh6,000 and can increase if the applicant doesn’t clear his/her test in the first go.
“I also plan on moving to a bigger apartment in April, so I expect my rent to go up by around Dh500 a month,” he added in March when we first spoke to him. However, post COVID-19 restrictions, this plan fell through so the couple have continued the rental contract in their studio apartment.
I want to get a [driver’s] licence, but that has been a goal since the time I got here
John has completely paid off his car loan back home, and has managed to plan and execute savings for various purposes. “It is all about budgeting and doing your research, you can live very carelessly or very carefully, it’s on you,” the 30-year-old added. Talking about budgeting after the baby is born, John said, “I have not planned that far ahead.”
The total monthly expenditure of the couple is Dh7,500, as per John’s account.