Picture used for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Arshad Ali / Gulf News

Dubai: House rent and child’s education are the top monthly expenditure heads for Dubai-based Russian expatriate resident Milana Babikova, accounting for Dh12,000 in total. In a pandemic-hit realty market, Babikova managed to negotiate an attractive deal for a two-bedroom apartment in Dubai Marina at similar rent that she was paying for a single bedroom apartment in The Greens. What’s more, the landlord agreed to accept monthly rent cheques as opposed to a lump sum payment.

“While I managed to negotiate the house rent and save a monthly sum of Dh200-300 on Salik too, a conscious decision to shift my daughter from a British curriculum to an international school added Dh3,000 to my monthly expense. This will enhance her prospects of higher education in a country of her choice instead of being restricted to the UK,” Babikova explained.

“Being conscious about financial planning, my daughter has already started looking for details on grants, scholarships and even loans to fund her higher education.”

Food, including grocery shopping, ordering in and dining out, adds Dh4,000-Dh5,000 to Babikova’s monthly outlay. She prefers doing grocery shopping online on platforms such as Kibsons, due to the variety and high-quality products while preventing impulse buying. But she prefers to buy meat and fish from the supermarket. “While we mostly cook at home during the week, we prefer to dine out or order in over the weekend, often availing deals on Deliveroo and Zomato. If in a certain month we exceed the allocated dine out expenditure, we balance it out the next month.”

Following the three big monthly expenditures are utilities (Dh1,500) and fuel (Dh480), accounting for roughly Dh2,000. Pet care is yet another non-negotiable expense in the Babikova household, accounting for Dh9,000 annually. “We spend Dh600 per month on dog food and roughly Dh200 every other month on treats and accessories. The annual vaccinations cost another Dh600.”

It is easier for new expats to manage their budgets in the UAE compared to moving to a city that has fluctuating currency levels. Image Credit: Stock image

Account for self-care expenses

Aside from the non-negotiable expenses, Babikova allocates a decent amount for self-care. A fitness enthusiast, she used to spend Dh4,500 annually on a gym membership. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has stopped going to the gym but recently opted for tennis lessons spending Dh1,000 per month. “Compared to my gym membership, the tennis lessons are more expensive. Since I am learning the game now, I have to practice with a personal coach. After the initial phase, the monthly expense will reduce drastically as I will only have to pay to book the tennis court.”

“In addition, we allocate a sum of Dh1,500 for our monthly grooming. Given that I have teenager, she needs certain treatments from time to time, while I like to go for massages and a monthly nail care session,” she added.

The mother-daughter duo also likes to spend on retail therapy, shopping for clothes, accessories and make-up. “We try to stay within the monthly budget of Dh500-Dh1,000. However, on special occasions like birthdays and graduation, it could even touch Dh1,500. Plus, my daughter likes to read, spending at least Dh250 per month on buying books,” Babikova said, while admitting that her daughter is cautious about spending and likes to save small amounts whenever possible since she does not get pocket money.

Annual outlay post pandemic
Rent: 2-bedroom apartment in Dubai Marina, and
Child's education: School fees + miscellaneous expenses: Dh144,000

Food: Dh60,000
Utilities: Dh18,000
Petcare: Dh9,000
Fuel: Dh6,000
Personal care & grooming: Dh18,000
Shopping for clothes, accessories, make-up and books: Dh15,000
3-month interior design course: Dh15,000
Savings: Dh24,000

Plan for ad hoc expenses

A post-graduate degree holder in law, Babikova has a keen eye for interior designing. Alongside her full-time job, last year she pursued an online course on interior design for two semesters. As the pandemic hit, she decided to take a break amid the uncertainties.

“Overall, the online modules were enriching, interesting and cheaper too, but I wanted to do an in-person course since interior design is application oriented and I will get access to modules and tools for future reference. Moreover, an in-person course also helps in networking with like-minded professionals. Finally, this year I managed to select a three-month interior design course with weekend classes. This will cost me Dh15,000 in total and I am saving towards it. Usually, my annual bonus goes towards such expenses,” Babikova said.

Pandemic induced savings

Pre-pandemic, Babikova used to spend a decent amount on travelling at least twice a year, which is now reduced by at least 50 per cent due to COVID-19 related travel restrictions. “In 2020, I did not travel at all, but my daughter went on a winter vacation. However, since she went back home, aside from the round-trip flight tickets, there was not much else to spend on,” Babikova said.

Overall, Babikova admits to not being one of those who consciously saves, despite her responsibilities as a single mother. Yet, last year she managed to save approximately Dh24,000. The amount varies from one year to another; some years it goes up to Dh25,000, while other years it might hover around Dh20,000.