Dareen Al Sarraj is a Palestinian-Jordanian, born in Egypt and raised in the UAE. “I’m very much rooted here, my family and friends are all here. I graduated from the American University of Sharjah and got married here. All my kids were born in Dubai,” says the 38-year old public relations professional.
Dareen’s three boys, Hamza, Saif and Ismail are 14, 10 and 5 years respectively.
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“It’s a full-time job to raise them, but I keep my thoughts positive and I try to enjoy every bit of my journey as a mother. After my youngest turned 3, I decided I wanted to do something for myself and for them and so I decided to work. And I found a job. It’s been a wonderful year now and I’m so happy and proud of myself for taking this step,” she confesses.
A working mum’s spending strategy
Becoming a working mum has made Dareen conscious of her spending. “I realise, now, how much effort it takes to make a living, something that I was not aware of earlier.”
She admits that saving didn’t come easily to her.
“When I got pregnant with my first baby, I wanted to buy everything that was necessary, as well as unnecessary. But I regret it badly because my baby grew so fast, and he barely used most of what I bought. I had a fancy crib for him and a bath, different types of sponges and milk bottles then I bought a bigger crib with all the accessories, and then a stroller, and it went on. But as he grew up, I realised what a waste it had all been. I didn’t use the bathtub because I used the sink instead, and many of these things remained as good as new.”
The joy of recycling
It was only when Dareen had her second baby that the truth and joy of recycling dawned on her. “My attitude towards saving changed. I knew I was having another boy. At that time, the prices of things were only going up and the situation was challenging for us. We couldn’t afford the same kind of spending. So I recycled a lot of things I had got for my first born and sold some in the second-hand markets to get the money and buy something else.”
I recycled a lot of things I had got for my first born and sold some in the second-hand markets to get the money and buy something else
A smart move
At this point, Dareen got a saving jar for herself.
“That was the smartest thing I did, and it’s actually a helpful tip for people. I would split whatever cash I had with me into half. I kept one half in the jar and the rest with me. This helped me whenever I went out as it controlled my spending habits. It stopped me from buying unnecessary things. I still do it with the cash flow. I hide half and spend the rest. It keeps me in check.”
After being a working mum for over a year, Dareen has created a savings account for herself. “I have set the option to get a specific amount deducted from my salary every month, and I never ever touch it and intend not to for as long as my circumstance will allow me to. And I also raise my kids believing that they should value what they have. I don’t allow clutter in the house.”
Three school-going kids, books and school uniforms take a big portion of the household income.
Annual uniform cost per child
“I try and make an annual purchase of school uniforms, and each boy has a set of shirt and pants and a jacket and a sports kit as well. That’s Dh600 gone for each of them. But mid-year, they would lose a jacket or their sports kit would be worn off - I need to buy an additional one, so that’s another Dh250 more.”
Limit the number of uniforms being bought
I usually limit the uniforms to one set for each of them because they are in the same school, and I try and recycle the uniforms.
“I keep the pants and shoes after my eldest one uses them, and then the other two can use hand-me-downs. The mums in the school created a second-hand group so that helps me a lot as well. We can buy uniforms from each other at half the price, especially pants and shorts because most of the time they are still in good shape by the time the year ends! That way I save up to 50 per cent on a uniform.
The mums in the school created a second-hand group. We can buy uniforms from each other at half the price
“As for the books, it’s very unfortunate that most schools nowadays force you to buy new books to complete your registration, so we can’t really save on that, but we use old ones from other mums or even recycle at home to practice. Especially math and science and English comprehension.”
In her home, all books are covered nicely to keep them from getting torn. “I also teach the boys not to scribble on books and to keep them neat for the next person to use them.”
Cash gifts used for stationery
Stationery is also kept in mind and Dareen makes use of the cash her children receives on special occasions to help her buy it.
“On Eid or on birthdays, my boys receive some cash from family and grandparents. We save that to help them buy stationery. I want them to be responsible for these things, so if they like a special pencil case or a specific lunch box at the mall, they can use their gift money to buy that.”
Dareen encourages mums to speak to each other and support each other to encourage more and more recycling circles in the city.
“We are all in the same position and although there are many mums I have never met, we still end up sharing our stuff with each other. We share uniforms, books and stories, and a part of my life – something that my kid used – can be of help to someone else. Also as kids grow out of things, like clothes and shoes, selling it at the second-hand markets or having a garage sale is a great idea. You can use the cash to buy what is necessary,” she advises.