Budget life in the UAE: Small changes for big savings

Budgeting your seemingly insignificant expenses in daily life can help increases savings

Meriem Zahouani, Special to Guides
08:00 December 6, 2017

When you think of the UAE, what do you picture? Endless sun, sandy beaches and life-changing experiences? Sometimes, the UAE is synonymous with luxury and extravagance, but for many, trying to keep up with this lifestyle leads to overspending, which could lead to long-term debt.

Putting money away each month is important. Not only is your saving your nest egg for the future, it is your insurance, should you lose your job, for example.  Saving is not easy but it is not as hard as you think- little changes can go a long way. Here are some great tips to help you save, starting today.

Homemade lunches

We all know how easy it can be to grab lunch on the go when you’ve got a deadline coming and the takeout menu is calling your name. But the costs can add up quickly - if you spend between Dh15-40 on lunch per day, you’ve just spent between Dh75-200 each workweek - that’s Dh300-800 each month.

Channel your inner Salt Bae and try your hand at meal-prepping. Even if you’re not quite ready for your own cooking show yet, it can be a relaxing routine that saves you money as well.

Water Coolers

The UAE heat is no joke, and everyone knows the importance of staying hydrated. Keep your doctor happy and avoid unnecessary spending by getting a water cooler. Each 5-gallon bottle is the equivalent of 38 500ml bottles. Each 5-gallon bottle for the cooler costs around Dh10, whereas individual 500ml bottles cost around Dh1.

That’s Dh10 vs. Dh38, more than triple the price for the same quantity of water. You would also consume less plastic with the 5-gallon bottle, and these get returned to the vendor in many cases - this one’s a tip that’s friendly for your wallet and the environment.


This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s tempting to hop into a cab to get from point A to point B. However, a cab ride from Mall of the Emirates to Dubai Mall is Dh28-45 depending on traffic, whereas taking the metro costs Dh3. And when the weather’s nice, why not go for a walk or a bike ride instead? Bonus points for the health benefits!

Write a List – and stick to it

When hunger strikes, it’s hard to avoid overspending on what looks good at the time. The next time you go grocery-shopping, write out a grocery list with what you need. If possible, plan out recipes beforehand so you know exactly what ingredients you’ll need- and stick to it!  Do you really need that item that’s going to the back of the fridge until you forget about it?

Treat yourself – on a budget

Sometimes, there’s no better way to unwind than a well-deserved spa day. However, you might feel less relaxed after seeing how much that costs you. The average facial can range from Dh180 to Dh2,000. For a fun alternative, why not invite some of your best friends, put on a great movie and make homemade masks with ingredients from your kitchen?

Coupons and Vouchers

We all want to make the most of everything Dubai has to offer, but believe me, you don’t have to sacrifice your salary. Check out event guides and magazines for their special offers. If you were planning to go out anyway, you may be able to find a discount or a buy 1-get-1 free deal; never pay full price if you don’t have to.


If you drive to work, you know commuting isn’t always the most fun thing in the world, thanks to traffic and petrol costs. Over a month, a 30-minute car ride to and from work would cost at least Dh200 in petrol. If you live near a co-worker, take turns carpooling so you pay Dh100 instead. Less cars on the road equals less traffic, and less pollution. You can even enjoy some carpool karaoke while saving your wallet and the environment.

Saving can be a challenge, but it is definitely possible if you're consistent and dedicated.

Meriem Zahouani is a Senior Financial Advisor at National Bonds and contributed these tips as part of their nationwide campaign to promote savings among UAE residents.