It’s been a while since I left my home country for greener pasture. However, living and working abroad seems to be more difficult than you can imagine. I came alone in Dubai six months ago but I was thankful that I have some friends and few relatives whom I can share time to beat my loneliness.
Not only I miss the things, places, and people I love at my home country but also I have to be aware of the monetary cost I spend in the country where I currently live and work. Please be informed that you may think that I maybe earning much right now (though I am under the average salary category only) but let me give you also an idea that I also spend more. Cost of living here is very high. Almost all things you need here have a price. As if the city is designed to take money from you if you don’t learn and maintain good discipline.
To compensate for the cost of living here, I have set my own rule or come up with some tips on how to save money while working abroad. Giving a thought to this can make significant savings on a daily basis which when accumulated can serve a large lump sum amount of money. However, please be informed that some of this may not be applicable to you.
Here are some of my personal finance tips to think about saving money when working abroad:
Food and drinks
Cost for food in Dubai may not be that much expensive unless you pleasure yourself in eating in a fine dining place. It is always suggested to look into the fast food, smaller shops and vendors lined up on the streets. The food is excellent and prices are reasonable even in those places.
Alternatively, you can always look around for restaurants that offer special deals. You can find promo buffets here for as low as AED40 (USD10.8 or PHP460). However, it is better if you have time to prepare your own food because you can save a lot from your groceries. As of this writing, 1 United Arab Emirates Dirham (AED) is equivalent to around 0.27 US Dollar or 11.5 Philippine Peso.
As to grocery items, it is preferred to buy them from hypermarkets, not from small stores. Hypermarkets such as ‘’Carrefour or Lulu” are much cheaper and offer better deals.
The same with drinks – avoid daily trip to Starbucks or any well-known beverage store for a cup of coffee, shake, tea or beer. Imagine the cost, at least AED10 or AED20 for a daily cup, which adds up to over AED100 in just one week. Don’t be afraid to drink tap water. Occasionally, you also have to drink tap water. There’s no harm in getting your water from the faucet unless you’re explicitly told not to drink from it. Remember, it is still much cheaper and environmental than buying bottled water.
And if you’re living with somebody in your place, sharing of food or food contribution among peers make one of the best ways to save money out of it.
Clothes and other shopping items
They say Dubai is a shopping capital of the Middle East. It is famous for its shopping festival, in which participating Malls all over Dubai offer sales and promotions every now and then. But do not be deceived; keep in mind that your priority is to save money not to spend more money.
Think first! Before you go ahead to the checkout with any purchase, ask yourself if ‘Do I need this?’ If you can’t say yes, then you’re best move is to place the item back on the rack. It may be good to buy things on sale or on promo but it is wiser to keep in mind to not just buy it because it was on sale. It may be cheap to buy it on sale but if you will not wear or use it (unless you bought it for display purposes) most of the time what’s the use?
However, if I really need to buy something such as clothes and other products, I keep it in my mind to do these 3 things:
• Make a shopping list to minimize impulse buying
• Avoid bringing credit card to control your purchase. I do believe cash purchase is always better than credit.
• Go buy the basics. As much as possible, buy products that do not need a designer label or minimize purchase from exclusive brands.
And for those who want to experience real bargaining the traditional way, you may want to visit the souk (Arabic Market) areas. Bargaining for the best deals, especially in souks, do require a mind-game. Common practice is to look as if you are not that interested on the item you want to buy. Gaze as if it doesn’t concern you much. Ask for the best offer, once given, withdraw as if you are leaving; this act will possibly push the vendor to give you better terms as now he or she is the one bargaining that you buy his or her item. Do not be shy to negotiate and do not be shy to smile because it is part of the whole ordeal on a Dubai shopping spree.
Rent and accommodation
I do believe that the top killer of your budget in Dubai is the rent and accommodation. Depending on location, it can go from AED 3,000 a month (these are studio-type flats options you would usually find in Deira or Bur Dubai) to AED8,000 a month (these are the high-end living options available at places like the Dubai Marina or Jumeirah).
And to inform you, such mentioned costs are almost the average monthly gross salary of an ordinary employee here in Dubai. Even myself, I cannot afford to pay alone that price without compromising other things.
Alternatively, the usual practice here in Dubai is to look for a place where you will share space and split the cost with others. Since the cost of rent in Dubai is exceptionally high, from 4 to 8 people share a room. The average cost for bed-space rent is around AED 400 – 800. It depends on how crowded the place is. The more crowded the lesser cost. But the catch for this kind of situation is that you have less privacy and you have to avoid unnecessary conflict with the other occupants.
As usual, the greatest way to reduce the cost of transportation is using your legs! Do not be too tired to walk! That will not only help you save money but also help you in keeping your body healthy and fit. If not always, in most of the cases you can save money by walking the short distances. Agree?
However, here in Dubai due to the extreme hot condition, it is often unbearable to walk. One of the options here is to have your own car. That is the cheapest, fastest and the easiest mode of transport because of low-cost gasoline. But if you cannot afford to buy one (like in my case), using public transportation will always save the day. Where ever available, use of public transports like bus and metro train, except taxi, helps you avoid bigger transportation cost. Taxis here in Dubai are still costly. It can range from AED10 to AED200 for short to long distance trip within Dubai. As for bus and metro train, it can only cost you to more or less AED20 in a day. There are also car lifts (people who have their own personal cars usually carry other passengers to and from work) which costs may vary depending on the agreement between the driver and the passenger.
But if you have colleagues or a close friend who live near you and can drive you to work, have a word with them and share the petrol expenses. You are not only helping yourself, but you are also helping your colleague save as well.
The cost of communication in Dubai is moderately expensive. Within the Emirates, calls are either free and calls outside of the Emirates have low fees. Monthly telephone calls, including a mobile or a landline, could range anywhere from AED50 to AED1,000 within UAE, depending on usage. However, such costs are still material to me.
In order to save money, I always prefer to call through landline to communicate others if within Emirates or even outside country if work related. Whether I am in the office or in fieldwork, I always look for an available landline to use.
Also, I am often calling my relatives at my home country through my personal phone and such call can drain my pocket. A 30 minute call once a week could cost you up to AED100 a month or even more. As of to date, I minimize my call to save money. I call them only when necessary.
Alternative, if you have laptop, try maximizing its use. Please be informed that Dubai is a city covered by internet. Whenever available, use a free internet to get connected. One way to save money is to use free online communication applications such as Skype, Yahoo Instant Messenger, G-talk, Viber, Facebook, Chikka, and other similar applications. This will help you significantly cut your monthly communication expenses.
Remember, the lifestyle in Dubai can be great but at the same time can cost you awfully. Therefore, it’s wise to consider on how you will spend your money and discipline plays an important role in saving money.
And a friendly reminder to everyone, spend for what you need… not for what you want.
So how about you? Are you also working overseas or one of the many Filipino Overseas Workers (OFWs)? What other money saving tips can you share with us?