20 Tips to Save Money in Dubai (and Still Live Well)

The best tips for how to save money in Dubai, including staying organized with budgeting tools, learning how to invest, and exploring the second-hand market.

Life in the “City of Gold” can feel glamorous and exciting, but Dubai residents—locals and expats alike—know well the high costs that come with living in this glitzy metropolis. Though not yet as expensive as Singapore, New York, or Tokyo, Dubai’s got a reputation for being a tad bit pricey, and these days, rising costs are impacting our financial futures.Many UAE residents, specifically hard-working young professionals and families, are pondering the same life dilemma—how to save money in Dubai (or, indeed, Abu Dhabi) without sacrificing their quality of life.With inflation driving the rising cost of living, expats are especially worried about being able to continue to pay Dubai’s costly price tags for rent, food, and schooling, among others.

Source: Dubai Downtown skyline from the Index Tower rooftopWhen it comes to taking control of your finances, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by expenses and not have a clear view of your financial goals and future.Becoming financially savvy is a learning process that requires changing how you think about money and your relationship with it.It’s doable, and we’re here to help.At MALY, we’ve compiled a list of smart, doable money-saving tips that experts and everyday folks have shared on how to save money from your monthly salary, how to save on rent and food, how to deposit money in micro savings, how to live cheaply in Dubai, and how to make your well and truly earned money work for you and your family’s futures.

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Give each bank account a purpose

Source: Bank accountStart by taking a look at your bank accounts.How many do you have, and do each of them have a purpose? Or perhaps you’re a one-account individual and like to keep everything in one place.Let’s talk about why it’s important to split savings and expenses and how this contributes to building better money habits.

Tip #01

Use a bank account for expenses and another for savings

Instead of having one bank account for all your financial needs (or too many accounts, which can be hard to keep track of and costly to maintain because of maintaining balance fees), experts strongly suggest that you create separate bank accounts—possibly even with different banks—for savings and for living expenses.“Create a minimum of two separate bank accounts—one for the bills, rent, payments, etc., and the other—if you can—for savings,” said financial wellness app MALY co-founder Mo Ibrahim.When it comes to how to save money from your salary, Mo says: “Set a portion, no matter how small, of your monthly salary aside and keep the amount in a savings account in a different bank than your main ones.”This will allow you to stay organized (that’s always a win!) so you can keep tabs on how much you and/or your family is spending and how much you’re saving.Keeping the two separate also means that you physically have to put money into each account after payday, which is a great habit to develop, and you won’t ever “accidentally” spend your hard-earned savings money on random purchases!This will help build discipline, too, as you will have to limit yourself to spending only what’s in the expenses account.

Tip #02

Couples should have a personal account, plus two joint accounts for mutual savings and bills

For couples, Husni advises that each person should have their own personal account, and then couples can share two joint accounts—one for savings and one for bills and expenses. This keeps things tidy and ensures that couples know exactly how much they are saving and spending.How couples subdivide bills and savings is up to their own discretion and depends on how much each takes home. For some couples, one may be working and the other may be taking care of the kids.Regardless, when it comes to how to save money in Dubai (or in any other place, for that matter), it is important that couples communicate honestly with each other about their finances.An Investopedia article on money issues that couples face notes, “If you’re committed to a relationship, you and your partner owe each other a calm, honest conversation about each other’s finances, habits, goals, and anxieties.”For couples who find this a challenge, the article suggests that they “seek out the help of a financial advisor or planner for unbiased advice,” adding that “when working together, couples can achieve more than singles can.”

Don't skip the planning stage

As much as most of us don’t want to admit it, financial planning is a daunting and somewhat stressful concept.But it doesn’t have to be.Instead of letting your finances take control over your life (and then wonder why you have nothing left), you should learn how to take control over your finances.Investopedia says that “proper financial and retirement planning starts with goal setting.” This includes short-, intermediate-, and long-term goals.Here are some examples of what these goals could look like: “Key short-term goals include setting a budget, reducing debt, and starting an emergency fund. Medium-term goals should include key insurance policies, while long-term goals need to be focused on retirement.”Let’s start with the basics.

Tip #03

Start with a savings plans

Life in Dubai can be incredible and exciting, but there’s no denying that costs are getting difficult to handle.So one of the best ways to save money in Dubai? Simple: Start a savings plan.Hoping to make a big, important purchase, such as a new vehicle? Or are you perhaps saving up for a much-needed family vacation? Start a savings plan for it.The most important thing is to make a savings plan and stick to it. Your money should be able to help you and your family get the things you need and fulfill your wants, too.For MALY’s co-founder Mo, his savings plan is geared toward his pension. “Personally, I’ve been saving $300 to $500 a month thanks to the pension plan I set with Generali [insurance and asset management firm]. They deduct the money automatically, and a few years later I already have $50K in savings.”“You can use a standing order to automate the process,” Mohamad added.The same goes for micro savings, which is a great savings system for people who don’t have a lot of spare cash but want to start the habit of saving.You might be wondering how to deposit money in micro savings—these days, there are apps like MALY with functions specifically geared toward making small, frequent deposits.

how to save money in dubai

One example of how apps deposit money in micro savings is the "roundup,” which Investopedia defines as “an automatic deposit of the change from purchases made through the app, rounded to the nearest dollar amount,” as well as “bonus cash for purchases from participating partners.”Every little dirham counts toward your family’s future!

Tip #04

Build an emergency fund

Besides setting money aside for savings, it’s crucial to start and maintain an emergency fund, which financial experts strongly recommend to be the equivalent of three to six months’ worth of basic living expenses—think the most important needs like housing, food, healthcare, and transportation.This fund should remain separate from savings, expenses, and wants, and is there to cushion you and your family should you find yourself in a financial bind or a time of great need, such as a medical emergency or in case of job loss.You don’t need to stick to the three to six month rule of thumb—you might want to expand your emergency fund in preparation for a recession, if you work in an industry with a high turnover rate, or if you don’t have a steady income. On the flip side, if you don’t have enough for three to six months, you can start small and make frequent payments into your emergency fund in order to grow it.Another great thing about the emergency fund is that it will help everyone (not just the kids!) sleep soundly at night. And let’s face it—you know you could use (and absolutely deserve) a good night’s rest!

Stay organized with your finances

Source: Budgets Glass LevelsHome organization has been all the rage in the last few years, with many of us jumping in on the decluttering and design revolution. We’ve done our closets, our kitchen pantries, our kids’ rooms, and even the dreaded catch-all junk drawers.One area that often gets overlooked—and that could greatly benefit from organization—is our finances.By the way, because the brain views tidying up as a reward, organizing your finances has the same dopamine-fueled side effects that decluttering your home gives you—a sense of accomplishment, relief, and reward.

Tip #05

Design a monthly budget and be faithful to it

If a savings plan is the bigger picture, the budget is the more detailed plan of how to execute it—and an immediate view of how to live cheaply in Dubai, how to manage monthly expenses, and ultimately, how to save money in Dubai so you can invest in your future.Creating a budget can be a daunting and scary task, especially in Dubai, where “consumerism and peer pressure” make it hard for people to save money, says Mo, who has lived in Dubai for 10 years.Mo also cited “the ongoing temptation of the city” as a top barrier to saving.The best place to start is to ask yourself 1) how much you need for expenses, 2) how much you want to save, and 3) how much you want to pay yourself for personal expenses that are not bills (think gym memberships, entertainment, travel, going out for brunch, going to the cinemas, shopping mall trips, treats for the kids, etc.).There are many money budgeting systems that people swear by, such as the trending 50/30/20 rule in which 50% of your salary goes toward expenses, 30% toward personal/discretionary costs, and 20% to savings/investments—but it’s ultimately up to you how you choose to allocation your salary.

Source: Financial Juneteenth with Dr. Boyce WatkinsWhat’s vital is that you remain faithful to the budget that you have made for you and your family.You can create a simple spreadsheet that lists your recurring monthly expenses, bills, and savings, or you can download one of the many budgeting apps out there (many of them are free to download and use!). Some are specifically geared toward couples and some are made for families. Explore your options, find one with an interface you like, and get to budgeting and tracking your finances.

Tip #06

Get into the habit of tracking your finances

Is tracking your finances the same as budgeting?No, but they’re related. Financial tracking is budgeting’s lesser-known sibling. If budgeting is allocating specific amounts of money toward particular purposes, tracking your finances is finding out how much you actually spent on each category.

Source: Sofia's TrovesFirstly, make sure you have all the latest versions of your banking apps downloaded on your phone so you can keep track of expenses that come out of your accounts and keep tabs on your balances.Secondly, decide if you want to go old-school with a pen and notebook, get detailed with Google sheets or Excel, or let technology make your life easier (this is the busy adult’s go-to choice!) with a load of easy-to-navigate financial tracking apps to choose from.Two things are important: keep track of what’s going into your finances and what’s going out.This data will help you see what your relationship with your money is like—what you actually spend on, whether or not you stay within budget, how much you do go over or under budget, and what you can either cut out of or add to your life to make your finances work for you and your family.

Ask about lowering rent or mortgage rates

Source: Budgets Glass LevelsWith global inflation on the rise, rental rates in Dubai have jumped more than 25% in 2023, with the highest average annual apartment rents found in Palm Jumeirah, Dubai.No one likes rising rent or mortgage rates—they spell more expenses and more stress. In the UAE, inflation drove mortgage rates to 5% at the end of December 2022.Most of us accept these higher rates with a sigh—and maybe a sob!—because it all adds to our monthly expense burden.But is there anything we can actually do about it?It turns out that there is. Part of changing one’s perspective on money is not being afraid of it, but understanding it and being confident to negotiate with it.

Tip #07

Renegotiate your rent and/or mortgage rates

There’s an old British idiomatic expression used primarily in the North of England—“Shy bairns get nowt,” which simply means that shy children who don’t ask for what they want won’t ever get it.Have you ever tried renegotiating your rent or asking for lower mortgage rates? If not, now might be a good time to start.When it comes to how to save money in Dubai, cutting down on rent and high-interest rates on mortgage payments can result in some pretty significant savings for you and your family.When deciding how much is too much, a good rule to live by is that you don’t want more than 30% of your income in housing.If you’re renting, have a conversation with your landlord—ask if you can renegotiate your monthly rent. If you really like where you live and have plans to stay, you might think about offering to sign a contract for a longer period of time in exchange for lower monthly rent. If the conversation doesn’t go as planned and you really cannot afford to continue paying your current rent, you might want to check out some more affordable neighborhoods so that you can live in a way that permits you to save in Dubai.For those on the mortgage track, one of the best tips on how to save money in Dubai is to speak to your bank about the possibility of lowering high mortgage rates. Many banks will work with you to find a way, especially if you’ve got a decent payment track record—you simply need to ask.

Save money while feeding your family well

Source: pxfuelKeeping yourself and your family fed is no easy feat in Dubai, where prices of goods and services have been going up alongside global inflation.You might find yourself in the position many of us have been, or are currently, in—going over budget when grocery shopping. While taking a look at what you’re spending and cutting out anything unnecessary is key, you don’t want to have to sacrifice or cut down too much, not when it comes to keeping the family sustained and healthy.How can you save money in Dubai on food expenses? We have a few suggestions below.

Tip #08

Buy in bulk and find out the sales schedules

A great money-saving tip when it comes to food is to buy certain grocery items in bulk.Don’t get tempted to buy everything in bulk, though—make a note of your high-use items, like toilet paper or pasta, and get those in bulk, which often results in slashed prices per unit.However, if your family doesn’t eat too much ketchup, for example, you don’t need to buy a whole box of it just because it’s at a great price. Check out these supermarkets in Dubai where you can buy in bulk and get good value for your money.Another awesome tip to save money on groceries is to do some detective work—find out when different grocery stores, such as popular chain Carrefour, go on sale within the month and which items normally go on sale, and plan your grocery shopping schedule accordingly. It might take a little more time and planning, but the savings are worth it!

Tip #09

Get into meal preparation and eliminate food waste

Coming up with an exciting (and affordable) menu for the family’s weekly meals can be a stressful task.While it’s been around for ages, meal preparation is a popular trend on social media these days—who doesn’t love satisfying videos of people making huge batches of delicious food (always in immaculate kitchens!) and then apportioning them into beautiful, matching containers for everyday of the week.

Source: Meal prep glass containerWhy not start Meal Prep Sundays and invite the whole family to take part in it? If your family likes cooking together, it could be a fun bonding time, and the kids will learn how to cook, too (and can weigh in on the family’s weekly menu).As opposed to cooking per meal, cooking a large batch of food allows you to make the most of your ingredients and supplies and can help you get an idea of how long each grocery shop lasts. Plus, it eliminates food waste and cooking time during the week, which means that you have more time to spend relaxing with your family.

Tip #10

Put a limit on eating out and make restaurant days special

While Dubai is a food lover’s destination chock full of incredible restaurants, bars, grills, and eateries, dining out can become quite expensive, and the occasional Starbucks or donut can add up (and mess up your budget).A good tip on how to save money in Dubai is to limit eating out (and ordering in!) and reserve it for “special” treat days for your and/or the family.Make it a part of your budget—you could allot money for one meal a week or a few per month (it depends on your budget). This way, eating out becomes a treat for the family and not something everyone expects all the time.

Get smart about your credit card usage

Source: Pexel - Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiyaCredit cards are great tools that can help if used correctly, but they can also be the worst debt traps around.The good news is that there is a way to not fall into the credit card trap. We have some key tips for you below.

Tip #11

Be deliberate with credit card usage

Swiping or tapping a card is way easier than counting out cash, but it’s also incredibly dangerous and addictive.If you’re using your credit card to purchase previously allocated-for expenses (stick to your budget!), make sure to keep track of how much you’re spending, and pay your balance in full before your due date, or else you’ll get hit with high interest rates, which is just the beginning of the trap.One of Mohamad’s mainstay money-saving tips is to “avoid piling up debt using credit cards [because] the predatory interest rate effectively eats up your disposable income and keeps you from saving.”He shared that he’s been a “victim of ‘over credit’ due to lucrative offers,” adding regretfully that he “ended up paying for interest—huge sums that could’ve been spent otherwise.”If you’re planning to make a large purchase, such as an appliance for the family, find out if your credit card company offers monthly installments on the item with 0% interest.

Tip #12

Work on reducing your debt profile

Here are a few important tips that will help you reduce your debt profile: 1) decide how many credit cards you need and close the rest, so that you don’t rack up fees; 2) read and understand the fine print of the credit cards you decide to keep so that you know about all associated fees; 3) don’t use the credit card unless you’ve planned and budgeted for the purchase first; and 4) work toward paying off your debts.If you already have some credit card debt, you can work on trimming it down systematically.Some people work on reducing debt by starting with the biggest amounts due and working their way down, some do the opposite and start with smaller debts, and others take care of older debts first (those dreaded late fees!) and work their way chronologically to more recent debts.This is called the “debt snowball” method.

Source: Kimberly Burgin

Start investing in your future

Source: Pexel - Photo by Anna NekrashevichYou’re working hard for your money, so it’s only fair that your money works hard for you, too.While setting money aside in savings is one way to financial health, investing—putting money into stocks, bonds, or projects that can generate profit over a longer period of time— is can bring higher returns.UAE banks with the best savings accounts have rates ranging from 0.15% to 2.75%, while the stock market index S&P 500 returns about 10% annually.Investing had to be done through stock brokers in the past; today there are a range of tech tools that people can use to help grow their finances through investing, from user-friendly apps to more professional platforms.

Source: Wealthsimple Investing AppThe best part? It’s never too late to start.

Tip #13

Start investing and make sure you diversify your assets

As you invest your money, it’s important to remember to diversify your assets, which is the investment way of saying “don’t put your eggs in one basket.”Investing in different stocks, bonds, and industries is a good way to protect against the volatility of the stock market. If one of your investments crashes, you still have your other baskets.You could look into Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs), which are already diversified—they can contain a mix of many different stocks, commodities, or bonds—and are considered less risky than investing in individual stocks.And you don’t need to worry about having a lot of money to begin with—you can start investing a small amount on a regular basis and eventually increase it once you have more available. The practice of investing could give you and your family the security you need for your future.

Daily smart saving tips

Source: United Arab Emirates 10 dirham banknoteDon’t you just love handy tips and tricks, especially the ones that actually work and make your life better?We’ve compiled a few effective tips (approved and recommended by fellow Dubai residents!) on how to save money in Dubai.

Tip #14

Keep the change and give it a purpose

Don’t disregard loose change—those coins are still worth something!Are we suggesting the good old coin jar or piggy-bank strategy? Yes, but with a twist. Take the receptacle of your choice and give it the lovely task of being the change-holder. Stick all your loose coins in there, but don’t just forget about it.Keeping a running total on the box or jar (just add and update every time you deposit coins inside it) is a fantastic idea, because you’ll always know how much you have and you can use the money for specific purposes.

Source: Fieza KadirSaved up AED 50? Use it to treat the family to some donuts (don’t forget to put any change back into the jar) or carry on saving for something else that you need or want. Give your change a purpose!

Tip #15

Be deliberate with your cash usage

It’s tempting to walk around with wads of cash (if only we had wads!), but that’s only for the movies.In reality, carrying cash means that you are likely to spend it on random purchases. Instead of withdrawing money to have “just in case,” take out only the amounts you need for any pre-planned expenses.

Tip #16

Learn how to optimize your air conditioner and save on utility bills

Thanks to the constant Dubai heat, residents are used to keeping their air conditioners running for most of the day and night, racking up gigantic electric bills and putting a strain on their finances.Most people think that cranking up the AC to the lowest, coldest temperatures (and the highest fan settings) is the way to go. It is, if you want astronomical power bills.While the Dubai government suggests setting your AC to 24 degrees Celsius, many UAE residents who want to save money in Dubai have been employing the popular 1 degree hack—making the temperature 1 degree warmer (within limits of comfort), which will reduce power consumption and overall costs (you will save 5% per temperature point!). It’s also important to keep your AC unit serviced. The suggested effective lifespan of an AC unit is 10 years, after which it will no longer be as energy-efficient as newer models. Your old AC may be costing you too much money!Check out these handy tips on how to stay cool and save your cash from the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority:

  • Keep your thermostat set at 24°C, or higher. Each degree increase in set point temperature can save up to 5% on AC consumption.
  • The optimal lifetime of an AC is ten years. If yours are older, consider replacing them with new energy-efficient ACs with 4 or 5 stars from Emirates Authority for Standardization and Metrology (ESMA). This will help you save up to 25% of cooling consumption.
  • Use fans to circulate air. They use about as much electricity as a light bulb and can make you feel comfortable at higher thermostat settings, and do not forget to turn fans off when you leave the room.
  • Clogged or dirty AC filters can block the normal airflow and reduce the system's efficiency significantly. It is recommended to clean your AC filters periodically or at least once a month during summer.
  • During summer, use curtains, drapes, shades, awnings and reflective materials to reduce the heat entering through your glass or windows.
  • Apply weather stripping and caulking around all doors and windows to keep the cooled air inside your house and to prevent hot air from entering into your home.
  • Use a programmable thermostat (Smart Thermostat) to better control the room temperature and AC operation duration. This will in turn reduce AC consumption.

Tip #17

Be smart about vehicles and transportation

Owning a car, with maintenance expenses to consider, can make a huge dent in your budget, while taking public transportation could save you time and money.In Dubai, there’s temptation everywhere you turn, with massive shopping centers offering the wildest bargains, high-end boutiques with staggering price tags, and car dealerships glittering with gorgeous—and extremely expensive—vehicles.“The trend [in Dubai] is going toward debt: mortgages; credit cards; buy now, pay later [schemes]; loans, etc.,” said Mo, when speaking of why it’s hard for people to save money in Dubai.It’s an attractive idea to buy a shiny new vehicle on loan, but can you afford it? Think again. If you need a vehicle, going second-hand might just be the way to go. More on Dubai’s second hand scene later.

Change how you think about money

Source: Electric BrainWhen it comes to money, the most important tip of all is to work on changing our perspective on it and our relationship with it.Money (or the lack of it) can be a huge stressor in people’s lives, especially when they don’t get organized and take control of their finances.Money doesn’t have to be a scary concept. It doesn’t have to be difficult, either. These days, there are many resources, tips, platforms, apps, and tools for everyday people to understand their money more, easily interact with it, and take control over how they spend, save, and invest with it.

Tip #18

For expats, learn to think in your new currency

Expats to the UAE might still be thinking in the currency of their home countries, constantly calculating and comparing it to the prices “back home.”While most of us cannot help doing that, we’ll always be comparing costs of living in Dubai to other parts of the world and won’t be thinking in terms of the new currency.If you’re living and working in Dubai, you need to think in dirhams, so that you can better understand living costs, what’s too high or too low, and how to properly invest in your future in Dubai. This change in thinking will help you be more comfortable with your finances in the UAE.

Tip #19

Think about quality over cheap price tags

Most money-savers tout “quantity over quality” when it comes with a low price tag, but taking the cheaper route isn’t always the better option, especially when it comes to items that you’re going to use often and for a long period of time.These items are things you want to get a lot of value out of, like a piece of furniture for the whole family or a kitchen appliance like a refrigerator. While it might be very tempting to buy the cheapest thing you find, you might want to consider buying “quality over quantity” this time.Buying a trusted brand (for an appliance) or a more expensive but well-made piece of furniture (like the family couch) can be good investments for the family. These quality items often last a lot longer, so you won’t need to replace them too soon, and they often come with decent warrants and returns and repairs policies.

Tip #20

Consider going second-hand

For the last (but definitely not the least!) tip on how to save money in Dubai, think about buying second-hand items more. Second-hand items can be perfectly usable, with a lot of life and quality left in them, and for a fraction of the cost of brand-new items.Dubai is known to have a ton of second-hand thrift shops for clothing, shoes, accessories, and home items. Another popular second-hand market is the online scene for pre-loved babies’ outfits and second-hand children’s clothing.

Source: PanpancucudubaiKids’ clothing, while cute and adorable (not to mention tiny), can be ridiculously expensive, which isn’t great for your budget, considering how fast they grow! Going second-hand could be a great money-saving solution to make life in Dubai less expensive.Once you go second-hand, you won’t look back. It’s a great feeling to find what you need for a good price, and it’s a lot of fun, too. You can check out Facebook marketplace and other similar platforms in your local Dubai neighborhood for second-hand items you might need, such as furniture, tools, clothes, shoes, and many others.Changing one’s mindset about money can lead to making better financial decisions and having a healthier relationship with money, confidently making it work for you and your family’s future.

Invest in your future with smart savings app MALY, which links to your UAE bank, automates savings from daily purchases, sets up easy saving plans, and helps you achieve financial wellness.

Download MALY for FREE on the App Store, Google Play and Huawei AppGallery. Your future self will thank you!

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