19 November 2023, The National UAE
While living in Dubai can be expensive, residents say good salaries and a wide choice of retail and dining options to suit all budgets help make it easier.
However, as global factors cause energy and food prices to rise, the cost of living has surged, with consumer prices in the US soaring to a four-decade high in June last year.
In Dubai, housing, utilities and fuel – which account for the biggest part of the Consumer Price Index at more than 40 per cent – rose 5.94 per cent yearly in June, according to the Dubai Statistics Centre in July.
In the same month, average apartment rents reached the highest levels since February 2017, surging almost 22 cent annually during July. Villa rents rose 22.6 per cent as demand for property continued to rise.
While the UAE government has set price limits on essential items, requiring stores to maintain affordability, some are still looking for ways to cut costs.
Here, The National speaks to residents in Dubai from different occupations and backgrounds to understand how they work around the high living costs in the city and discover their strategies for managing their expenses.
Hamza Matahen – Salary: Dh8,500
Hamza Matahen, 28, lived in Al Ain before moving to Dubai three months ago for a job as a business development manager.
“Dubai offers a better level of employment. In Dubai, you feel like you’re in another world. You can’t compare it with any other place,” said Mr Matahen, who is originally from Jordan.
“There are a lot of big companies and the competition is very high, which drives you to be the best version of yourself.”
Mr Matahen lives with his sister, which reduces his rent cost. He has certain other methods he follows to live affordably in Dubai.
“Look for more than one option in everything. For example, food-wise, you can look at the food applications available and see which application has discounts and this way you can save costs.
“There are a lot of restaurants in Dubai and a lot of varieties, so prices vary. You can eat lunch for Dh20, even Dh15, or you can eat lunch for Dh500. You can save a lot in food expenses.”
Mr Matahen earns a monthly salary of Dh8,500 and his monthly expenses include: Dh2,500 on rent, Dh1,500 on food, Dh500 for utility bills, Dh1,000 on transport and savings and Dh2,000 for disposable income.
Jessica Abdel Nour – Salary: None
Jessica Abdel Nour, 20, a student from the Netherlands, moved to Dubai on an exchange programme for a term.
“I’m very interested in moving here after my bachelor’s degree. I’m already building a community here which I very much like,” said Ms Abdel Nour, who is studying international business.
She currently stays in a university dorm, which has its advantages around security and services but isn’t cheap.
“I pay Dh3,000 ($816) for my dorm, so that is like for us Europeans €750. That is kind of expensive. It depends on which country you’re from, but for Dutch people, it’s pretty expensive.
“But the advantage of living in a dorm and paying this amount is that you have security 24/7 and I also have breakfast and housekeeping service, so I get a lot of benefits.”
Ms Abdel Nour said that with with a strict budget, she manages to spend around Dh600 for food each month, and between Dh600 to Dh800 on transport, leaving her Dh1,500 for disposable income.
Veronika Ciniburkova – Salary: Dh35,000
Her goal was to find a better job, explore new opportunities and enjoy the warm weather of Dubai.
“Dubai is definitely a place where everybody gets a chance,” said Ms Ciniburkova.
“I think it’s very easy to lose track of who you are here and spend money on things which are not necessarily a necessity.”
Ms Ciniburkova earns around Dh35,000 a month and her monthly expenses include Dh3,700 on rent, up to Dh2,500 on food, and Dh1,800 on utilities and transport. She is left each month with Dh20,000 of savings and up to Dh7,000 on disposable income.
“Many people they come here and they want to save but they leave with nothing because they did not manage the right way of thinking or living.”
Ms Ciniburkova finds the cost of living in Dubai very similar to London.
“Although I believe rent here is a little bit lower than in the UK, when it comes to the cost of groceries, services, nail and hair salons, I believe it is very similar level.”
Leon Mouafo – Salary: Dh1,656
Leon Mouafo, 30, moved to Dubai from Cameroon five years ago, seeking a better life. However, he finds the cost of living high, compared to his home country.
“I can save little because I cannot live a normal life that I was living back home. So yeah, I have to squeeze myself,” said Mr Mouafo, who works as a store associate at Carrefour.
“For example, here in Dubai I noticed the most difficult part is the house range. To arrange a house or an apartment to stay is very difficult and very expensive.
From his Dh1,656 salary each month, he spends Dh800 on a shared rental accomodation, up to Dh400 on food and has Dh150 to spend on himself. Utility bills and transport are covered by his employer.
“When I came to Dubai in 2018, to buy food – mostly basic needs – they were cheaper than now.”
Mr Mouafo said he lives on a budget so he can send around Dh500 back home to his wife and two children each month.
Seara Khan – Salary: Variable
Seara Khan, 25, from Bangladesh moved to Dubai almost two years ago and works as a social media executive for Squatwolf gym wear brand.
“Everybody here is very business-oriented and working as a social media executive, it allows me to communicate with a lot of people as well. So, it’s like you meet connections everywhere you go,” said Ms Khan.
“It also makes you like the independent life. It teaches you a lot about budgeting, how you should control yourself, considering how expensive everything is outside.”
Ms Khan’s expenses include Dh3,000 on rent, Dh1,700 on food and utilities, and Dh560 on transport. Tight budgeting and no saving plan leaves her with Dh6,000 disposable income each month.
Living in Dubai, she has noticed some living costs getting higher and advises newcomers to keep track of their spending.
“To be smart about the whole decision to move here, make an expense sheet on your Excel for your personal expenses for the month.
“For the first month, spend as much as you would regularly, and calculate the first month cost and then decide where you could do the cuts and there a lot of budget friendly grocery stores around the areas.
“This expense sheet will really save you because it will make you realise how much you are actually spending in a month.”