50+ Practical ways to save money in Dubai

People come to Dubai for money. Inelegant as it may sound, it is the bitter-sweet reality for many.

According to respected financial advocate and personal finance expert, Randell Tiongson during his recent talk in Dubai, money is behavioral, not mechanical. It is sentiment-driven. This is very true for many OFWs who live away from their loved ones. They tend to find ways to fill the homesickness which often comes with price tags.

The first and most challenging step to save effectively is to START.  You need to have a goal to save, and live with it day by day. Pay yourself first.  Develop the habit of keeping at least 20% of your monthly pay - no matter how much your salary is. Don't touch it, unless you'll invest it.

It's not about how much you are paid for. It's about how much you save.  The key is to spend less than what you earn. In Dubai, people with bigger salaries are the ones who struggle in savings. Lifestyle and self-discipline play an intertwined role in the success of your finances.

Here are 50+ big and small practical ways to save money in this money-magnetic city:

1. Go to Carrefour or Union Co-op or Lulu for your monthly groceries. Avoid high-end supermarkets. The margins are really high. You may use the Sallety mobile app to compare commodity prices in many supermarket chains.

2. Make a list and strictly stick to it. You'll avoid buying unnecessary stuffs.

3. Have lunch or dinner first before you go to supermarket. When we're hungry, our eyes want to take all the yummy and fancy items into our cart, even if we don't really need them.

4. Practice the 10-second rule. When you fancy on new items for the first time, ask yourself if you really need it. If you don't get a good answer in 10 seconds, return it to the shelf.

5. Enroll for loyalty cards. The discounts matter in the long run.

6. Buy sea foods from fish market. You'll be surprised of the huge margins.

7. Don't buy processed foods (or at least minimize). They're more expensive than fresh meat and other commodities - and they're not healthy.

8. Minimize shopping twice a week at most to avoid petrol usage or taxi fares.

9. Buy generic instead of branded items.

10. Do your morning coffee at home; Or, bring a GOOD instant coffee / tea instead of your 15-20 dirhams cup a day. What do you get from that cool cup?

11. Limit dining out.  Have you totaled how much you spend dining out compared to cooking meals at home?

12. If you have to stay at home on weekends, keep yourself busy. Idle time will make you crave for food. Your fridge will quickly empty its stock.

13. In restaurants, do not be a takaw-mata monster (gluttony - ordering too many because they look so enticing in pictures but you'll end up not eating them all). In such cases, take the extra food home and bring to office the following day for lunch.

14. Don't go for buffets if your appetite is light.

15. Sometimes, do the get-together/meetups at home. Dubai has a popular culture of dining out when socializing. It would be more intimate if we open our doors to our friends.

52. Bring packed lunch at work. 

16. Don't shop on sale. If something originally costs AED1,000 and you bought it forAED750. You did not save 250, you spent 750 (Googled).

17. Shop ahead of the season. Usually, winter clothes cost less at few months before the temperature go down.

18. Plan your shopping. Schedule when to buy shoes, clothes, accessories, etc. This will prevent you from becoming impulsive.

19. Take off 'window shopping' from your vocabulary because it doesn't really happen as is. Eventually you will go out of the mall with at least one shopping bag on your hand. If you're a fan of Ikea, you are guilty.

20. You may want to check on your Jordan shoes collection - especially if you can't even shoot, or worse you're not really playing the game. But if you think you can afford enough, go build a museum!

What makes you buy 'things that you can live without'? To feel comfortable? To impress people? Contentment is essential.

21. Change the default yellowish bulbs in your flat with power-saving and long lasting bulbs.

22. Put the AC on timer when you're sleeping, or switch it to fan after some time.

23. Don't leave laptops on. Many people are downloading stuffs overnight leaving the computer running. Put it on sleep mode.

24. Turn off the lights when not in use. Seriously. I know we all know this but we still ignore. 

25. Buy appliances than can save energy and water consumption.

26. If you're subscribed to mobile data, use Whatsapp or other instant messaging instead of SMS

Money is 80% behaviour, 20% skills - Dave Ramsay

27. Maintain healthy lifestyle so you won't have to spend more on medical treatment later on. Eat more fruits and vegetables - they're not costly here. Exercise. Good mental health follows a good physical health. Avoid stress.

28. Embrace discipline. With a lot of beautiful parks in the city, how can you not love jogging or  walking? When you're in proper condition, chances of getting sick is relatively less.

29. Workout at home to save gym costs - unless you need specific shaping and advanced weight-loss programs. There are thousands of simple workout videos on Youtube that could guide you. One I use is Jordan Yeoh's 3-4 minutes workout videos.

30. Do not buy luxury SUVs, unless you really need it and you can afford. Get a car that simply provide your basic transportation needs, suitable for your family size.  Consider the monthly petrol costs, maintenance and parts costs and insurance.

31. Avoid Salik gates (but develop patience in traffic).

32. Drive consciously to avoid traffic violation fines.

33. Use RTA's prepaid seasonal parking cards usable in select parking zones instead of paying on an hourly and daily basis. It saves you lots, especially if you are using the parking for the whole office hours. The new Category A card costs AED1,400 for three months, Dh2,500 for six months and Dh4,500 for one year. The new rates for Category B are Dh700 for three months, Dh1,300 for six months and Dh2,500 for one year.


34. Automate and pay your bills online so you won't have to spend extra going to payment centers.

35. Avoid cross-withdrawing from ATM of another bank to save on transaction charges. Plan your withdrawals. If you withdraw 3 times a week, the total charge is 12aed a month, 144 a year (Two dirhams charge per transaction on another bank's ATM).

36. Avoid impulsive seat sale buying. You will end up spending more for that whole trip itinerary (hotels, food, tour packages). Plan your travels so won't have the worries

37. Plan your holiday trips on low-peak season.

38. Opt to rent a private room (like AirBnB) instead of booking a hotel.

39. Consider buying used furniture and other basic home appliances from popular websites such as Dubizze and Biddi. Dubai community is very transient and it's not hard to find items that are still in good quality.

40. Do not over-decorate your household unless you'll be staying here for ages. 

41. Sell stuff you don't use.

42. Pest control - Moving from one flat to another is a common scenario for many expats. Pests, unfortunately, often surprise us once we're settled in. Hire professionals in the pest control business. Unlike the ones that insert leaflets to your doors, professional services offer 6-12 months warranty. Better, keep the house clean at all times so you won't even need to hire them.

43. Learn basic DIY's so you won't have to hire services to make your cable wires orderly, replace the bulbs, repair the broken bidet, or assemble new furniture.

44. Use grocery bags for bins instead of buying pricey trash bags.

45. Lessen the kids exposure to arcade games. On cooler months, bring them to outdoor parks or beaches instead of malls. It's more fun to play on the grass - and you'll save cost for tokens.

46. Do not allow the kids to overuse the gadgets. Their abuse of iPads and mobile phones requires more charging, more electricity consumption. Stretch those muscles up and engage them in more fun physical games.

47. For soon-to-be moms, breastfeed your babies. Think that you can. Our daughter was breastfed for 2+ years and just imagine how much we saved on formula milk - more than 5,000 dirhams.

51. Do not celebrate every birthday with a party bash. First birthday and seventh would be ideal. You can celebrate the other birthday years in simpler get-together at home or at the parks (during cooler months).

48. Minimize balik-bayan box sending. Instead, send your family enough money to cover their expenses. Nothing's wrong with a cargo box, especially during occasions, but we have a tendency to fill in every inch and space of the box to 'maximize' it.  They can surely buy cooking oil or toothpaste or bath soaps there anyway.

49. Subscribe to Pinoy-friendly postpaid mobile plans if you have to call home more frequent than usual.

50. You are not obliged to give pasalubong to the whole barangay when you go back home. You are not obliged to throw street parties or school reunions when you're there.  In fact, your friends should treat you instead of you having to treat them all - THAT SHOULD BE THE NEW NORM! You deserve a welcome party. And you deserve a welcome money when you return to Dubai.


Another small but effective way is to keep our 'excess' fifty fils or dirham coins in a box. We can use the coins to pay for parking, grocery carts, or for tipping the delivery guys.

Generosity in savings
Saving also allows us to give more. Contentment and generosity works together. Contentment leads to hearty habit of saving, which enables us to be generous to people in need.

"We can take control of our financial destiny by making critical changes in the way we do things." - Randell Tiongson in his book, Everyday Moneyfesto

At the end of the day, what do we value? Refresh your way of thinking about how, what and why we buy things. As what Bloomberg Businessweek's Chris Farrell says, "being frugal is not about living miserly." It's about wasting less yet getting more from our every dirham. (in reference to his book, The New Frugality: How to Consume Less, Save More, and Live Better.)

It is never too late to change.

Let's not make money a memory. Saving should be a habit, no... let's make it a vice.

Top image from Souqalmal.com - leading comparison website in the Middle East that lets you compare financial products.

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  1. that's cool thanks to sharing the best way to save money at sitting home

  2. thanks for sharing this. :)