Saving money when you are raising a family is easier said than done. Add up the costs of nursery and school fees, medical bills, clothing, toys and just feeding your little ones, and sticking to a budget becomes rather tricky. But just because you have a family to support does not mean budgeting should go out the window. From investing in a coupon book to second-hand shopping and kids-go-free deals, we unearth 20 ways to cut the cost of bringing up your brood in the Emirates and prevent parenting being a permanent assault on your wallet.
There's no better way to keep abreast of the family budget than to have one in the first place. Thousands of websites offer free advice and templates for budget planning, and well-kept accounts not only reduce stress but also increase financial freedom by helping families meet their bills and know exactly what they have left to spend.
Children outgrow their clothes and toys faster than you can pay for them, so why not buy secondhand? The transient nature of the UAE's expat population means families are always looking to offload their kid-related paraphernalia. For online bargains, go to dubizzle.com, dubaimumsclub.com, souq.com and expatwoman.com and check out their second-hand classifieds, or log on to dubai-fleamarket.com to find the nearest rummage sale.
Regular trips to soft play centres during the summer can be costly, so take the kids to the pool in your villa complex or apartment block for some simple, cool fun at no cost. The beach is another free option, and in the winter months, the parks are free or charge a nominal fee of a few dirhams. For older kids, the nation is awash with art galleries - a great and very cost-effective way to muse away the day.
When it comes to choosing a nursery, there are ways to cut costs. From sibling discounts to monthly payments and one-cheque discounts, some nurseries help you to meet the bills. And if you really want to save costs, choose a nursery that includes meals in their total price.
There are endless kids-go-free offers at restaurants and on holidays, or half-price play sessions at indoor play areas or family attractions. The trick is knowing how to find them. From coupons in local newspapers and magazines, to flyers on your doorstep and even on Facebook and Twitter, it's a case of keeping your eyes peeled. Kid-centric websites such as dubaikidz.biz and expatwoman.com are also a great source, or register your details with deal-sharing websites such as goNabit.com and wegotiate.com to hear about family discounts.
Planning your child's birthday party? Then beware. Between invitations, hiring a room, catering, a cake, party bags and activities, the bill could easily top Dh3,000. So book the cheapest venue in town - your home. Bake the cake yourself, create your own party menu and host some good old-fashioned party games and you could save a huge amount in the process. And by teaming up with a pal whose child's birthday falls around the same time, you can halve the costs again.
Where you shop for your groceries can make a huge difference to your bill, so pick a budget chain, particularly when you are stocking up on expensive child-care items such as nappies, wet wipes and washing powder. It may require a slightly longer drive, but if you spend Dh41.25 on a pack of four Johnson's wet wipes at Carrefour, as opposed to Dh52.50 at Spinneys, it's worth it.
Cook double portions of the evening family meal and use the leftovers for everyone's lunch boxes the next day. Alternatively, freeze any leftovers for another meal. For babies, freeze pureed fruit and vegetables in ice trays so you can defrost them if and when you need them rather that letting food go off in the fridge.
Sending your child to school is expensive enough, but shelling out for an entire school uniform can cost up to Dh1,000 or more. When you can pay up to 80 per cent less for the same amount of kit at the school's second-hand shop, it's a no-brainer.
When the sales are on, buy your child's current size and the next one up to reduce clothing costs. And don't forget to stock up on toys, too; you can never have enough not only for your own offspring but the endless birthday parties your children will be invited to as well. And for present shopping, choose toy shops that offer free wrapping such as Early Learning Centre and Toys R Us.
Investing in a copy of The Entertainer may cost a few hundred dirhams, but it could you save you thousands. The Entertainer Family (Dh295) offers Dh110,000 of free value through its two-for-one deals on family-orientated dining and activities. Other related options include The Entertainer Kids (Dh250) and The Entertainer Abu Dhabi (Dh250).
Remember one mum's rubbish is another mum's treasure, so clear out all the unwanted and outgrown toys, clothes and children's furniture and advertise a garage sale at your home. And if you don't want people thumbing through your belongings at home, load it all into the boot and set up a mini stall at the local flea market.
From swapping maternity clothes to sharing children's garb, toys and furniture items, lending and borrowing from friends can reduce the financial burden of parenting. And don't throw anything away. Hand-me-downs are a great way to cut the cost of a second child, and if the second child is a different sex, swap with a friend in a similar predicament.
It's not just raising children that's costly, it's having them, too. Giving birth in the UAE can be expensive and not all health insurance policies cover maternity. A complete antenatal package at Welcare Hospital in Dubai costs Dh5,175, as opposed to Dh7,509 if you pay the medical bills individually. Investing in a normal delivery package at Welcare will save Dh2,133 and aCaesarian package saves Dh2,933.
Keep your handbag stocked with healthy snacks and drinks and avoid shelling out for unnecessary and often costly refreshments when you are out and about. Children always feel hungry or thirsty and establishments should not object if you take food in for children under five who often won't eat restaurant food.
Some schools offer discounts if you pay your annual fees early or in advance. And while some will take this in post-dated cheques for each term, others will demand one cheque, so shop around.
Grocery shopping is expensive enough without an extra pair of little hands loading up your trolley with unwanted treats. Younger children are quite happy to throw a tantrum to get what they want, often forcing parents into submission, so save yourself the stress - and some dirhams - and leave them at home.
Another vital tip to reduce the family grocery bill is to buy locally produced fruit and vegetables. Indulging in your favourite American tomatoes or UK-branded orange juice is great, but you are paying for their airfare as well. Locally grown fruit and vegetables can be up to a fifth of the price of imported items and locally manufactured juices, nuts and crisps can also dramatically reduce the bill.
If you can't ferry your children to school yourself, then sending them by taxi twice a day can be pricey, particularly if a housemaid accompanies them and has to do a round trip. School bus rates vary according to the distance and the child's age, but a 10 year old's journey from Emirates Hills to a primary school in Jumeirah would cost Dh8,000 for a year by bus, as opposed to about Dh15,000 in taxi fares.
It's a bit of a long shot, but there are dozens of competitions with child-friendly prizes up for grabs, so make you sure you register your details to get in with a chance to win. Top competition sites include timeoutdubai.com and timeoutabudhabi.com, dubaikidz.biz and expatwoman.com. firstname.lastname@example.org