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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Dirham Stretcher - the UAE Facebook group that helps your money go further

The personal finance page offers tips to thrifty residents on how to live well for less

Selma Abdelhamid, the moderator of Dirham Stretcher, says the Facebook group has almost 7,000 members. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Selma Abdelhamid, the moderator of Dirham Stretcher, says the Facebook group has almost 7,000 members. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The Facebook post started out by wishing everyone a Happy New Year – moving swiftly on to the real issue.

“I have been living for eight years in Dubai with my husband,” the woman wrote. “We both have good jobs and earn great salaries. We don’t go out much, don’t drink, don’t party, yet every month my salary is completely gone! It’s the biggest mystery of my life!!" wrote the poster.

The words echo a familiar story for many UAE residents, says Selma Abdelhamid, a German-Tunisian and the administrator of Dirham Stretcher, a Facebook group that started in Dubai four years ago.

“If you have never really learned to manage your money, the Dubai lifestyle can be very challenging, especially as you can easily get into credit cards,” she says. “Having a look at Instagram or just your neighbours can make you feel like everybody else is ‘living the life’, so you tend to do the same without thinking about it.”

The Facebook group, which was started by two other women who have since left and passed on to Ms Abdelhamid, has grown to 6,730 members. Along the way, it’s continued to be about making choices and spending wisely, developing its own dynamic, with members posting messages of support, suggestions, tips, and recipes.

As for the woman who could not figure out where her paycheque goes, the first member suggestion was to try to lower the amount she spends each month on her car.

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Read more:

Scrimp or splurge? How UAE residents like to spend their money

The expensive bills you can now pay monthly in the UAE

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Ms Abdelhamid has arranged online group discounts in the past and plans to again. Members regularly post about product and service discounts – for example, recent shares were for savings on wrapping paper at Ikea, the discount code for the 2019 Entertainer app and a store at Ajman’s China Mall that sells cheap costumes – as well as warehouse and outlet clearance sales.

There are lots of people who participate on the Facebook page like Ms Abdelhamid, who make a good living but don’t want to spend their money frivolously.

“It’s a community of people who are quite active on Facebook and who are always on the lookout for good deals and who are always there to help each other out,” she says. “People will just give recommendations and support each other.”

Other thrifty Facebook pages UAE residents can join include Shop Well For Less. This page, started by a Dirham Stretcher member, has grown to 7,700 members and focuses solely on shopping deals. “Our goal is to reduce how much you spend in supermarkets, whilst still creating tasty dishes and enjoying affordable meals whilst dining out," the page says. While the site shares information about low-cost meals, restaurant deals and allows recipe sharing, the administrators stick to the core concept: no trying to unload your apartment before the lease is up or multi-level marketing allowed.

Alternatively, Great Deals in Dubai has 500 members. This is open group is not carefully curated and it seems anything goes. Recent posts shared include a 50 per cent discount offer on laser hair removal at Dubai London Clinic, a Dh3,000 per month apartment in Discovery Gardens and half-off an at-home aqua bike, no price listed.

Ms Abdelhamid has a number of tips to help residents keep it real when it comes to spending. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Ms Abdelhamid has a number of tips to help residents keep it real when it comes to spending. Chris Whiteoak / The National

For those looking to lead a nice life in the UAE, Ms Abdelhamid says it is possible but residents have to keep it real and make priorities.

For example Ms Abdelhamid, an archaeologist who has two boys – a two-year-old and a baby – and her husband, who works in oil and commodities trading, have had to figure out what to focus on.

“I spend more on rent now, because we need a bigger house and facilities for the kids, such as a pool and park and a good nursery within walking distance,” she says.

The family cut back on luxury holidays – not that much fun with two children under two anyway – and focus travel spending on trips home to see their family. Ms Abdelhamid is not above buying nice things, either, but she’ll search out where they are most reasonable. Recently she bought a St Laurent bag, for example, but had a friend bring her one from Europe.

“It’s okay to indulge on a luxury handbag or on brunches or a car as long as it truly makes you happy and fits your budget,” she says. “Be aware of the cost of living, your regular expenses and keep it all under control.”

Money-saving tips regularly featured on Dirham Stretcher often focus on groceries. Ms Abdelhamid, who uses Spinneys and Waitrose for emergencies, recommends shopping online and having your groceries delivered.

Other tips relate to using locally available ingredients - such as baking bread using chakka atta as an alternative to wheat flour. One member in Dirham Stretcher posted about using paratha dough in place of the pricier options in recipes for European pastry. And while psyllium husk is in demand in baking for the trendy Keto diet, it is called isabgol in India and can be found for a lot less.

"Some ingredients for specific recipes can be quite expensive at Spinneys or Waitrose, but if you know their Indian name you can get them for a fraction of the price in larger stores" she says.

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Read more:

Why the UAE is no longer a two-year posting for resident workers

Saving money on food a struggle for singles in the UAE

New to the UAE guide: set-up costs, visas, rent, school fees and more

New to the UAE guide part 2: banking, saving, investing and sound financial advice

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Updated: January 10, 2019 11:47 AM

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