x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

One night out can break the Dh300 bank

As recounted in the past two weeks, I had been set the challenge of living on Dh500, Dh400, Dh300, Dh200 and Dh100 in successive weeks.

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National
Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National

The water glimmered in the sunshine as I strolled along the Corniche. It was week three of my budget challenge, and I was spending an inexpensive Friday afternoon enjoying Abu Dhabi's picturesque seafront. As recounted in the past two weeks, I had been set the challenge of living on Dh500, Dh400, Dh300, Dh200 and Dh100 in successive weeks. Now it was week three, which meant I had Dh300 in my wallet on Friday morning to last me for the next seven days.

The first week of the challenge had been pretty easy: trips to the bookshop and plenty of entertainment - and all of it on the Dh500 budget. Week two proved slightly more troublesome. Although I had gone out a couple of times, by the end of the week it was becoming difficult to get by. So how would I cope when a further Dh100 was shaved from my allowance? Well, at least I started off in a disciplined mood. I walked down to the Corniche from my flat, just strolling along without a care in the world - and more importantly, without any drain on my finances. It was a nice sunny day - surprise, surprise - and on a Friday there weren't too many people about.

Later that afternoon I sat around for a bit in the shade near the Corniche and read a few pages of a book called This is Paradise, a memoir of life in North Korea by Hyok Kang, who now lives in South Korea. His at times horrific sketches of life in the secretive state could not have provided a starker contrast to the pleasant and relaxed setting in which I found myself. After walking home - my flat is a 30-minute walk from the seafront, something that can only be comfortably done in winter - I did my weekly shop at the Abu Dhabi Co-operative Society supermarket on 11th Street.

Tomatoes, dates, cheese, peppers, carrots, a cauliflower, vegetable stock cubes, milk, orange juice and bread cost me a total of Dh53. As mentioned in previous columns, I usually cook for myself in the evenings and eat packed lunches at work, so I hoped my shopping would cover most of my needs for the rest of the week. The evening saw me splash out Dh119 on an evening out, which under the circumstances seemed slightly indulgent. Taxis cost Dh19 both ways, entry to my favourite bar with a Filipino band was a further Dh50, while a visit to a similar place nearby set me back the same amount.

On Saturday, chastened by my free spending the previous evening, I stayed at home and saved my pennies, reading and watching a DVD of the film Into the Wild, which I had already seen at the cinema. My work week proved relatively inexpensive to start with. I paid Dh8 for food on Sunday, then Dh2.50 the day after. On Monday I also paid Dh20 for petrol and Dh20 for some new soles for my shoes. That meant that, four days down and three to go, I had Dh77.50 left in my pocket, which is not exactly a fortune.

On Tuesday my expenses were modest, fortunately, with bananas, cake, some other food items and water costing me Dh12.50 in total. I played football with colleagues that evening, which was a good way to get some exercise while also lasting through the evening without spending a lot. With two days left, I stayed in on Wednesday before spending the remaining Dh65 of my budget on a trip to Dubai on Thursday evening. I stayed at the flat I used to live in near interchange 1 - my former landlord kindly lets me use it every now and again - so there was no charge for accommodation.

I put Dh30 of petrol in my tank and used up the remaining Dh35 that evening wandering around Satwa, one of my favourite Dubai haunts. I enjoyed a meal in a Pakistani restaurant and bought a few odds and ends. Week three of my budget challenge, then, had been slightly more bearable than I expected. I wasted a lot of money early on a night out, but after that I managed to be reasonably careful and still inject a bit of variety into my sometimes mundane UAE life by travelling down to Dubai - at low cost.

But if there had been any reasonably big one-off expense - postal costs from sending things back to England, buying some clothes or getting a book - I would have struggled to cope on my Dh300 allowance. Anyway, I look forward to week four - when my budget will be down to Dh200 - without too much trepidation. Assuming no unexpected costs rear their ugly head, I hope I'll be able to survive reasonably well.