x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

To splurge or not to splurge?

Four families talk about their Christmas budgets and how they plan to spend within their means while keeping the holiday festive.

Oliva, Natalie and Dave Hodgson. Courtesy photo
Oliva, Natalie and Dave Hodgson. Courtesy photo

Christmas is here and for many, it's a time of great celebration and joy. For others, however, it's a time to shy away from checking the bank balance because they've blown the budget on presents, food and decorations.

A recent survey by YouGov in the UK found that one in three Britons will take on debt this year to pay for Christmas gifts. The study, conducted for Intelligent Environments, the payment technology firm, revealed that many of those going into the red will either overspend on their credit card or use an overdraft to absorb their gift-buying sprees.

But before you panic about how much you shelled out this month, we have asked four expatriates living in the UAE to reveal their Christmas spending plans. By adding up their budgets for food, going out, decorations and gifts, we discovered who splurged on festive activities and who kept a tight rein on their finances this season and why.

Read on to find out how you compare.

 

Hodgsons spread holiday cheer with the help of a spreadsheet

Dave Hodgson, 41, is the corporate communications director for Meydan and has lived in Dubai for two years. This will be his first Christmas in the UAE and possibly also his last as the Briton has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and been given less than a year to live. He is married to Natalie, 30, who works in recruitment, and the couple have a daughter, Olivia, aged seven.

Gifts for family Dh25,300

Gifts for extended family and friends Dh7,700

Decorations Dh1,000

Food and drink Dh6,000

Going out Dh2,000

TOTAL: Dh42,000

'The meaning of Christmas, the build up and events that happen out of the home as well as within, are all very important to me. This year, we started the festivities on December 1, partly because of the circumstances with my health, so it will be a month-long adventure. I was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma, a rare skin cancer, in 2008 and in July this year, was told I had 12 months to live. So I will spend more on the festivities this year than ever before because I want this to be a fantastic Christmas as I may not have another.

Every year, my Christmas planning includes a spreadsheet and a calendar, so that we don't go crazy and spend every dirham. It's about getting the balance right between having a fantastic Christmas and not coming out the other side of it absolutely bankrupt. I also have a lot of godchildren and nieces and nephews, so the spreadsheet is there to ensure fairness.

I'm quite a planner of finances, anyway, though not as meticulous as I am at Christmas. I remember one Christmas many years ago, when I had no idea where the money had gone. I'd spent so much, but wasn't sure what I'd done with it. So rather than just being boring and systematic, the spreadsheet helps to rein in the finances and ensure we have more fun.

I've had to get my head around the fact I was planning everything in dirhams and not pounds and from a shopping point of view, that's quite significant. My mum flew out in November and brought some presents with her because it's cheaper to buy things, such as DVDs, in the UK than here. But I also love Christmas shopping. I don't want to do a complete online experience because I'm a shopaholic myself and love going around the shops looking for really fun, interesting things so that I don't just give people a pair of socks.

Some things I will save on because we already have the decorations we bought last year, though we will expand on those to make the house even more Christmassy. And when it comes to the Christmas food shop, I'm going to redeem all the Air Miles I've saved up over the last 18 months, which will contribute Dh2,000 towards the Spinneys shop.

When it comes to events, we will go to as many free things as possible, but Olivia is already booked into some pantomimes and I haven't managed to do as much as I wanted because I've spent most of December in hospital having treatment.

Just because I am budgeting and checking the finances doesn't mean it's not going to be the best possible Christmas. It just ensures there just won't be any debt at the end of it because the worst thing that could happen is that I spend all my money on balloons and reindeers. My wife and daughter have still got a life to lead afterwards, so I'm not hiring out the Burj Khalifa for the night when they will need that money in 20 years.

But I have spent more than I initially planned on presents, particularly for my wife. I've been to hell and back recently, so her present cost Dh17,000 and is very special. It's my way of saying thank you.

I feel quite celebratory that this is my last Christmas because if it isn't, then, wow, next year will be really good. We're going to have fun this year and if my medication works and I get through to another one, or even to my birthday on January 18, that will be even better."

 

For Bicknells, the more the merrier

Luanna Bicknell, 33, is the global marketing manager for Move One - the company behind the community website, Expat Echo Dubai. The Briton, who has lived in Dubai for two years, will be spending Christmas with her husband, James, 36, who is the chief executive of Backlite Media, the outdoor advertising company, and their five children, Harriet, 14, Florence, 13, Charles, 12, Felix, six, and Alberta, five, at their home in Al Barsha.

Gifts for family Dh14,000 (Dh2,000 on each child and Dh2,000 on each adult)

Gifts for extended family and friends Dh2,000

Decorations Dh1,100

Food and drink Dh10,000

Going out Dh3,000

TOTAL: Dh30,100

'Christmas is a time to be with family and friends; a time to stop and reflect on the previous year and to enjoy the festive fun. This year, we have some friends visiting from France and my cousin from England for 10 days. So on Christmas Day, I am cooking for 18 people. I have ordered two large turkeys from the Pullman Hotel, which is close to my house, and I will cook everything else. My daughters are back from boarding school and have made the Christmas biscuits and cakes.

We have tickets for The Nutcracker at Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre and my children especially love the Christmas market at the Madinat, but with 13 people staying with me from December 22, we will probably not go out too much. However, I do have my Entertainer book ready to use and, with five children, I love all the ideas and tips on places to visit and things to do we get from Expat Echo Dubai.

I always try to stick to a budget, but find it increasingly difficult with my daughters getting older. The gifts get smaller in size and bigger in cost. We had a huge trip in the summer to America. We did a big American road trip from Seattle to Las Vegas, which was very expensive, so I have told the older children that Santa will not be as generous this year. I am sure I have already gone back on my word!

To decide who gets what, all the children write a letter to Santa. My husband and I then decide what to buy from the list. My five year old's list started with an iPad (which she will not be getting) and my six-year-old son, who thinks he is Justin Bieber, asked for a leather jacket, so I have no idea where to buy such a thing in Dubai.

I will end up spending Dh2,000 on each child plus the same on my husband. This includes the children's stockings, which go at the end of their beds, and under-the-tree gifts from Santa. In our family, everything is from Santa. There are no gifts from my husband and I to the children. The only other gifts are from family and friends. When I had my fifth child, I asked my friends and family to stop buying Christmas gifts as it is too expensive and to only buy them birthday gifts.

For the day, I have ordered Dh600 worth fresh flowers for the table and bought a new red table runner and some more candles for Dh500. For food, I always shop at Carrefour for the basic pantry items and nice cheeses. However, I do like to make a trip to Waitrose at Dubai Marina Mall for all the yummy items I need. We are also having a Bollywood New Year's Eve party, so I will spend another Dh6,000 on that.

When it comes to spending, I think I am sensible all around. I do not splash out in any area. Having said that, I am so excited that my daughters are back from boarding school that I have maybe bought them too many items from their lists because I miss them both so much. My husband and I both work full-time and so I just want Christmas to be a very special occasion for us all."

 

Mum plans robust, practical holiday

Kellie Whitehead, 33, is the managing director of Mama Media, a Dubai-based marketing, PR and events company, and divides her time between her home in Doncaster in the UK and her business in the UAE. The Briton, who previously lived in Dubai for three years, will be spending the festive period with her three children, Hermione, 10, Charlie, six, and James, five, and husband, Michael, 37, in England.

Gifts for family Dh3,750 (Dh850 for each child and Dh600 each for the parents)

Gifts for extended family and friends Dh1,500

Decorations Dh150

Food and drink Dh900

Going out Dh1,000

TOTAL: Dh7,300

'Christmas is definitely a focal point of the year for my family. I like to plan early, but I've got this habit of thinking about it a lot and then doing everything quite late, particularly when it comes to wrapping presents. I do look out for bargains from September onwards, particularly when it comes to toys.

We're spending Dh850 on each child and that includes their main gift - a bike for Hermione and toy tablets and scooters for the boys - plus stocking fillers.

I like to have as many parcels for them as possible and will think, 'Have they got enough?' And then my dad will rock up with 10 more presents. They end up with piles of stuff, [but] it's got to be useful as there's only so much room in the house when you have three kids.

When it comes to food and drink, the five of us could go out to eat on Christmas Day and easily spend Dh800 on the lunch, but you don't get the value because there are no leftovers. So we will have the meal at home because it can feed you all week, whereas if you spend that on one lunch, you could be coming home to an empty fridge and still have to spend more money.

I bought new decorations last year, so I have only added a couple this year, which hasn't cost much, and when it comes to presents for the family, I try to keep it as even as possible. But going out is a big expense for us. We'd like to go to a couple of pantomimes, but at £750 [Dh4,282] a go, we'll probably only go to one, otherwise it gets too expensive. There will be a family trip to the cinema, too, which works out at £50 when you include refreshments.

Spending Dh7,000 on Christmas is probably mid-range, but I would never scrimp. I'm a very generous person, but I'm also a savvy shopper and if someone wants something particular, I will look on Google first for the cheapest option because you can save up to 50 per cent.

I'm careful with what I buy because I hate waste, whereas my husband, Michael, goes out a couple of days before Christmas and buys the kids more, which is totally unnecessary because they get so much anyway. Last year, their main present was bikes and if they hadn't had them they still would have had a very full Christmas with everything else they had to play with."

 

Thrifty year for one young couple

Richard Taylor, 27, from Manchester in the UK, is a chartered financial planner. The Briton, who moved to the UAE in August this year, will be spending Christmas with his wife, Kate, 28, who works in HR and recruitment, in their new two-bedroom flat in the Marina in Dubai.

Gifts for family Dh1,000

Gifts for extended family Dh0

Decorations Dh0

Food and drink Dh0

Going out Dh5,000

TOTAL: Dh6,000

'I love Christmas. It's quite possibly my favourite time of year. It normally heralds a huge family dinner, some snow and the excuse to see people you haven't seen in while. But this year is going to be very different.

My wife and I moved to Dubai in August this year and we've just moved into a new apartment, so we're going to try to spend as little as possible this Christmas.

Normally, we would have a tree and lights and everything that goes with it, but we've got enough on our plate without spending money on decorations.

Instead, all the money has gone on kitting-out our new flat, so it's permanent decorations rather than temporary ones.

This month, we've already spent Dh50,000 on rent for the next six months, Dh10,000 on a deposit and agency fees and another Dh7,000 on furniture, so we've been haemorrhaging cash.

We've received a few offers for the day itself, including a waif-and-stray day at a colleague's house for anyone in Dubai without family. In the end, we decided to go to someone's house for a get-together rather than going to a brunch as that won't be hugely expensive for us.

When it comes to presents, we'll also be spending a lot less. My wife has expensive tastes, so I'd usually spend quite a bit on her, but this year it will probably just be token gifts and we'll go out for a nice meal.

The vast majority of our Christmas spend this year will be on going out. We've been out for brunch and a few meals with different friends and there's been lots of celebrating, which has cost us a fortune.

Yes, it's a budget Christmas, but we've taken into account the fact that I'm effectively self-employed, we've just moved here and we've still got commitments in the UK that haven't quite come to an end yet, such as a rental agreement and a car I'm paying for that I've yet to sell.

We'd normally spend closer to Dh20,000 on Christmas - Dh1,500 on decorations, Dh8,500 on presents and another Dh11,400 on getting into the festive spirit. While I'd love to spend more this year, I'm just happy to be here and it'll be better next year. If this is the price of moving to Dubai, then so be it. We are so glad we came out. The lifestyle is more fun and work is more fun; so just being in Dubai is enough for us this year."

arayer@thenational.ae