Raising a child can cost up to Dh3 million, according to financial experts, but canny spending and buying secondhand can trim the outlay substantially, says Dubai commercial manager Victoria James.
Briton Ms James, 32, lives in a two-bedroom apartment in Dubai Marina with husband Alex, her daughter, 2, and son Jack, 10 months. She says she waits for the sales, goes to a monthly baby bazaar, sells on her own secondhand items and shops in the UK when on holiday or when visitors come to stay.
She also cooks the children’s meals in bulk using “whatever vegetables, fish or meat is on sale – so dinner might be Nile perch, marrow and potato".
"Saving with two children is difficult," Ms James says, "but I manage to send money home every month. Anything extra I save from budgeting goes on the little things that make us happy, such as breakfast out, a few toys - and ice cream."
US financial comparison site NerdWallet estimates that to raise a child from zero to 18, even a ‘no frills’ upbringing will cost at least $260,000 (Dh954,850) for food, housing, clothing, transportation, healthcare and health insurance.
That figure soars to $745,634 (Dh2,738,340) once four years of childcare, birthday parties and presents, bicycles, a partly-private education, college savings, music and sports lessons, holidays, laptops and smartphones are accounted for, the 2017 study found.
Even in the sales, Ms James says she could easily spend Dh100 on a single item of children’s clothing, whereas she can get an “armful” of books, toys and clothes at the secondhand baby bazaar in Times Square, with babygros or shorts costing Dh5-10 each, and she has also made a Dh2,000 profit selling on old baby gear.
On a trip to the UK in the summer she spent £150 (Dh716) on “enough clothes to last both babies for at least the next year”; British and European brands in Dubai cost “almost double” the UK price, she says.
Costs can still mount up, she adds. Although baby’s food is cheap, adding around Dh50 to the weekly bill, Ms James spends around Dh400 a month on formula milk and “toddler snacks are not cheap”. She has no idea how much she spent initially as a new parent, but “we certainly didn’t save anything the first 12 months after my daughter was born”.
It is not always the direct costs that hit your pocket but the associated costs of becoming a family, says Camilla Hassan, managing director of baby boutique chain Five Little Ducks. Those include buying a family car, moving to a bigger house and childcare costs.
“I found that preparing gradually during the pregnancy was the most sensible way to stock up on baby products; by adding an extra pack of wipes or nappies to every supermarket shop while I was pregnant to staggering the larger items over the months and having a baby shower,” she says.
She advises new parents to consider the cost per use before pulling out the credit card. “Purchasing good quality products that lasted several years was more cost-effective as I used them for both children. A stroller is used every day whereas babies grow out of clothes within weeks.”
Her ‘must-haves’ are a “decent” car seat, which costs Dh800 to Dh1,200, a stroller, which should cost Dh2,000 to Dh6,000, a crib - she recommends the Snuzpod bedside crib, which attaches to the parents’ bed and costs Dh1,300, and six to 10 newborn sleepsuits, costing around Dh500. A car seat, she warns, should never be bought secondhand, as you will not know if it has been in an accident or whether it is within its use-by date.
Ms James’ husband Alex retrained as a freelance graphic designer when she fell pregnant, so that he could take on work but also look after the children, saving the cost of a maid. That has also meant the couple have not needed a bigger property or, because of the transport links in the Marina, a second car.
They spend Dh700 a month for a nursery for 20 hours a week for their daughter, with flexible payments rather than upfront termly bills, and can cut hours if they are “a bit pinched” one month.
Good childcare can be a “significant chunk” of a family budget, says Jenny Mollon, early years editor for Which School Advisor. Many working mothers return to the workplace at the end of their 45-day statutory maternity leave, she says, with other children generally starting nursery at around 18 months to two years old.
For 45 hours of care per week, nurseries range in cost from Dh7,500 to Dh16,500 per term, she says, although she adds that there is “greater flexibility” in cost than in schools as parents can vary the number of days and hours their child attends. “As with schools, there are many new nurseries in the UAE,” she adds. “This has helped to broaden choice and had a dampening effect on price increases.”
One thing Ms James does not stint on is health insurance. Her employer-provided policy covered “pretty much all of my maternity care” but does not cover dependents. Initially she spent Dh6,000 a year to cover her husband and the two children “but we really didn’t feel we were getting the best advice when my daughter was ill a lot in her first year”. They now spend Dh12,000 a year on insurance. “It’s a big jump but we now visit the doctor less and have much faster and more reliable care.”
By law, pregnancy healthcare costs are built into any existing insurance package for a married woman aged 18 to 50, says Talal Bayaa, chief executive and co-founder of insurance comparison site Bayzat. Working women need to be aware that they cannot make any changes to their employer’s insurance, he warns, while non-working women should plan ahead and choose a policy that covers their preferred hospital for delivery.
Dubai Health Authority mandates that insurance in the emirate covers up to Dh7,000 for a normal delivery and Dh10,000 for a “medically necessary” Caesarean section, he adds, as well as eight pre-natal appointments, three pre-natal scans and basic blood work. Complications are covered, with Dh150,000 for life-threatening complications during delivery – “the annual limit on basic plans”. Pain relief, such as epidurals, are not.
All policies in Dubai and Abu Dhabi include newborn cover for the first 30 days after birth, Mr Bayaa says; after that, it can cost anything from Dh550 to 50,000 to insure a child. “Most insurance companies have stopped providing ‘child-alone’ policies,” he adds, and children are now “expected to be added to their parents’ existing policy”.
Even just getting pregnant can be expensive. Dr Walid Sayed, medical director of HealthPlus Fertility Centre, estimates that a third of couples in the UAE suffer fertility issues, with a single cycle of IVF treatment costing as much as Dh45,000.