Families in the UAE rein in festive spending amid Covid-19

Start buying gifts early and set money aside in advance, suggest administrators of some of the UAE’s popular Facebook savings communities

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - December 10, 2020: Chris Bradwell is the owner/admin of British Dads Dubai. He is one of a few voices in a story about Christmas spending for the personal finance page. Pictured with wife Stacey, son Thomas 4 and daughter Izzy 10. Thursday, December 10th, 2020 in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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There’s no disputing that 2020 has been a year like no other.

And with Christmas fast approaching, for many the festive season may be taking on a different shape compared with previous years – not least when it comes to budgeting for gifts.

A recent survey in the UK revealed just under four in 10 families with children living at home are cutting back on Christmas spending this year.

Website comparethemarket.com's household financial confidence tracker found 46 per cent of families with kids are expecting to trim their budgets because they can't afford to spend as much as they normally do due to the financial effects of Covid-19.

UAE residents are not immune to the economic fall-out either. The pandemic has bitten many households, reduced income for some and led to others simply being more aware of their spending habits.

Individuals, families and couples are considering compromising on gifts, such as only giving presents to immediate family, reducing their gift budgets or even abandoning gifting altogether to put cash towards a staycation.

We asked the administrators of some of the nation’s most popular Facebook savings and advice sharing communities for their festive spending manifestos and tips.

Debbie Steedman, 55, co-founder of Shop Well For Less

The British mother-of-one lives in Al Barsha, Dubai, and curates thousands of posts highlighting deals and savings from a community of 27,000 members.

How do you keep down the cost of Christmas?

Her key advice is to begin buying early.

"Once the January sales start, it's a great time to pick up some bargains that can be stored for the following Christmas; things like wrapping paper and Christmas crackers are always half price or less," says Ms Steedman.

“Dubai Summer Surprises is a good time to start picking up those stocking fillers. By spreading the cost over a few months, it makes it more affordable.”

Do you have gift spending limits and have they reduced this year?

Ms Steedman believes everyone has a rough idea of what they are going to spend.

"I had a challenge this year with a friend to only spend Dh50 on each other. It's been great fun and a challenge to get value for money," she explains.

Dubai Summer Surprises is a good time to start picking up those stocking fillers

“I think this year many will spend a bit more if they are in a position to do so in an effort to make it extra special.

“So many special occasions have not happened due to Covid. My daughter missed out on her 16th birthday party and end-of-year prom, two important occasions in any young lady’s life.

“Christmas will be extra special in our house this year as we look forward to 2021.”

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 19 MAY 2020. Freya Jaffar is the founder and admin of Abu Dhabi Q&A Facebook group community page . (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: David Dunn. Section: National.
Freya Jaffar, founder and moderator of Abu Dhabi Q&A Facebook group, suggests those gifting to make it more personal by considering items like letters, home-made gifts or even cooked goods. Photo: Antonie Robertson / The National

Freya Jaffar, 45, founder and moderator of Abu Dhabi Q&A

It is an informative community with 59,000 members for people living in the capital. She is a mother of four children.

Do you budget or save up for Christmas?

“Not really,” says Ms Jaffar, who was born in the UK.

"It's more of a celebratory day for me rather than gift giving. I grew up in London and attended a Christian school, so Christmas was a huge part of life.

"Thus, for me, it's about a lot of happy memories. I do the whole turkey and crackers at the table though – my kids really look forward to that day due to the feast."

Do you have gift spending limits?

"As it's more about an acknowledgement to my childhood than religion, I usually only give out Christmas cards and a few presents to a handful of close friends," says Ms Jaffar.

"So, I've never really spent a huge amount of money. It's more the thought, for sure."

That said, she has a key tip for those looking to keep Christmas costs down.

“I would say for those celebrating and giving gifts to make it more personal … like letters, home-made gifts like paintings or even cooked goods,” she adds.

Dubai, December 13.12.14 Christmas shopping at Ibn Battuta mall Friday evening, Anna Nielsen for The National *** Local Caption ***  Anna_Nielsen Ibn Battuta mall14.JPG
A consumer shops for Christmas at Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai. Photo: Anna Nielsen / The National 

Chris Bradwell, owner and administrator of British Dads Dubai

The father-of-three oversees this long-running group with almost 6,000 members sharing and seeking helpful information.

Have your Christmas spending plans been affected by the pandemic?

“Yes, considerably as I lost my job earlier this year,” says the 40-year-old. “But we have made sure the children won’t go without gifts.”

Mr Bradwell says his family usually budgets for the festive season, although he admits that it sometimes goes beyond the brief.

“My wife often says ‘that’s enough’, but I get side-tracked and often buy extra presents as and when I find them,” says Mr Bradwell, who has children aged four and 10 living in Dubai, plus a 15-year-old in the UK.

Do you have gift spending limits?

This is usually the case, says Mr Bradwell, but the thought process appears to be a little different for him and his wife Stacey.

“Normally for the children, my wife has a budget in her head, but I often just buy things as and when I see them,” he admits.

That said, as parents they like to keep the children grounded “as you can let it run away with you”.

The couple is, however, stricter when it comes to buying gifts for each other.

“For us, we often say ‘no presents’, as we tend to treat each other over the year to things that we want,” adds Mr Bradwell.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 28 NOVEMBER 2018. A Practical Guide to Financial Independence event, Steve Cronin. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Alice Haine. Section: Business.
Steve Cronin, administrator of the SimplyFI community, says people must make a note of how much they are spending for Christmas as this will keep a tab on expenditure. Photo: Antonie Robertson / The National

Steve Cronin, administrator of the SimplyFI community

This is a platform for “common sense” personal finance and investing that has 13,000 members.

What are your tips for a cost-friendly Christmas?

Mr Cronin, 42, suggests it helps to set aside some money in advance, although you shouldn’t feel bad if you haven’t done this.

“Maybe next year,” he says. “It is useful to note down present ideas throughout the year.

“Do spend for Christmas in a controlled way; note how much you are spending. This alone will help you keep control as you see the items add up.”

Mr Cronin, also founder of personal finance website DeadSimpleSaving.com, suggests focusing on value rather than price when buying gifts.

“Those close to you may prefer something with a lot of emotional value, such as a collage of framed photos, or entertainment value such as a VIP treatment at their favourite mid-tier restaurant or spa, rather than some grand but hollow gesture such as expensive jewellery.”

It is useful to note down present ideas throughout the year

How should someone impacted by the pandemic approach festive spending?

Mr Cronin says that if you’ve lost your job or are having a rough time financially, people will understand if you don't give anything extravagant.

“If you do not have a cash buffer – ideally six months of expenses – then you should be especially careful,” he explains.

“If you do have a buffer, it’s okay to dip into it sensibly, as long as there is a clear path to refilling it in January.”

He also points out that children don’t need “fancy presents”.

“What they really want is your love and attention, spending time with them and playing games over the festive period,” says Mr Cronin.

“That is what they will be talking about when they go back to school, not who had the most expensive presents.”

Do you set gift spending limits?

Mr Cronin doesn’t, “especially not this year when everyone needs cheering up a bit”.

But the Briton says: “I do keep an eye on how things add up and try to make sure I’m putting some thought behind presents, rather than spending for the sake of it,” he says.

“I also can’t stand random plastic stocking fillers that never get looked at after Christmas Day … such things aren’t helping the planet at all.”

Mr Cronin adds: “Now, I would naturally say the best Christmas present is the gift of financial independence.”