UAE expats need to tighten belts in these financially challenging times

If you don't want to book a one-way ticket out of the UAE anytime soon, then tighten your belts. It's going to be a rocky ride over the next year, warns Nima Abu Wardeh.

Gary Clement for The National
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"More one-way tickets out of the UAE come next summer." This would be my prediction if I were the crystal ball gazing type.
But I'm not. I like to think my views are based more on fact than fiction - and I still say that more people will be leaving the UAE over the course of the next 12 months. If you don't want to be one of them, then belt-tightening is the order of these times.
Signs of cutbacks are all around us - a neighbour is just back from two weeks of unpaid leave. He works for an iconic Dubai-based outfit and is one of the lucky ones, having survived the first round of a staff cull. Employees are being made redundant elsewhere in the UAE too.
My vet, a great barometer for various things, says he is seeing a repeat of behaviour that came about in 2009 - kennels have been booked out over the past few years, with summer residents being deposited as early as the end of May and picked up about a week before school starts. This summer however, pets were left at the end of the school year, only to be picked up after about 10 days, with another bookings spike during the last 10 days or so of the holiday period.
We can only speculate, but I am of the thinking that this is because people are reluctant - or not able - to take a big chunk of time off over the summer for fear of losing jobs, or because they are taking on the workload of recently fired colleagues. The employed are going for the start or the end of the summer holidays to accompany their family on at least one leg of their trip.
My vet also reported more people abandoning pets because they had lost their job and had to leave the UAE.
Are you concerned about this? Many are - two out of ten in a recent survey said that losing their job was their biggest fear.
And what about the current price of oil - does this worry you? It should. It is true that only a small number of us expatriates work in the oil industry, but we're all dependent on it. This week the cost of a barrel dipped to its lowest level since 2009. After eight consecutive weeks of losses, oil is in what is considered red flag territory - so named because it could lead to more economic and social unrest across the oil-producing world. This is already in full swing in Ecuador, where the government started the year with a US$1.42 billion cut to the budget, and this month announced it was having to find another $800m in savings. Its oil revenue has been nearly halved since last year.
Closer to home, keeping the economy afloat is why Saudi Arabia is borrowing in the financial markets - selling bonds - for the first time since 2007.
So how are things here in the UAE? I am approaching it purely from our punter perspective:
Dreaded inflation is at its highest level since 2009 - and we all know that we're paying more for a tank full of Special 95. Little wonder then that restaurant owners tell me patrons have been cutting back on spending. This has been the case since the start of this year, and will probably become more acute as the months march on.
My own personal hit in the financial gut was an email sent out just as summer kicked in stating that the cost of renewing my company licence was more than doubling, with immediate effect. Ouch.
It is nigh impossible to budget intelligently when this sort of thing comes out of nowhere, and so the key to survival is to simply cut back on spending in general and make sure the emergency fund is well stocked.
Perhaps the IMF's warning to Arabian Gulf states will help you focus your mind.
At the start of the year, the IMF advised Gulf countries to cut state-funded jobs and say no to salary increases. It further downgraded growth in the UAE in April, and this month is continuing to recommend spending cuts and taxation. If anyone's for the chop, it makes sense that expatriates would be the first to go.
I will end with the official reasons for this month's hike at petrol pumps here.
To "rationalise consumption" is how the Undersecretary for the Ministry of Energy and chairman of the Fuel Price Committee, Dr Matar Al Nyadi, put it. I really like that line. His and the committee's priority is supporting the national economy, lowering fuel consumption, protecting the environment and preserving national resources.
All admirable things.
How about you take a leaf from this book and lower your consumption - generally - and protect your own resources. Simply put, get that belt tightened if you want to be around to enjoy the sunshine come next year.
Nima Abu Wardeh is the founder of the personal finance website You can reach her at and find her on Twiiter at @nimaabuwardeh