From a thriving textbook exchange community, to online marketplaces where parents sell and buy second-hand uniforms, to encouraging children to play MasterChef and bake their favourite foods rather than order takeaway, families in the UAE are trying it all to cut costs.
Before the new academic year begins, at the end of August, parents have many costs to think of, including new books, notebooks and stationery.
Each year, families spend thousands of dirhams on school uniforms, bags, shoes, caps and sports kits before the new term.
Priya D’Souza, who lives in Dubai and is from India, was working hard to keep her budget in check when she had the idea last summer that teaching her daughter to bake would prove a cost-effective alternative to ordering meals from restaurants.
“I started baking because my children, both teenagers, have a sweet tooth. Later on during the pandemic, my daughter developed an inclination for baking," says Mrs D’Souza.
“She learnt to bake cookies and tried her hand at making pudding, and now also makes ice creams.”
Mrs D’Souza says she takes her children grocery-shopping, to educate them on prices and easy alternatives that can be cooked at home, instead of eating out at a restaurant.
Many parents in the Emirates are finding budget-friendly ways of obtaining school uniforms without spending thousands of dirhams.
A quick search on the classifieds website Dubizzle shows more than a dozen advertisements for used uniforms for different schools.
Last year, parents told The National they were frustrated over having to buy low-quality, overpriced school uniforms. They urged schools to ensure that reasonably priced options became available.
Parents exchange textbooks, sell them at discounted prices or in some cases give them away to others.
Family saves together
Arpita Trivedi, an Indian mother of two in Dubai, tried a unique method of encouraging her daughter, 17, and son, 15, to save water and money simultaneously.
“I've bought a bucket and I fill it with water then tell them to use it for their shower so they only use that amount of water. It's something very basic but it makes a lot of impact," says Mrs Trivedi.
She also came up with an at-home dining and cinema experience.
"We used to watch lots of movies [at the cinema]. Now, because of online streaming, we watch movies at home and that has also curbed the expenditure," she says.
"We also used to spend a lot on the snacks and now we make popcorn at home and sit together as a family and have a wonderful time."
Mrs Trivedi says during the pandemic, while people were stuck at home, her family members discovered their culinary abilities.
She says they started cooking together.
"We make our own versions of different recipes," says Mrs Trivedi.
Many of the things that they used to buy turned out to be unnecessary, she says.
"We always make a list and we try to adhere to it because what used to happen was we used to go to the supermarkets without a list keeping few things in mind and bringing back 50 things," she says.
Learning the value of money
Moomal Tariq, a doctoral student at UAE University, who lives in Al Ain and is a mother of one, says she learnt to drive to cut on transport costs.
She says the school bus fees for her son, 8, increased from Dh6,000 in the previous academic year to Dh6,500 in the current academic year.
“I got a driver’s licence and have decided I will take him to and from school, starting in the new academic term. The school transport costs were going up and using our car is also more secure," says Mrs Tariq.
She also tries to teach her son about financial literacy.
When her son asked for Dh300 to buy books at a school book fair, she explained to him that he was asking for a very big amount and gave him Dh100 instead.
"In real life, you have to make choices according to the money that you have and you can't have everything you like. It's important that children understand the value of money," she says.
Many parents opt out of school transport and take turns picking and dropping off their own and friends' children to save costs.