Where your money goes

Abu Dhabi households spent an average of Dh135,300 on basic needs last year, much of it on rent.

Abu Dhabi, UAE - May 29, 2008 -  Carrefour Shoppers in Marina Mall. (Nicole Hill / The National) 
grocery store
 *** Local Caption ***  NH Marina Mall167.jpgNH Marina Mall167.jpg
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Abu Dhabi households spent an average of Dh135,300 on basic needs last year, much of it on rent, according to government statistics. Emiratis alone spent more than twice that amount and "collective households" less than half. Tom Spender reports abu DHABI // Households in the emirate spent an average of Dh135,300 (US$36,800) per year on basic needs, including accommodation, food and school fees in 2007 and 2008, according to government statistics.

But the level of expenditure today could be as much as 13 per cent more, or Dh152,900 per year, taking into account the Ministry of Economy's official inflation figures for the period since the raw data was compiled. The report, from the newly formed Statistics Centre - Abu Dhabi, divided the emirate's population into three groups: Emiratis, who spent Dh305,500 per household in 2007-2008; middle-class expatriate households, which spent Dh106,400 per year; and "collective households", which spent just Dh47,500 per year.

Although not specifically defined in the report, "collective households" appears to refer to lower income residents in shared accommodation. Rent was by far the largest expense for all residents irrespective of nationality, eating up an average of 37.7 per cent of the total, with "transport and telecoms" constituting 17.9 per cent of expenditure and food and drink 16.4 per cent. But the statistics centre did not include savings in its survey, which is the first of its kind to have been carried out in the emirate.

The results also underlined the great variety in lifestyles among the emirate's population, with the lowest-spending 20 per cent of residents accounting for just 6.4 per cent of the total expenditure and the top 20 per cent of spenders accounting for 42.7 per cent. The survey included a breakdown by region, which shows that Emiratis and middle-class expatriates in Abu Dhabi and Al Gharbia spend up to twice as much per capita as their counterparts in Al Ain or in the areas surrounding Al Ain and Abu Dhabi.

No one at the statistics centre was available for comment on the report. But Omar Said and Ahmad Ali, both Emirati government employees in Abu Dhabi, said the spending patterns of Emiratis could vary wildly according to "social status and commitments". "It depends on whether he is married or not and whether he lives inside Abu Dhabi or outside," said Mr Said, 28, who is married with two children. "It also depends on the wife. Some of them like to spend and some don't. If they do, you have to spend, otherwise they think you're stingy.

"It is difficult to have one fixed annual budget; it does not work for us. Foreigners can do that, but we have commitments to others. Everyone likes to save but it's difficult here." Mr Ali, 25, who is single, said he and his peers felt they had to follow trends to get respect. "Restaurants, for example, are trendy now," he said. "If you don't go to restaurants, you're not respected enough. And the restaurant should be five stars, and the bill should be between Dh200 to Dh700. That is twice a week, on average.

"People need to change their cars. I renew my car every five years but this is just because I am too grown up for extravagance. Younger people change their cars every year because it is the trend." Some young Emiratis spend Dh3,000 on their sunglasses and up to Dh25,000 on mobile phones, Mr Ali said. "Have you seen an Emirati with less than three mobiles?" he said. "Every bill is around Dh2,000. Some buy a new mobile every month. Also, car monthly instalment is Dh3,000 to Dh4,000. A new khandoura costs Dh1,500, and that is for a new one every month. Shoes cost Dh1,500, with a new pair every three months. And travel to a country in the region would cost at least Dh60,000 for the trip."

Sandy Wilson, an American housewife whose husband works at the US embassy, said she and her husband spent most of their money on food and drink and travel, but saved money because the embassy covered the couple's accommodation costs and because she did her shopping online. "Our budget is mostly spent on food and drink," she said. "I barely spend anything in Abu Dhabi, I do most of my shopping online because it is cheaper than the prices here. I don't buy clothing or books here.

"Our excess money is spent on travel. We want to see this part of the world. We're not saving a lot; we're travelling a lot." Remedios Paredes, a widowed Filipina nurse working at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, also has employer-provided accommodation for herself and her three children. But she is struggling to make ends meet after paying a total of Dh40,500 in tuition fees for her children as well as food and drink and medical expenses for sick relatives in the Philippines, all of which must come from a monthly wage of Dh8,300.

"When I came here in 2000, I would spend Dh500 for food and the trolley would overflow," she said. "Now I can only buy milk and water and bread. Now Dh100 is like Dh10." Mrs Paredes said she planned to send her children back to the Philippines to be educated because she could not meet the rising costs here. "I cannot pay any more," she said. "My children ask for clothes for programmes, and money for projects at school. I don't have money, so I'm only using my credit card. Even the taxi prices have risen."

* With additional reporting by Hassan Hassan and Meera al Sayegh