Family budgets in Dubai

It’s difficult to stop spending on your kids, especially in Dubai and
particularly at this time of year

Debate team

• The owner of a newly-opened dancewear shop, Belinda Reardon is mother to Joel, 16, and Khali, 14. Originally from Queensland in Australia, she lives in Mirdif and has been in Dubai for two years.

• Kristen Romain is partners and alliances director for Dow Jones. Her children, Zac and Ella, are aged four and two and she lives with her family in The Lakes. From Australia, she has been in Dubai for three-and-a-half years.

• The newbie in town, Samantha Buxton arrived in Dubai from Henley in the UK just 12 months ago. She is a full-time mum to Charlotte aged eight, and Sophie aged six, and lives in Jumeirah Islands.

• Marketing exec and mum-of-two, Navin Popat lives with her family in Jumeirah Islands has been in Dubai for two years. Her children are Chantelle, 11 and Natalina, aged nine.

What got us talking

With the festive season well and truly here, we’re becoming all too familiar with sentences that start with ‘I want…’ Yep, it gets on your nerves, but who can blame the kids when Dubai is a place that will never relinquish its ‘spend, spend, spend’ mentality? This is a city where many children not only have privileged upbringings, but often vastly over-indulgent ones too. Are you desperately trying to raise decent little Charlie Buckets? Or does your brood have more in common with the ghastly Veruca Salt? We met four mums at Carluccio’s in Dubai Mall for a little indulgence of our own (of Italian coffee and pastries) and talked, ironically,
about learning to say no.

With Christmas on the way, the asking never stops. Where should you draw the line money-wise?
Belinda: Generally, we’ve always said we’ll buy our kids one thing that they really want from Santa. This year Joel is getting a new guitar and it’s going to cost a lot – Dhs5,000 – because of the level he’s at with his music, but he’s waited all year for that, and he’s also a good kid, so I feel it’s justified.

Navin: For us it’s difficult because we follow Eid and Diwali as well as Christmas and birthdays. So when do you stop? It’s like bam, bam, bam. We set a target and try to stick to it. Also, I think it’s important to celebrate the spiritual side of religious holidays.

Samantha: I do try and stick to birthdays and Christmas, and I don’t buy for them throughout the year. They get a little pocket money each week, and I’ve tried to get them to adopt the policy of spend 50 per cent, save 50 per cent, which is quite difficult in Dubai.

Kristen: You’re good! I spoil my kids and when I told my husband the topic we were going to discuss, he just laughed. Because I work and I have the means, I spend money on them. One thing I read recently that really hit home, though, was an article that discussed the psychological effects of spoiling a child. The conclusion was that if you provide too much for them, you take away their ability to anticipate and to get excited about something, which is really sad.

Belinda: There are different types of spoiling, though. There are the parents who buy their kids age-appropriate things like clothes etc, because they think ‘ah, they’ll look cute in that,’ and then there’s the spoiling that happens when parents buy things that are totally over the top and not appropriate.

Kristen: Ah! You make me feel so much better, Belinda!

What are your thoughts on the whole pocket money debate?
Belinda: Some of my children’s friends get Dhs500 per week.

Everyone: No! (gasps)

Belinda: And that has caused massive arguments with us. Dhs500 a week is too much in my book. Khali gets Dhs400 a month – but we always put Dhs50 credit on her and Joel’s phones every month too. Out of their allowance, they have to pay for everything, from getting cabs to the mall to buying their food when they’re out. And we do try very hard to make them stick to that.

Samantha: I give the little one Dhs10 and the older one Dhs15 per week. We provide everything – all the bits and bobs – but I try my best to stick to those amounts. They do get extra if my parents are here. But in terms of age, it is difficult. I mean, when should you start giving them money?

Belinda: The younger they can learn and understand what money is, the better, and from as early an age as possible, right from when they can help you in the shop, by getting the money from your purse and
paying for something.

Navin: Chantelle gets Dhs22 and Natalina gets Dhs15. We set the level by taking their age and doubling it. But as a child, I used to earn all my pocket money from doing the washing up to washing the car,
and it didn’t do me any harm. My daughter said to me the other day; ‘Why do I need to wash the car? The man in the mall will wash it.’

Kristen: But that’s symptomatic of where we are. Everything is done for them here – and it’s not a good thing. Are children particularly spoilt in Dubai? And is it harder for parents to keep a reign on the spending?

Everyone: Oh yes!

Belinda: Some kids at my children’s school are walking about in designer shoes and carrying Louis Vuitton handbags. They’ll be wearing designer watches and Tiffany jewellery – it’s unbelievable! If my daughter ever asks for something like that, the answer is a short ‘no’.

Kristen: I’ll buy cute little clothes, but at four and two, I don’t think kids get spoiled by being given clothes. If they start to demand something in the supermarket that I don’t want them to have, I will put my foot down. And I don’t care if they’re screaming their heads off at the end of it. I won’t give in to that kind of pressure.

Belinda: Yes – you’re right. You have to stick to your guns. And it’s not easy. If you do give in, that’s spoiling, because it’s a child saying ‘I want’ and then getting something through bad behaviour.

Samantha: I think not having your family around does make a difference too. I feel sorry for my girls on their birthdays because they don’t have the showering of presents they normally would do because extended family isn’t around. Because of that, I do tend to buy them more presents to make up for it.

Navin: And there’s huge pressure in Dubai to spend more anyway. The whole lifestyle is so glitzy. The latest gadgets and fashions are all over the place, so I do find the pressure is far more intense than it was at home.

Samantha: I was at a party for eight-year-olds the other day and was totally shocked to see three of the kids had Blackberries! I was horrified. My daughter said to me, ‘Mummy, I don’t even have a mobile phone yet.’ And I haven’t contemplated getting one for her either.

Belinda: She doesn’t need one yet. You pick her up and take her everywhere she goes.

Samantha: Exactly. She’s only asking for it because she thinks it looks hip and cool.

How do you help them understand the value of money – and what they are asking for?
Samantha: At Halloween, we came back from trick or treating with armfuls of sweets, and we’d had a great time. I told them they could pick out 15 of their favourite sweets and then we put the rest in other bags and gave them away to people, like our maid and the compound security guard. The girls really enjoyed doing that.

Belinda: That’s a beautiful gesture – really lovely – because it helps them understand that there are a lot of people out there who live on very little here.

Navin: That’s very true. You have to remind your children that they are lucky to be living as they are. I was discussing spending with my daughter the other day and she said, ‘You know mummy, it takes a lot of time and effort to save my money, but I can spend it in a very short time.’ Recently she bought herself a Wii game – and she really values that game because she saved her pocket money and bought it all by herself.

Belinda: Yes, they value those things more, and that’s important for when they get older. In Australia we have this games shop where you can take the old ones in and get discounts off the new ones, so we used that to teach Joel about waste and recycling.

Kristen: That’s a great idea. There is so much waste here!

How about when family come to stay? Do you find they spoil the kids more because they’re in Dubai?

Kristen: My parents arrive tomorrow and my mum’s gone out to get my children stuff. They’re going to have so much fun. I’m going to make the most of it with them!

Samantha: I agree. My parents are here at the moment and of course the kids get treats, or slipped money here and there etc, but I think, why not?

Belinda: Those are memories they will cherish and it’s important they have them; to do things a little off the cuff.

Navin: It’s true to a point, but you have to be careful with grandparents because of the distance and the lack of time they spend with the grandkids. I find my father over-indulges the children, and he’s at a level where he can spend whatever he wants. We as parents just can’t compete with that. We want our children to know the value of things and learn to work for them, not just think, ‘Oh Grandpa will buy it for me.’

Is the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality a problem here?
Samantha: Oh yes – especially when it comes to parties! My daughter is about to have her sixth birthday, so I’ll get someone in to do the food and an entertainer, and I’ll make sure there’s something for the mums and dads as well. If we were back home, she’d probably end up having her party in the village hall, I’d make the fairy cakes and we’d all rally round. I certainly wouldn’t get someone in to do the catering. A friend who threw a party recently had maybe 25 to 30 children attending – and when I totalled it all up, I estimated what it must have cost in sterling – and I reckon it came to £2,500 (about Dhs15,000).

Belinda: Gee whiz! (laughs) Joel’s not even getting that for his 21st!

Navin: Mums here do get competitive about parties. My children have been picked up in a limo, then taken to have their nails and hair done at the age of six. It’s ridiculous! I do my own nails at home for goodness sake. For the same party I was given a sort code for an item on a gift list – for a designer bikini!

Kristen: Children need to appreciate simple fun. My two-year-old is having a Barney- themed birthday party in the back yard. We went to a party once where my son Zac got a big present when we left. I was like, ‘What’s this? We’re supposed to be giving you a gift.’

Samantha: I said to my little one the other day, what do you want for your birthday party, and she said ‘I just want it at home with pass the parcel’.

You’ve got to make sure your kids don’t push you into that ‘keeping up with their friends’ nonsense. If you stick to your guns, they’ll turn out okay.

The beachside dining spot is celebrating international coffee day at its brand-new branch

Feeling the pinch? Fear not. We've got 16 weekend feasts for under Dhs300 for you

Black Coffee and Themba will hit the decks on Friday September 28

You’ll get a complimentary vegetarian dim sum basket on October 1

It's free to take part and no experience is needed

There will be fireworks at La Mer, plus discounts across the city


Follow us