Family finance in Dubai

Louise Emma Clarke adds up the cost of being a parent in Dubai


Adding up the cost of being a parent in Dubai? Louise Emma Clarke is right with you…

My name is Louise and I don’t want you to use my baby wipes. There, I’ve admitted it. Like every mum since the invention of baby wipes, I am never without a packet. I use them to mop mucky hands and faces, change nappies, wipe surfaces, and even clean the house (“What’s that smear on the window? Nothing a baby wipe won’t fix!”)

So why am I so loathed to hand out wipes when friends forget to bring theirs along to play dates? I have been in the position myself plenty of times, hoping for some goodwill, but I am still the last to hold up my packet and offer a dig. Well, it’s the cost isn’t it...? At the price we pay for a packet in Dubai, they might as well be worth their weight in gold.

When I head back to my home country to visit friends and family, the aisles of the supermarket have me gasping in pleasure. The prices are unbelievably cheap. I stock up on multi-packs of packets of wipes, nappies, and snacks to fly back to Dubai – and for a while, I feel pretty smug that my changing table and kitchen cupboards are fully stocked with cut-price baby produce. I may even offer you a wipe if you happen to visit my apartment during those blessed periods – the moment of handing over the wipe will still be painful of course (you can’t beat the habit of a parenthood) but I am likely to loosen my grasp.

There comes a time, however, when the stocks run out and we have to start paying UAE prices again. I am loathed to spend more on a multi-pack of baby wipes than I get for an hour or two of work, but what choice do I have? And anyone that mutters cotton wool and water hasn’t wrestled with a 16-month old while he tries to thrust a book, cuddly bunny, and pack of raisins into the contents of his nappy.

Wipes are just one example… Living in the UAE brings so much opportunity to my family and I don’t begrudge the chance to live here for a second, but we all have to admit that it isn’t the cheapest place in the world to shop. I nearly wept when I bought my son a tray of over-priced strawberries and spotted a layer of green mould before he’d even tasted them. I had to breathe deeply and count to 10 when I purchased a charming pair of shorts at an extortionate price and he ripped through the hem after one wear. And I have had to keep very quiet at home about paying for a full term of stimulating baby classes, which he mostly spent asleep in his buggy…

I remember trying to convince my husband as a newly married couple that now was the time to start a family. Over a slap-up dinner in a gourmet restaurant I quipped: “You know, babies aren’t expensive things…” before tucking back into my scallop starter… As I rack up the weekly supermarket bills, nursery fees, and cost of new shoes every eight weeks, I am hoping he has forgotten that comment. But on reflection, those scallop dinners really don’t happen that often anymore, so perhaps he is still stewing.

And then there are Dubai rental prices. With each child that arrives, we need to add another bedroom – so the affordable and very swanky one-bed with panoramic views is just a distant memory. With the birth of number one, we ‘upgraded’ to a two-bed with less-than-panoramic views. And with number two on the way, we are looking for a three bed – and you can bet that won’t have any views at all.

There’s always the option of giving the second child a bathroom as a bedroom – after all, in true Dubai style, we have more of them than places to sleep... But when I muted this idea to a friend back home, I was met with a look that made me feel like an utter failure as a mother.

Her children each have beautiful nurseries with matching curtains and duvet sets, wooden rocking chairs, solid cots, and their names stenciled on the wall. As I changed my son’s nappy on her youngest child’s changing table, I thought about my next baby sleeping in the bathroom and experienced a terrible sinking feeling. Could I add letter stencils to a bathroom wall? Or would it look a little odd above the toilet? I felt a terrible pang of jealousy and considered delving into her pack of baby wipes in some kind of silent protest – but I quickly pulled myself together and realised that would be a step too far. Envy is forgivable, but baby wipe theft is another thing altogether…

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