Ah, December. Starbucks cinnamon lattes are back, everyone’s booking their annual blowout brunch and the tree decorations are glinting out from shop windows all across the land.
I can’t be the only adult for whom this time of year brings back the excited feelings of being five-years-old. And try though I might to behave like a ‘proper adult’ now that I’m a parent, having my own little one to inspire and entertain this festive season is only making me worse. Elf on a Shelf? Check. Carrots for Rudolph? Check. Gift box bulging with unnecessary flouro plastic? Check, check and check.
Problem is, playing Santa doesn’t come cheap. Every year I set myself a budget and every year, I get about five minutes into my festive shopping spree before I see something that blows my spread sheet out of the water.
Contrary to my husband’s strictest declarations, it seems I’m not the only one who finds it tough to keep the purse strings drawn. A recent study* of UAE bank customers found more than a quarter had taken out a loan or credit card to pay off other debts. Credit growth has outstripped economic growth for the past five years, and household borrowing has risen by a not-negligible 12 per cent. We are a nation, it seems, for whom debt is less of a concern than it should be. And the culprit? Keeping up with the Joneses.
Go on, admit it. When the guy at the desk next to you arrived at work with a new iPhone 6, your old one started to look just a little shabby, didn’t it? What about that day you looked in your wardrobe, felt uninspired, and jumped straight into the car to head to Dubai Mall in search of a bit of a pick-me-up – for the second time in a fortnight? And don’t even get me started about my best friends new pair of Manolos. Green is not my colour.
Of course, envy is nothing new. Human beings have always coveted. Dubai’s very population, ambitious expats who’ve moved abroad to better themselves, suggests a nation at home with the idea of wanting more. But surely, our tax-free salaries should be making it easier, not harder, for us to get what we want without succumbing to the dreaded red statement?
Satisfaction Not Guaranteed
Truth be told, the speed of life here lends itself to a bit of reckless spending. We live our lives in the fast lane – fast cars, fast food, fast shopping – and the rate of change means many of us spend our days feeling just a little bit behind the curve.
The result is a nation that’s among the world’s highest spending when it comes to luxury goods, super cars and designer brands. And our competitive nature means saying no often simply isn’t an option. Many of us, at home, would miss a big night out to save a bit of cash. But the transient nature of our lives here means there are always new friends to meet and new contacts to make, and that makes it harder than ever to say no to that brunch invite, even though the bank manager scored you off his Christmas card list long ago.
Admitting you’re skint simply isn’t the done thing here. From our Facebook profiles to our social diaries, we’re all trying to prove we’re living the high life. And every time someone we know moves into a bigger villa or treats themself to a new car, it makes the rest of us feel just a little bit like we’re failing. So flash has life here become, school teachers are receiving four figure presents from their young charges, with stories in the newspapers suggesting a gold iPad rather than an actual apple is a perfect way to say thank you to Miss. We’re like the racehorses we all spend so many dirhams going to see each year (new dress, new shoes, new hat), constantly striving to be the fastest, the most impressive. We want to win. And if we need a new credit card to look like a winner, so be it. But the cold hard facts suggest we’re doing ourselves a grave disservice. As rents increase and inflation climbs, saving is down. So are we all living beyond our means?
The short answer is yes. And the festive season only serves to exacerbate our flashiest instincts. Who wants to admit to family back home that they’re on a budget this year, when they’re under the impression we’re out here living the life of Riley?
Not me, and I would hazard a guess not you either.
So I’m putting it out there. Kids are expensive. Taking an extended period of unpaid maternity leave is even more so. I might have gotten an Alexander McQueen handbag from my husband last year, but this year he’s been warned his budget should be less Fashion Avenue, more Karama.
He’s not the only one guilty of succumbing to a bit of Dubai spending. I’ve spent a small fortune this past year on baby clothes, not to mention toys – the latest flashy, neon gizmos that will supposedly bring out my one-year-old’s inner genius. But he couldn’t care less if it’s Dior, as long as it’s easy to paint on, and the only thing he really wants to play with is a balloon. The kid loves a balloon. I guess Mensa membership will have to wait a while…
So this year I’m going back to basics. As my gift list gets longer and longer, my per-person spend is going to have to be reigned in. This year I’ll be splashing my own hard-earned dirhams on presents and not relying on my yet-to-be-earned plastic. Hubby and I are going to give each other the gift of a well-earned holiday rather than the latest costly fashions and accessories (to be worn on a holiday we’d end up booking anyway, ramping up the spending).
It doesn’t mean people will be getting rubbish gifts. Far from it. I’ll be putting my every effort into finding personal, perfect presents without blowing the bank. And I’ll be giving my family an even better gift – an early resolution to start 2015 without a red bill to our name. So apologies in advance to our wonderful nursery teacher, but if she gets a gold iPad from a pupil this year, it won’t be getting wrapped up at our house. We’ll be sticking to apples of the organic variety.