Read also: Expats sending families home as money fears grow in Oman
Muscat: If 2016 is to be the year of austerity in Oman, affecting both nationals and expats, what steps can the average family take to ensure they make it through to more prosperous times?
While most recognise the need for the Sultanate to embrace cost-cutting measures and reduce subsidies, so the nation can weather the global oil price crisis, uncertainty of what lies ahead has led some expatriates to already send their families home just days into the New Year, while Omanis who face tighter spending controls in government sector jobs are also discussing what sensible options they have.
So today here is the Times of Oman 2016 Survival Guide based on advice from experts, locals and expatriates.
Some of it is just plain common sense, but taken together the measures provide a model on how to minimise your unnecessary expenses in the year ahead — they might even become habit forming for years to come.
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Use public transport, carpool
The new oil price rules are expected to impact the pockets of the average commuters in some way, with predictions of a hike in the price of fuel at the pumps. That’s why many believe better public transport must be utilised.
“Using our improved public transport system where possible for commuting and school runs, carpooling with colleagues, trading in gas guzzlers for more economical models or failing this, just allow more time for your journeys and drive more slowly,” suggests Mark Pudwell, business development and training manager at Competence HR.
With the introduction of Mwasalat buses in Oman, many say money can be saved by each household member from using the public transport.
“It would be a great idea if we start using the public buses instead of driving our own cars,” says Indian expat S Basu, who lives in Ruwi.
According to Benoie P. Mathew, Lead Project Engineer, Oil South Engineering of PDO, “One can reduce unnecessary trips; minimise travelling at rush hours to avoid more fuel consumption.”
“Avoid overspeeding. It will reduce unnecessary burning of fuel; optimise the usage of AC in your vehicle,” he adds.
Others say switching off car engine while waiting or in jams could save fuel.
“Same goes for brakes. You should always take your foot off the gas pedal and avoid going hard on brakes that cut down fuel mileage by almost 30 per cent,” says an automobile expert.
“Then you can switch on your fan after your car’s air-conditioner has reached to its peak in summers. This way one can save a lot of fuel and in winters one can open a very portion of the window so that you don’t have to switch on the air-conditioning system,” he adds.
One Omani national promised to abandon his fuel guzzler car for some time.
“I own three cars and one of them is a Silverado which is a fuel guzzler. I will probably fill the car up, keep it parked at home and only use it when necessary.”
According to Dr C K Anchan, a finance expert, people can try forming a carpool to share the costs with other people headed in the same direction.
“Taking lunch to office could save some money as well,” Dr Anchan suggests.
Change spending behaviour
People in Oman are addicted to overspending just like their other GCC counterparts but it looks like the time has come to reduce spending and develop a new behaviour.
“When you have excess of income you develop a particular behavioural pattern. When your income grossly decreases, you are not trained to manage that. So we must learn alternating between two extreme situations,” says Nageshwar C, a stock expert.
Other ways are to do only one food shopping trip per week and choose not to buy non-essential items like sweets and cakes, being creative with fewer ingredients for meals, postpone family holidays or make just one instead of two or three short breaks, suggests Mark Pudwell.
Finance expert Dr C K Anchan advises checking one’s inventory and drawing up a shopping list before one goes to the market.
“Make a list of items you need and stick to the plan. Do not make purchasing decisions at the spur of the moment, swayed by combo deals or offers,” he says.
“Don’t go on brand, you can safely go for unbranded items of home care products like floor cleaners and detergents. Also avoid paying more for packaged spices and condiments. If you buy loose, you can get the same stuff at a much lower price,” he suggests.
Other ways to save some money could include minimising food wastage at home.
“Buy in bulk form mini-cooperatives with three-four friends or neighbours who may want to share the effort and gains,” he says.
Saraswathy Manoj, an Indian home-maker says she plans to cut expenditure by adopting a proper cooking plan, saving food and cutting down her grocery bill.
She says the family will cut down weekend outings; phone and internet usage, clothing that could include making a purchase once in three months only, and hunt for offers in shopping malls.
“There will be no more new gadgets or upgrade of the existing ones,” she says, adding she would also ensure the lights and water heaters are switched off when not in use.
Mohammed Faisal, a Pakistani businessman, will try cutting down his visits to shopping malls.
“Visiting malls tempt us to buy things when we really don’t want,” he says, adding, “I also plan to limit my visit to cinemas and online shopping.”
Experts advice can reduce the stress on finances by spending smartly, consuming efficiently and investing intelligently.
According to Dr Anchan: “Money shouldn’t stay idle in a savings account, even if it is a savings account; your money is not safe. Inflation nibbles into its value every day, eroding its purchasing power. Never mind the attractive percentage being offered on the balance by some banks.”
The expert further says, “Your money must grow faster than that to retain its purchasing power. Opt for right investments. You can also put your money in a short-term debt fund for higher returns.” Another financial expert suggests credit card usage should be “rationalised”.
“It should be used in emergencies only and not always for dining out or shopping,” he says.
Businessman Mohammed Faisal says he will close a high interest loan by finding a new one with low interest.
“I would also suggest using family budget planners. One could use calendars, spreadsheets on desktops or online softwares that I also use for my own finances. This helps one stick to the monthly financial plan. Our parents follow it back home,” he says.
Others like Sheikh Shaviaar, a sales executive, have requested his owner not to raise the rent of his apartment this year.
“Let’s see if he agrees. I could save at least OMR20,” Shaviaar says. There are suggestions that property owners should let the apartments on rent instead of keeping them empty in hope to get higher rents.
“The rent I am asking for is much lower than the market price. I have to pay for maintenance and utilities so I cannot afford to go lower than what I am demanding,” says Nada, an Omani citizen who owns two apartments in Muscat.
Minimising holidaying could also save some money which one can use in tough times.
Yusuf Soopy, an Indian national living in Oman for 32 years says, “Instead of taking a holiday, I have decided to work a day more.”
Husband of Anitha Johnson, an Indian homemaker, is a senior official at a travel company which is why the family was glued to travelling all these years.
“Not any more, she said. “We used to spend around OMR4,500 for travel. We will stop it. This is where we can cut down on some costs.”