How to Save Money while Shopping Online

 

Although online shopping is generally cheaper than brick and mortar stores, many people often pay much more than they could. If you want to save money when shopping online, you may find the following tips useful.

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Knowledge Is Gold

The first thing to always keep in mind is that the more you know about the market, the more money you will save. Although it is impossible to know about every retailer’s offer for the particular item you want to buy, the Internet can get you very close to that.

Before pushing the Buy button, make sure you have checked how much the same product costs on other websites, especially for standardized items like computers, electronics or branded clothes. Price differences can be astonishingly high, and many people don’t compare.

How to Compare Prices when Shopping Online

There are different kinds of aggregators and comparison websites. Many focus on individual industries, such as technology, clothes or financial products. In the recent years Google has expanded its product search feature (now renamed Google Shopping) and has become one of the biggest shopping comparison websites in the world.

Visit a comparison websites when searching for potentially suitable products across many online shops or you can use them in the end, once you know which particular product you want to buy, in order to find the cheapest offer. Don’t forget to pay attention to delivery charges and other fees, which may not be part of the quoted price.

Although you want to save as much money as you can, sometimes it is better to choose a larger and more reputable retailer, especially if the price difference is very small.

Save Money with Email Newsletters

Many people hate them, but promotional emails can be very helpful when trying to save money when shopping online. Collecting customers’ email addresses is the cornerstone of online marketing strategy for many retailers.  Many online retailers offer one-time discount coupons, free delivery or various other benefits when you first sign up to their newsletter.

If you shop online frequently and sign up to many newsletters, you may want to consider creating a separate email address, in order to protect your main mailbox from the flood of promotional emails. Nevertheless, with some retailers having a look at the occasional email can make you aware of sales offers and discount coupons (knowledge is gold). Because such offers usually come at predictable times, you can check your online shopping mailbox before big holidays and seasonal sales periods (which can be different for different kinds of goods) and just ignore it at other times of the year.

Other Ways to Get Money Saving Offers

Building a money saving relationship with your favourite online retailer can go far beyond an email newsletter. To make sure you are among the first to know about special offers, you can become their fan or follower on social media websites or join their loyalty program.

Be Patient

One final but very important online shopping tip is to be patient. Sometimes it’s hard when you have chosen a product and you really want to have it now, but if you want to take advantage of all the newsletters and fan clubs you have joined, you will have to wait until the offers arrive. With most online retailers it will probably happen sooner rather than later.

 

 

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How to Save Money with a Low Income

 

You know you should be saving for retirement, but it is easier said than done when your income is low. Is there a solution, other than winning a lottery?

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Know Your Expenses

Regardless of your level of income, the first step to improving your finances is always to know where your money is coming from (that is usually very easy) and where it goes. Keep a log and record everything. Your monthly bank account statement is not sufficient for this task. You can choose a tool that you are most comfortable with – paper and pen, an Excel spreadsheet or a free piece of software.

Divide Your Expenses into 3 Groups

Go through all your expenses and assign one of the following options to each:

  1. I will not change anything with this expense.
  2. I will replace this expense with a cheaper or free alternative.
  3. I will make this expense less frequent or totally eliminate it.

Things You Won’t Change

Group 1 is the only one which won’t save money. Some of your expenses are fixed and can be neither reduced nor eliminated, unless you want to face serious consequences. Examples include taxes and debt repayments.

Housing and utilities will also come to this group for most people. You could possibly move to a cheaper place or use less electricity or water, but unless you have been living above your means or really wasting money in this area, there is not much potential.

Fortunately, if you are honest with yourself, you will find that majority of your other spending can go to one of the other groups, which both save money.

Find Cheaper or Free Alternatives

Many everyday essentials, like food, clothes or transportation, are good candidates for the second group. It requires just a bit of planning and perhaps changing a habit.

If you commute by car, consider public transport, cycling or walking (distance and location will decide which is the most realistic option). If you eat your lunch at a restaurant every working day or buy expensive snacks, consider preparing your food at home (besides being cheaper it will most likely also be healthier).

Some expenses can be replaced with entirely free alternatives. If you are paying an expensive gym membership, consider running in the park or working out at home instead.

Reduce Frequency or Entirely Eliminate

While in the previous group you focused on reducing price, here you reduce quantity. The best candidates for this group are things which are not really necessary for your survival and daily operation, but make life pleasant, like hobbies, entertainment and luxuries. Finding a cheaper or free alternative is often impossible or would defeat the very purpose of these things, but buying or doing them less frequently can save enormous amounts of money in the long run.

If you like going to a nice dinner with your significant other every Friday night, going only every other Friday may be a better option than going to a cheaper restaurant (and it may also become more special when less frequent).

Increase Your Income

So far we’ve been working on the expense side of your budget. Unless you have enough free time for a possible second job, increasing your income is hard to do quickly. However, in the long run, it is much more powerful and has greater potential than just reducing expenses. Whatever your current situation and profession, it is always wise to keep improving your skills and looking for possible opportunities to make your income higher in the future.

 

 

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Should you be paying National Insurance as a UK Expat?

 

When you live and work abroad, you are no longer a UK resident and are no longer obliged to pay UK National Insurance (except in special circumstances, such as working for the government or in the Armed Forces). While this may sound like good news, you should keep in mind that paying National Insurance entitles you to various benefits, like State Pension, Employment and Support Allowance or bereavement benefits. Living abroad and not paying UK National Insurance Contributions (NICs) may restrict your access to these benefits – not only now, but also in the future.

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UK State Pension Qualifying Years

In order to qualify for British State Pension, you must have accumulated a certain number of “qualifying years” when you paid or were credited with NICs. Under the new rules, effective for those reaching State Pension age on or after 6 April 2016, you need at least 10 years of NICs to be eligible (at all) and at least 35 years for a full State Pension. If you have between 10 and 35 qualifying years, your State Pension will be reduced accordingly.

A typical working life, lasting from your 20’s to your 60’s, obviously doesn’t leave much leeway for meeting the 35 years requirement. Any gaps in your National Insurance contributions, such as when living abroad, can cost you a lot of money in the future.

Paying National Insurance when Living Abroad

If you are working for a UK based employer, who sends you overseas for a limited period of time (up to 2 years), you may be able (and required) to continue paying UK NICs as usual. This is the simplest case and your employer should be able to give you guidance.

If you are working in a European Economic Area country (EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) or in Switzerland, you can pay social insurance contributions in your new country of residence and have the years credited to your 10 years threshold (but not to the 35 years required for full State Pension). If your total years from the UK and EEA National Insurance exceed 10, you will be eligible for UK State Pension, but the amount will be proportional only to your UK qualifying years. Depending on local rules, you may also be entitled to the other country’s state pension.

In other cases you can choose to pay UK National Insurance voluntarily, in order to avoid gaps and not lose your UK State Pension and other benefits. Subject to eligibility criteria, you can pay either Class 2 or Class 3 NICs.

Class 2 is cheaper (£2.75 per week in 2014-15) and provides access to a wider range of benefits (some of them only after you have returned to the UK). But it also has stricter requirements, particularly to have been “ordinarily” employed or self-employed immediately before leaving the UK.

Class 3 is much more expensive (£13.90 per week in 2014-15) and does not give you access to Employment and Support Allowance when back in the UK. However, the effect on your State Pension is the same for both classes.

How to Start Paying UK NICs as an Expat

You can apply using form CF83 (Application to make National Insurance Contributions abroad). For detailed information it is best to visit the HMRC website or contact HMRC directly if you have specific questions.

 

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Pensions for Expats: Things to Consider

 

If you were born just a few decades earlier, retirement planning would have been quite simple. The state and your employer would have taken care of everything. You would most likely be working in the same country and often for the same company your whole life. You wouldn’t need to worry about currency fluctuations, zero interest rates and constantly changing rules.

But you are facing the retirement planning challenge now and many things have changed. The state pension is nothing more than a (still welcome) icing on the cake, far from being sufficient for an average retired person’s needs. Employer-provided pension plans are still the core of retirement savings for most people, but many employers have moved from defined benefit to defined contribution schemes, effectively transferring the risks to you.

Moreover, the idea of working for the same company your whole life is a thing of the past. Many people have worked for a half dozen employers before they turn 30 and in some cases these employers are located in different countries. Being an expat adds another layer of complexity to your retirement planning.

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Uncertain Future

Being flexible with locations is a major strength, which enables you to take advantage of a wider range of opportunities and earn more money. However, this also means that most expats don’t know where they will live in the future and where they will eventually retire. Even when you have plans and preferences, various factors in your professional and personal life can change them very quickly.

Foreign Currency Exchange Rates

When your finances span multiple countries, they will most likely be affected by exchange rates. The last several months have been a good reminder that even major currencies, like the dollar, euro, pound or Swiss franc, can move very quickly. If your financial position is on the wrong side of such a move, you can easily find your retirement savings or your income effectively decrease by 10 or more per cent in less than a year.

Different Rules and Regulations

Different countries have different legislation. Pensions and taxes can be hard for a foreigner to understand, particularly when you also need to consider how the local rules apply to expats and to your specific case. In some countries you are obliged to participate in a state-sponsored pension scheme, other countries require your employer to provide you with a pension plan, while others leave it entirely up to you.

Taxes and Penalties on Transfers

To motivate people to save for retirement, many countries grant various tax breaks or other benefits to those who regularly put part of their pay aside to a pension plan. Unfortunately, when you are moving out of the country and want to access or transfer the funds, there are taxes or penalties, which can be higher than the tax breaks and benefits you have received. The rules must be considered not just before moving out, but before moving into the country and before entering a pension scheme there.

Making Your Pension Location Independent

After many years of expat life, some people find their retirement savings in many small bits in different countries. This can negatively affect costs and returns. Even when you are not sure where and for how long you will work, it is important to have a long-term plan and save systematically. With various offshore pension schemes and international advisors, it is possible to make your retirement planning relatively location independent.

 

 

 

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Pensions and Retirement Planning when Working in the Gulf

 

The rich countries in the Middle East, such as Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and particularly the UAE, have a reputation as places where qualified expatriates can earn a lot of money and enjoy a life of luxury. One thing that all these countries have in common is that a vast majority of expats don’t intend to stay indefinitely and retire here. This, at least for western expats, is mostly due to cultural differences, living costs and the fact that it is extremely hard to get and maintain residency without working here, let alone citizenship.

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Coming to Save Money and Leaving without the Savings

When first coming to a place like Dubai, a large number of expats are planning to work hard for a few years, take advantage of the high salaries and employee benefits (not to forget the absence of taxes) and then move on with accumulated savings and a better looking CV. For some of them, a few years may turn into a decade or more, as new opportunities arise and as they find themselves enjoying the rich expat lifestyle. Nevertheless, eventually most people will leave.

On their way out, many expats realize that their original goal of saving as much as possible has not been achieved. Although your salary is high, so are living costs and, more importantly, the constant peer pressure and opportunities to spend. Avoiding this trap requires self-discipline and planning.

Pensions Not Compulsory and Often Ignored

One thing many expats neglect is pensions. Many employers in the Middle East offer pension schemes as part of their expat benefit packages, but typically they are not mandatory to participate in (legislation that should change this is being prepared in the UAE, although the details are not entirely clear yet).

Moreover, some expats get discouraged by the complexity of pension transfers and having to comply with laws in both their new country of residence and their original home country. This is not only a wrong reason for not saving for retirement, but it can also cause unnecessary taxes and other problems when returning to your home country, especially when you had left an existing pension plan or other investments behind when you were leaving for the Gulf.

Actively Taking Responsibility for Your Finances

Regardless of the country you are currently living in, but especially when that country is different from your home country and has rules and regulations which you are not entirely familiar with, it is essential to take full responsibility for getting your finances in order and actively look for answers to any questions and uncertainties. You should always have at least a rough financial plan not only for the next few months, but also for the more distant future. Taking care of your pension and retirement savings should be among top priorities, as even seemingly small decisions and small amounts will add up and have huge effect on the quality of your and your family’s life many years from now.

Where to Look for Information

Although you can find a lot of information online and can use that to get basic understanding of the rules and available solutions, keep in mind that regulations concerning expat pensions and finances are specific to individual countries and cases and, more importantly, they change very often. Your employer can be an invaluable source of information and assistance, especially when they have experience with employing other expats from your home country. Besides that it is often useful to consult a financial professional specializing in expat financial planning and pensions, ideally familiar with the financial industry and regulations in both your current country of residence and your home country.

 

 

 

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Pensions for Expats in Dubai, UAE

 

For several years the authorities in Dubai have been working with the World Bank to come up with an efficient pension model that would consider the reality of vast majority (over 80%) of workforce being expats. Although exact outcome is not yet known, it will probably involve a national pension scheme where employers and expats will be obliged to contribute.

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Expats Sending Money Home

The planned changes should address the fact that the local economy and financial markets have not benefited very much from expatriates’ savings. Besides the fact that some expats do not save much in the first place, those who do prefer to send money abroad, usually to their original home country. There are several reasons for this behaviour:

  • Many expats prefer banks and other financial institutions in their home country and generally don’t trust Dubai’s financial sector, particularly after the financial crisis of 2009.
  • Some expats have limited understanding of Dubai’s financial system and local laws and regulations, which are based on the Islamic Sharia Law. Furthermore, the rules concerning expat finances tend to change quite often – this new pension model, which has been discussed for many years with constantly postponed expected implementation date, is a good example.
  • Most expats intend to return to their home country sooner or later. Some expats also have mortgages or other loans in their home country and others send money to support their relatives.

If the new national pension scheme comes into force, it is expected that it will invest a certain portion (such as 15-20%) of funds locally and in compliance with Islamic investment rules. The rest will be invested in the global markets.

Expats with Employer-Provided Pension Schemes

Some Dubai companies provide their employees with pension schemes as part of their expat benefit packages, but this is far from being a universal practice. The new legislation will have to take existing employer-provided pension schemes into consideration and it is possible that companies and expats with existing pension plans may not be obliged to take part in the national scheme. In other words, the law will probably require expats to have a pension plan and their employers to contribute, but you might be able to choose either the national scheme or a different one, as long as it complies with particular rules.

Should I Get a Pension Plan Now?

Neither the implementation date nor the details of the new pension system are clear yet. If you are an expat in Dubai and do not yet have a pension plan, do not let the uncertain changes keep you from saving for retirement. Similar legislation in Dubai and elsewhere has a record of being changed, postponed and or not being implemented at all. Because there are many expats in Dubai with pension schemes already in place, it is unlikely that the new legislation would ignore their interests and treat them unfavourably.

Factors to Consider when Choosing a Pension Plan

When deciding about a pension plan or another form of retirement saving, it is much more important to take your own specific personal circumstances into consideration. These include your existing financial position, income, expenditures, any outstanding loans and existing savings, as well as your future plans and objectives. You should try to think beyond your current job and beyond your time in Dubai if you intend to return home or move to another country in the future. An experienced international retirement planner can be helpful navigating you through all these considerations, as well as local laws.

 

 

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Health Insurance for Expatriates in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates, as the name suggests, are a federation of seven emirates. In many areas the individual emirates enjoy a high level of autonomy. Health care is one example of such areas and you will find that the system and most importantly health insurance rules and requirements are different in Dubai than they are in Abu Dhabi.

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Expat health insurance in Abu Dhabi

In spite of the differences, overall the trend in the entire UAE has been clear – towards a system where all expatriates will be required to have valid health insurance from an approved provider, which will be checked upon entry. At the same time, employers will be responsible for (at least a basic) health insurance plan for their staff. This system has existed in Abu Dhabi for several years.

Expat health insurance in Dubai

In Dubai the plans to launch a similar system were delayed after the financial crisis, as it was feared that the new requirements would negatively affect business activity and the economy. However, at present it is being gradually rolled out and expected to be fully in force in 2016.

Employer-provided health insurance

Regardless of the legal requirements (or non-requirements), most Dubai companies have been offering private health insurance plans as part of their employee benefit packages for years, at least in the white collar sector. Nevertheless, these packages haven’t always provided high enough coverage. In general, the higher your position, the better health insurance package your employer will offer.

Negotiating health insurance packages with your employer

When you are planning to come to Dubai and negotiating your salary and other terms with a prospective employer, it is wise to pay extra attention to health insurance. Together with accommodation allowance these are the two benefits which have the greatest potential for helping reduce your everyday living costs in this expensive place.

Prices and quality of health care in Dubai

Keep in mind that the cost of healthcare is extremely high in Dubai, although typically for the high prices you also get outstanding quality of care. After all, Dubai has an ambition of becoming one of the world’s leading destinations of health tourism.

Both prices and quality vary across hospitals. When considering a health insurance plan (employer-provided or independent), pay attention to any lists of included and excluded facilities, as many plans exclude some of the more expensive hospitals.

Common health risks in the UAE

In line with the overall economic advances of the UAE, healthcare has drastically improved over the last decades and some of the most serious diseases, like malaria, polio or measles, have been virtually eradicated. The most common health risks result from the climatic and environmental conditions, particularly high temperatures and dust, which is often made worse by construction activities. Expatriates may find themselves struggling with heatstroke, dehydration, sunburn or respiratory problems. Those coming from colder climates, children and people of higher age should be particularly careful.

 

 

 

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Employee Benefits in Dubai

Many expats who come to work in Dubai are not very familiar with the local job market and therefore unable to assess whether their salary is in line with what is usual for similar positions or whether they should ask for a rise. It is even more complicated with employee benefits, which can be harder to measure in monetary terms and harder to compare. Many new expats will find that the employee benefits typical in Dubai are quite different from what is common in their home country.

Employee-benefits-02Expat-friendly benefits

To a great extent the differences and specifics of Dubai employee benefits arise from the fact that majority of the workforce is comprised of expatriates. Besides the perks that most people would expect, like housing allowance (or less frequently actual accommodation) or medical insurance, many employers offer to pay for flight tickets when you are visiting relatives in your home country. Some types of benefits are common for more senior positions – these include utility allowance, furniture allowance or a car.

Family-friendly benefits

Many expats come to Dubai with their families and appreciate employee benefits which make family life in the unfamiliar environment a bit easier. Flexible working hours or the ability to work from home on some days are high on the list, as in most other countries.
Children’s education is one area where your employer can make a big difference. If you want your children to attend the best Dubai schools, it can be both very expensive and very difficult, as the competition for places is comparable to, if not fiercer than, the notorious places like London or New York. Your employer can not only cover big portion of the fees, but may also help you secure a place.

Many UK citizens working in Dubai prefer their children to attend a boarding school or college back in the UK. Your employer may be willing to help in that case too, but it is less common.

With regards to family related benefits it is important to keep in mind that the Islamic Sharia Law applies in Dubai. In some situations (e.g. when adopted children or unmarried parents are involved) your children or family arrangements may not be fully recognized as legitimate by some companies, although the rules tend to be less strictly followed in the expat environment.

Financial benefits

Another large group of benefits common in Dubai are those which directly bring more cash to the employee’s bank account. Dubai companies (even some in the public sector) tend to be more willing to provide various commission and bonus schemes, which in other countries are usually limited to just a few industries, such as finance. Many Dubai expats report that their base salary often accounts for as little as 60 or 70 percent of total compensation. Bonuses for exceptional out-performance may reach multiples of base salary.

Not least, probably the greatest benefit of all is the absence of income taxes.

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Employee Benefits Examples

Employee benefits are various types of compensation which companies provide to employees on top of their salary. Some benefits are required by law, such as unemployment insurance, family and medical leave, or a certain number of vacation days per year. The types and extent of mandatory benefits vary across countries.

Many employers, especially big corporations, provide their employees with additional benefits besides those required by law. They use them as a way to attract and retain the best talent and distinguish themselves from their competitors on the job market. The following are the most common examples of employee benefits.

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Health care and wellness

Employers know that by keeping their workers healthy they can reduce sickness absence and improve productivity. Employees also value health care benefits highly, for obvious reasons. Examples include private medical insurance, dental or vision plans or on-site health checks and scans. Many employees also enjoy fitness facilities and wellness programs.

Pensions and insurance

Many companies provide their employees with pension plans and other kinds of retirement savings and investment programs. Sometimes employees also receive free financial and investment advice. Various types of insurance are also popular as employee benefits – for example life insurance, disability insurance or unemployment insurance. Some of these are required by law in many countries.

Childcare, parking and practical things

Some benefits are designed to make the workday routine easier. Many employers provide regular or emergency childcare or give their employees childcare vouchers. Another kind of benefits which can save a lot of time is free parking or designated garage spaces, which can be extremely precious in centres of big cities.

Food and drinks

Providing free refreshments and drinks on-site can reduce the time wasted by employees going out to buy snacks. Bigger companies often have entire canteens, while others provide their employees with lunch vouchers.

Flexible hours and time off

Being able to adjust working hours to their personal needs or even having the possibility to work from home on some days are other examples of increasingly popular benefits. Many companies also offer extra vacation days, family leave or sick leave, on top of those required by law.

Travel

Some companies don’t limit themselves to merely giving their workers extra days off, but also contribute to funding their holidays or hotel stays. Others organize weekend trips and team-building activities, which are somewhere at the border between leisure and work.

Education

Free language courses and various seminars, which can be more or less related to the job skills, are other common examples of employee benefits. Some companies pay for their employees’ industry qualifications and certificates and may even give them paid or unpaid leave for exam preparation.

Freebies and discounts

Many companies offer their employees free or discounted products and services. Often they are the company’s own products. For example, if you work for a chocolate producer, you may get a lot of free chocolate. If you work for a car-maker, you are unlikely to get a free car, but you may get a discount if you choose to buy one. Alternatively, they are products by the company’s partners or simply things which many people enjoy, like phones, magazine subscriptions or tickets to cultural or sporting events.

Unconventional benefits

Some employers come up with unconventional benefits, like playgrounds and game rooms or free scooters to ride around the premises. Although unemployment is at high levels in many countries, companies understand that to attract and retain the best people they often need to go the extra mile.

 

 

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