You have read that right – a third of us are not able to save a dime.

According to the Bayt.com MENA Salary Survey 2014, an overwhelming 86 percent of respondents in the MENA region claim that the cost of living increased in 2013, with 36 percent claiming it rose by more than 20 percent. 38 percent of MENA professionals say they did not receive a salary raise in 2013. For those who did receive a salary raise, 54 percent were not content with what they received. Moreover, three in 10 respondents do not expect to receive a raise in 2014.

With this said, things do not look particularly promising when it comes to personal finances in the region, especially in the Levant and North Africa where we can see, for example, only 37 percent of professionals in Lebanon receiving personal medical insurance; 89 percent of respondents in Syria witnessed a more than 20 percent increase in their cost of living in 2013; and 60 percent of Jordan respondents barely being able to make ends meet, without saving anything from their monthly salary.

The Bayt.com MENA Salary Survey 2014 reveals where our money goes. And these are the findings:

1. Most of our money in the Middle East is spent on food

Thirty-eight percent of MENA respondents chose ‘dining out’ as their top-ranked monthly expense. Countries that dine out the most include Qatar (38 percent), Saudi Arabia (36 percent), Bahrain (35 percent), Oman (34 percent) and Kuwait and Lebanon (both at 32 percent). Dining out comes far ahead of first runner-up travel (24 percent) and second runner-up entertainment (22 percent).

This trend can be explained by a lifestyle choice where eating outside has become the norm, or the fact that the majority of respondents in MENA (79 percent) saw an increase in the prices of food and beverages throughout the year 2013, and hence are spending more money on food.

According to the Bayt.com MENA Salary Survey 2014, Syrians and Lebanese were the most affected by the increase in the prices of food items – 97 percent for Syria and 90 percent for Lebanon.

2. UAE most affected by increases in rent prices

Ninety-one percent of UAE respondents picked rents as the item that suffered the highest price increase in 2013. The situation in the UAE is really a demand versus supply situation. Rental values in the UAE’s major cities – Dubai and Abu Dhabi – will only cool off when supply needs are being met, particularly in the mid-income category where rents have shot up the highest in the past 12 months. The rise in the UAE rents is closely followed by those in Kuwait (88 percent) and Qatar (80 percent).

3. Jordan victim to disproportional increases in the price of utilities

According to the Bayt.com MENA Salary Survey 2014, 85 percent of respondents in Jordan said that they have witnessed an increase in the cost of utilities in 2013. Utilities are public services and include water, electricity, gas, etc. In terms of the rising prices of utilities, Jordan is followed by Tunisia (80 percent), Syria (78 percent) and Egypt (75 percent) as the countries that suffer the most from the cost of these services.

4. Education expenses have also increased in the past 12 months

People in the Middle East are complaining about the rise in education expenses. This wave is led by Syria at 61 percent, followed by Jordan (55 percent) and Lebanon (53 percent). Egypt and Saudi Arabia are not far behind at 49 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

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